Read CHAPTER VIII of The Shadow of the Cathedral, free online book, by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, on ReadCentral.com.

On the morning of Corpus the first person Gabriel saw on leaving the cloister was Don Antolin, who was looking over his tickets, placing them in line in front of him on the stone balustrade.

“This is a great day,” said Luna, wishing to smooth down Silver Stick.  “You are preparing for a great crowd; no doubt many strangers will come.”

Don Antolin looked intently at Gabriel, evidently doubting his sincerity; but seeing that he was not laughing, he answered with a certain satisfaction.

“The feast is not beginning badly; there are a great many who wish to see our treasures.  Ay, son! indeed we want it badly.  You who rejoice in our troubles may be satisfied.  We live in horrible straits.  Our feast of Corpus is worth very little compared with former times; but all the same, what economies we have had to make in the Obrería, to provide the four ochavos that the extra festivity will cost!”

Don Antolin remained silent for some time, still looking intently at Luna, as though some extraordinary idea had just occurred to him.  At first he frowned as though he were rejecting it, but little by little his face lit up with a malicious smile.

“By the way, Gabriel,” he said in a honeyed tone which contained something very aggressive, “I remember at the time of the monument in Holy Week you spoke to me of your wish to earn some money for your brother.  Now you have an opportunity.  It will not be much; still it will be something.  Would you care to be one of those who carry the platform of the Sacrament?”

Guessing the wish of the malicious priest to annoy him, Gabriel was on the point of answering haughtily, but suddenly he was tempted by the wish to foil Silver Stick by accepting his proposal; he wished to astound him by acceding to his absurd idea; besides, he thought that this would be a sacrifice worthy of the generosity with which his brother treated him.  Even though he could not assist with much money, he could show his wish to work, and the scruples of his self-love vanished before the hope of carrying home a couple of pesetas.

“You do not care about it,” said the priest in mocking accents, “you are too ‘green,’ and your dignity would suffer too much by carrying the Lord through the streets of Toledo.”

“You are mistaken.  As for wishing it, I do wish it, but you must remember it is very heavy work for an invalid.”

“Do not let that trouble you,” said Don Antolin resolutely; “you will be at least ten inside the car, and I have chosen all strong men; you would go to complete the number, and I should recommend you to accept in order to earn a little.”

“Then we will clench the business, Don Antolin; you may reckon on me, I am always ready to earn a day’s wage whenever it turns up.”

His great wish to get out of the Cathedral had finally decided him, his wish once more to walk through the streets of Toledo, that he had not seen during his seclusion in the cloister, and without anyone being able to take notice of him.  Besides, the ironical situation tickled him extremely, that he of all men with his round religious denials should be the one to pilot the God of Catholicism through the devout crowd.

This spectacle made him smile, possibly it was a symbol; certainly Wooden Staff would greatly rejoice, he would look upon it as a small triumph for religion, that obliged His enemies to carry Him on their shoulders.  But he himself would look upon it in a different way; inside the eucharistic car he would represent the doubt and denials hidden in the heart of worship, splendid in its exterior pomp, but void of faith and ideals.

“Then we are agreed, Don Antolin.  I will come down shortly into the Cathedral.”

They parted, and Gabriel, after quietly digesting the milk his niece brought him, went down into the Cathedral without saying a word to anyone about the work he intended carrying out; he was afraid of his brother’s objections.

In the lower cloister he again met Silver Stick, who was talking to the gardener’s widow, showing her contemptuously a bunch of wheat ears tied with a red ribbon.  He had found it in the holy water stoup by the Puerta del Alegria.  Every year on the day of Corpus he had found the same offering in the same place; an unknown had thus dedicated to the Church the first wheat of the year.

“It must be a madman,” said the priest.  “What is the good of this?  What does this bunch mean?  If at least it had been a cart of sheaves as in the good old times of the tenths!”

And while he threw the ears with contempt into a flower border in the garden, Gabriel thought with delight of the atavic force which had resuscitated in a Catholic church, the pagan offering:  the homage to the divinity of the firstfruits of the earth fertilised by the spring.

The choir was ended and the mass beginning when Gabriel entered the Cathedral, the lower servants were discussing at the door of the sacristy the great event of the day.  His Eminence had not come down to the choir and would not assist at the procession.  He said he was ill, but those of the household laughed at this excuse, remembering that the evening before he had walked as far as the Hermitage of the Virgin de la Vega.  The truth was he would not meet his Chapter; he was furious with them, and showed his anger by refusing to preside over them in the choir.

Gabriel strolled through the naves.  The congregation of the faithful was greater than on other days, but even so the Cathedral seemed deserted.  In the crossways, kneeling between the choir and the high altar, were several nuns in starched linen bibs and pointed hoods, in charge of sundry groups of children dressed in black, with red or blue stripes according to the colleges to which they belonged; a few officials from the academy, fat and bald, listened to the mass standing, bending their heads over their cuirass.  In this scattered assemblage, listening to the music, stood out the pupils from the school of noble ladies, some of them quite girls, others proud-looking young women in all the pride of their budding beauty, looking on with glowing eyes, all dressed in black silk, with mantillas of blonde mounted over high combs with bunches of roses ­aristocratic ladies with “manolesca” grace, escaped from a picture by Goya.

Gabriel saw his nephew the Tato dressed in his scarlet robes like the noble Florentine, striking the pavement with his staff to scare the dogs.  He was talking with a group of shepherds from the mountains, swarthy men twisted and gnarled as vine shoots, in brown jackets, leather sandals, and thonged leggings; women with red kerchiefs and greasy and mended garments that had descended through several generations.  They had come down from their mountains to see the Corpus of Toledo, and they walked through the naves with wonder in their eyes, starting at the sound of their own footsteps, trembling each time the organ rolled, as though fearing to be turned out of that magic palace, which seemed to them like one in a fairy tale.  The women pointed out with their fingers the coloured glass windows, the great rosettes on the porches, the gilded warriors on the clock of the Puerta de la Feria, the tubes of the organs, and finally remained open-mouthed in stupid wonder.  The Perrero in his scarlet garments seemed like a prince to them, and overwhelmed with the respect they felt for him, they could not succeed in understanding what he said, but when the Tato threatened with his staff a mastiff following closely at his master’s heels, those simple people decided to leave the church sooner than abandon the faithful companion of their wild mountain life.

