"Did you know that the Minister was going to present his resignation?" asked the broker, in despair.
"I, no. How should I know it? Even the Minister himself couldn't have known it yesterday. But I had scientific data for not believing in that rise."
"I am ruined," exclaimed the broker. "I have lost my savings."
Don Calixto and Amparito's father had also lost very large sums, which Caesar won, and they were disconsolate.
When they were gone and only Alzugaray remained, he said to Caesar:
"And you have played in Paris, too, probably."
"On a fall?"
"You are a bandit."
"This game, my dear Ignacio, based solely on events, is not a speculator's game, but is, simply, a hold-up. The other day I told you: 'I am at Sinigaglia.' Did you read the history of Caesar Borgia?"
"Well, what he did at Sinigaglia to the condottieri, to Vittellozzo, Oliverotto da Fermo, and his other two captain-adventurers, I have done to the Minister of Finance, to Don Calixto, Amparito's father, and many others." And Caesar explained his game. Alzugaray was amazed.
"How much have you made?"
"From what these telegrams say, I think I shall go over half a million francs. From those beginners, Don Calixto and Amparito's father, I think I have made forty thousand pesetas."
"What an atrocious person! If the Minister should find out about your game."
"Let him find out. I am not worried. The famous financier, in addition to being an idiot, is an honourable rogue. He plays the market with the object of enriching himself and leaving a fortune to his repugnant children. I, on the other hand, play it with a patriotic object."
The matter didn't rest there: Puchol, carried away by an easily comprehensible desire for lucre, and thinking it brought the same amount to the famous financier whether he played through Recquillart or through Muller, had made the last bid for the Minister through the new broker.
The Minister's winnings diminished considerably and Caesar's gained in proportion. The illustrious financier, on learning what had happened, shrieked to heaven; but he said nothing, because of the secret transaction they had had together. Puchol was dismissed by Recquillart, and with the thirty thousand francs he collected from Caesar he set up for himself.
The Minister, a little later, went to Biarritz, to collect his share. On his return he sent Caesar a note, unsigned and written on the type-writer. It read:
"I did not think you had enough ability for cheating. Another time I will be more careful."
Caesar replied in the same manner, as follows:
"When it's a question of a man who, besides being an idiot, is a poor creature and a cheat like you, I have no scruple in robbing him first and despising him afterwards."
Some days later Caesar published an article attacking the retiring Minister of Finance and disclosing a lot of data and figures.
The Minister answered with a letter in a Conservative paper, in which he denied everything Caesar alleged, and said, with contempt, that questions of Finance were not to be treated by "amateurs."
Caesar said that he considered himself insulted by the Minister's words, whom, however, he admired as a financier; and a few months later he joined the Liberal party and was received with open arms by its famous chief.
XII. LOCAL STRUGGLES
THE WATER SUPPLY
Caesar had money in abundance, and he decided to exert a decisive influence on Castro Duro.
For a long while he had had various projects planned.
He thought it was an appropriate moment to put them into practice.
The first that he tried to carry out was the water supply.
The Municipality had a plan for this in the archives, and Caesar asked for it to study. The scheme was big and expensive; the stream it was necessary to harness so as to bring it to Castro, was far away. Besides it was requisite to construct a piping system or an aqueduct.
Caesar consulted an engineer, who told him:
"From a business point of view, this is very poor. Even if you use the superfluous water, in a factory for instance, it will give you no results."
"What shall we do then?"
"The simplest thing would be to put in a pumping plant and pump up the river water."
"But it is infected water, full of impurities."
"It can be purified by filtering. That's not difficult."
Caesar laid this plan before the Municipality, and it was decided to carry it out, as the most practical and practicable. A company was formed to pump up the water, and work was begun.
The stockholders were almost all rich people of Castro, and the company drew up its constitution in such a manner that the town got scarcely any benefit out of it. They were not going to instal more than two public fountains inside the city limits, and those were to run only a few hours. Caesar tried to convince them that this was absurd, but nobody paid any attention to him.
A bit disappointed, he left the "Water Pumping Company" to go its way, and devoted himself entirely to things that he could carry out alone.
The first one he tried was establishing a circulating library of technical books on trades and agriculture, and of polite and scientific literature, in the Workmen's Club.
"They will sell the books," everybody said; "they will get them all soiled, and tear out the leaves...."
Caesar had the volumes bound, and at the end of each he had ten or twelve blank sheets put in, in case the reader wished to write notes.
The experiment began; predictions were not fulfilled; the books came back to the library untorn and unspotted and with some very ingenuous notes in them. Lots of people took out books.
The clerical element immediately protested; the priests said in the pulpit that to send any chance book to working people's houses without examining it first, was to lead people into error. Dr. Ortigosa retorted that Science did not need the approval of sacristans. As, in spite of the clerical element's advice, people kept on reading, there were various persons that took out books and filled them with obscene drawings and tore out illustrations. Dr. Ortigosa sent Caesar a letter informing him what was happening, and Caesar answered that he must limit the distribution of books to the members of the Workmen's Club and people that were known. He bade him replace the six or seven books abused, and continued to send new ones.
The ferment kept the city stirred up; there were no end of heated discussions; lectures were given in the Club, and Dr. Ortigosa's paper, The Protest, came to life again.
"I am with you in whatever will agitate the people's ideas," wrote Caesar; "but if they start to play orators and revolutionists, and you folks come along with pedantic notions, then I for my part shall drop the whole thing."
When Caesar was in Castro, he spent his evenings at the Workmen's Club. They gave moving pictures and frequent balls. Caesar did not miss one of the Club's entertainments. The men came to him for advice, and the girls and the little boys bowed to him affectionately. There was great enthusiasm over him.
THE BENEVOLENT SOCIETY
Shortly after the initiation of these improvements in the Club, there appeared in Castro Duro, without fuss, without noise, two rather mysterious societies; the Benevolent Society of Saint Joseph and the Agricultural Fund. In an instant the Benevolent Society of Saint Joseph had a numerous array of members and patrons. All the great landholders of the region, including Amparito's father, bound themselves to employ no labourers except those belonging to the Benevolent Society. In the neighbouring villages the inhabitants joined en masse. At the same time as this important society, Father Martin and his friends founded the Castrian Agricultural Fund, whose purpose was to make loans, at a low rate of interest, to small proprietors.
The two Catholic institutions set themselves up in rivalry to the Workmen's institution. The town was divided; the Catholics were more numerous and richer; the Liberals more determined and enthusiastic. The Catholics had given their upholders a resigned character.
Moreover, the name Catholic applied to the members of the two Clerical societies made those who did not belong to them admit with great tranquillity that they were not Catholics.
The Clericals called their enemies Moncadists, and by implication Schismatics, Atheists, and Anarchists. Inside the town there was a Moncadist majority; in the environs everybody was a Catholic and belonged to the Benevolent Society.
Generally the Catholics were abused in word and deed by the Moncadists; the members of the Workmen's Club held those of the Benevolent Society for cowards and traitors. Doubtless Father Martin did not wish that his followers should be distinguished by Christian meekness, and he appointed a bully whom people called "Driveller" Juan warden of the Benevolent Society. This Juan was a lad who lived without working; his mother and his sisters were dressmakers, and he bled them for money, and spent his life in taverns and gambling-dens.
"Driveller" began to insult members of the club, especially the boys, and to defy them, on any pretext. Dr. Ortigosa went to see Caesar and explained the situation. "Driveller" was a coward, he didn't venture beyond a few peaceable workmen; but if he had defied "Furibis" or "Panza" or any of the railway men that belonged to the Club, they would have given him what he deserved. But in spite of "Driveller's" cowardice, he inspired terror among the young boys and apprentices.
Dr. Ortigosa was in favour of getting another bully, who could undertake the job of cutting out "Driveller's" guts.
"Whom are we to get?" asked Caesar.
"We know somebody," said Ortigosa.
"Who is it?"
"' El Montes.'"
"What kind of a party is he?"
"A bandit like the other, but braver."
"El Montes" had just come out of Ocana.
He was a Manchegan, tall, strong, robust, and had been in the penitentiary several times.
"And how do we manage 'El Montes'?" asked Caesar.
"We make him a servant at the Workmen's Club."
"He will corrupt the place."
"Yes, that's true. Then at the right moment we shall send him to the Cafe del Comercio. They gamble at that cafe; he can go there and in two or three days call a halt on 'Driveller' Juan." "Good."
"We must arrange for you to dismiss the new judge and put in some friend of yours, and one fine day we will get a quarrel started and we will put all Father Martin's friends in jail."
"You two play atrocious politics," said Alzugaray, who was listening to the conversation.
"It's the only kind that will work," replied Ortigosa. "This is scientific politics. Ruffianism converted into philosophy. We are playing a game of chess with Father Martin and we are going to see if we can't win it."
