"And the rest of us?" asked Don Calixto.
"I don't give you chrysanthemums, because your wives would be jealous," replied Amparito.
"Man, man!" exclaimed the judge; "how does it strike you, Don Calixto? That these little girls know the human heart pretty well?"
"These children do not know how to appreciate our merits," said Don Calixto.
"Oh, yes; your merits are for your wives," replied Amparito.
"I must inform you that my friend Caesar is married, too," said Alzugaray, laughing.
"Pshaw!" she exclaimed, smiling and showing her white, strong teeth. "He hasn't the face of a married man."
"Yes, he has got the face of a married man. Look at him hard."
"Very well; as his wife isn't here, she won't quarrel with me."
Alzugaray examined this girl. She had great vivacity; any idea that occurred to her was reflected in her face in a manner so lively and charming, that she was an interesting spectacle to watch.
At first the conversation was of a languid and weary character; Don Calixto, the judge, and Caesar started in to exchange political reflexions of crass vulgarity. Caesar was gallantly attentive to the wants of Don Calixto's elder daughter, and less gallantly so to his other neighbour Amparito; the mayor's son, despite the fact that his official mission was to court one of Don Calixto's girls, looked more at Amparito than at his intended, and Alzugaray listened smilingly to the young person's sallies.
Toward the middle of the meal the conversation grew brisker; the judge recounted, with much art, a mysterious crime that had occurred in a town in Andalusia among farming people, and he succeeded in keeping them all hanging to his lips.
At the end of the recital, the conversation became general; the younger element talked together, and Caesar made comments about what the judge had told them, and defended the most immoral and absurd conclusions, as though they were Conservative ideas.
Caesar's observations were discussed by the men, and the judge and Don Calixto agreed that Caesar was a man of real talent, who would play a great role in Congress.
"Please give me a little wine," said Amparito, holding her glass to Alzugaray; "your friend pays no attention to me; I have asked him for some wine twice, and nothing doing."
Caesar acted as if he hadn't heard and kept on talking.
Amparito took the glass, wet her lips in it, and looked at Alzugaray maliciously.
After eating and having coffee, as the two married ladies and the girls were inert from so long a meal, they arose, and Alzugaray, the mayor's son, and Amparito's father followed them. Don Calixto, the judge, and Caesar remained at table. The priest had gone to sleep.
A bottle of chartreuse was brought, and they started in drinking and smoking.
Caesar's throat grew dry and he became nauseated from drinking, smoking, and talking.
At five the judge took his leave, because he had to glance in at court; Don Calixto wanted to take his nap, and after he had escorted Caesar to the garden, he went away. The two married ladies were alone, because the young people had gone with Amparito's father on an excursion to the Devil's Threshold, a defile where the river flows between some red precipitous rocks full of clefts.
Caesar joined the two ladies, and kept up a monotonous, dreary conversation about the ways of the great city.
At twilight all the excursionists came back from their jaunt. One of the young ladies played something very noisy on the piano, and the judge's daughter was besought to recite one of Campoamor's poems.
"It is a very pretty thing," said the judge's wife, "a girl who laments because her lover abandons her."
"Given the customs of Spain, as they are, the girl would be in a house of prostitution," said Caesar in a low tone, ironically.
"Shut up," replied Alzugaray.
The girl recited the poem, and Caesar asked Alzugaray sarcastically if those verses were by the girl's father, because they sounded to him like the verses of a notary or a judge of the Court of First Instance.
Then somebody suggested that they should have supper there.
Caesar noticed that this plan did not appeal to the mistress of the house, and he said:
"One should be moderate in all things. I am going home to bed."
After this somewhat pedantic phrase, which to Don Calixto seemed a pearl, Caesar took leave of his new acquaintances with a great deal of ceremony and coolness. Alzugaray said he would remain a while longer.
When Caesar was bowing to Amparito, she asked him jokingly:
"Is it your wife that keeps you in such good habits?"
"My wife!" exclaimed Caesar, surprised.
"Didn't your friend say..."
"Ah! Yes, it is she who makes me have such good habits."
This said, he left the drawing-room and went quickly down the stairs. The cool night air made him shiver, and he went with a heavy, aching head to his hotel, and got to bed. He slept very profoundly, but not for more than an hour, and woke up sweaty and thirsty. His headache was gone. It was not yet past eleven. He lighted the light, and sitting up in bed, set to thinking over the probabilities of success in his undertaking.
Meanwhile he stared at the red chrysanthemum which was in the button-hole of his coat, and remembered Amparito.
"That child is a prodigy of coquetry and bad bringing-up," he thought with vexation; "these emancipated small town young ladies are more unattractive than any others. I prefer Don Calixto's daughter, who at least is naively and unobjectionably stupid. But this other one is unsupportable."
Without knowing why, he felt more antipathy for the girl than was natural under the circumstances. He did not like to admit it to himself; but he felt the hostility which is produced in strong, self-willed characters by the presence of another person with a strong character proposing to exert itself.
THE TWO FRIENDS' COMMENTS
Caesar was thinking over the details of the visit, when Alzugaray came home, and seeing a light in Caesar's room, went in there. Alzugaray was quite lively. The two friends passed the persons met that day in ironic review, and in general they were agreed about everything, except about valuing Amparito's character.
Caesar found her distasteful, pert and impertinent; to his friend, on the contrary, she had seemed very attractive, very amiable and very clever.
"To me," said Caesar, "she appears one of these small town lasses who have a flirtation with a student, then with a captain, and finally marry some rich brute, and get fat, and turn into old sows, and grow moustaches."
"In that I think you are fundamentally unjust," said Alzugaray. "Amparito is not a small town lass, for she lives in Madrid almost all year. Besides, that makes no difference; what I have not observed is her committing any folly or impertinence." "Dear man, it all depends on how you look at it. To me her conduct seemed bad, to you it seems all right."
"You are an extremist, for I can assure you that you were actually rude to her."
"Actually rude, I don't think; but I admit that I was cool and not very amiable."
"And why were you?"
"First, because it is politic of me, since Don Calixto's family do not care for Amparito; and secondly, because the little creature didn't please me, either."
"And why didn't she please you? For no reason at all?"
"I am not partial to the platyrrhine races."
"What nonsense! And you wish to look at things clearly! A man that judges people by their noses!"
"It seems to you little to go on? A brunette girl, brachicephalic and rather platyrrhine.... There is no more to say."
"And if she had been blond, dolichocephalic, and long-nosed, she would have seemed all right to you."
"Her ethnic type would have seemed all right."
"Let's not discuss it. What's the use? But I feel that you are arbitrary to an extreme."
"If she knew of our discussion, the young thing couldn't complain, because if she has had a systematic detractor in me, she has found an enthusiastic defender in you."
"Yes, dear man; it is only at such long intervals that I see a person with ingenuousness and enthusiasm, that when I do meet one, I get a real joy from it."
"You are a sentimentalist."
"That's true; and you have become an inquisitor."
"Most certainly. I believe we agree on that and on all the rest."
"I think so. All right. Good-bye!" said Alzugaray, ill-humouredly.
"Salutations!" replied Caesar.
VI. UNCLE CHINAMAN
Caesar impatiently awaited Senor Peribanez's reply, so that he might return to Madrid. He was fed up with Don Calixto's conversation and his wife's, and with the familiarity they had established with him.
Alzugaray, on the other hand, was entertained and content. Amparito's father showed a great liking for him and took him everywhere in his automobile.
Caesar, in order to satisfy his requirements for isolation, had begun to get up very early and take walks on the highway. He almost always walked too far, and was done up for the whole day, and at first he slept badly at night.
He wanted to see, one by one, the parts of his future realm, the scene where his initiative was to bear seed and his plans to be realized.
A lot of ideas occurred to him: to build a bridge here, to take advantage there of the fall of the river and establish a big electric plant for industrial purposes. He would have liked to change everything he saw, in an instant.
To think of these sleeping forces irritated him: the waterfall, lost without leaving its energy anywhere; the ravine, which might be transformed into an irrigation reservoir; the river, which was flowing gently without fertilizing the fields; the land around the hermitage, which might have been converted into a park, with a bright, gay schoolhouse; all these things that could be done and were not done, seemed to him more real than the people with whom he talked and lived.
One morning Caesar walked to Cidones; the sun shone strongly on the highway, and he reached the town choked and thirsty.
The streets of Cidones were so narrow, so cold and damp, that Caesar shivered on entering the first one, and he turned back, and instead of going inside that polypus of dark clefts, he walked around it by the road. On a small house with an arbour, which was on a corner, he saw a sign saying: 'Cafe Espanol'; and went in.