Gabriel looked through the choir railings; both the upper and lower stalls were full.  It was a great festival, and not only were all the canons and beneficiaries in their places, but all the priests of the chapel of the kings, and the prebends of the Muzárabe chapel ­those two small churches who live quite apart with traditional autonomy inside the Cathedral of Toledo.

In the middle of the choir Luna saw his friend the Chapel-master in his crimped and pleated surplice, waving a small baton.  Around him were grouped about a dozen musicians and singers, whose voices and instruments were completely smothered each time the organ sounded from above, while the priest directed with a resigned look the music, which lost itself feeble and swamped in the solitude of the immense naves.

At the High Altar, on its square car, stood the famous Custodia, executed by the celebrated master Villalpando.  A Gothic shrine, exquisitely worked and chiselled, bright with the shimmering of its gold in the light of the wax tapers, and of such delicate and airy work that the slightest motion made it shiver, shaking its finials like ears of corn.

Those invited to the procession were arriving in the Cathedral.  The town dignitaries in black robes, professors from the academy in full dress with all their decorations, officers of the Civil Guard, whose quaint uniform reminded one of that of the soldiers of the early part of the century.  Through the naves with affectedly skipping steps came the children, dressed as angels ­angels a la Pompadour, with brocaded coat, red-heeled shoes, blonde lace frills, tin wings fastened to their shoulders, and mitres with plumes on their white wigs.  The Primacy got out for this festivity all its traditional vestments.  The gala uniform of all the church attendants belonged to the eighteenth century, the time of its greatest prosperity.  The two men who were to guide the car had powdered hair, black coats, and knee breeches, like the priests of the last century.  The vergers and Wooden Staffs wore starched ruffs and perukes, and though they had scarcely enough to eat, brocade and velvet covered all the people from the Claverías; even the acolytes wore gold embroidered dalmatics.

The High Altar was decorated by the “Tanta Monta” tapestries ­those famous hangings of the Catholic kings, with emblems and shields, given by Cisneros to the Cathedral.  The auxiliary bishop said mass, and his attendant deacons were perspiring under the traditional mantles and chasubles covered with beautiful raised embroidery in high and splendid relief, as stiff and uncomfortable as ancient armour.

The surroundings of the Cathedral were disturbed by the gathering for the procession; the doors of the sacristies slammed, opened and shut hurriedly by the various officials and people employed.  In that quiet and monotonous life the annual occurrence of a procession which had to pass through many streets caused as much confusion and disturbance as an adventurous expedition to a distant country.

When the mass ended the organ began to play a noisy and disorderly march, rather like a savage dance, while the procession was being marshalled in order.  Outside the Cathedral the bells were ringing, the band of the academy had ceased playing its quick march, and the officers’ words of command and the rattle of the muskets could be heard as the cadets drew up in companies by the Puerta Llana.

Don Antolin, with his great silver staff and a pluvial of white brocade, went from one place to another collecting the employees of the Church; Gabriel saw him approaching, red-faced and perspiring.

“To your post; it is time.”

And he led him to the High Altar by the Custodia.  Gabriel and eight other men crept inside the scaffolding, raising the cloth with which its sides were covered.  They were obliged to bend themselves inside the erection, and their duty was to push it, so that it should move along on its hidden wheels.  Their only duty was to push it; outside, the two servants in black clothes and white wigs were in charge of the front and back shaft or tiller, which guided the eucharistic car through the tortuous streets.  Gabriel was placed by his companions in the centre; he was to warn them when to stop and when to recommence their march.  The monumental Custodia was mounted on a platform with a great counterpoise, and between it and the framework of the car was about a hand’s breadth of space, through which Gabriel looked, thus transmitting the orders of the front pilot.

“Attention!  March!” shouted Gabriel, obeying an outside signal.

And the sacred car began to move slowly down the inclined wooden plane that covered the steps of the High Altar.  It was obliged to stop on passing the railings.  All the people knelt, and Don Antolin and the Wooden Staffs having opened a way between them, the canons advanced in their ample red robes, the auxiliary bishop with his gilded mitre, and the other dignitaries in white linen mitres without ornament whatsoever.  They all knelt around the Custodia.  The organ was silent, and, accompanied by the hoarse blare of a trombone, they intoned a hymn in adoration of the Sacrament; the incense rose in blue clouds around the Custodia, veiling the brilliancy of its gold.  When the hymn ceased the organ began to play again, and the car once more resumed its march.  The Custodia trembled from base to summit, and the motion made a quantity of little bells hanging on to its Gothic adornments tinkle like a cascade of silver.  Gabriel walked along holding on to one of the crossbeams, with his eyes fixed on the pilots, feeling on his legs the movements of those who pushed this scaffolding, so similar to the cars of Indian idols.

On coming out of the Cathedral by the Puerta Llana, the only door in the church on a level with the street, Gabriel could take in the whole procession at a glance.  He could see the horses of the Civil Guards breaking the regularity of the march, the players of the city kettledrums dressed in red, and the crosses of the different parishes grouped without order round the enormous and extremely heavy banner of the Cathedral, like a huge sail covered with embroidered figures.  Beyond, all the centre of the street was clear, flanked on either side by rows of clergy and soldiers carrying tapers, the deacons with their censers, assisted by the roccoco angels carrying the vessels for the Asiatic perfume, and the canons in their extremely valuable historical capes.  Behind the sacrament were grouped the authorities, and the battalion of cadets brought up the rear, their muskets on their arms, their shaven heads bare, keeping step to the time of the march.

Gabriel breathed with delight the air of the public streets.  He who had seen all the great capitals of Europe admired the streets of the ancient city after his long seclusion in the Cathedral.  They seemed to him very populous, and he felt the surprise that great modern improvements must cause to those used to a retired and sedentary life.

The balconies were hung with ancient tapestries and shawls from Manilla; the streets were covered with awnings, and the pavement spread thickly with sand, so that the eucharistic car should glide easily over the pointed cobble stones.

Up the hills the Custodia advanced laboriously, the men inside the car sweating and gasping.  Gabriel coughed, his spine aching with the enclosure in the movable prison, and the dignity of the march was disturbed by the words of command from the Canon Obrero, who, in scarlet robes with a staff in his hand, directed the procession, reproving the pilots and those who pushed the car inside for their jerky and irregular movements.