"But, man, employing all these cut-throats!"
"My dear friend," responded Caesar, "political situations include such things; with their heads they touch the noblest things, the safety of one's native land and the race; with their feet they touch the meanest things, plots, vices, crimes. A politician of today still has to mingle with reptiles, even though he be an honourable man."
"Besides, we need have no scruples," added Ortigosa; "the inhabitants of Castro are laboratory guinea-pigs. We are going to experiment on them, we are going to see if they can stand the Liberal serum."
* * * * *
THE TWO ASYLUMS
A little after these rivalries between the Benevolent Society and the Workmen's Club, which stirred up every one's passions to an extreme never before known at Castro Duro, another motive for agitation transpired.
There were two asylums in the town; the Municipal Aid and the Asylum of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The Municipal Aid had its own property and was wisely organized; the old people were permitted to go out of the asylum, they had no uniform, and from time to time they were allowed to drink a glass of something. In the Little Sisters' Home, on the contrary, discipline was most severe; all the inmates had to go dressed in a horrible uniform, which the poor hated; to be present, like a chorus, at the funerals of important persons; pray at every step; and besides all that, they were forbidden under pain of expulsion, to smoke or to drink anything.
So the result was that there were abandoned old wretches, who, if they couldn't get a place in the Aid, let themselves die in some corner, rather than put on the uniform of the Little Sisters' Home, degrading in their eyes.
That asylum had no income, because its Catholic managers had eaten it all up. In view of the institution's bad economic condition, it occurred to Father Martin to consolidate the two; to make one asylum of the municipal and the religious, and to put it under the strict rule of the religious one. What Father Martin wanted was that the Little Sisters should have a finger in the whole thing, and that the income of one institution should serve for both.
Caesar threatened the mayor with dismissal if he accepted the arrangement, and insisted that the Liberal councilmen should not permit the fusion, which was to the great advantage of the Clerical party.
As a matter of fact, the plan came to nothing, and Caesar treated the Municipal Aid to two barrels of wine and tobacco in abundance, which aroused great enthusiasm among the old people, who cheered for the Deputy of their District.
Caesar rode over the situation on horseback; but the Clerical campaign strengthened at the same rate that popular sympathies went out toward him. In almost every sermon there were allusions to the immorality and the irreligion that reigned in the town. The support of the women was sought and they were exhorted to influence their husbands, brothers, and sons to resign from the Workmen's Club.
The old pulpit oratory began to seem mild, and on the feast of the Virgin of the Rock, a young preacher launched out, in the church, into an eloquent, violent, and despotic sermon in which he threatened eternal suffering to those who belonged to heretical clubs and would not return to the loving bosom of the Church. The homily caused the greatest impression, and there were a few unhappy mortals who, some days later, were reported as dead or missing at the Workmen's Club.
XIII. AMPARITO IN ACTION
LAURA AT CASTRO
A time for new elections arrived, and Caesar stood for Castro Duro. Don Calixto, who had married his two daughters and was bored at not being allowed to pull the strings in the town, decided to move to Madrid. First he had thought of spending only some time at the capital, but later he decided to stay there and he had his furniture sent down.
People said that Don Calixto had no great affection for the old palace of the Dukes of Castro, and Caesar proposed that he should rent the house to him.
Don Calixto hesitated; in Castro he would certainly have refused, but being in Madrid he accepted. His wife advised him that if he had any scruples, he should ask more rent. They came to the agreement that Caesar should pay three thousand pesetas a year for the part Don Calixto had formerly inhabited.
This time Caesar had the election won, and there was not the slightest fight. He was the boss of Castro, a good boss, accepted by everybody, save the Clericals.
Caesar had money, and he wrote to his sister to come and see him at Castro in his seigniorial mansion. Laura arrived at Madrid in the autumn, and the two went to Castro together.
Laura's appearance in the town created a great sensation. At first people said she was Caesar's wife. Others said she was an actress; until finally everybody understood that she was his sister.
Laura really took undue advantage of her superiority. She was irresistibly amiable and bewitching with everybody. The majority of the men in Castro Duro talked of nothing but her, and the women hated her to the death.
Being a marchioness, a Cardinal's niece, and a Deputy's sister, gave her, besides, a terrible social prestige.
One person who clung to her, enchanted to have such a friend, was Amparito. She went to the palace in her motor at all hours, to see Laura and chat with her. In the afternoon the two of them used to walk in Amparito's father's property, where the labourers, who were threshing, received them like queens.
What enchanted Laura was the wild garden at Don Calixto's house, with its pomegranates and laurels, its tower above the river, full of climbing plants and oleanders.
"You ought to buy this house," she used to tell Caesar.
"It would cost a good deal."
"Pshaw! You could arrange that wonderfully. You would get married and live here like a prince."
"Yes. To Amparito. That young thing is enchanting.
"She will make a splendid little wife. Even for your respectability as a Deputy, it would be fitting to marry. A bachelor politician has a poor look."
Caesar paid no attention to these suggestions and continued to lead an unsocial life. He covered the environs on horseback, found out everything that was going on and settled it. In this he set himself an enormous task, which was not notable for results; but he hoped to succeed in conquering the district completely, and then to extend his sphere of action to others and yet others.
After being a fortnight in Castro Duro, Laura went to Biarritz, as was her custom every year.
AMPARITO AND CAESAR
Caesar was left alone. He had seen Amparito with his sister many times but had scarcely ever exchanged more than a few words with her. One afternoon Caesar was in the gallery in an arm-chair, with his feet high. He felt melancholy and lazy, and was watching the clouds move across the sky. Soon he heard steps, and saw Amparito with an old servant who had been her nurse.
Caesar jumped up.
"What's the matter?" he exclaimed.
"I came to get something Laura forgot," said Amparito.
"She forgot something?" asked Caesar stupidly.
"Yes," replied Amparito; and added, addressing the old woman:
"Go see if there is a little glass box in Senorita Laura's room."
The old woman went out, and Amparito, looking at Caesar, who was on his feet watching her nervously, said:
"Do you still hate me?"
"I?" exclaimed Caesar.
"Yes, you do hate me."
"I! I have never hated you.... Quite the contrary."
"Whenever you see me you get away, and just now you looked at me as if you were terrified. Have you such a grudge against me for a joke I played on you long ago?"
"I, a grudge! No. It is because I have the impression, Amparito, that you want to upset my plans, to make game of me. Why do you?"
"Do you think I try to amuse myself by worrying you?"
"No, that isn't true. You don't think so."
"Then why this constant inclination to distress me, to poke fun at me?"
"I never poked fun at you."
"Then I have made a mistake.... I had come to think that you took some interest in me."
"And so I did. I did take an interest in you, and I keep on taking an interest in you."
"And why so?"
"Because I see that you are unhappy, and you are alone."
"Ah! You are sorry for me!" "Now you are offended. Yes, I am sorry for you."
"Yes, sorry. Because I see that you despise everybody and despise yourself, because you think people are bad, and that you are too, and to me this seems so sad that it makes me pity you deeply."
Caesar began to walk up and down the gallery, trembling a little.
"I don't see why you say this to me," he murmured. "I am a morbid man, with an ulcerated, wounded spirit.... I know that. But why say it to me? Do you take pleasure in humiliating me?"
"No, Caesar," said Amparito, drawing near him. "You don't believe that I take pleasure in humiliating you. No, you know well that I do not."
On saying this, Amparito burst into tears, and she had to lean against the gallery window, to hide her face and dissemble her emotion.
Caesar took her hand, and as she did not turn her head, he seized her other, too. She looked at him with her eyes shining and full of tears; and in that look there was so much attachment, so much distress, that Caesar felt a weakness in his whole frame. Then, taking Amparito's head between his hands, he kissed it several times.
She leaned her head on Caesar's shoulder and stood pressed against him, sobbing. Caesar felt a sensation of anguish and pain, as if within the depths of his soul, the strongest part of his personality had broken and melted.
They heard the footsteps of the old woman, coming back to say that she had found nothing in the room Laura had occupied during her stay.
Amparito dried her tears, and smiled, and her face was redder than usual. Presently she said to the nurse:
"Probably you didn't look well. I am going to go myself."
Amparito went out.
Caesar was pale and absorbed; he felt that something extraordinary had happened to him. His hands trembled and things swam around him.
In a short while Amparito returned. She had a round glass box in her hand, which she said she had found in Laura's room.
"This afternoon I am going to Our Lady of the Rock," said Amparito. "Will you come, Caesar?"
"Then, good-bye till then."
Amparito gave him her hand, and Caesar kissed it. The old servant was dumfounded. Amparito burst out laughing.
"He is my beau. Hadn't you noticed it before?"
"No," said the old woman with a gesture of violent negation.