THE CAFE ESPANOL. The cafe was dark and completely empty, but at one end there was a balcony where the sun entered. Caesar crossed the cafe and sat down near the balcony.
He called several times, and clapped his hands, and a girl appeared.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Something to drink. A bottle of beer."
"I will call Uncle Chinaman."
The girl went out, and soon after a thick, chubby man came in, with a bottle of beer in his hand, the label of which he showed to Caesar, asking him if that was what he wanted.
"Yes, sir; that will do very well."
The man opened the bottle with his corkscrew, put it on the table, and as he seemed to have a desire to enter into conversation, Caesar asked him:
"Why did the girl tell me that Uncle Chinaman would come? Who is the Chinaman?"
"The Chinaman, or Uncle Chinaman, as you like; I am."
"My dear man!"
"Yes, we all have nicknames here. They called my father that, and they call me that. Psh! It makes no difference. Because if a person is cross about it, it's all the worse. A few days ago a muleteer from a town in the district arrived here, and went to the inn, and as he had no nickname and they are very fond here in Cidones of giving one to every living creature, they said to him: 'No matter how short a while you stay here, you will be given a nickname'; and he answered contemptuously: 'Bah! Little fear.' Soon after, as he was crossing the square, a girl said to him: 'Good-bye, Little Fear!' and Little Fear it remained."
As Uncle Chinaman seemed very communicative, Caesar asked him some questions about life in the town.
Uncle Chinaman talked a great deal and with great clearness. According to him, the cause of all trouble in the town was cowardice. The two or three bosses of Castro and Father Martin ruled their party arbitrarily, and the rest of the people didn't dare breathe.
The poor didn't understand that by being united they could offset the influence of the rich, and even succeed in dominating them. Besides, fear didn't permit them to move.
"But fear of what?" said Caesar.
"Fear of everything; fear that they will levy a tax, that they won't provide work, that they will take your son for a soldier, that they will put you in jail for something or other, that the two or three bullies who are in the bosses' service might beat you."
"Does their tyranny go as far as that?"
"They do whatever they choose."
The Chinaman, who looked more like a Tartar, could make himself quite clear. If it had not been that he used the wrong words and had an itch for unusual ones, he would have given the impression of being a most intelligent man.
He said he was anti-clerical, declared himself a pantheist, and spoke of the "controversories" he maintained with different persons.
"A relative of mine who is a monk," he said, "is always reprehending me, and saying: 'Lucas, you are a Free-Thinker.'... 'And it's greatly to my credit,' I tell him."
Then, apropos of his monkish relative, he told a scandalous story. A niece of the Chinaman's, who had served for some while in the cafe, had gone to live with this monk.
Uncle Chinaman's account of it was rather grotesque.
"I had a niece," he said, "in the house, you know, very spruce, very good-looking, with breasts as hard as a rock. My wife loved her as 'muchly' as if she had been our daughter, and so did I. Suddenly we heard the poor child had made a false step... or two false steps... and a little while later the girl was in a bad condition. Well, then; she went to town, and came back here to the cafe, and again we heard that the poor child had made a false step... or two false steps; and as I have daughters, you know, this 'pro... missiousness' didn't please me, and I went and told her: 'Look here, Maria, this isn't right at all, and what you ought to do is get out.' She understood me, and went away, and went to her uncle the monk, and the two of them formed a 'cohabit.'... Curse her! I went after them; and if I ever find them, I'll kill them. All very well for the poor child to make a false step... or two false steps; but this thing of getting into a 'cohabit' with a monk, and he her uncle, that is a 'hulimination' for the family. You may believe that we had to empty the cup down to the 'drugs.'"
Caesar was listening to Uncle Chinaman with joy, when he saw two friars passing along the road below the balcony.
"They are from the monastery of la Pena, I suppose," he said.
The Chinaman looked out and replied:
"One of them is the prior, Father Lafuerza. The other is an intriguing young chap who has been here only a short while."
"Man, I have to see them," said Caesar.
"They are coming up the street now."
Uncle Chinaman and Caesar went to the other end of the cafe, and waited for them to pass.
The younger of the two friars had an air of mock humility, and was weakly-looking, with a straggling yellowish beard and a crafty expression; Father Martin, on the contrary, looked like a pasha parading through his dominions. He was tall, stout, of an imposing aspect, with a grizzly blond beard, blue eyes, and a straight, well-shaped nose.
The two friars came up the narrow, steep street, stopping to talk to the women that were sewing and embroidering in the arcades.
Caesar and the Chinaman followed them with their eyes until the two friars turned a corner. Then Caesar left the cafe and walked back to Castro Duro.
VII. A TRYING SCENE
Don Platon Peribanez's reply was delayed longer than he had promised. No one knew whether the Duke of Castro Duro would get married or not get married, whether he would come out of prison or stay in.
Caesar had nothing for it but to wait, although he was already fed up with his stay. Alzugaray had a good time; he visited the surrounding towns in the company of Amparito and her father. Caesar, on the other hand, began to be bored. Accustomed to live with the independence of a savage, the social train of a town like Castro irritated him.
His good opinion of people was in direct ratio to the indifference they felt for him. Amparito's father was one of those who showed most antipathy. Sometimes he invited him to go motoring, but only for politeness. Caesar used to reply to these invitations with a courteous refusal.
Amparito, who was doubtless accustomed to seeing everybody in town fluttering about her, was wounded at this indifference and took every chance to see Caesar, and then shot her wit at him and was sharply impertinent.
The young creature was more intelligent than she had at first appeared and she spoke very plainly.
Caesar could not permit a young girl to make fun of him and combat his ideas for her own amusement.
"Let's see, Moneada," Amparito said to him one day in the gallery at Don Calixto's. "What are your political plans?"
"You wouldn't understand them," replied Caesar.
"Why not? Do you think I am so stupid?"
"No. It is merely that politics are not a matter for children." "Ah! But how old do you think I am?" she asked.
"You must be twelve or thirteen."
"You are a malicious joker, Senor Moncada, You know that I am almost seventeen."
"I don't. How should I know it?"
"Because I told your friend Alzugaray...."
"All right, but I don't ask my friend what you have told him."
"It doesn't interest you? Very good. You are very polite. But your politics do interest me. Come on, tell me. What reforms do you intend to make in the town? What improvements are you going to give the inhabitants? For I warn you, Senor Moncada, that they are all going to vote against you otherwise, I will tell my father."
"I don't believe his political interest is so keen."
"It is keen enough, and my father will do what I tell him. My father says that you are ambitious."
"If I were, I should make love to you, because you are rich."
"And do you suppose I would respond?"
"I don't know, but I should try it, as others do; and you can see that I don't try."
Amparito bit her lips and said ironically:
"Are you reserving yourself for my cousin Adelaida?"
"I am not reserving myself for anybody."
"We couldn't say that you are very amiable."
"That is true. I never have been."
"If you keep on like that when you are a Deputy...."
"What difference is it to you whether I am a Deputy or not? Is it because you have some beau who wants the place? If it is, tell me. I will withdraw in his favour. You must see that I can do no more," said Caesar jokingly.
"And how you would hate me then; if you had to give up being a Deputy on my account!"
"You hate me already."
"No. You are mistaken." "Yes. I believe if you could, you would strike me."
"No, the most I should do would be to shut you up in a dark room."
"You are an odious, antipathetic man. I thought I rather liked you, but I only hate you."
"You know already, Amparito, that I am a candidate for Deputy, but not one for you."
"All right. All right. I don't wish to hear any more stupid remarks."
"The stupid remarks are those you are making."
And Caesar, who was beginning to feel angry, rebuked Amparito too severely, for her coquetry, her bad intentions, and her desire to humiliate and mortify people without any reason.
Amparito listened to him, pale and panting.
"And after all," said Caesar, "all this is nothing to me. If I am in your family's way, or even in your way, I can go away from here, and all is ended."
"No, do not go away," murmured Amparito, raising her handkerchief to her eyes and beginning to weep bitterly.
Caesar felt deeply grieved; all his anger disappeared, and he stood there, amazed, and not knowing what to do.
"Do not cry," exclaimed Caesar; "what will they think of me? Come, don't cry. It is childish."
At that moment Amparito's father entered the gallery, and he came running to the girl's side.
"What have you done to my daughter?" he cried, approaching Caesar threateningly.
"I, nothing," he said.
"You have. What has he done to you?" screamed the father.
"Nothing, Papa. Do not shriek that way, for God's sake," moaned Amparito; "I was entirely to blame."
"No, I tell you he hasn't done anything to me."