Apart from these discomforts, Gabriel was delighted with his extraordinary escapade through the town; he laughed, thinking what the crowd, kneeling in veneration, would have said had they known whose eyes were looking out at them from underneath the car.  No doubt many of those officials escorting God, in their white trousers, red coats, with swords by their sides and cocked hats would have news of his existence; they would surely have heard some one speak of him, and they probably kept his name in their memory as that of a social enemy.  And this reprobate, rejected by all, concealed in a hole in the Cathedral like those adventurous birds who rested in its vaultings, was the man who was guiding the footsteps of God through this most religious city!

A little after mid-day the Custodia returned to the Cathedral, passing in front of the Puerta del Mollete.  Gabriel saw the exterior walls hung with the famous tapestries.  As soon as the farewell hymns were ended the canons despoiled themselves quickly of their vestments, rushing to the door on their dismissal without saluting.  They were going to their dinners much later than usual, as this extraordinary day upset the even course of their lives.  The church, so noisy and illuminated in the morning, emptied itself rapidly, and silence and twilight once more reigned in it.

Esteban was furious when he saw Gabriel emerging from the eucharistic car.

“You will kill yourself, such work is not for you.  What caprice could have seized you?”

Gabriel laughed.  Yes, it was a caprice, but he did not repent of it.  He had taken a turn through the town without being seen, and he could give his brother sufficient for two days’ maintenance; he wished to work, not to be a heavy charge on him.

Wooden Staff was softened.

“You idiot, have I asked anything of you?  Do I want anything else but that you should live quietly and get better?”

But, as though he wished to acknowledge this exertion on his brother’s part by something which would please him, when he returned to the Claverías he dropped his usual sullen face, and spoke to his daughter during the meal.

Towards evening the Claverías were quite deserted.  Don Antolin hurried down with his tickets, rejoicing in the knowledge that many strangers were waiting for him.  The Tato and the bell-ringer had slipped furtively down the tower stairs, dressed in their best clothes; they were going to the bull-fight.  Sagrario obliged to be idle in order to keep the feast day holy, had gone to the shoemaker’s house, and while he was showing the giants to the servants and soldiers of the academy, and the peasants from the country, Luna’s niece helped to mend the clothes for the poor woman crushed by poverty and the superabundance of children.

When the Chapel-master and the Wooden Staff went down to the choir, Gabriel went out into the cloister.  He could only see there a cadet who was walking up and down, with his hand on the pommel of his sword, holding it horizontally like the fiery tizonas of former days.  Luna recognised him by the full pantaloons and the wasplike waist, which made the Tato declare that this particular cadet wore stays ­it was Juanito the cardinal’s nephew.  He often walked in the cloister, hoping for an opportunity to talk with Leocadia, the beautiful daughter of the Virgin’s sacristan.  From the parents he had nothing to fear, but the future warrior had a certain dread of Tomasa, as the old lady looked on these visits with an evil eye, and threatened to make them known to his uncle the Cardinal.

Gabriel had often spoken to the cadet, for when the youth met him in the cloister he always stopped to speak, endeavouring by the platitudes of his conversation to justify his presence in the Claverías; but Luna was surprised to meet him there on a festival afternoon.

“Are you not going to the bull-fight?” he inquired.  “I thought everyone from the academy would be in the Plaza.”

Juanito smiled, caressing his moustache; it was his favourite gesture, as it raised his arm, giving him the satisfaction of displaying the sleeve adorned with sergeant’s stripes.  He was not a common cadet, he had his stripes, and though this did not seem much to one who dreamed of being a general, still it was a step in the right direction.  No; he did not go to bull-fights.  In truth he was an habitue but he had sacrificed himself in order to talk for a whole afternoon with his sweetheart at the door of her house in the silence of the Claverías.  The grandmother had gone down into the garden, and “Virgin’s Blue” would not be long in going out and leaving the coast clear, as if the matter in no way concerned him.  “The beautiful evening, friend Gabriel!” He had far more serious and important affairs than the new comers at the academy, who spent all their Sundays at the cafes, or walking up and down like fools ­everyone at the academy, even the professors, envied him his sweetheart.

“And when is the wedding to be?” said Gabriel gaily.

Master Stripes looked most important as he replied:  “There were many things to be done before ­first of all to bring his uncle to consent, which might not be easy, and to follow the guiding of his good star to attain a certain rank; but he was intended for great things, so it was only a matter of a few years.

“I, friend Luna, am of the stuff of young generals; it is the good luck of the family.  My uncle, when he was only an acolyte, was certain he would become a cardinal, and he succeeded.  I shall rise much faster.  Besides, you know that to be an archbishop of Toledo is not a small thing.  My uncle has many friends in the palace, and commands in the ministry of war just as though he were a general.  In point of fact he is far more a soldier than a cleric!  And to prove it to you, there is the only thing he has ever written, a prayer to the Virgin for the soldiers to recite before they go into action.”

“And you, Juanito, do you really feel any vocation for a military life?”

“A great deal ­ever since I knew how to open books and read them I have wished to rival those great captains that I saw in the prints, erect on their horses, with swords in their hands, proud and handsome.  Believe me, no one enters on this career without a vocation; many are entered in the seminaries against their will, but no one can make a soldier by force; anyone who comes to the academy has the longing in himself.”

“And are all of them as sure of the result as you are?”

“Oh, yes; all,” said the cardinal’s nephew smiling, “except that the immense majority have not such probabilities of making a name.  But, such as we are, there is not one amongst us who dreams of the possibility of vegetating as a captain in a reserve regiment, or of dying of old age as a commandant.  We all of us see first of all youth glorified by the uniform, full of adventures (for you know all the women fight for us), by the joy of life, loved and respected everywhere, head and shoulders above our countrymen; and when old age approaches, and we begin to get fat and bald, the gold braid of a general, politics, and, who knows, possibly the portfolio of war!  This is in everyone’s thoughts.  No one believes but that the future holds a baton for him, and that he has only to unhook it and fasten it to his belt.  I know for certain what is awaiting me, the rest dream and hope for it, and so we go on living.”

Gabriel smiled as he listened to the cadet.