Amparito laughed again and disappeared.
The first days of his engagement Caesar was constantly in-tranquil and uneasy. He kept thinking that it was impossible to live like that, giving his whole attention to nothing except the desires of a girl. He imagined that the awakening would come from one moment to the next; but the awakening didn't arrive.
By degrees Caesar abandoned all the affairs of the district, which had taken all his attention, and took to occupying himself solely with his sweetheart. The whole town knew their relations and talked of the coming wedding.
That dazzling idyll intrigued all the girls in Castro. The truth was that none of them had considered Caesar a marrying man; some had imagined him already old; others an experienced and vicious bachelor, incapable of yielding to the matrimonial yoke; and now they saw him a youth, of distinguished type, with distinguished manners and looks.
Caesar went almost daily to Amparito's father's country-place. It was a magnificent estate, another ancient property of the Dukes of Castro Duro, with a house adorned with escutcheons, and an extensive stone pool, deep and mysterious. The garden did not resemble that at Don Calixto's house, for that one was of a frantic gaiety, and the one on Amparito's father's estate was very melancholy. Above all, the square of water in the pool, whose edges were decorated with great granite vases, had a mysterious, sad aspect.
"Doesn't it make you very sad to look at this deep water in the pool?" Caesar asked his fiancee.
"No, it doesn't me."
"It does me."
"Because you are a poet," she said, "and I am not; I am very prosaic."
The more Caesar talked with Amparito, the less he understood her and the more he needed to be with her.
"We really do not think the same about anything," Caesar used to tell himself, "and yet we understand each other."
Many times he endeavoured to make a psychological resume of Amparito's character, but he didn't succeed. He didn't know how to classify her; her type always escaped him.
"All her notions are different from mine," he used to think; "she speaks in another way, feels in another way, she even has a different moral code. How strange!"
Also, what Amparito knew was completely heterogeneous; she spoke French well and wrote it fairly correctly; in Spanish, on the other hand, she had no idea of spelling. Caesar was always stupefied on seeing the transpositions of h's, s's, and z's that she made in her letters.
There remained by Amparito, from her passage through the French school, a recollection of the history of France made up of a few anecdotes and a few phrases. Thus, it was not unusual to hear her speak of Turenne, of Francis I, or of Colbert. For the rest, she played the piano badly enough and with extremely little enthusiasm.
This was the part belonging to her education as a rich young lady; that which belonged to the country girl, who lived among peasants, was more curious and personal.
She knew many plants by their vulgar names, and understood their industrial and medicinal use. Besides, she spoke in such pure, natural phrases that Caesar was filled with admiration.
Caesar had reached such a degree of exaltation that he thought of nothing any more, except his sweetheart. At night, before going to sleep, he thought of her deliriously. He often dreamed that Amparito had changed into the red-flowered oleander of the wild palace garden, and in every flower of the oleander he used to see Amparito's red lips and white teeth.
XIV. INTRANSIGENCE LOST
The wedding took place and Caesar had to compromise about a lot of things. It didn't trouble him to confess and receive communion; he considered those mere customs, and went to the church of the Plain to conform to these practices with the old priest who was a friend of Amparito's.
On the other hand, it did bother Caesar to have to suffer Father Martin in his house, who allowed himself to talk and give advice; and he was also irritated by the presence of certain persons who considered themselves aristocrats and who came to call on him and point out to him that it was now time to give up the rabble and the indigent and to rise to their level.
If he had not had so much to think about as he did have, he would have found this a good chance to show his aggressive humour; but all his attention was fixed on Amparito.
The newly married pair spent the first days of their honeymoon at Castro; then they went to Madrid, with the intention of going abroad, and afterwards they went back to the town.
The old palace of the Dukes of Castro was witness to their idyll.
At the end of some time Caesar felt tranquil, perhaps too tranquil.
"This, no doubt, is what is called being happy," he used to say to himself. And being happy gave him the impression of a limbo; he felt as though his old personality was dying within him. He could no longer recover his former way of life; all his disquietudes had vanished. He felt that he was balanced, lacking those alternations of courage and cowardice which had previously formed the characteristic thing in him. It was the oasis after the desert; the calm that follows the storm.
Caesar wondered if he had acquired new nerves. His instinct to be arbitrary was on the downward track.
He could not easily determine what role his wife played in his inner life. He felt the necessity of having her beside him, of talking to her; but he did not understand whether this was mere selfishness, for the sake of the soothing effect her presence produced, or was for the satisfaction of his vanity in seeing how she gave all her thought to him.
Spiritually he did not feel her either identified with him or strange to him; her soul marched along as if parallel to his, but in other paths.
"All that men say about women is completely false," Caesar used to think, "and what women say about themselves, equally so, because they merely repeat what men say. Only when they are completely emancipated will they succeed in understanding themselves. It is indubitable that we have not the same leading ideas, or the same points of view. Probably we have not a similar moral sense either. Neither is woman made for man, nor man for woman. There is necessity between them, not harmony."
Many times, watching Amparito, he told himself:
"There is some sort of machinery in her head that I do not understand."
Noting his scrutinizing gaze, she would ask him:
"What are you thinking about me?"
He would explain his perplexities, and she would laugh.
Indubitably, there existed an instinctive accord of the sentiments between Amparito and him, an organic sympathy. She could feel for them both, but he could not think for them both; each mental machine ran in isolation, like two watches, which do not hear each other. She knew whether Caesar was sad or joyful, disheartened or spirited, merely by looking at him. She had no need to ask him; she could read Caesar's face. He could not, on his side, understand what went on behind that little forehead and those moist and sparkling eyes.
"Are you feeling happy? Are you feeling sad?" he would ask her. He could not reach the point of knowing by himself.
"I never succeed in knowing what you want," he sometimes said to her, bitterly.
"Why, you always succeed," she used to reply.
Caesar often wondered if the role of being so much loved, whether wrong or right, was an absurd, offensive thing. In all great affections there is one peculiarity; if one loves a person, one gets to the point of changing that person to an idol inside oneself, and from that moment it seems that the person divides into the unreal idol, which is like a false picture of the adored one, and the living being, who resembles the idolized object very slightly.
Caesar found something absurd in being loved like that. Besides, he found that she was dragging him away from himself. After six months of marriage, she was making him change his ideas and his way of life, and he was having absolutely no influence on her.
Previously he had often thought that if he lived with a woman, he should prefer one that was spiritually foreign to him, who should look on him like a rare plant, not with one that would want to identify herself with his tastes and his sympathies.
With a somewhat hostile woman he would have felt an inclination to be voluble and contradictory; with a sympathetic woman, on the contrary, he would have seemed to himself like a circus runner whom one of his pupils is trying to overtake, and who has to run hard to keep the record where it belongs.
But his wife was neither one nor the other.
Amparito had an extraordinary insouciance, gaiety, facility, in accepting life. Caesar never ceased being amazed. She spent her days working, talking, singing. The slightest diversion enchanted her, the most insignificant gift aroused a lively satisfaction.
"Everything is decided, as far as you are concerned," Caesar used, to tell her.
"By your character."
She laughed at that.
It seemed as if she had chosen the best attitude toward life. She saw that her husband was not religious, but she considered that an attribute of men, and thought that God must have an especial complacency toward husbands, if only so as not to leave wives alone in paradise.
Amparito held by a fetichistic Catholicism, conditioned by her situation in life, and mixed with a lot of heterodox and contradictory ideas, but she didn't give any thought to that.
The marriage was very successful; they never had disputes or discussions. When both were stubborn, they never noticed which one yielded.
They had rented one rather big floor facing on the Retiro, and they began to furnish it.
Amparito had bad taste in decoration; everything loud pleased her, and sometimes when Caesar laughed, she would say:
"I know I am a crazy country girl. You must tell me how to fix things."
Caesar decided the arrangement of a little reception-room. He chose a light paper for the walls, some coloured engravings, and Empire furniture. Female friends found the room very well done. Amparito used to tell them:
"Yes, Caesar had it done like this," as if that were a weighty argument with everybody.
Amparito and her father persuaded Caesar that he ought to open an office. All the people in Castro lamented that Caesar did not practise law.
He had always felt a great repugnance for that sharpers' and skinflints' business; but he yielded to please Amparito, and set up his office and took an assistant who was very skillful in legal tricks. Caesar was often to be found writing in the office, when Amparito opened the door.
"Do you want to come here a moment?" she would say.
"Yes. What is it?"
"Look and see how this hat suits me. How do you like it?"
Caesar would laugh and say:
"I think you ought to take off the flowers, or it ought to be smaller."
Amparito accepted Caesar's suggestions as if they had been, articles of faith.
Caesar, on his part, had a great admiration for his wife. What strength for facing life! What amazing energy!