Caesar, who had remained motionless in face of Amparito's father's threatening attitude, turned on his heel, and went slowly out. THE ETERNAL GAME OF DISDAIN
Caesar went back to the hotel, thinking very hard. Alzugaray asked him what the matter was, and Caesar told his friend what had happened in the gallery. On hearing the story Alzugaray assumed a look of deep desolation.
"I don't understand what is the matter with the girl, for her to show such antipathy for me," Caesar concluded.
"It is very simple," said Alzugaray, sadly; "the girl is interested in you. The eternal game of disdain has produced its effect. She has seen you show yourself indifferent toward her, speak curtly to her, and she has gone on thinking more and more about you, and now she thinks of nothing else. That is what has happened."
"Bah! I don't believe it. You act as if this were in a novel."
"It's no novel. It's the truth."
The next day, when Caesar got up, the maid handed him two letters. One was from Don Calixto and said that Senor Peribanez accepted him as candidate. It had been learned that the Duke of Castro Duro had married his landlady in England; the arrangement with the Cuban gentleman was impossible, and the poor Duke would definitely have to winter in Paris, in the prison, along with the distinguished apaches, Bibi de Montmartre and the Panther of the Batignolles.
The other letter was from Amparito.
Don Calixto's niece told him he mustn't believe that she hated him; if she had said anything to him, it was without bad intention; she would be very happy if all his projects were realized.
Despite his ambitious plans and the desire he had that the question of his candidacy should be definitely settled, Amparito's letter interested him much more than Don Calixto's.
A new, disturbing element was coming into his life, without any warning and without any reason. He said nothing about Amparito's letter to his friend Alzugaray. He felt him to be a rival, and in spite of having no intentions of going further, the idea of rivalry between them troubled him. He did not wish to offend him by taking the attitude of a lucky man.
He went out into the street and set off for a walk on the highway.
"It is strange," he thought, "this coarse psychology, which proves that a man and a woman, especially a woman, are not complex beings, but stupidly simple. The complex thing in a woman is not the intelligence or the soul, but instinct. Why does a woman rebuff a man who pleases her? For the same reason that the female animal repulses the male, and at the same time calls him to her.
"And this instinctive love, this mixture of hatred and attraction, is the curious thing, the enigmatic thing about human nature. The intellect of each individual is, by contrast, so poor, so clear!
"This girl, rich and attractive, flattered by everybody, is bored in this town. She sees a man that doesn't pay attention to her, who is after another goal, and simply for that reason she feels offended and hunts out a way to mortify him, for her entertainment and for spite; and when she finds that she doesn't succeed, she gets to thinking about him all the time.
"And this spite, this wounded vanity, is changed to an absorbing interest. Why shouldn't that absorbing interest be called love? Yes, she is in love, and finds great satisfaction in thinking so.
"She is not an insignificant girl, daughter of a commonplace gentleman; to herself, she is a romantic figure. She seems to be absorbed in another, and what is really the case is that she is absorbed in herself. How ridiculous this all is!... And this is life. Is the whole of life nothing, in reality, but ridiculous?"
Caesar returned home, and unknown to Alzugaray, wrote a letter to Amparito. He put the letter into the box, and then went to call on Don Calixto, and take leave of him. Don Calixto invited Caesar and Alzugaray to dinner the next day, and there were the same guests as the first time.
The dinner was cold and ceremonious. Amparito was grave, like a grown person. Scarcely speaking, she replied with discreet smiles to Alzugaray's occasional phrases, but she was not in a humour to tease anybody.
The train started about the middle of the afternoon, and Don Calixto had arranged to have the carriage got ready, and to accompany the travellers to the station.
Caesar was uneasy, thinking of the leave-taking. The moment for saying good-bye to Amparito and her father, it seemed to him, would be a difficult moment. Nevertheless, everything went off smoothly. The father offered his hand, without grudge. Amparito blushed a little and said:
"We shall see each other again, Moncada?"
"Yes, I'm sure of it," replied Caesar; and the two friends and Don Calixto took the carriage for the station.
The two friends' return trip to Madrid was scarcely agreeable. Alzugaray was offended at Caesar's personal success with Amparito; Caesar understood his comrade's mental attitude and didn't know what to say or do.
To them both the journey seemed long and unpleasant, and when they reached their destination, they were glad to separate.
VIII. THE ELECTION
WHAT THEY SAID IN THE TOWNS
A short while later the eventuality predicted by Caesar occurred. The Liberal ministry met a crisis, and after various intermediate attempts at mixed cabinets, the Conservatives came into power.
Caesar had no need to insist with the Minister of the Interior. He was one of the inevitable. He was pigeon-holed as an adherent, from the first moment.
The Government had given out the decree for the dissolution of the Cortes in February and was preparing for the General Election in the middle of April.
Caesar would have gone immediately to Castro Duro, but he feared that if he showed interest it would complicate the situation. There were a lot of elements there, whose attitude it was not easy to foresee; Don Platon's friends, Father Martin and his people, Amparito's father, the friends of the opposing candidate, Garcia Padilla. Caesar thought it better that they should consider him a young dandy with no further ambition than to give himself airs, rather than a future master of the town.
He wrote to Don Calixto, and Don Calixto told him there was no hurry, everything was in order; it would be sufficient for him to appear five or six days before the election.
Caesar was impatient to begin his task, and it occurred to him that he might visit the towns that made up the district, without saying anything to anybody or making himself known. The excursion commenced at the beginning of the month of April. He left the train at a station before Castro. He bought a horse and went about through the towns. Nobody in the villages knew that there was going to be an election; such things made no difference to anybody.
After the inauguration of a new Government there was a little revolution in each village, produced by the change of the town-council and by the distribution of all the jobs that were municipal spoils, which passed from the hands of those calling themselves Liberals to the hands of those calling themselves Conservatives.
Caesar discovered that besides the Liberal Garcia Padilla, there was another candidate, protected by Father Martin La-fuerza; but it looked as if the Clericals were going to abandon him. In a town named Val de San Gil, the schoolmaster explained to him, with some fantastic details, the politics of Don Calixto. The schoolmaster was a Liberal and a frank, brusque, intelligent man, but he formed his judgment of Don Calixto's politics on the prejudices of a Republican paper in Madrid, which was the only one he read.
According to him, Senor Moncada, whom nobody knew, was nothing more than a figure-head for the Jesuits. Father Martin Lafuerza was getting possession of too much land in Castro, and wanted everything to belong to his monastery. The Jesuits had learned of this and were sending young Moncada to undo the Franciscan friar's combinations and establish the reign of the Loyolists.
In another place, named Villavieja, Caesar found that the four or five persons interested in Castrian politics were against him. It seemed that the Conservative candidate they wanted was the one protected by Father Martin, who had promised them results greatly to their advantage.
In general, the people in the towns were not up on politics; when Caesar asked them what they thought about the different questions that interest a country, they shrugged their shoulders.
In the outlying hamlets they didn't know either who the king was or what his name was.
The only way in which the trip was of service to the future candidate was by giving him an idea of how elections were carried on, by teaching him who carried the returns to Don. Calixto, and showing him which of these people could be warranted to be honourable and which were rascals.
INDIFFERENCE IN CASTRO
Three days before the election Caesar appeared in Castro and went to stay at Don Calixto's house. Nobody knew about his expedition in the environs. There were no preparations whatever. People said they were going to change Deputies; but really this was of no great moment in the life of the town.
Saturday night the party committee met in the Casino at seven. Caesar arrived a few minutes early; no one was there. He was shown into a shabby salon, lighted by an oil lamp.
It was cold in the room, and Caesar walked about while he waited. On the ceiling a complete canopy of spider-webs, like dusty silver, trembled in every draught.
At half-past eight the first members of the committee arrived; the others kept on coming lazily in. Each one had some pretext to excuse his being late.
The fact was that the matter interested nobody; the politics of the district were going to go on as formerly, and really it wasn't worth while thinking about. Caesar was a decorative figure with no background.
At nine all the members of the committee were in the Casino. Don Calixto made a speech which he prolonged in an alarming manner. Caesar answered him in another speech, which was heard with absolute coldness.
Then a frantic gabbling let loose; everybody wanted to talk. They abandoned themselves fruitfully to distinctions. "If it is certain that.... Although it is true.... Not so much because..." and they eulogized one another as orators, with great gravity.
The next day, Sunday, the proclamation of the candidates took place. They were three: Moncada, Governmental; Garcia Padilla, Liberal; and San Roman, Republican.
San Roman was the old Republican bookseller; it was sure beforehand that he couldn't win, but it suited Caesar that he should run, so that the Workmen's Club elements should not vote for the Liberal candidate.