“You are all deceiving yourselves, like those poor youths who enter the seminaries, believing that a mitre awaits them or a fat benefice on the other side of the door.  It is the influence and attraction still exercised by the great things that have been.  Let us see ­apart from the material result of the profession ­why do you become soldiers?”

“For the sake of glory!” said the cadet pompously, remembering the harangues of the colonel director of the academy.  “For our country, whose defence is entrusted to us! and for the honour of our flag!”

“Glory!” said Gabriel, ironically.  “I know all about that.  Very often, seeing you all so young and inexperienced, so full of vain hopes, I have reconstructed in my own mind what might be called the psychology of the cadet.  I can guess all that you thought before entering the academy, and I foresee the bitter and crushing disillusion that awaits you on leaving it.  The history of wars and the artistic trappings of the uniform have seduced your youth.  Afterwards, warlike tales of an irresistible fascination ­Bonaparte with his little band crossing the bridge at Arcola amid showers of bullets.  And then our own generals, not to go further ­Espartero at Luchana, O’Donnel in Africa, and, above all, Prim, that almost legendary leader, directing the battalion at Castillejos with his sword.  ‘I wish to be the same,’ say these youths; ‘where one man has arrived another may also succeed’; enthusiasm is taken for predestination, and each one thinks himself created by God on purpose to be a famous leader.  In the meanwhile you live in Toledo, dreaming of glory, of hairbreadth enterprises, of gigantic battles and noisy triumphs.  But when, with the two stars on your arm you go to a regiment, the first thing that comes to meet you at the barrack gate, even before you receive the salute of the sentry, is the ugly and disagreeable reality.  He who dreams of covering himself with glory and becoming a great leader before he is thirty, thinking of nothing but strategic combinations and original fortifications, must occupy himself with the washing and decency of a lot of wild lads, who come in from the fields reeking with excessive health; try the rations, discuss drawers and shirts, calculate the lasting of ankle boots and hempen shoes, and he who never went near the kitchen at home, was most carefully looked after by his mother, and thought that everything was women’s work except giving words of command and drawing soldiers up in line, now finds the first requirement in a regiment is to be cook, tailor, shoemaker, etc., very often receiving reprimands from his superiors if he prove lazy in those duties.”

“That is true,” said Juanito laughing; “but without these things there cannot be an army, and an army is necessary.”

“We are not discussing if it is necessary or no.  I only wish to point out that you (or perhaps not you, as you enter on a good footing, but certainly your companions) are self-deceivers, and are preparing without knowing it the shipwreck of your lives, precisely like those other youths who, poorer, or perhaps less energetic, crowd to enter the Church.  The Church has come to an end as there is no longer faith; military glory has ended in Spain as there are no longer wars of conquest, and our character as strong fighting men has been lost for centuries.  If we have a war, it is either civil or colonial ­wars that might be called disasters ­without glory and without profit, but in which men die as at Thermopyle or Austerlitz, as a man can only die once; but without the consolation of fame, or of public applause, without in fact that aureole that you call glory.  You have all been born too late; you are the warriors of a people who must perforce live in peace; just as those seminarists will be the future priests in a country where there are no longer miracles nor faith, only routine and utter stagnation of thought.”

“But if we have no foreign wars, if conquests have come to an end, we serve at least to defend the integrity of Spanish soil, to guard our own homes.  Is it that you think,” said the cadet nettled, “we are incapable of dying for our country?”

“I do not doubt it; that is the only thing Spaniards are capable of doing, to die most heroically, but in the end to die.  Our history for the last two centuries has been nothing but a tale of heroic deaths ­’Glorious defeat in such a place,’ ’Heroic disaster in some other.’  By sea and by land we have astonished the world, throwing ourselves blindly into danger, showing a good front, without flinching, with the stoicism of a Chinaman.  But nations do not grow great from their contempt of death, but through their ability to preserve life.  The Poles were the terror of the Turks, and some of the best soldiers in Europe, yet Poland has ceased to exist.  If any great European power could invade us ­you will remark I say could, for in these things the wish is not the same as the power, I know exactly what would happen; the Spaniards would know how to die, but you may be perfectly certain the invaders would not require more than two battles to sweep away entirely all our military preparations.  And all this, which could be scattered in a couple of days, what sacrifices it costs the country!”

“Then,” said the cadet ironically, “I presume we must suppress the army, and leave the nation undefended.”

“As things are to-day there is no hope of that happening.  As long as all Europe is armed and the smallest country has an army, Spain will have one also.  It is not for her to set an example; and besides, the example would be of no use, it is as though one having a few thousand pesetas should endeavour to initiate the remedy to social injustice by sacrificing himself and giving them up.”

After a long silence Gabriel spoke again very quietly, noticing the ironical and even aggressive manner of the cadet.

“No doubt you are pained by what I say; believe me I feel it, as I have no wish to wound the beliefs of anyone, least of all of those who have formed to themselves an ideal of life.  But truth is truth.  The social question does not trouble you.  Is it not so?  You know nothing about it, you have never thought about it for an instant and it is the same with all your, companions, but nevertheless, what you suffer in your prestige, in your love of country and of your standard, has no other cause but the social disorder at present rampant in the world.  Wealth is everything, capital is lord of the world.  Science directs humanity as the successor of faith, but the rich have possessed themselves of its discoveries, and have monopolised them to continue their tyranny.  In the economic world they have made themselves masters of machinery and of all progress, using them as chains to enslave the workman, forcing an excess of production, but limiting his daily wage to what is strictly necessary.  In the life of nations the same thing repeats itself ­war to-day is nothing but an appliance of science, and the richest countries have acquired the greatest improvements in the art of extermination.  They have crowds of recruits, thousands of enormous cannon, they can keep millions of men under arms, with every sort of modern improvement, without becoming bankrupt.  But to poor countries, their only remaining course is to hold their tongues, or to rage uselessly, as the disinherited do against those in possession of their property.  The most cowardly and sedentary people on the face of the globe may become invincible warriors if they have the money.  The bravery of chivalry came to an end with the invention of powder, and the pride of race has faded for ever before the advent of trade.  If the Cid came to life again he would be in jail, he would have become a highwayman, unable to adjust himself to the inequalities and injustice of modern life.  If the Gran Capitan were now minister of war, he would probably be unable even with this military tax which oppresses the country to put his regiments in condition to undertake a fresh war in Italy.  It is money, that cursed money! which has killed the finest part of soldiering ­personal bravery, initiative, originality ­just as it has crushed the workman, making his life a hell.”