"I walk among brambles and leave a piece of my clothing on every one of them," thought Caesar, "and she passes artlessly between all obstacles, with the ease of an ethereal thing. It's extraordinary!"
It pleased Amparito to be thus observed.
Her husband used to tell her:
"You have, as it were, ten or twelve Amparitos inside of you; it often seems to me that you are a whole round of Amparitos."
"Well, you are not more than one Caesar to me."
"That's because I have the ugly vice of talking and of being consequential."
"Don't I talk?"
"Yes, in another way."
In the spring they went to Castro, and the members of the Workmen's Club presented themselves before Caesar to remind him of a project for a Co-operative and a School, which he had promised them. They were all ready to put up what was necessary for realizing both plans.
Caesar listened to them, and although with great coldness, said yes, that he was ready to initiate the scheme. A few days later, in Dr. Ortigosa's Protest, there was enthusiastic talk of the Great Co-operative, which, when established, would improve, and at the same time cheapen necessary articles.
The same day that the paper came out with this news, a commission of the shopkeepers of Castro waited on Caesar. The scheme would ruin them. It was especially the small shopkeepers that considered themselves most injured.
Caesar replied that he would think it over and decide in an equitable manner, looking for a way to harmonize the interests of all people. Really he didn't know what to do, and as he had no great desire to begin new undertakings, he wanted to call the Co-operative dead, but Dr. Ortigosa was not disposed to abandon the idea.
"It is certain that if goods are made cheaper," said the doctor, "and the Co-operative is opened to the public, the shopkeepers will have to fight it, and then either they or we shall be ruined; but something else can be done, and that is to sell articles to the public at the same price as the tradesmen, and arrange it that members get a dividend from the profits of the society. In that way there will be no fight, at any rate not at first."
They tried to do it that way, but it did not satisfy the poor people, or calm the shopkeepers.
Caesar, who had lost his lust for a fight, put the scheme aside; and although it would cost him more, decided to have the construction of the school begun.
The Municipality ceded the lot and granted a subsidy of five thousand pesetas to start the work; Caesar gave ten thousand, and at the Workmen's Club a subscription was opened, and performances were given in the theatre to collect funds.
The school promised to be a spacious edifice with a beautiful garden. The corner-stone was laid in the presence of the Governor of the Province, and despite the fact that the founders' intention was to found a lay school, the Clerical element took part in the celebration.
When the work began, the majority of the members of the Club were shocked to find that the masons, instead of working on the same conditions as for other jobs, asked more pay, as if the school where their sons might study were an institution more harmful than beneficial for them.
Caesar, on learning this, smiled bitterly and said:
"They are not obliged to be less of brutes than the bourgeoisie."
From Madrid Caesar continued sending maps for the school, engravings, bas-reliefs, a moving-picture machine.
Dr. Ortigosa and his friends went every day to look over the work.
A year from the beginning of work, the boys and girls' school was opened. Dr. Ortigosa succeeded in arranging that two of the three male teachers they procured were Free-Thinkers. One of them, a poor man who had lived a dog's life in some town in Andalusia, was reputed to be an anarchist. They appointed three female teachers too, two old, and one young, a very attractive and clever girl, who came from a town near Bilboa.
Caesar took part in the opening, and spoke, and received enthusiastic applause. Despite which, Caesar felt ill at ease among his old friends; in his heart he knew that he was deserting them. He now thought it unlikely, almost impossible, that that town should succeed in emerging from obscurity and meaning something in modern life. Moreover, he doubted about himself, began to think that he was not a hero, began to believe that he had assigned himself a role beyond his powers; and this precisely at the moment when the town had the most faith in him.
XV. "DRIVELLER" JUAN AND "THE CUB-SLUT"
"Driveller" Juan, the town dandy protected by Father Martin, had from childhood distinguished himself by his cowardice and by his tendency to bullying. His appearance was that of an idiot; people said he drivelled; whence they gave him the nickname of "Driveller" Juan. He lived by pretending to be terrible in the gambling houses, and bragged of having been in prison several times.
The Clericals had made "Driveller" the janitor of the Benevolent Society, and at the same time its bully, so that he could inspire terror; but as he was a coward in reality, and this was evident, he did not succeed in terrifying the members of the Workmen's Club.
"Driveller" Juan was tall, red-headed, with high cheek bones, knotty hands, and a pendulous lip; his father, like him, had been bony and strong, and for that reason had been called "Big Bones."
"Driveller," like the coward he was, knew that he was not filling his job; one day he had dared to go to a ball at the Workmen's Club, and San Roman, the old Republican, had gone to him and tapped him on the arm, saying:
"Listen here, 'Driveller,' get out right now and don't you come back."
"Why should I?"
"Because you are not wanted."
Juan had gone away like a whipped dog. "Driveller" wanted to do a manly action, and he did it.
There was a boy belonging to the Workmen's Club, who was called "Lengthy," one of the few type-setters in the town, a clever, facetious lad who now and then wrote an article for The Protest.
"Driveller" insisted that "Lengthy" wanted to make fun of him. No doubt he chose him for his victim, because he was so slim, lanky, and weak; perhaps he had some other reason for attacking him. One afternoon, at twilight, "Driveller" halted "Lengthy," demanded an explanation, insulted him, and on finding his victim made no reply, gave him a blow. The street was wet, and "Driveller" stepped on a fruit-skin and fell headlong. Seeing the bully infuriated, "Lengthy" started to run, came to an open door, and ran rapidly up the stairs. "Driveller," furious, ran after him. Pursued and pursuer went down a hallway and "Lengthy" managed to reach a door and close it. "Driveller's" revengeful fury was not satisfied; he lay in wait until "Lengthy," believing himself alone, tried to escape from his hiding-place and was walking down the hall, and then "Driveller" drew his pistol and fired with the mouth against "Lengthy's" shoulder, and left him dead. As it was a rainy day, both the dead man's footsteps and the murderer's could be followed and everything that had happened ascertained.
The impression produced in the town by this assassination was enormous. Some people said that Father Martin and his followers had ordered "Lengthy" killed. In the Workmen's Club there was talk of setting fire to the Benevolent Society of Saint Joseph and of burning the monastery of la Pena.
Caesar was in Madrid at the time of the crime. Some days later a committee from the Club came to see him; it was necessary to have a charge pushed and for Caesar to be the private attorney.
According to the Club people, the Clericals wanted to save "Driveller" Juan, and if he was not disposed of completely, he would begin his performances again.
Caesar could see nothing for it but to accept the duty which the town put upon him.
Because of the crime, the history of "Driveller's" family came to be public property. He had a mother and two sisters who were seamstresses, whom he exploited, and he lived with a tavern-keeper nicknamed "The Cub-Slut," a buxom, malicious woman, who said horrible things about everybody.
* * * * *
LIFE OF "THE CUB-SLUT"
There were reasons for "The Cub-Slut's" being what she was. Her parents being dead when she was a baby, having no relatives she had been left deserted. A farrier they called "Gaffer," who seemed to have been a kind person, took in the infant and brought her up in his house. It was "Gaffer" who had given the nickname to the child, because instead of calling her by her name, he used to say:
"Hey, 'Cub-Slut!' Hey, little 'Cub-Slut!'" and the appellation had stuck.
When the girl was fourteen, "Gaffer" ravished her, and afterwards, being tired of her, took her to a house of prostitution in the Capital and sold her. "The Cub-Slut" left the brothel to go and live with an old innkeeper, who died and made her his heiress. Six years later she went back to Castro. Those that had seen her come back maintained that when she reached the town and was told that "Gaffer" had died a few months before, she burst into tears; some said it was from sentiment, but others thought, very plausibly, that it was from rage at not being able to get revenge. "The Cub-Slut" set up a tavern at Castro.
"Driveller" and "The Cub-Slut" got along well, although, by what any one could discover, "The Cub-Slut" treated the bully more like a servant than anything else.
"The Cub-Slut" was said to be very outspoken. One Sunday, on the promenade, she had answered one of the young ladies of Castro rudely. The young lady was the daughter of a millionaire, who had married after having several children by a mistress of pretty bad reputation. The millionaire's children had been educated in aristocratic schools, and his girls were very elegant young ladies; even the mother got to be refined and polished. One Sunday, on the promenade, one of them, on passing near "The Cub-Slut," said in a low tone to her mother:
"Dear Lord, what riff-raff!"
And "The Cub-Slut," hearing her, stopped and said violently:
"There's no riff-raff here except your mother and me. Now you know it."
The young lady was so upset by the harsh retort that she didn't leave the house again for a long while.
Such rude candour on "The Cub-Slut's" part had made her feared; so that nobody durst provoke her in the slightest degree. Besides, her history and her misfortune were known and people knew that she was not a vicious woman, but rather a victim of fate.