Two days before the election Caesar went to Cidones and entered the Cafe Espanol.
He asked for Uncle Chinaman, and told him that he was the future Deputy. Uncle Chinaman recognized the young man with whom he had talked some months previous in his cafe, he remembered him with pleasure, and received him with great demonstrations.
"Man," Caesar said to him, "I want you to do me a favour."
"Only tell me."
"It is a question about the election."
"Good. Let's hear what it is."
"There are several towns where Padilla's adherents are ready, after the count, to change the real returns for forged ones. Everything is prepared for it. As I have sent people to their voting-places, they intend to make the change on the road, taking the returns from the messengers and giving them forged ones instead. I want twenty or thirty reliable men to send, four by four, to accompany the messengers that come with the returns, or else to carry them themselves."
"All right, I will get them for you," said Uncle Chinaman.
"How much money do you need?"
"Twenty dollars will do me."
"All right. Which towns are they?"
Caesar told him the names of the towns where he feared substitution. Then he warned him:
"You will say nothing about this."
Caesar gave precise instructions to the landlord of the cafe, and on bidding Uncle Chinaman good-bye, he told him:
"I know already that you are really on my side."
"You believe so?"
"Yes." On Sunday the elections began with absolute inanimation. In the city the Republicans were getting the majority, especially in the suburbs. Padilla was far behind. Nevertheless, it was said at the Casino that it was possible Padilla would finally win the election, because he might have an overwhelming majority in five or six rural wards.
At four in the afternoon the results in the city gave the victory to Moncada. Next to him came San Roman, and in the last place Padilla.
The returns began to come in from the villages. In all of them the results were similar. It was found that the official element voted for the Government candidate, and those who had been attached to the preceding town-council for the Liberal.
At eight in the evening the returns arrived from the first village where Padilla expected a victory. The messenger, surrounded by four men from Cidones, was in a terrified condition. He handed over the returns and left. The result was the same as in all the other rural districts.
In one village alone, the presiding officer had been able to evade the vigilance of the guards sent by Caesar and Uncle Chinaman, and change the number of votes in the returns; but despite this, the election was won for Caesar.
The next day the exact result of the election was known. It stood:
Moncada, 3705. Garcia Padilla, 1823. San Roman, 750.
When it was known that Caesar had played a trick on his enemies under their noses, he came into great estimation.
The judge said:
"I believe you were all deceived. You supposed Don Caesar to be a sucking dove, and he is going to turn out to be a vulture for us."
Caesar listened to felicitations and accepted congratulations smiling, and some days later returned to Madrid.
IX. CAESAR AS DEPUTY
TRIPPING THEM UP
People who didn't know Caesar intimately used to ask one another: "What purpose could Moncada have had in getting elected Deputy? He never speaks, he takes no part in the big debates."
His name appeared from time to time on some committee about Treasury affairs; but that was all.
His life was completely veiled; he was not seen at first nights, or in salons, or on the promenade; he was a man apparently forgotten, lost to Madrid life. Sometimes on coming out of the Chamber he would see Amparito in an automobile; she would look for him with her eyes, and smile; he would take his hat off ostentatiously, with a low bow.
Among a very small number of persons Caesar had the reputation of an intelligent and dangerous man. They suspected him of great personal ambition. It would not have been logical to think that this cold unexpansive man was, in his heart, a patriot who felt Spain's decadence deeply and was seeking the means to revive her.
"No pleasures, no middle-class satisfactions," he thought; "but to live for a patriotic ideal, to shove Spain forward, and to form with the flesh of one's native land a great statue which should be her historic monument."
That was his plan. In Congress Caesar kept silence; but he talked in the corridors, and his ironic, cold, dispassionate comments began to be quoted.
He had formed relations with the Minister of the Treasury, a man who passed for famous and was a mediocrity, passed for honourable and was a rogue. Caesar was much in his company.
The famous financier realized that Moncada knew far more than he did about monetary questions, and among his friends he admitted it; but he gave them to understand that Caesar was only a theorist, incapable of quick decision and action.
Caesar's friendship was a convenience to the Minister, and the Minister's to Caesar. In his heart the Minister hated Caesar, and Caesar felt a deep contempt for the famous financier.
Nobody seeing them in a carriage talking affectionately together could have imagined that there existed such an amount of hatred and hostility between them.
The majority of people, with an absolute want of perspicacity, believed Caesar to be fascinated by the Minister's brilliant intellect; but there were persons that understood the situation of the pair and who used to say:
"Moncada has an influence over the Minister like that of a priest over a family."
And there was some truth in it.
Caesar carried his experimental method over from the stock exchange into politics. He kept a note-book, in which he put down all data about the private lives of Ministers and Deputies, and he filed these papers after classifying them.
Castro Duro began to be aware of Caesar's exertions. The secretary of the municipality, the employees, all who were friends and adherents to the boss's group that Don Platon belonged with, began by degrees to leave Castro.
Those who had lost their jobs, and their protectors too, began to write letters and more letters to the Deputy. At first they believed that Caesar wasn't interested; but they were soon able to understand at Castro that he was interested enough, but not in them. The Minister of the Treasury served him as a battering-ram to use against the Clericals at Castro Duro.
Don Calixto was inwardly rejoiced to see his rivals reduced to impotency.
Caesar began to establish political relations with the Republican bookseller and his friends. When he began to perceive that he was making headway with the Liberal and Labour element, he started without delay to set mines under Don Calixto's terrain. The judge, who was a friend of Don Calixto's, was transferred; so were some clerks of the court; and the Count of la Sauceda, the famous boss, was soon able to realize that his protege was firing against him.
"I have nourished a serpent in my bosom," said Don Calixto; "but I know how I can grind its head."
He could not have been very sure of his strength; for Don Calixto found himself in a position where he had to beg for quarter. Caesar conceded it, on the understanding that Don Calixto would not take any more part in Castro politics.
"You people had the power and you didn't use it very well for the town. Now just leave it to me."
In exchange for Don Calixto's surrender, Caesar agreed to have his Papal title legalized.
At the end of a year and a half Caesar had all the bosses of Castro in his fist.
"Suppressing the bosses in the district was easy," Caesar used to say; "I managed to have one make all the others innocuous, and then I made that one, who was Don Calixto, innocuous and gave him a title."
Caesar did not forget or neglect the least detail. He listened to everybody that talked to him, even though they had nothing but nonsense to say; he always answered letters, and in his own handwriting.
With the townpeople he used the tactics of knowing all their names, especially the old folks', and for this purpose he carried a little note-book. He wrote down, for example: "Senor Ramon, was in the Carlist war; Uncle Juan, suffers with rheumatism."
When, by means of his notes, he remembered these details, it produced an extraordinary effect on people. Everybody considered himself the favourite.
CAESAR'S MANNER OF LIVING
Caesar lived simply; he had a room in an hotel in the Carrera de San Jeronimo, where he received calls; but nobody ever found him there except in business hours.
He used to go now and then to Alzugaray's house, where he would talk over various matters with his friend's mother and sister; he would find out about everything, and go away after giving them advice on questions of managing their money, which they almost always observed and followed.
Of all people, Ignacio Alzugaray was the most incredulous in regard to his friend; his mother and his sister believed in Caesar as in an oracle. Caesar often thought that he ought to fall definitely in love with Ignacio's sister and marry her; but neither he nor she seemed to have set upon passing the limits of a cordial friendship.
Caesar told the Alzugaray family how he lived and caused them to laugh and wonder.
He had rented a fairly large upper story in a street in Valle Hermoso, for five dollars. The days he had nothing to do he went there. He put on an old, worn-out fur coat, which was still a protection, a soft hat, took a stick, and went walking in the environs.
His favourite walk was the neighbourhood of the Canalillo and of the Dehesa de Amaniel.
Generally he went out of his house on the side opposite the Model Prison, then he walked toward Moncloa, and taking the right, passed near the Rubio Institute, and entered the Cerro del Pimiento by an open lot which he got into through a broken wall.
From there one could see, far away, the Guadarrama range, like a curtain of blue mountains and snowy crests; on clear days, the Escorial; Aravaca, the Casa de Campo, and the Sierra de Gredos, which ran out on the left hand like a promontory. Nearby one saw a pine grove, close to the Rubio Institute, and a valley containing market-gardens, and the ranges of the Moncloa shooting school.
Caesar would walk on by the winding road, and stop to look at the Cemetery of San Martin on the right, with its black cypresses and its yellowish walls.