The cadet listened attentively to Gabriel, understanding for the first time that in great nations there is something more than the warlike sympathies of the monarch and the bravery of the army.  He saw suddenly that wealth was the basis and mainspring of all military enterprise.

“Then,” he said thoughtfully, “if foreign nations do not attack us it is not because they fear us.”

“No; that we are permitted to live in peace is because these omnipotent powers with all their ambitions and jealousies preserve a certain equilibrium.  They are like the great capitalists who, occupied with vast projects of speculation, neglect either from carelessness or contempt the small undertakings that lie at their door.  Do you believe that Switzerland or Belgium or other small countries live in peace surrounded by great powers because they have an army?  They would exist just the same if they had not a single soldier, and the military power of Spain is not greater than that of one of these small countries; the poverty of the country and the scanty population oblige us to be humble.  In these days there are two kinds of armies those organised for conquest and those whose only use is to keep order at home, that are no more than police on a large scale, with guns and generals.  That of Spain, however much it costs, and however much they increase it, comes under the latter classification.”

“And if it is only this,” said the cadet, “is it not something?  We keep peace at home, and we watch over the tranquillity of our country.”

“Yes, but that could be done by fewer people and for less money.  Besides, how about glory?  Will you youths, full of illusions, overflowing with aggressiveness and energy for new undertakings, resign yourselves to this profession of watchmen and caretakers to a country?  Your future will be as monotonous as that of a priest in his cathedral.  Every day the same ­to drill men to move this or that way, to play at dominoes or billiards in a cafe, to walk about in uniform or take a nap in the guard-room.  There can be nothing for you beyond a small disturbance at the tax on provisions, a strike, a closing of shops to protest against the taxes, and then to fire on a mob armed with sticks and stones.  If at any time in your life you are ordered to fire, you may be sure it will be on Spaniards.  The Government do not wish for an army as they know it is useless for the exterior defence of the nation; besides, the national finances do not admit of its maintenance, and they are consequently satisfied with an embryonic organisation which is always insubordinate, distracted by incessant and contradictory reforms, copying foreign improvements as a poor girl copies the robes of a great lady.  Believe me, there is nothing pleasant in living such a narrowed and monotonous life, with no other chance of glory but that of shooting a workman who protests or a people who complain.”

“But, how about liberty?  How about political progress?” inquired the cadet.  “I have heard it said by a captain at the academy that if the Liberal party exists in Spain it is through the army.”

“There is a great deal in that,” said Gabriel.  “It is indubitably the most important service the army has rendered to the State; without it, who knows where the civil wars would have ended in this country, so stationary and so timid about all reforms!  I repeat it, I do not ignore this service, but, believe me, that civil wars between liberty and political absolutism will never be repeated, neither could the guerilla warfare of the Independence with any definite issue.  The means of communication and military progress have put an end to mountain warfare.  The Mauser, which is the arm of the day, requires well-provided parks of ammunition to follow it, cartridge magazines at its back, and all this is incompatible with party fighting.”

“But you will admit that we are of some use, and that we render the nation good service.”

“I admit it in the actual state of things, but I should admit it more fully if you were fewer.  The greater part of the grant is spent, but all the same you live in poverty, decent and hidden, but poverty all the same.  A lieutenant earns less than many operatives, but he must buy himself showy uniforms, be smart, and frequent when he wants amusement the same places as the rich.  He can only see before him long years of waiting and of hidden poverty, borne with dignity, until some promotion provides him with a few duros more monthly.  You all suffer dragging on this existence of slaves to the sword, the nation who pays grumbles at seeing you inactive, and forgets other superfluous expenses to fix its complaints solely on the military.  Believe me, for a modern army, you are too few and badly organised; to keep the peace at home you are too many and too dear.  The fault is not yours, your vocation has come too late, when fate has rendered Spain powerless for adventurous undertakings.  If she revives she will have to follow a direction which will certainly not be that of the sword.  For this reason I say that these youths stray from the right path when they seek for glory where their ancestors thought to find it.”

The appearance of Silver Stick cut short the dialogue.  He ran in, pale with excitement, gasping, rattling his bunch of keys.

“His Eminence is coming,” he said, hurriedly.  “He is already under the arch; he wishes to spend the evening in the garden; it is a whim!  They say he is quite unmanageable to-day.”

And he ran on to open the staircase del Tenorio, which put the Claverías in communication with the lower cloister.

The cadet was alarmed at the unexpected proximity of his uncle.  He did not wish to meet him there, he feared the cardinal’s temper, and fled towards the tower staircase on his way to the bull-fight, sacrificing his sweetheart sooner than meet with Don Sebastian.

Gabriel, who now found himself alone in the cloister, leant against a column and watched the progress of this terrible prince of the Church.  He saw him come out of the doorway leading to the abode of the giants, followed by two servants.  Luna was able to examine him well for the first time.  He was enormous; but in spite of his age carried himself erectly; over his black cassock with the red borders hung his gold cross.  He was leaning with a martial air on a staff of command, and the gold tassels of his hat fell on the pink skin of his fat neck, which was fringed with white hair.  His small and penetrating eyes looked on all sides in the hopes of discovering some delinquency, something contravening the established rules, which would enable him to break out into shouts and menaces and so give vent to his ill humour and to the anger which furrowed his brows.

He disappeared by the staircase del Tenorio, preceded by Don Antolin, who, after opening the iron gates, had placed himself at his orders, shaking with fear.  The silence and solitude of the Claverías were undisturbed, it seemed as though the people hidden in their houses remained absolutely still, guessing the danger that was passing.

Gabriel, leaning on the balustrade, watched the cardinal enter the lower cloister, walking round two sides till he came to the garden gate.  A slight gesture from the prelate was sufficient to stop the two servants, and he walked on alone through the central avenue towards the summer-house where Tomasa was fast asleep between its leafy walls, her knitting in her hands.

The old woman awoke at the sound of footsteps, and seeing the prelate, gave a cry of surprise.

“Don Sebastian!  You here!”

“I wished to visit you,” said the cardinal with a benevolent smile, seating himself on a bench.  “It must not be always you who come to seek me.  I owe you many visits, and here I am.”