The assassination of "Lengthy" was one of those events that are not forgotten in a town. "Lengthy" was the son of "Gaffer," "The Cub-Slut's" protector, and some people imagined that she had persuaded "Driveller" to commit the crime; but the members of the Workmen's Club continued to believe that it was a case of clerical revenge.
"THE CUB-SLUT'S" ARGUMENT
In the month of June, Caesar and Amparito went to Castro Duro.
One afternoon when Caesar was alone in the garden, a very buxom woman appeared before him, wearing a mantilla and dressed in black.
"I came in without anybody seeing me," she said. "Your porter, 'Wild Piglet,' let me pass. I know that Amparito is not here."
She didn't say "Your wife," or "Your lady," but "Amparito."
"Tell me what you want," said Caesar, looking at the woman with a certain dread.
"I am the woman that lives with 'Driveller' Juan."
"Ah! You are...?" "Yes. 'The Cub-Slut.'"
Caesar looked at her attentively. She was of the aquiline type seen on Iberian coins, her nose arched, eyes big and black, thin-lipped mouth, and a protruding chin. She noticed his scrutiny, and stood as if on her guard.
"Sit down, if you will, please, and tell me what you wish."
"I am all right," she replied, continuing to stand; then, precipitately, she said, "What I want is for them not to punish Juan more than is just."
"I don't believe he will be punished unjustly," responded Caesar.
"The whole town says that if you speak against him in court, the punishment will be heavier."
"And you want me not to speak?"
"It seems to me to be asking too much. I shall do no more than insist that they punish him justly."
"There is no way to get out of it?"
"If you wanted to... I would wait on you on my knees afterwards, I would make any sacrifice for you."
"Are you so fond of the man?"
"The Cub-Slut" answered in the negative, by an energetic movement of her head.
"Well, then, what do you expect to get out of him?"
"I expect revenge."
"The Cub-Slut's" eyes flashed.
"Is what they say about you true?" asked Caesar.
"The dead boy was the son of the man that sold you?"
"But to revenge oneself on the son for the sin of the father is horrible."
"The son was just as wicked as the father."
"So that you ordered him killed?"
"Yes, I did."
"And you come and tell that to me, when I am to be the private attorney." "Have them arrest me. I don't care."
"The Cub-Slut" stood firm before Caesar, provocative, with flashing eyes, in an attitude of challenge.
"You hated that dead boy so much as this?"
"Yes, him and all his family."
"I can understand that if the father were alive, you might..."
"If he were alive! I would give my life to drag him out of his tomb, so as to make him suffer as much as he made me suffer."
Caesar vaguely remembered the story he had heard about this woman, whose adopted father had ruined her and then left her in a disreputable house in the Capital. In general, the most absolute lack of apprehension characterizes such village tragedies, and neither does the victim know she is a victim, nor the villain that he is a villain.
But in this case, judging by what "The Cub-Slut" was telling him, it had not been so; "Gaffer" had gone about it with a certain depravity, glutting his desires on her, and then selling her, putting her into an infamous house. The villain had been cruel and intelligent; the victim had realized that she was one, to the degree that her soul was filled with desires for vengeance.
"That man," "The Cub-Slut" ended, sobbing, "took away my name and gave me a nickname; took away my honour, my life, everything; and if I cannot be revenged on him because he is dead, I will be revenged on his family."
Caesar listened attentively to the woman's explanation, without interrupting her. Then, when she had finished speaking, he said:
"And why not go away?"
"Away? Where?" she asked, astonished.
"Anywhere. The world is so big! Why do you persist in living in the one spot where people know you and have a bad opinion of you? Go away from here. There are countries with more generous sentiments than these old corners of the world. You do not consider yourself infamous or vile."
"Then go away from here. To America, to Australia, anywhere. Perhaps you can reconstruct your life. At any rate, nobody will call you by your nickname; nobody will talk familiarly to you. You will conquer or you will be conquered in the struggle for life. That's evident. You will share the common lot, but you will not be vilified. Do go."
"The Cub-Slut" listened to Caesar with eyes cast down. When he ceased, she stood looking at him intently, and then, without a word, she disappeared.
XVI. PITY, A MASK OF COWARDICE
Some days later Caesar was in his office, when a thin old woman, dressed in black, shot in, crossed the room, and fell on her knees before him. Caesar jumped up in disgust.
"What's this? What's going on here?" he asked.
Amparito entered the room and explained what was going on. The old woman was "Driveller" Juan's mother. People had told Juan's mother that the only obstacle to her son's salvation from death was Caesar, and she had come to implore him not to let them condemn Juan to death.
"My poor son is a good boy," moaned the old creature; "a woman made him commit the crime."
Caesar listened, silent and gloomy, without speaking, and then left the room. Amparito remained with the old woman, consoling her and trying to quiet her.
That night Amparito returned to the task, and dragged the promise from her husband that he would not act as private attorney at the trial.
Caesar was ashamed and saddened; he didn't care to go to see anybody; he was committing treason against his cause.
"Pity will finish my work or finish me," thought Caesar, walking about his room. "That poor old woman is worthy of compassion; that is undeniable. She believes her son is a good boy, and he really is a low, cowardly ruffian. I ought not to pay any attention to this plea, but insist on their condemning that miserable wretch to death. But I haven't any more energy; I haven't any more strength. I can feel that I am going to yield; the mother's grief moves me, and I do not consider that if this bully goes free, he is going to turn the town upside down and ruin all our work. I am lost."
Caesar confided to his wife that he was daunted; his lack of courage was a nightmare to him.
Amparito said that they ought to take a long trip. Laura had invited them to come to Italy. It was the best thing they could do.
Caesar accepted her solution, and, as a matter of fact, they went to Madrid and from there to Italy.
The Workmen's Club telegraphed to Caesar when the time for the trial came, and Amparito answered the telegram from Florence, saying that her husband was ill.
Never had Caesar felt so agitated as then. He bought the Spanish newspapers, and expected to find in some one of them the words: "Senor Moncada is a coward," or "Senor Moncada is a sorry creature and a traitor."
When they knew that judgment had been pronounced and Juan condemned to eight years in the penitentiary, they returned to Madrid.
Caesar felt humiliated and ashamed; he did not dare show himself in Castro. The congratulations that some people sent him on the restoration of his health made his cheeks hot with shame in the solitude of his office.
The editor of a newspaper in the Capital of the Province came to call on Caesar, who was so dispirited that he confided to his visitor that he was ready to retire from politics. Two days later Caesar saw a big headline on the first page of the Conservative newspaper of the Capital, which said: "Moncada is about to retire."
Amparito applauded her husband's decision, and Caesar made melancholy plans for the future, founded on the renunciation of all struggle.
A few days later Caesar received a letter from Castro Duro which made him quiver. It was signed by Dr. Ortigosa, by San Roman, Camacho, the apothecary, and the leading members of the Workmen's Club. The letter was in the doctor's handwriting. It read thus:
"Dear Sir: We have read in the newspaper from the Capital the announcement that you are thinking of retiring from politics. We believe this announcement is not true. We cannot think that you, the champion of liberty in Castro Duro, would abandon so noble a cause, and leave the town exposed to the intrigues and the evil tricks of the Clericals. There is no question in this of whether it would suit you better to retire from politics, or not. That is of no importance. There is a question of what would suit our country and Liberty better.
"If because of the seductions of an easy life, you should withdraw from us and desert us, you would have committed the crime of lese-civilization; you would have slain in its flower the re-birth of the spiritual and civic life of Castro.
"We do not believe you capable of such cowardice and such infamy, and since we do not believe you capable of it, we beg you to come to Castro Duro as soon as possible to direct the approaching municipal elections.—Dr. Ortigosa, Antonio San Roman, Jose Camacho."
On reading this letter Caesar felt as if he had been struck with a whip. Those men were correct; he had no right to retire from the fight.
This conviction supported him.
"I have to go to Castro," he said to Amparito.
"But didn't you say that...?"
"Yes, but it is impossible."
Amparito realized that her husband's decision was final, and she said:
"All right; let us go to Castro."
XVII. FIRST VICTORY
The Conservatives had come into power; the time to change the town government was approaching. It was customary at Castro, as in all rural districts in Spain, that in a period of Liberal administration the majority of the councillors elected should be Liberal, and at a time of Conservative government, they should be Conservative.
The former Liberal, Garcia Padilla, had gone over to the Conservative camp, and one was now to see whether he would get his friends into the Municipality so as to prepare for his own election as Deputy later.
It was the first time there was going to be a real election at Castro Duro. Moncada's candidates were almost all persons of good position. Dr. Ortigosa and a Socialist weaver figured among the candidates, as representing the revolutionary tendency. The Liberals felt and showed an unusual activity and anxiety. Caesar started a newspaper which he named Liberty, Dr. Ortigosa was the soul of this paper, whose doctrines ran from Liberal Monarchy to Anarchy, inclusive. As the election drew nearer, the agitation increased.