Then he would follow the twists of the Canalillo, and pass in front of the third Reservoir, to the Amaniel road.
That was where Caesar would have built himself a house, had he had the idea of living retired.
The dry, hard landscape was the kind he liked. The mornings were wonderful, the blue sky radiant, the air limpid and thin.
The twilight had an extraordinary enchantment. All that vast extent of land, the mountains, the hills of the Casa de Campo, the cypresses of the cemetery, were bathed in a violet light.
In winter there were hunters of yellow-hammers and goldfinches in these regions, who set their nets and their decoys on the ground, and spent hours and hours watching for their game.
On Sunday, in particular, the number of hunters was very large. They went in squads of three; one carried a big bundle on his shoulder, which was the net all rolled up; another the decoy cages, fastened with a strap; and the third a frying-pan, a skin of wine, and some kindling for a fire.
Caesar used to talk with the guards at Amaniel, with the octroi-officers, and he got to be great friends with a little hunchback, a bird hunter.
It was curious to hear this hunchback talk of the habits of the birds and of the influence of the winds. He knew how the gold-finches, yellow-hammers, and linnets make their nests, and the preference some of them have for coltsfoot cotton, and others for wool or for cow's hair. He told Caesar a lot of things, many of which could have existed only in his imagination, but which were entertaining.
ONE DAY AT CHRISTMASTIME
One day at Christmastime Alzugaray went in the morning to look for Caesar. He knew where to find him and walked direct to the Calle de Galileo. At the house, they told him that Caesar was eating in a tavern close at hand.
Alzugaray went into the place and found his friend the Deputy seated in a coner eating. He had the appearance of a superior workman, an electrician, carver, or something of the sort.
"If people find out you behave so extravagantly, they will think you are crazy," said Alzugaray.
"Pshaw! Nobody comes here," replied Caesar. "The political world and this are separate worlds. This one belongs to the people who have to shoulder the load of everything, and the other is a world of villains, robbers, idiots, and fools. Really, it is difficult to find anything so vile, so inept, and so useless as a Spanish politician. The Spanish middle class is a warren of rogues and villains. I feel an enormous repugnance to brushing against it. That is why I came here now and then to talk to these people; not because these are good, no; the first and the last of them are riff-raff, but at least they say what they mean and they blaspheme naively."
"What are you going to do after lunch?" Alzugaray asked him. "Have you got a sweetheart in one of the old-clothes shops of the quarter?"
"No. I was thinking of taking a walk; that's all."
"Then come along."
They left the tavern and went along a street between sides of sand cut straight down, and started up the Cerro del Pimiento. The soft, vague mist allowed the Guadarrama to stand out visible.
"This landscape enchants me," said Caesar.
"It seems hard and gloomy," responded Alzugaray.
"Yes, that is true; hard and gloomy, but noble. When one is drenched with a miserable political life, when one actually forms a part of that Olympus of madmen called Congress, one needs to be purified. How miserable, how vile that political life is! How many faces pale with envy there are! What low and repugnant hatreds! When I come out nauseated by seeing those people; when I am soaked with repugnance, then I come out here to walk, I look at those serious mountains, so frowning and strong, and the mere sight of them seems like a purifying flame which cleanses me from meanness."
"I see that you are as absurd as ever, Caesar. It would never occur to anybody to come and comfort himself with some melancholy mountains, out here between an abandoned hospital, which looks like a leper-asylum, and a deserted cemetery."
"Well, these mountains give me an impression of energy and nobility, which raises my spirits. This leper-asylum, as you call it, sunken in a pit, this deserted cemetery, those distant mountains, are my friends; I imagine they are saying to me: 'One must be hard, one must be strong like us, one must live in solitude....'"
They did not continue their walk much further, because the night and the fog combined made it difficult to see the path along the Canalillo, which made it possible to fall in, and that would have been disagreeable.
They returned the way they had come. From the top of a hill they saw Madrid in the twilight, covered with fog; and in the streets newly opened between the sides of sand, the lights of the gas-lamps sparkled in a nimbus of rainbow....
X. POLITICAL LABOURS
MONEY ON THE EXCHANGE
Although Caesar did not distinguish himself especially in Congress, he worked hard. His activities were devoted mainly to two points: the stock exchange and Castro Duro.
Caesar had found a partner to play the market for him, a Bilboan capitalist, whom he had convinced of the correctness of his system. Senor Salazar had deposited, in Caesar's name, thirty thousand dollars. With this sum Caesar played for millions and he was drawing an extraordinary dividend from his stocks.
Their operations were made in the name of Alzugaray, whose job it was to go every month to see the broker, and to sign and collect the certificates. Caesar gave his orders by telephone, and Alzugaray communicated them to the broker.
Alzugaray often went to see Caesar and said to him:
"The broker came to my house terrified, to tell me that what we are going to do is an absurdity."
"Let it alone," Caesar would say. "You know our agreement. You get ten percent of the profits for giving the orders. Do not mix in any further."
Often, on seeing the positive result of Caesar's speculations, Alzugaray would ask him:
"Do you find out at the Ministry what is going to happen?"
"Pshaw!" Caesar would say; "the market is not a capricious thing, as you think. There are signs. I pay attention to a lot of facts, which give me indications: coupons, the amount shares advance, the calculation of probabilities; and I compare all these scientific data with empirical observations that are difficult to explain. In such a situation, events are what make the least difference to me. Is there going to be a revolution or a Carlist war?... I am careless about it."
"But this is impossible," Alzugaray used to say. "Excuse me for saying so, but I don't believe you. You have some secret, and that is what helps you."
"How fantastic you all are!"' Caesar would exclaim; "you refuse to believe in the rational, and still you believe in the miraculous."
"No, I do not believe in the miraculous; but I cannot explain your methods."
"That's clear! Am I to explain them to you! When you don't know the mechanism of the market! I am certain that you have never considered the mechanism of the rise produced by the reintegration of the coupon, or the way that rise is limited to double its value. Tell me. Do you know what that means?"
"Well, then, how are you to understand anything?"
"All right, then; explain it to me."
"There's no difficulty. You know that the natural tendency of the market is to rise."
"To rise and to fall," interrupted Alzugaray.
"No, only to rise."
"I don't see it."
"The general tendency of the market is to rise, because having to fall eighty centimos, the value of the coupon, every quarter, if the market didn't rise to offset that loss, shares would reach zero...."
"I don't understand," said Alzugaray.
"Imagine a man on a stairway; if you oblige him to go down one step every so often, in order to keep in the same place as before he will necessarily have to go up again, because if he didn't do so, he would be constantly approaching the front door."
"Yes, surely." "Well, this man on the stairway is the quotation, and the mechanical task of constantly making up for the quarterly loss is what is called the reintegration of the coupon."
"You do not convince me."
Alzugaray didn't like listening to these explanations. He had formed an opinion that had not much foundation, but he would not admit that Caesar, by reasoning, could arrive at the glimmering of an inductive and deductive method, where others saw no more than chance.
CAESAR BEGINS HIS TASK
With the money he made on the market, Caesar was making himself the master of Castro Duro. He constantly assumed a more Liberal attitude in the Chamber, and was in a position to abandon the Conservative majority, on any pretext.
His plan of campaign at Castro Duro corresponded to this political position of his: he had rehabilitated the Workmen's Club and paid its debts. The Club had been founded by the workmen of a thread factory, now shut. The number of members was very small and the labourers and employees of the railway and some weavers were its principal support.
On learning that it was about to be closed for lack of funds, Caesar promised to support it. He thought of endowing the Club with a library, and installing a school in the country. On seeing that the Deputy was patronizing the Club, a lot of labourers of all kinds joined it. A new governing board was named, of which Caesar was honourary president, and the Workmen's Club re-arose from its ashes. The Republicans and the little group of Socialists, almost all weavers, were on Caesar's side and promised to vote for him in the coming election.
Various Republicans who went to Madrid to call on Caesar, told him he ought to come out as a Republican. They would vote for him with enthusiasm.
"No; why should I?" Caesar used to answer. "Are we going to do any more at Castro by my being a Republican than when I am not one? Besides the fact that I should not be elected on that ticket and should thus have no further influence, to me the forms of a government are indifferent; I don't even care whether it has a true ideal or a false one. What I do want is for the town to progress; whether by means of a dream or by means of a reality. A politician should seek for efficiency before asking anything else, and at present the Republican dream would not be efficient at Castro."
Most of the Republicans did not go away very well satisfied with what Caesar had said; and after leaving him, they would say:
"He is a very curious person, but he favours us and we'll have to follow him."