Plunging one hand into the depths of his cassock, he drew forth a small gold case and lighted a cigarette.  He stretched out his legs with the complacency of one who being always accustomed to wear the frowning brow of authority, finds himself for a few moments at liberty.

“But have you not been ill?” inquired the gardener’s widow.  “I had thought of coming round to the palace this afternoon to inquire after your health from Dona Visita.”

“Hold your tongue, you fool; I have never felt better, especially since this morning.  The slap I have given to those by not going into the choir to pray with them has put me in a splendid humour, and in order that they may thoroughly understand my meaning I have come to see you.  I wish them all to know that I am quite well, and that what is said about my illness is untrue.  I wish all in Toledo to understand that the archbishop will not see his canons, and that he does so from a sense of dignity, not from pride, as at the same time he can come down to see his old friend the gardener’s widow.”

And the terrible old man laughed like a child to think of the annoyance this visit would cause his Chapter.

“Do not believe, however, Tomasa,” he continued, “that I have come to see you solely for this reason.  I felt sad and worried in the palace this afternoon.  Visitacion was busy with some friends from Madrid, and I had that heartache I sometimes feel when I think of the past.  I felt that I must come and see you, more especially as it is always cool in the Cathedral garden, whereas outside it is as hot as an oven.  Ah!  Tomasa! how strong I see you!  So slim and so active.  You wear better than I do; you are not wrapped in fat like this sinner, and you have not the pains that disturb my nights.  Your hair is still dark, your teeth are well preserved, and you do not need like this old cardinal to have a mechanism inside your mouth; but all the same, Tomasa, you are just as old as I am.  We have very few years of life left to us, however much the Lord may wish to preserve us.  What would I not give to return to those days when I ran up to your house in my red gown in search of your father, the sacristan, and stole your breakfast.  Eh, Tomasa?”

The two old people, forgetting social differences, recalled the past with the friendly resignation of those advancing towards death.  Everything was the same as in their childhood ­the garden, the cloister; nothing about the Cathedral had changed.

His Eminence, closing his eyes, fancied himself once more the restless acolyte of fifty years before; the blue spirals from his cigarette seemed to carry his thoughts back through the interminable labyrinths of the past.

“Do you remember how your poor father used to laugh at me?  ‘This boy,’ he would say in the sacristy, ‘is a Sixtus V. What do you wish to be?’ he would ask me, and I always gave the same answer, ’Archbishop of Toledo.’  And the good sacristan would laugh again at the certainty with which I spoke of my hopes.  Believe me, Tomasa, I thought much of him when I was consecrated bishop, regretting his death.  I should have been delighted with his tears of joy seeing me with the mitre on my head.  I have always loved you, you are an excellent family, and have often satisfied my hunger.”

“Silence, senor, silence, and do not recall those things.  I am the one who ought to be grateful for your kindness, so simple and genuine in spite of your rank, which comes next after the Pope.  And the truth is,” added the old woman with the pride of her frankness, “that no one is the loser.  Friends like I am you can never have; like all the great ones of the earth, you are surrounded by flatterers and rascals.  If you had remained a simple mass priest no one would have sought you out, but Tomasa would have always been your friend, always ready to do you a service.  If I love you so much it is because you are kind and affable, but if you had put on pride like other archbishops, I should have kissed your ring and ­’Good-bye.’  The cardinal to his palace, the gardener’s widow to her garden.”

The prelate received the old woman’s frankness smilingly.

“You will always be Don Sebastian to me,” she continued.  “When you told me not to call you Eminence or to use the same ceremonies as other people, I was as pleased as if I had been given the mantle of the Virgin del Sagrario.  Such ceremonies would have stuck in my throat and made me ready to cry out, ’Let him have his fill of Eminence and Illustrious, but we have scratched each other thousands of times when we were little, and this big thief could never see a scrap of bread or an apricot in my hand without trying to snatch and devour it!’ You may be thankful I spoke of you as ’usted’ when you became a beneficiary of the Cathedral, for, after all, it would not do to ‘thou’ a priest as if he were an acolyte.”

Silence fell on the two old people, their eyes wandered tenderly over the garden, as if each tree or arcade covered with foliage contained some memory.

“Do you know what I have just remembered,” said Tomasa.  “I remember that we saw each other just here many many years ago, at least forty-eight or fifty.  I was with my poor elder sister who had just married Luna the gardener, and in the cloister wandering round me was he who afterwards became my husband.  We saw a handsome sergeant come into the summer-house with a great jingle of spurs, a sword on his arm, and a helmet with a tail just like the Jews on the Monument.  It was you, Don Sebastian, who had come to Toledo to visit your uncle the beneficiary, and who would not leave without visiting your friend Tomasita.  How handsome and smart you were.  I do not say it to flatter you, it is truth.  You looked like being a rogue with the girls!  And I still remember you said something to me about how pretty and fresh you thought me after so many years absence.  You don’t mind my reminding you of this?  Really?  It was only a soldier’s gallant jests.  How many would say that now?  When you left, I said to my brother-in-law, ’He has put on the uniform for good and all; it is useless his uncle, the beneficiary, thinking of making a priest of him.’”

“It was a youthful sally,” said the cardinal smiling, remembering with pride the dashing sergeant of dragoons.  “In Spain, there are only three professions worthy of a man ­the sword, the Church and the toga.  My blood was hot and I wanted to be a soldier, but unluckily I fell on times of peace, my promotion would have been very slow, and in order not to embitter my uncle’s last years, I renewed my studies and turned to the Church.  One can serve God or one’s country as well in one place as another, but, believe me, very often in spite of the pomp of my cardinalate I think with envy of that soldier you saw.  What happy times they were!  Even now the sword draws me.  When I see the cadets I would gladly exchange with some of them, giving them my crozier and cross.  And possibly I might have done better than any of them!  Ah! if only the great times of the reconquest could return when the prelates went out to fight the Moors!  What a great Archbishop of Toledo I should have been!”

And Don Sebastian drew up his fat old body, and proudly stretched out his arms with all the remains of his former strength.

“You have always been a strong man,” said the gardener’s widow.  “I say very often to some of the priests who speak of you and criticise you:  ’You must not trifle with His Eminence, he is quite capable of going one day into the choir ­some he likes and some he does not ­and driving you all out at one fell swoop.’”