In the two electoral headquarters established by Moncada's party, the coming and going never stopped; some enthusiastic Moncadists came to headquarters every fifteen minutes, to bring rumours going about and to get news.
Don So-and-So had said this; Uncle What's-His-Name was thinking of doing that; it was nothing but conferences and machinations. The painter had painted for them gratis a big poster expressing cheers for Liberty, for Moncada, Dr. Ortigosa, and the Liberal candidates. The cafe keeper brought chairs, without any one's asking him; somebody else brought a brasier for the clerks; everybody was anxious to do something. The stock phrase, an electoral battle, was not for them a political commonplace but a reality. The most trivial things served as a motive for very long discussions. Such was their identification with the Idea, that it succeeded in wiping out selfish ends. They all felt honoured and enthusiastic, at least while it lasted.
People dreamed of the election.
When Caesar arrived at the electoral headquarters, it was always a series of exclamations, of embracing, of advice, that never ended.
"Don Caesar, such a thing is... Don Caesar, don't trust So-and-So."
"We must get rid of them."
"Not one of them ought to be left."
He used to smile, because finding himself really loved by the people had cleansed him of his habitual bitterness and his loss of spirits. When he had finished receiving recommendations and congratulations, he would go to an inside room, and there, in the company of a candidate or a secretary, would read letters and arrange what they had to do.
The most active of the candidates was Dr. Ortigosa.
Ortigosa was a narrow-minded, tenacious man. His chief hatred was for Catholicism and he directed all his attacks at the religion of his forefathers, as he ironically termed it.
He had founded a Masonic lodge, named the "Microbe," and whose principal characteristic was anti-Catholicism.
Ortigosa carried his propaganda everywhere. He stopped at every corner to speechify, to talk of his plans.
Caesar used his motor-car to go about among the villages in the district. They would go to four or five and talk from balconies, or very often from the car, like itinerant patent-medicine venders.
In the little villages these reunions produced a great effect. What was said served as a topic of conversation for a month.
Caesar had developed a clear, insinuating eloquence. He knew how to explain things admirably. Padilla's followers were not asleep; but, as was natural, they took up the work in another way. They went from shop to shop, making the shopkeepers see the harmfulness of the Moncadist politics, promising them advantages. They threatened workmen with dismissal. There was no great enthusiasm; their campaign was less noisy, but, in part more certain.
All the Liberal element of Castro was wrought up, from the temperate Liberals, who remembered Espartero, to the Anarchists. "Whiskers" and "Furibis" were the only ones who got together in a tavern to talk about bombs and dynamite, and one could be sure that neither of them was capable of anything. Those two had nothing more to do with Ortigosa, considering him a deserter.
"You are imbeciles," the doctor told them, with his habitual fury. "This fight is waking the people up. They are beginning to show their instincts, and that makes a man strong. The longer and more violent this fight is, the better; progress will be so much quicker."
"Agitation, agitation is what we need," cried the doctor; and he himself was as agitated as a man condemned.
The Liberals won a great victory; they obtained eight places out of ten vacancies.
XVIII. DECLARATION OF WAR
The new city government of Castro was the most extraordinary that could be imagined. Dr. Ortigosa presented motions which caused the greatest astonishment and stupefaction, not only in the town, but in the whole province. He conceived magnificent plans and extravagant ideas. He asked to have the teaching system changed, religious festivals suppressed and other ones instituted, property abolished, public baths installed, and that Castro Duro should break with Rome.
The doctor was a creature born to succeed those revolutionary eagle-men, like Robespierre and Saint Just, and condemned to live in a miserable chicken-yard.
One day when Caesar was working in his office, he was astounded to see Father Martin enter.
Father Martin greeted Caesar like an old acquaintance; he had come to ask him a favour. Suspicious, Caesar prepared to listen. After speaking of the business that had brought him, the friar began to criticize the town-government of Castro and to say that it was a veritable mad-house.
"Your friends," said the priest, smiling, "are unrestrained. They want to change everything in three days. Dr. Ortigosa is a crazy man...."
"To my mind, he is the only man in Castro that deserves my estimation."
"This demoniac says that for him traditions have no value whatsoever."
"Oh! I think the same thing," said Caesar. "Are you anti-historic?"
"I don't believe it."
"Absolutely. Tradition has no value for me either."
"The basis of tradition," answered the friar, arguing like a man who carries the whole of human knowledge in the pocket of his habit, "is the confidence we all have in the experience of our predecessors. Whether I be a labourer or a pastor, even though I have lived fifty years, I may have great experience about my work and about life, but it will never be so great as the united experience of all those who have preceded me. Can I scorn the accumulation of wisdom that past generations hand down to us?"
"If you wish me to tell you the truth, for me your argument has no weight," answered Caesar coldly.
"No. It is undeniable that there is a sum of knowledge that comes from father to son, from one labourer to another, and from one pastor to another. But what value have these rudimentary, vague experiences, compared to the united experience of all the men of science there have been in the world? It is as if you told me that the stock of knowledge of a quack was greater and better than that of a wise physician."
"I am not talking," answered the Father, "of pure science. I am talking of applied science. Is one of your universal savants going to occupy himself with the way of sowing or of threshing in Castro?"
"Yes. He has already occupied himself with it, because he has occupied himself with the way of sowing or threshing in general, and, what is more, with the variations in the processes that may be occasioned by the kind of soil, the climate, etc."
"And do you believe that such scientific pragmatism can be substituted for the natural pragmatism born of the people's loins, created by them through centuries and centuries of life?"
"Yes. That is to say, I believe it can purify it; that it can cast out of this pragmatism, as you call it, all that is wrong, absurd, and false and keep what good there may be." "And for you the absurd and false is Catholic morality."
"You are not willing to discuss whether Catholicism is true or is a lie; you consider it a ruinous doctrine which produces decadence. I have been told that you have stated that on various occasions."
"It is true. I have said so."
"Then we do not agree. Catholicism is useful; Catholicism is efficient."
"For what? For this life?"
"No. Pshaw! It may be useful when it comes to dying? Where there is Catholicism there is ruin and misery."
"Nevertheless, there is no misery in Belgium."
"Certainly there is none, but in that country Catholicism is not what it is in Spain."
"Of course it isn't," exclaimed the friar, shouting, "because what characterizes Spanish Catholicism is Spain, poverty-stricken, fanatic Spain, and not the Catholicism."
"I do not believe we are going to understand each other," replied Caesar; "what seems a cause to me is an effect for you.... Besides, we are getting away from the question. To you Castro's moral and intellectual state seems good, does it not?"
"Well, to me it seems horrifying. Sordid vice, obscure adultery; gambling, bullying, usury, hunger... You think it ought to keep on being just as it was before I was Deputy for the District. Do you not?"
"That I have been a disturbance, an enemy to public tranquillity."
"Well, this state of things that you find admirable, seems to me bestially fanatical, repugnantly immoral, repulsively vile."
"Of course, for you are a pessimist about things as they are, like any good revolutionist. You believe that you are going to improve life at Castro. You alone?" "I, united with others."
"And meanwhile you introduce anarchy into the city."
"I introduce anarchy! No. I introduce order. I want to finish with the anarchy already reigning in Castro and make it submit to a thought, to a worthy, noble thought."
"And by what right do you arrogate to yourself the power to do this?"
"By the right of being the stronger."
"Ah! Good. If you should get to be the weaker, you ought not to complain if we should misuse our strength."
"Complain! When you have been misusing it for thousands of years! At this very moment, we do the talking, we make the protests, but you people give the orders."
"We offset your idiotic behaviour. We stand in the way of your utopias. Do you think you are going to solve the problem of this earth, and that of Capital? Are you going to solve the sexual question? Are you going to institute a society without inequality or injustice, as Dr. Ortigosa said in La Libertad the other day? To me it seems very difficult."
"To me too. But that is what there is to try for."
"And when will you attain so perfect an arrangement, so great a harmony, as the Catholic, created in twenty centuries? When?"
"We shall attain a different, better harmony."
"Oh, I doubt it."
"Naturally. That is just what the pagans might have said to the Christians; and perhaps with reason, because Christianity, compared to paganism, was a retrogression."
"That point we cannot discuss," said Father Lafuerza, getting up.
Caesar got up too.
"In spite of all this, I admire you, because I believe you are sincere," said Father Martin. "But I believe you to be dangerous and I should be happy to get you out of Castro."
"I feel the same way about you, and I should also be happy to get you out of here, as an unwholesome element."
"So that we are open, loyal enemies." "Loyal! Pshaw! We are ready to do each other all the harm possible."
"For my part, yes, and in any way," announced the priest with energy.