The reopening of the Workmen's Club in Castro was the chance for an event. Caesar was in favour of inaugurating the Club without any celebration, without attracting the attention of the Clericals; but the members of the Club, on the contrary, wished to give the reactionaries a dose to swallow, and Caesar could not but promise his participation in the inauguration.
"Would you like to come to Castro?" Caesar said to Alzugaray.
"What are you going to do there?"
"We are going to open a Club."
"Are you going to speak?"
"All right. Let's go, so that I can hear you. Probably you will do it badly enough."
"And what you say won't please anybody."
"That's possible, too. But that makes no difference. You will come?"
"Yes. Will there be picturesque speakers?"
"There are some, but they are not going to speak. There is one, Uncle Chinaman, who is a marvel. In describing the actual condition of Spain, he once uttered this authoritative phrase: 'Clericalism in the zenith, immorality in high places, the debt floating more every day,...'"
"That's very good." "It certainly is. He made another happy phrase, criticizing the Spanish administration. 'For what reason do they write so many useless papers?' he said. 'So that rats, the obscene reptiles, can go on eating them....'"
"That's very good too."
"He is a man without any education, but very intelligent. So you are going to come?"
"Then we will meet at the station."
CAN ONE CHANGE OR NOT?
They took the train at night and they chatted as they went along in it. Caesar explained to Alzugaray the difficulties he had had to overcome in order that the Workmen's Club could be reinstituted, and went on detailing his projects for the future.
"Do you believe the town is going to be transformed?" asked Alzugaray.
"Yes, certainly!" said Caesar, staring at his friend.
"So then, you, a Darwinist who hold it as a scientific doctrine that only the slow action of environment can transform species and individuals, believe that a poor worn-out, jog-trotting race is going to revive suddenly, in a few years! Can a Darwinist believe in a revolutionizing miracle?"
"Previously, no; but now he can."
"My dear fellow! How so?"
"Haven't you read anything about the experiments of the Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries?"
"Well, his experiments have proved that there are certain vegetable species which, all at once, without any preparation, without anything to make you expect it, change type absolutely and take on other characters."
"The devil! That really is extraordinary."
"Vries verified this rapid transformation first in a plant named OEnotheria Lamarckiana, which, all of a sudden, with no influence from the environment, with nothing to justify it, at times changes and metamorphosizes itself into a different plant."
"But this transformation may be due to a disease," said Alzugaray.
"No, because the mutation, after taking place, persists from generation to generation, not with pathological characteristics, but with completely normal ones."
"It is most curious."
"These experiments have produced Neo-Darwinism. The Neo-Darwinists, with Hugo de Vries at their head, believe that species are not generally gradually transformed, but that they produce new forms in a sudden, brusque way, having children different from the fathers. And if such brusque variations can take place in a characteristic so fixed as physiological form, what may not happen in a thing so unstable as the manner of thinking? Thus, it is very possible that the men of the Italian Renaissance or the French Revolution were mentally distinct from their predecessors and their successors, and they may even have been organically distinct."
"But this overthrows the whole doctrine of evolution," said Alzugaray.
"No. The only thing it has done is to distinguish two forms of change: one, the slow variation already verified by everybody, the other the brusque variation pointed out by Hugo de Vries. We see now that the impulses, which in politics are called evolution and revolution, are only reflexions of Nature's movements."
"So then, we may hope that Castro Duro will change into an Athens?" asked Alzugaray.
"We may hope so," said Caesar.
"All right, let's hope sleeping."
They ordered the porter to prepare two berths in the car, and they both lay down.
In the morning Caesar went to the dressing-room, and a short while later came back clean and dressed up as if he were at a ball.
"How spruce you are!" Alzugaray said to him.
"Yes, that's because they will come to receive me at the station."
"Ha... ha... ha...!" laughed Alzugaray.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Caesar, smiling.
"At your having arranged a reception and brought me along for a witness."
"No, man, no," said Caesar; "I have arranged nothing. The workmen of the Club will come down out of gratitude."
"Ah, that's it! Then there will be only a few."
At this juncture the car door opened and a man in the dirty clothes of a mechanic appeared.
"Don Caesar Moncada?" he inquired.
"What is it?" said Caesar.
"I belong to the Castro Workmen's Club and I have come to welcome you ahead of anybody else," and he held out his hand. "Greetings!"
"Greetings! Regards to the comrades," said Caesar, shaking his hand.
"Damn it, what enthusiasm!" murmured Alzugaray.
The employee disappeared. On arriving at the station, Alzugaray looked out the window and saw with astonishment that the platform was full of people.
As the car entered the covered area of the station, noisy applause broke out. Caesar opened the door and took off his hat courteously.
"Hurrah for Moncada! Hurrah for the Deputy from Castro! Hurrah for liberty!" they heard the shouts.
Caesar got out of the car, followed by Alzugaray, and found himself surrounded by a lot of people. There were some workmen and peasants, but the majority were comfortable citizens.
They all crowded around to grasp his hand.
Surrounded by this multitude, they left the station. There Caesar took leave of all his acquaintances and got into a carriage with Alzugaray, while hurrahs and applauses resounded.
"Eh? What did you think of the reception?" asked Caesar.
"Magnificent, my boy!"
"You can't say I behaved like a demagogue."
"On the contrary, you were too distant."
"They know I am like that and it doesn't astonish them."
Caesar had a rented house in Castro and the two friends went to it. All morning and part of the afternoon committees kept coming from the villages, who wanted to talk with Caesar and consult him about the affairs of their respective municipalities.
INAUGURATION OF THE CLUB
In the evening the Workmen's Club was inaugurated. Nobody in Castro talked of anything else. The Clerical element had advised all religious persons to stay away from the meeting.
The large hall of the Club was profusely lighted; and by half-past six was already completely full.
At seven the ceremony began. The president of the Club, a printer, spoke, and told of Caesar's benefactions; then the Republican bookseller, San Roman, give a discourse; and after him Caesar took up the tale.
He explained his position in the Chamber in detail. The people listened with some astonishment, doubtless wishing to find an opportune occasion for applause, and not finding it.
Some of the old men put their hands to their ears, like a shell, so as to hear better.
Next, Caesar spoke about life in Castro, and pointed out the town's needs.
"You have here," he said, "three fundamental problems, as is the case with almost all towns in the interior of Spain. First: water. You have neither good drinking water, nor enough water for irrigation. For want of drinkable water, the mortality of Castro is high; for want of irrigation, you cannot cultivate more than a very small zone, under good conditions. For that reason water must be brought here, and an irrigation canal begun. Second problem: subsistence. Here, as in the whole of Castile, there are people who corner the grain market and raise the price of wheat, and people who corner the necessities of life and put up their prices as high as they feel like. To prevent this, it is necessary for the Municipality to establish a public granary which shall regulate prices. For, want of that, the people are condemned to hunger, and people that do not eat can neither work nor be free. Third problem: means of transport. You have the railway here, but you have neither good highways nor good byways, and transportation is most difficult. I, for my part, will do all I can to keep the federal government from neglecting this region, but we must also stir up the little municipalities to take care of their roads.
"These three are questions that must be settled as soon as possible.
"Water, subsistence, transportation; those are not matters of luxury, but of necessity, matters of life. They belong to what may be called the politics of bread.
"I cannot make the reforms alone; first, because I have not the means; next, because even supposing I had, if I must leave these improvements in a township that would not look after them, not take care of them, they would soon disappear; they would be like the canals dug by the Moors and afterwards allowed to fill up through the neglect of the Christians. That is what politics are needed for, to convince reactionaries.
"At the same time, looking toward the future, let us start the school, which I should like to see not merely a primary school, but also a school for working-men.
"Let us endeavour, too, to turn the field of San Roque into a park."
After explaining his program, Caesar called on all progressive men who had liberal ideas and loved their city, to collaborate in his work.
When he ended his speech, all the audience applauded violently. Alzugaray was able to verify the fact that the majority of them had not understood what Caesar was saying. "They didn't understand anything. A few sparkling phrases would have pleased them much better."
"Ah, of course. But that makes no difference," replied Caesar. "They will get used to it."
The inauguration over, the bookseller, San Roman, Dr. Ortigosa, Senor Camacho, who was the pharmacist that called himself an inventor of explosives, and some others, met in the office of the Club, and talked with great enthusiasm of the transformation that was obviously taking place at Castro.
XI. THE PITFALL OF SINIGAGLIA
A COMMISSION FOR THE MINISTER
A few days later, during Carnival, the Minister of the Treasury presented himself at Caesar's hotel. The famous financier was a trifle nervous.
"Come along with me," he said.