“I have more than once been tempted to do so,” said the prelate firmly, his eyes flashing with energy, “but I have been prevented by the thought of my charge and my character as a peaceful priest.  I am the shepherd of a Catholic flock, not a wolf who tears the sheep in his fierceness.  But sometimes I can bear no more, and God forgive me!  I have often been tempted to raise the shepherd’s crook and chastise with blows that rebel flock who harbour in the Cathedral.”

The prelate became excited, speaking of his quarrels with the Chapter; the placidity of mind produced by the quiet of the garden disappeared as he thought of his hostile subordinates.  He felt obliged as at other times to confide his troubles to the gardener’s widow with that instinctive kindly feeling which often causes highly-placed people to confide in humble friends.

“You cannot imagine, Tomasa, what those men make me suffer.  I will subdue them because I am the master, because they owe me obedience by the rule of discipline without which there can be neither Church nor religion; but they oppose and disobey me.  My orders are carried out with grumbling, and when I assert myself even the last ordained priest stands on what he calls his rights, lays complaints against me and appeals either to the Rota or to Rome.  Let us see, am I the master or am I not?  Ought the shepherd to argue with his sheep and consult how to guide them in the right way?  They sicken and weary me with their complaints and questions.  There is not half a man amongst them, they are all cowardly tale-bearers.  In my presence they lower their eyes, smile and praise His Eminence, and as soon as I turn my back they are vipers trying to bite me, scorpion tongues which respect nothing.  Ay, Tomasa, my daughter! pity me! when I think of all this it makes me quite ill.”

The prelate turned pale, rising from his seat as though he felt a sudden spasm of pain.

“Do not worry yourself so much,” said the old woman, “you are above them all, and you will overcome them.”

“Clearly, I shall defeat them; if not, it would fill my cup, for it would be the first time I had been vanquished.  These squabbles among comrades do not trouble me much after all, for I know in the end I shall see my detested enemies at my feet.  But it is their tongues, Tomasa! ­what they say about the beings I love most in the world, that is what wounds me, and is killing me.”

He sat down again, coming quite close to the gardener’s widow, so as to speak in a very low voice.

“You know my past better than anyone; I have such great confidence in you that I have told you everything.  Besides, you are very quick, and if I had not told you, you would have guessed.  You know what Visitacion is to me, and most certainly you are aware of what those wretches say about her.  Do not play the fool; everyone inside and outside the Cathedral listens to these calumnies and believes them.  You are the only one who does not credit them because you know the truth.  But ay! the truth cannot be told, I cannot proclaim it, these robes forbid me.”

And he seized a handful of his cassock with his clenched fingers as if he would rend it.

A long silence followed.  Don Sebastian looked fixedly at the ground, clutching with his hands as though he were trying to grasp invisible enemies; every now and then he felt a stab of pain and sighed uneasily.

“Why do you think about these things?” said the gardener’s widow; “they only make you ill, and you ought not to have disturbed yourself to come and see me, you would have done better to remain in the palace.”

“No, you distract my mind from them, it is a great comfort to tell you of my troubles.  Up there I feel in despair, and have to exert all my self-command to suppress my anger.  I do not wish my servants to understand, for they are quite capable of laughing at me, neither do I wish poor Visitacion to know anything.  I cannot dissimulate.  I cannot feign happiness when I am so irritated!  What a hell I suffer!  I cannot say that I have been a man, and that I have been weak as the flesh of which I am made, that I have with me the fruit of my faults, and that I will not separate myself from them, though persecuted by calumny.  Every man acts as he is able, and I wish to be good in spite of my faults.  I might have separated from my children, I might have deserted them, as others have done to preserve their reputation as saints, but I am a man, and I am proud of them; I am a man with all his defects and all his virtues, neither greater nor less than the general run of humanity.  The feeling of paternity is so deeply rooted in me that I would sooner lose my mitre than abandon my children.  You remember when Juanito’s father, who passed as my nephew, died, how deeply I felt it, I thought I should have died also.  Such a fine, handsome man, and with such a brilliant future before him!  I would have made him a magistrate, president of the supreme court, minister, anything I wished!  And in twenty-four hours he was dead as though Heaven wished to punish me.  It is true I have my grandson remaining, but this Juanito in no way resembles his father, and I confess it to you, I do not care much for him.  I can only see in him the most distant reflection of my poor son.  Of my past, of that time which was the happiest of my life, all I have left me is Visitacion.  She is the living image of the poor dead one.  I worship her! and this feeble ray of happiness these wretched people disturb with their calumnies.  It is enough to make one kill them!”

Overcome by the happy recollection of the spring-time which had flowered during the first years of his episcopate, far away in an Andalusian diocese, he repeated once again to Tomasa the tale of his relations with a certain devout lady, who from her childhood had felt a horror of the world.  Devotion had drawn them together, but life was not long in asserting her rights, opening herself a way by their almost mystical relations, and finally uniting them in a carnal embrace.  They had lived faithful to each other in the secrecy of ecclesiastical life, loving each other with scrupulous prudence, so that no rumour of their relations had ever publicly transpired, until she died, leaving two children.  Don Sebastian, a man of strong passions, was almost vehement in his paternal feelings ­those two beings were the image of the poor dead woman, the remembrance of the only idyll which had softened a life wholly given over to ambition, and the calumnies circulated by his enemies, founded on the presence of his daughter in the archiepiscopal palace nearly drove him mad.

“They believe her to be my mistress!” he said angrily.  “My poor Visitacion, so good, so affectionate, so gentle to all, changed to a courtesan by these wretches!  A sweetheart that I have taken for my amusement from the college of Noble Ladies!  As if I, old and infirm, were able to think of such things!  Brutes! wretches!  Crimes have been committed for less!”

“Let them say on.  God is in heaven and sees us all.”