"I, too," Caesar answered; and he raised the curtain of the office door.
"Don't disturb yourself," said Father Martin.
"Oh, it's no trouble."
"Regards to Amparito."
The friar hesitated about going out, as if he wanted to return to the attack.
"Afterwards, if you repent..." he said.
"I shall not repent," Caesar coldly replied.
"I will drink peace to you."
"Yes, if I submit. I will drink peace to you too, if I submit."
"You are going to play a dangerous game."
"It will be no less dangerous for you than for me."
"You are playing for your head."
"Pshaw! We will play for it and win it."
The friar bowed, and smiling in a forced manner, left the house.
XIX. THE FIGHT FOR THE ELECTION
The Conservatives at Castro Duro were ready to commit the greatest outrages and the most arbitrary acts so as to win by any methods.
It was known that a committee consisting of Garcia Padilla, Father Martin Lafuerza, and two Conservative councillors had gone to the Minister of the Interior to beg that Caesar's victory might be prevented by whatsoever means.
"It is necessary that Don Caesar Moncada should not be elected for the District," said Father Martin. "If he is, the town will remain subjected to a revolutionary dictatorship. All the Conservative classes, the merchants, the religious communities, fervently hope that Moncada will not be made Deputy."
The committee of Castrians visited other high personages, and they must have attained their object, because the municipal government was suspended a few days later, the Workmen's Club closed, the judge transferred, the Civil Guard was reinforced, and a police inspector of the worst antecedents was detailed to Castro as commissioner of elections.
The Governor of the Province, a political enemy of Caesar's, was a personal friend of his.
"For your sake I am ready to lose my future," he had said to him, "but as for your followers, there is nothing left for me to do but knock them over the head."
La Libertad, Caesar's newspaper, made a very violent campaign against Garcia Padilla. Ortigosa succeeded in finding out that Padilla had been tried for embezzlement, and he published that fact. The Castro News, on its side, insulted Caesar and called him a crooked speculator on the exchange, an upstart, and an atheist.
The rapidity and violence of the Government's methods produced an effect of fear on lukewarm Liberals; on the other hand, it moved the decided ones to show themselves all the more courageous and rash.
Moncada's party almost immediately took on a revolutionary character. The lodge, "The Microbe," was at work, and the most radical arrangements started there. It suited the Government and the Conservatives to have the Moncada party take this demagogic character. The commissioner had contaminating persons come on from the Capital for the purpose of sowing discord in the Workmen's Club.
These suspicious persons, directed by one they called "Sparkler," used to gather in the taverns to corrupt the workmen and the peasants, carrying on a propaganda that was anarchistic in appearance, but in reality anti-liberal.
"They are all the same," they used to say; "Liberals and Conservatives are not a bit different."
The drunkards and vagabonds were in their glory during those days, eating and drinking. Nobody knew for certain where the money came from, but everybody could make certain that it flowed profusely.
At the same time the commissioner had the most prominent workmen of the Club arrested and brought suit against them on ridiculous accusations.
The Liberals tried to hold a manifestation in protest, but the commissioner and the mayor prohibited it.
The newspaper La Libertad explained what was going on, and was reprimanded.
A meeting was organized at the school; the governor had granted permission.
The school was not lighted, and Caesar sent a man to the Capital for acetylene lamps, which were put up on the walls, and which made a detestable smell. The reunion took place at nine at night. Caesar presided, and had San Roman, the bookseller, on his right, and Dr. Ortigosa on his left.
Behind them on a bench were some of the members of the Workmen's Club.
The audience was composed of the poorest people; the rich Liberal element was drawing back; there were day-labourers with blankets around their shoulders and mouths, women in shawls holding children in their arms. Among the audience were the agents provocateurs who doubtless had the intention of making a disturbance; but the Republican bookseller ordered them thrown out of the place, and, despite their resistance, he managed to have it done.
The chief of police, insolent and contemptuous, took his seat at the table with an officer of the Civil Guard in civilian's, who was there, he said, to take notes.
San Roman, the bookseller, gave Caesar a paper with the names of those who were going to speak. They were many, and Caesar didn't know them.
The first to whom he gave the floor, in the order of the list, was a lame boy, who came forward on a crutch, and began to speak.
The boy expressed himself with great enthusiasm and admirable candour.
"Who is this youngster?" Caesar asked San Roman.
"He is the best pupil in our school. We call him 'Limpy.' He comes of a very poor family. He came to the school a year ago, knowing nothing, and see him now. He says, and I think he is right, that if he keeps on studying, he will be an eminent man."
The audience applauded everything "Limpy" said, and when he finished they hailed him with shouts and cheers. As he went back to his seat, Caesar and San Roman shook his hand effusively.
STAND FAST, FELLOW CITIZENS!
After "Limpy," various orators spoke, in divers keys: "Furibis," "Uncle Chinaman," "Panza," San Roman, a weaver, a railway employee, and Dr. Ortigosa. The last-named let loose, and launched into such violent terms that the audience shouted in horrified excitement. Caesar's speech recommended firmness, and caused scarcely any reaction. The note had been given by "Limpy," with his ingenuousness and his appealing quality, and by the doctor with the violence of his words.
The next day the Governor's commissioner gave orders to close the school, and Dr. Ortigosa and San Roman were taken to jail.
It was impossible to carry on a campaign of popular agitation, and Caesar decided to open a headquarters for propaganda next door to each voting place.
Meetings in the villages had been suppressed, because at the least alarm, or even without any motive, the chief of police, with members of the Civil Guard, went in among the people and dispersed them by shoving and by pounding rifles on their feet.
The newspapers couldn't say anything without being immediately reported and suspended.
Caesar sent no telegrams of protest, but he kept at work silently. He was thinking of using all weapons, including even trickery and bribes.
Garcia Padilla and the Government agents found this proceeding even more dangerous than the former. Caesar offered twenty dollars to anybody that would give information of any electoral sharp practices which could be proved. The week of the election he and his friends did not rest.
At one of the polls in Carrascal, where Caesar had a majority, the tile bearing the house-number had been changed by night. The real voters had to wait to cast their votes in one place, and meanwhile the urn was being filled with ballots for the Government candidate at another place.
In the hamlet of Val de San Gil, another trick was tried; the polling place was established in a hay-loft to which one went up by a ladder. While the villagers were waiting for the ladder to be set up, the urn was being filled. When the ladder was put into place and the voters went up one by one, they found that they had all voted already. As the ladder was narrow, they had to go up singly, and it was not likely they would have ventured to protest. Besides, there were a number of ruffians in the place, armed with sticks and pistols, who were ready to club or to shoot any one protesting.
In spite of all, Caesar had the election won, always supposing that the Government did not carry things to the limit; but at the last moment he learned that more Civil Guards were going to come to Castro, and that the Government agents had orders to prevent Moncada's victory by any method.
In the evening on Saturday, Caesar was told that the commissioner was in a tavern, with others of the police, giving out ballots for illegal voters. Caesar went there alone, and entered the tavern.
The commissioner, on seeing him, grew confused.
"I know what you are doing," said Caesar. "Be careful, because it may cost you a term in prison."
"You are the one that may have to pay by going to prison," replied the inspector.
"Just try to arrest me, you poor fool, and I'll shoot your head off!"
The police inspector jumped up from the table where he was seated, and, as he went out, he let one of the ballots fall. Caesar looked over the men who were with the police inspector; one of them was "Sparkler." Some days before he had come to Moncada's headquarters to offer to work for him, and he was the director of the contaminating persons sent to Castro by the Government.
A CLANDESTINE MEETING
When he returned to the headquarters, they told him there was a meeting in "Furibis's" tavern at nine that night. Caesar got there a little later than the time set. The place was gloomy, and had some big earthen jars in it. They had put a table at the back of this cave, and an acetylene light illuminated it.
Those present formed a semicircle around the table.
Caesar knocked at the tavern, and they opened the door to him; a workman who was speaking delayed his peroration, and they waited until Caesar had reached the table and got seated. The atmosphere was suffocating. Everything was closed so that the Civil Guards would not see the light through the windows and suspect that there was a meeting being held there. The workmen were, for the most part, masons, weavers, brickmakers. There were women there with their little ones asleep in their bosoms. The air one breathed there was horrible. It looked like a gathering of desperate people. They had learned that their arrested comrades had been beaten in the prison, and that San Roman and Dr. Ortigosa were in the infirmary as a result.
EULOGY OF VIOLENCE
The excitement among those present was terrible. "Limpy" was the most strenuous; he was in favour of their all going out that moment and storming the jail.
When they had all spoken, Caesar got up and asked them to wait. If he won the election the next day, he promised them that the prisoners should be freed immediately; if he did not win and the prisoners remained there...
"Then what is to be done?" said a voice.