They got into a motor, and the Minister suddenly asked:
"Could you go to Paris immediately?"
"There's nothing to prevent. What is it to do?"
"You know that the great financier Dupont de Sarthe is studying out a plan for restoring the value of the currency of Spain."
"Well, today the Speaker asked me several times if it was ready. It is necessary for me to introduce it soon, as soon as possible, and along with the plan for restoring the currency, one for the suppression of the government tax."
"The Speaker wishes to have these plans introduced?"
"Yes, he wishes them introduced at once."
"That indicates that the Conservative situation is very strong," said Caesar.
"And what do you want me to do?"
"Go to Dupont de Sarthe and have him explain his scheme clearly, and tell you the difficulties; if he has an outline of it, have him give it to you; if not, have him give you his notes."
"All right. Shall I go tonight?"
"If you can, it would be the best thing." "There's nothing to prevent. Take me back to the hotel and I will pack."
The Minister told the chauffeur to go back to Caesar's house.
"As soon as you arrive, let me know by wire, and write to me explaining the scheme in the greatest possible detail."
"You will need money; I don't know if I have any here," said the Minister, feeling for his pocket-book.
"I have enough for the trip," replied Caesar. "But, as I might need some in Paris, it would not be a bad idea for you to open an account for me at a bank there, or else to give me a cheque."
The Minister vacillated, then went into the hotel writing-room and signed a cheque on a Parisian banker in the Rue de Provence, which he handed to Caesar.
"See you on your return," he said.
Caesar called a servant and bade him:
"Telephone to my friend Alzugaray. You know his number. Tell him to be here inside an hour."
"Very good, sir."
This arranged, Caesar went to the main door and saw that the Minister's motor was headed for down town. Immediately he took a carriage and went to the Chamber. The undersecretary of the Speaker was a friend of his; sometimes he gave him advice about playing the market.
Caesar looked him up, and when he found him, said:
"How are we getting on?"
"All right, man," replied the undersecretary.
"Come over here, so I can see you in the light," said Caesar, and taking him by the hand, he looked into his eyes.
"It's true," said the undersecretary, laughing, "that the situation is not very strong."
"What is the danger?"
"The only danger is your friend, the famous financier. He is the one who could play us a dirty trick."
"Do you suspect what it could be?" "No. Not clearly. You must know better than any one else."
"I have just seen the Minister, and he gave me the impression of being satisfied."
"Then everything is all right. But I haven't much confidence."
Caesar left the undersecretary, went out of the Chamber, and returned home in the carriage. Alzugaray was waiting in the entry for him.
Caesar called to him from the carriage:
"I am going to Paris," he told him, "to spend a few days."
"I must draw out what money I have in the Bank."
"Let's go there now."
They went to the Bank, to the paying teller, and Caesar drew out twenty thousand pesetas of his few months' winnings on the market.
"You are not going to play at all, this month?" asked Alzugaray.
"No, not this month."
They left the Bank.
"I will wire you my address in Paris," said Caesar.
"Very good. And nothing is to be done?"
"No. That is to say, my partner and I are not going to play. Nevertheless, I am going to leave you two thousand pesetas, and if you think well, you can use it as you choose."
"All right," said Alzugaray, pleased at Caesar's confidence in his talents for speculation.
"In case I need any information which had best not be public," Caesar went on, "I will wire you in code. Do you know the Aran code?"
"I will give it to you, directly, at my house. If you receive a telegram from me from Paris, beginning with your name: 'Ignacio, do thus or so,' you will know it is in the code."
"I follow you. What's up?"
"An affair the Minister is putting through, which we will not let him pull off without getting our share out of him. I will explain it to you, when I come back."
"How long do you expect to be there?"
"Two weeks at most; but perhaps I'll come right back."
On arriving at the train, Caesar bought all the evening papers. In one of them he found an article entitled: The Projects of the Minister of Finance, and he read it carefully.
The writer said that the Minister of Finance had never been so closely identified with the Conservative Cabinet as at that moment; that he had plans for a number of projects for the salvation of the Spanish Treasury, which he would briefly explain.
"It's a witty joke," thought Caesar.
He was too well acquainted with the market and monetary affairs in general, too well acquainted with the sterling worth of the famous financier not to understand the idea of his scheme.
Caesar knew that the Minister not only was not on good terms with his colleagues in the Government, but was at sword's points with them, and was moreover disposed to give up his portfolio from one day to the next.
Whence came this haste to launch the plan for the suppression of the government tax and restoring the value of the currency? Why did he send him, Caesar, on this errand, and not somebody in the Department?
His haste to launch the plan was easy to comprehend.
The Minister was about to give a decisive impulse to all stocks; the suppression of the affidavit and the restoring the value of the currency would shove up domestic paper in Spain and foreign stocks in France to extraordinary heights. Then a difficulty with the Speaker, a moment of anger, such as was to be expected in a character like the Minister's, would oblige him to offer his resignation... prices would take a terrible drop, and the Minister, having already planned for a big bear scoop in Paris, would clear some hundreds of thousands of francs and keep his reputation as a patriot and an excellent financier.
Why was he sending Caesar? No doubt because he suspected his secretary, whom he had probably given similar missions to previously.
Caesar knew the Minister well. He had described him in his notes in these words: "He is dark and brachicephalic; a man of tradition and good common sense; average intellect, astute, a good father and a good Catholic. He believes himself cleverer than he really is. His two leading passions are vanity and money."
Caesar knew the Minister, but the Minister did not know Caesar. He imagined him to be a man of brilliant intellect, but incapable of grasping realities.
After thinking a long while over the business, while he was undressing to go to bed in the sleeping-car, Caesar said:
"There is only one thing to find out. Who is the Minister's broker in Paris, and who is his banker? With Yarza's assistance that is not going to be difficult for me to ascertain. When we know what broker he works through and what banker, the affair is finished."
Having concluded thus, he got into his berth, put out the light, and lay there dozing.
On arriving at Paris next evening, he left his luggage in the hotel at the Quai d'Orsay station. He wired his address to the Minister and to Alzugaray, and went out at once to look for Carlos Yarza. He was unable to find him until very late at night. He explained to his friend what had brought him, and Yarza told him he was at his disposition.
"When you need me, let me know."
Caesar went off to bed, and the next morning he proceeded to the banking-house in the Rue de Provence where he was to cash the cheque handed him by the Minister of the Treasury.
He entered the bank and asked for the president. A clerk came out and Caesar explained to him that on arriving at his hotel he had missed a cheque for three thousand francs from the Spanish Minister of Finance. He introduced himself as a Deputy, as an intimate friend of the Minister's, and behaved as if much vexed. The department manager told him that they could do no more than take the number and not pay the cheque if anybody presented it for payment.
"You don't handle the Minister's business here?" asked Caesar.
"No, only very rarely," said the manager.
"You don't know who his regular banker is?"
"No; I will ask, because it is very possible that the chief may know."
The clerk went out and came back a little later, informing Caesar that they said the house the Spanish Minister of Finance did his banking with was Recquillart and Company, Rue Bergere.
The street was near at hand, and it took Caesar only a very little while to get there. The building was dark, lighted by electricity even in the daytime, one of those classic corners where Jewish usurers amass great fortunes.
There was no question of employing the same ruse as in the Rue de Provence, and Caesar thought of another.
He asked for M. Recquillart, and out came a heavy gentleman, a blond going grey, with a rosy cranium and gold eyeglasses.
Caesar told him he was secretary to a rich Spanish miner, who was then in Paris. That gentleman wanted to try some business on the Bourse, but was unable to come to the bank because he was ill of the dropsy.
"Who recommended our house to this gentleman?" asked the banker.
"I think it was the Minister of Finance, in Spain."
"Ah, yes, very good, very good! And how are we to communicate with him? Through you?"
"No. He told me he would prefer to have a clerk who knows Spanish come to him and take his orders." "That is all right; one shall go. We happen to have a Spanish clerk. At what hour shall he come?" said M. Recquillart, taking out a pencil.
"At nine in the evening."
"For whom shall he ask?"
"For Senor Perez Cuesta."
"At what hotel?"
"The one in the Quai d'Orsay station."
"Very good indeed."
Caesar bowed; and after he had sent Yarza a telephone message, making an appointment for after the Bourse at the Cafe Riche, he took an automobile and went to hunt for the great financier Dupont de Sarthe, who lived on the other bank of the Seine, near the Montparnasse station.
He had a large, sumptuous office, with an enormous library. Two secretaries were at work at small tables placed in front of the balconies, and the master wrote at a big Ministerial table full of books. When Caesar introduced himself, the great economist rose, offered his hand, and in a sharp voice with a Parisian accent, asked what he desired.