“I know it, but this is not enough to quiet me.  You have children, Tomasa, and you know what it is to love them.  It is not only what is done against them that wounds us, but what is said.  What days of suffering I endure!  You know since my boyhood all my dreams have been to rise to where I am.  I used to look at the throne in the choir and think how comfortable I should be in it ­of the immense happiness of being a prince of the Church.  Well, now I am on the throne.  I have spent half a century removing the stones from my path, leaving my skin and even my flesh on the brambles of the hillside.  I only know how I was able to rise from the black mass and obtain a bishopric!  Afterwards ­now I am an archbishop! now I am a cardinal!  At last I can rise no higher!  And what is it all?  Happiness always floats before us like the cloud of light which guided the Israelites.  We see it, we almost touch it, but it never lets itself be caught.  I am more unhappy now than in the days when I struggled to rise, and thought myself the most unfortunate of men.  I am no longer young; the height on which I stand draws all eyes to me and prevents me defending myself.  Ay, Tomasa! pity me, for I am worthy of compassion!  To be a father and to be obliged to hide it as a crime!  To love my daughter with an affection which increases more and more as I draw nearer to death, and have to endure that people should imagine this pure affection to be something so repugnant!”

And the terrible glance of Don Sebastian, which terrified all the diocese, was clouded with tears.

“Moreover, I have other troubles,” he went on, “but they are those of a far-seeing man who fears the future.  When I die, all that I have will be my daughter’s.  Juanito inherits what belonged to his mother, who was rich; besides, he has his profession and the support of my friends.  Visitacion will be very rich.  You know my adversaries throw in my face what they call my avarice.  Avaricious I am not, but foreseeing, and anxious for the well-being of those belonging to me.  I have saved a great deal.  I am not one of those who distribute bread at the gate of his palace, nor who seek popularity through almsgiving.  I have pasture lands in Estremadura, many vineyards in La Mancha, houses, and above all State stock ­much stock.  As a good Spaniard I have wished to help the Government with my money, more especially as it bears interest.  I do not quite know how much I possess, but certainly twenty millions of reals, and probably more, all saved by myself and increased by fortunate speculations.  I cannot complain of fate, and the Lord has helped me.  Everything is for my poor Visitacion.  I should delight in seeing her married to a good man; but she will not leave me.  She is drawn to the Church, and that is my fear.  Do not be surprised, Tomasa; I, a prince of the Church, fear to see how she is attracted by devotion, and I do all I can to turn her from it.  I respect a religious woman, but not one who is only happy in the Church.  A woman ought to live; she ought to be happy as a mother.  I have always looked badly on nuns.”

“Let her be, senor,” said the gardener’s widow; “there is nothing strange in her love for the Church.  Living as she does she could scarcely do otherwise.”

“For the present time, I have no fear.  I am by her side, and her being fond of the society of the nuns signifies very little to me.  But I may die to-morrow, and just imagine what a splendid mouthful poor Visitacion and her millions would be, left alone, with this predilection to religious life, of which those cunning people would be sure to take advantage!  I have seen a great deal.  I belong to the class, and I am in the secret.  There is no lack of religious orders who devote themselves to hunting heiresses for the greater glory of God, as they say.  Besides, there are many foreign nuns with great flapping caps travelling about here, who are lynxes for that sort of work, and I am terrified lest they should pounce on my daughter.  I belong to the ancient Catholicism, to that pure Spanish religion, free from all modern extravagances.  It would be sad to have spent my life in saving, only to fatten the Jesuits or those sisters who cannot speak Castilian.  I do not wish my money to share the fate of that of the sacristans in the proverb.  For this reason, to the annoyance I feel at my struggles with this inimical Chapter, I must add the distress I feel at my daughter’s feeble character.  Probably she will be hunted; some rake will laugh at me and possess himself of my money.”

Excited by his gloomy thoughts, he gave vent to an interjection both caustic and obscene, a memory of his soldiering days; in the presence of the gardener’s widow there was no need to control himself, and the old woman was accustomed to this relief of his temper.

“Let us see,” he said imperiously after a long silence.  “You, who know me better than anyone, am I as bad as my enemies suppose?  Do I deserve that the Lord should punish me for my faults?  You are one of God’s souls, simple and good, and you know more of all this by your instinct than all the doctors of theology.”

“You bad, Don Sebastian?  Holy Jesus!  You are a man like all others, neither more nor less; but you are sincere, all of one piece, without deceit or hypocrisy.”

“A man ­you have said it.  I am a man like the rest.  We who attain a certain height are like the saints on the fronts of the churches:  from below we cause admiration for our beauty, but viewed closely we cause horror from the ugliness of the stones corroded by time.  However much we wish to sanctify ourselves, keeping ourselves apart, we are still nothing but men ­creatures of flesh and blood like those who surround us.

“In the Church those who free themselves from human passion are most rare.  And who knows if, even among those few privileged ones, some are not driven by the demon of vanity to increase the asceticism of their lives, thinking of the glory of being on an altar!  The priest who succeeds in subduing his flesh falls into avarice, which is the ecclesiastical vice par excellence.  I have never hoarded from vice; I have saved for my own, but never for myself.”

The prelate was silent for a long while; but in his irresistible desire to confide in the simple old woman he went on.

“I am sure that God will not despise me when my hour comes.  His infinite mercy is above all the littleness of life.  What has been my fault?  To have loved a woman, as my father loved my mother; to have had children as the apostles and saints had.  And why not?  Ecclesiastical celibacy is an invention of men, a detail of discipline agreed upon at the councils; but the flesh and its exigencies are anterior by many centuries; they date from Paradise.  Whoever crosses this barrier, not from vice, but from irresistible passion, because he cannot conquer the impulse to create a family and to have a companion, fails indubitably towards the laws of the Church, but he does not disobey God.  I fear the approach of death; many nights I doubt and tremble like a child.  But I have served God in my own way.  In former times I would have served Him with my sword, fighting against the heretics.  Now I am His priest and do battle for Him whenever I see the impiety of the age curtailing anything of His glory.  The Lord will forgive me, receiving me into His bosom.  You, who are so good, Tomasa, and have the soul of an angel beneath your rough exterior, do you not think so?”

The gardener’s widow smiled, and her words fell slowly on the silence of the dying evening.

“Tranquillise yourself, Don Sebastian.  I have seen many saints in this house, and they have been worth much less than you.  To ensure their salvation they would have abandoned their children.  To maintain what they call purity of soul they would have renounced their family.  Believe me, no saints enter here; they are men, nothing but men.  You have nothing to repent of in following the impulse of your heart.  God created us in His image and likeness, and also planted in us family love.  All the rest, chastity, celibacy and other trifles, you invented for yourselves, to distinguish yourselves from the common herd of people.  Be a man, Don Sebastian, and the more you show yourself such the better it will be for you, and the better the Lord will receive you in His glory.”