"What is to be done? I am in favour of violence," answered Caesar; "burning the jail, setting fire to the whole town; I am ready for anything."
At that moment he really did think he had been too lenient.
"Man's first duty is to break the law," he shouted, "when it is a bad law. Everything is due to violence and war. I will go to the post of danger this very second, whenever you wish. Shall we storm the jail? Let's go right now."
This storming of the jail didn't seem an easy thing to the others. One might try to climb down the hill and surprise the prison guards, but it would be difficult. According to "Furibis," the best thing would be for ten or twelve of them to go out into the street with guns and pistols and shoot right and left.
At this disturbance the Civil Guard would come out, and that would be the moment for the others to enter the jail and drag the prisoners out into the street.
Some one else said that it seemed better to him for them to approach the Civil Guards' quarters cautiously, kill the sentinels, and take possession of the rifles.
"Decide," said Caesar; "I am ready for anything."
Caesar's attitude made the excited ones grow calmer and understand that it was not so easy to storm the jail.
It was about eleven when the meeting at the tavern ended. They had decided to wait and see what would happen the next day, and they left the place one by one.
"We will escort you, Don Caesar," several of them said.
"No. What for?"
"Remember there are people who might attack you. 'Driveller' Juan is at large in Castro."
"That bully can't do anything to me."
* * * * *
Caesar went out of the tavern, pulled down his hat, and wrapped himself in his cape. He had not brought the motor, to avoid being recognized. It was a cloudy night, but still and beautiful.
Before they got out of the town a small boy came up to Caesar.
"'The Cub-Slut' sent me to tell you to come to her house; she wants to speak to you."
"I will go tomorrow."
"No. You must come now, because what she has to say is very important," shouted the youngster.
"Well, I can't go now."
The youngster protested, and Caesar continued on his way. "Limpy" and "Uncle Chinaman" followed him. Caesar was walking in the middle of the highway, when, about half way home, a man on the run passed him. No doubt he was going to give some signal.
"Limpy" and "Chinaman" shouted over and over:
"Don Caesar! Don Caesar!"
Caesar halted, and "Chinaman" and "Limpy" ran up to him.
"What's going on?" asked Caesar.
"They are lying in wait for you," said "Limpy." "Didn't you see a man go past running?"
"We are going to stay with you. We will sleep at your house," said "Chinaman," "and if they attack us, we will defend ourselves."
He showed a pistol which he carried in his sash.
The three walked on together, and as they passed a little grove in front of the palace, a shadow passed by, crawling, and fled away.
"He was there," said "Chinaman."
They went into the house. Amparito, with the old nurse, was praying before a lighted image.
YES, HE IS THE HERO
When he got up, Caesar found a lot of letters and notices from his followers all over the district, giving him pointers.
With the help of a manservant who used to go about with him, he himself got the motor ready and prepared to visit the polls.
As he got into the car, the youngster of the night before appeared with a letter.
"From 'The Cub-Slut'; please read it right away."
"Give it to me; I will read it."
"She told me you were to read it right away."
"Yes, man, yes."
Caesar took the letter and put it distractedly into his pocket. The motor started and Caesar did not read the note. At eight in the morning he was on his way to Cidones. The polls had been established legally.
It was raining gently. As he drew near Cidones, the sun appeared. The river was turbid and mud-coloured. Thick grey fog-clouds were rolling about the plain; when they gathered below the hill where Caesar stood, they gave it the appearance of an island in the middle of the sea. From the chimneys of the town the smoke came out like hanks of spun silver, and bells were ringing through this Sunday morning calm.
Caesar stopped at an inn which was a little outside the town. The blacksmith, an old Liberal, came out to receive him. The old man had been suffering with rheumatism for some while. "How goes it?" Caesar asked him.
"Very well. I have been to vote for you."
"And your health?"
"Now that spring is coming, one begins to get better."
"Yes, that is true," said Caesar; "I hadn't noticed that the trees are in bloom."
"Oh, yes, they are out. In a little while we shall have good weather. It's a consolation for old folks."
Caesar took leave of the blacksmith and got into the motor.
* * * * *
"Yes, spring is in flower," said Caesar. "I will remove all the obstacles and men's strength will come to life, which is action. This town, then others, and finally all Spain.... May nothing remain hidden or closed up; everything come to life, out into the sunlight. I am a strong man; I am a man of iron; there are no obstacles for me. The forces of Nature will assist me. Caesar! I must be Caesar!"
The automobile began to move in a straight line toward Castro.
The ground on both sides of the highway fled away rapidly.
The automobile lessened its pace at the foot of the hill, and began to climb.
It went in by an old gate in the wall, which was called the Cart Gate.
The street of the same name, a street in the poor suburb, was narrow and the houses low; it was paved with cobbles. A little farther along several lanes formed a crossroads.
This was a quarter of brothels and of gipsies who made baskets.
When he reached the crossroads, in the narrowest part there was a cart blocking the street. The automobile stopped.
"What's the matter?" asked Caesar, standing up.
At that moment two shots rang out, and Caesar fell wounded into the bottom of the car. The chauffeur saw that the discharges came from the low windows of a loom, and backing the motor, he returned rapidly, passed out the Cart Gate, at risk of running into it, went down to the highway, and drove at high speed to Caesar's house.
A moment later "Driveller" Juan and "Sparkler" came out of the loom and disappeared down a lane. The judge who went to take depositions learned from the chauffeur that Caesar had received a letter as he was getting into the car. He had the wounded man's clothes searched, and they found "The Cub-Slut's" letter, in which she warned Caesar of the danger he was in. Fate had kept Caesar from reading it.
* * * * *
THE RED FLAG
The news that Caesar was seriously wounded ran through the town like a train of powder.
A movement of terror shook everybody. "Limpy," "Furibis," and the other hysterical ones gathered at the tavern and agreed to set fire to the monastery of la Pena. "Furibis" had arms in his house and divided them among his comrades. A woman fastened a red rag to a stick, and they left Castro by different paths and met opposite Cidones.
Nine of them went armed, and various others followed behind.
On reaching Cidones, one of the party advanced up the lane and saw two pairs of Civil Guards. They discussed what they had better do, and the majority were in favour of going into Moro's inn, which was at the entrance to the town, and waiting until night.
They did go in there and told Moro what they had just done. The inn-keeper listened with simulated approval, and brought them wine. This Moro was not a very commendable party; he had been convicted for robbery several times and had a bad reputation.
While the revolutionists were drinking and talking, Moro stole out without any one's noticing, and went to see the chief of the Civil Guard, and told him what was going on. "They are armed, then?" asked the chief.
"And how many are they?"
"Nine with arms."
"We are only five. Do you want to do something?"
"What is it?"
"At dusk we will pass by the inn. I will knock. And you shall say to them: 'Here is the chief of the Civil Guard; hide your arms.' They will hide them, and we will arrest them."
"Shall I get something for doing this favour?" asked Moro.
"What will they give me?"
"You will see."
The ruse worked as they had plotted it; Moro played the comedy to perfection.
On learning that the chief of the Civil Guard wanted to come in, the revolutionists, on the landlord's advice, left their arms in the next room. At the same instant the window panes burst to bits and the soldiers of the Civil Guard fired three charges from close up. Two women and four men fell dead; the wounded, among whom was "Limpy," were taken to the hospital, and only one person was lucky enough to escape.
* * * * *
At the chief headquarters of Moncada's followers, a strange phenomenon was noticed; on the preceding days they had been chock full; that night there were not over ten or a dozen men from the Workmen's Club collected by a table lighted by a petroleum lamp. The pharmacist, Camacho, presided.
The news of the election was worse every minute. At the last hour the Padillists, knowing that Moncada was wounded, were behaving horribly. In the polls at Villamiel the tellers had fled with the blank ballots, and the Conservative boss arranged the outcome of the election from his house.
As the teller from Santa Ines, who was a poor Liberal school-master, was on his way from the hamlet with the papers, six men had seized him, had snatched the returns from him, changed all the figures, and sent them to the municipal building at Castro full of blots.
They had fired over twenty shots at the teller for Paralejo. Many of Moncada's emissaries, on knowing that Caesar was wounded and his campaign going badly, had passed over to the other party.
Only Moncada could have rallied that flight. His most faithful gave one another uneasy looks, hoping some one would say: "Come along!" so that they could all have gone. Camacho alone kept up the spirits of the meeting.
At nine o'clock at night the chief of police entered the headquarters, accompanied by two Civil Guards.
"Close up here, please," said the inspector.
"Why?" asked the pharmacist.
"Because I order you to."
"You have no right to order that."
"No? Here, get out, everybody, and you are under arrest."
Those present took to their heels; the pharmacist went to jail to keep San Roman and Ortigosa company, and the Club was shut up....