Caesar told him the Minister's request, and the great economist became indignant.
"Does that gentleman imagine that I am at his bidding, to begin a piece of work and stop it according as it suits him, and take it up again when he orders? No, tell him no. Tell him the scheme he asked me for is not done, not finished; that I cannot give him any data or any information at all."
In view of the great man's indignation, Caesar made no reply, but left the house. He lunched at his hotel, gave orders that if any one brought a letter or message for Senor Perez Cuesta they should receive it, and went again to the Rue de Provence, where he said he had had the good luck to find his cheque.
With all these goings and comings it got to be three o'clock, and Caesar turned his steps toward the Cafe Riche. Yarza was there and the two talked a long while. Yarza knew of the manoeuvres of the Minister of Finance, and he gave his opinion about them with great knowledge of the business questions. He also knew Recquillart's clerk, the Catalan Pujol, of whom he had not a very good opinion.
The two friends made an engagement for the next day and Caesar hurried to his hotel. He wrote to the Minister, telling him what the fundamentals of Dupont de Sarthe's project were; and between his own ideas and those Yarza had expounded to him, he was able to draw up a complete enough plan.
"The Minister being a man who knows nothing about all this," thought Caesar, "when he understands that the ideas I expound are those of the celebrated Dupont de Sarthe, will find them wonderful."
After having written his letter and taken a little tea, he lay stretched out on a divan, until they brought him word that a young man was asking for Senor Perez Cuesta.
"Send him up."
Senor Puchol entered, a dark little man who wore a morning-coat and had a hat with a flat brim edged with braid.
Caesar greeted him affably and made him sit down.
"But are you not Spanish?" Caesar asked him.
"Yes, I was born in Barcelona."
"I should have taken you for a Frenchman."
"In dress and everything else, I am a complete Parisian."
"This poor man is full of vanity," thought Caesar. "All the better." He immediately began to explain the affair.
"Look," he said, "the whole matter is this: the Spanish Minister of Finance, my chief, has dealings on a large scale with the Recquillart bank; you know that, and so do I; but the Recquillarts, besides charging an inflated commission, interfere in his buying and selling with so little cleverness, that whenever he buys, it turns out that he bought for more than the market price of the security, and whenever he sells, he sells lower than the quotation. The Minister does not wish to break off with the Recquillarts...."
"He can't, you meant to say," replied Puchol, in an insinuating manner. "Since you know the situation..." responded Caesar.
"Oughtn't I to?"
"Since you know the whole situation," continued Caesar, "I will say that he cannot indeed break off with the Recquillarts, but the Minister would like to do business with somebody else, without passing under the yoke of the chief."
"He ought to make arrangements with another broker here," said Puchol.
"Ah, certainly. I have brought some twenty thousand francs with that object."
"Then there is no difficulty."
"But we need a go-between. The Minister doesn't care to turn to the first banker at hand and explain all his combinations to him."
"That's where I come in."
"Good, but we must know beforehand how much you are to get. Your demands may be such that it would be better for him to stick to the Recquillarts."
"Recquillart gets ten percent of the profits, besides a small commission as broker. I will take five."
"It's a good deal."
"I will not accept less; the arrangement might cost me my career. Consult him...."
"If I could consult him! The truth is that there may not be time. We will accept five."
"What does the Minister wish to speculate in? The same things as with Recquillart? Foreign Loans and Northerns?"
"Exactly. Just as before."
"All right. The investment, as you can see, is safe," Puchol continued. "I would put my fortune in it, if I had one. There are a lot of newspapers bought; all the financial reviews are predicting a rise."
The clerk took out a folded review and handed it to Caesar, who read:
"We are assured that the plan of the Spanish Minister of Finance must make foreign securities rise considerably. Northerns will follow the same path, and there are indications that their rise will be very rapid and will cover several points."
"The field is going to be covered with corpses," said Caesar.
Senor Puchol burst out laughing; Caesar invited him to dine with him, and gave him a sumptuous dinner with good wines.
Puchol was absolutely vain, and he boasted of his triumphs on the Bourse; it was he who guided Recquillart in the dealings he had with Spaniards, in which they had plucked various incautious persons.
"How much will the Minister's operation amount to?" Caesar asked him.
"Nobody can prevent his making three hundred thousand, at the least. With the increase he has ordered you to make, it will come to six hundred thousand. We will gobble up the two points it falls."
"I don't know if there may have been some new order while I was in the train coming to Paris," said Caesar.
"No, his operation is all arranged," replied Puchol, and he got out a note-book and consulted it. "It will be like giving away bread. We are going to sell ten millions of Foreigns and five hundred Northerns on the seventeenth, the eighteenth, and the twentieth."
"And the scoop will take place?" asked Caesar.
"On the 27th."
"So that on those days we shall sell just as much again?"
"And we shall sell much dearer."
They dropped that point and talked of other things.
Senor Puchol was a literary man and was writing a symbolistic drama which he wanted to read to Caesar.
At twelve they said good-night. Puchol was to tell his chief that he had not been able to do any business with Senor Perez Cuesta. In respect to the other matter, they had an engagement for ten the next morning at a cafe in the neighbourhood of the Bourse.
There were no great difficulties to overcome. They saw a broker named Mueller. Caesar entrusted him with his twenty thousand francs, and hinted that the speculation was being made for some rich people, who would have no objection to making up any loss, if he should exceed the twenty thousand francs.
The broker told him he could play whatsoever sum he wished.
As Caesar had not entire confidence in Puchol, and did not care either to tell the broker that he was to begin only when the stocks fell, he brought Yarza into the deal.
Puchol was to say to Yarza: "The Minister has given the order to sell"; and Yarza would first verify this, if he could verify it; then he would tell the broker: "Sell." It might go as far as handling twenty millions of Foreigns and up to a thousand of Northerns.
In order to get all the ends well tied up, Caesar had to get from one place to another without a moment's rest.
The trap being set, Caesar took the train, worn out and feverish. He arrived at Madrid, took a bath, and went to see the Minister; and after the interview went to his house in the Calle de Galileo and spent two days in bed, alone in the completest silence.
The third day Alzugaray arrived, anxious.
"What's the matter? Are you sick?" he asked.
"No. How did you know I was here?"
"Your janitress came to my house to tell me you were in bed."
"Well, there's nothing wrong with me, boy."
"You should know that there's a splendid chance to make some money, today."
"My dear fellow!"
"Yes, and we haven't done anything in the market, except one miserable little operation."
"And why do you think there is such a good chance?"
"Because there is, because everybody can see it," said Alzugaray. "Prices are going to rise with this project of the Minister of Finance's; they are going in for a big deal; everybody has been indiscreet, without meaning to be, and people on the market are buying and buying. Everybody is sure of a rise... and we are doing nothing."
"We are doing nothing," repeated Caesar.
"But it is absurd."
"What's the date?"
"The evening of the twenty-seventh we will talk."
"How mysterious you are, boy."
"I can't tell you any more now. If you have bought anything, sell it."
"I can't tell you."
"All right, when you get on these sibylline airs, I say no more. Another thing. Various gentlemen have come to tell me that they wanted to play the market; they have heard that it is about to go up...."
"Who were they?"
"Among others, Amparito's father and Don Calixto Garcia Guerrero."
"If they wish to give security, tell our broker, and I will sell them anything they want to buy."
"Really. I have my reasons for doing it."
"This time we are all going to make, except you."
"Dear Ignacio, I am at Sinigaglia."
"What does that mean?"
"If you have a moment free, read the history of the Borgias," murmured Caesar, turning over in bed.
The next few days Caesar lived in constant intranquillity. Yarza telegraphed him, saying that they had done the whole operation. On the 27th, in the afternoon, Caesar wandered toward the Calle de Alcala; Madrid wore its normal aspect; the newspaper boys were calling no extras. More worried than he liked, Caesar went for his walk by the Canalillo and then shut himself in his house. In the evening he went out breathless and bought the newspapers. His first impression was one of panic; there was nothing; on reaching the third page he uttered an exclamation and smiled. The Minister of Finance had just offered his resignation.
The next morning Caesar went to the hotel in the Carrera de San Jeronimo where he had a room, and in the afternoon to the Chamber. He telephoned to Alzugaray to come and see him after the exchange closed.
Alzugaray arrived, looking pale, in company with Amparito's father, Don Calixto, and the broker. They were all wretched. The news was horrible. Domestics had fallen two points and were still falling; in Paris the Foreign Loan had fallen more than four; Northern was not falling but tumbling to the bottom of a precipice.