VICENTE BLASCO IBANEZ
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL SPANISH BY
JOHN W. LUCE & COMPANY
LUNA BENAMOR, A Novel
THE LAST LION
LUIS AGUIRRE had been living in Gibraltar for about a month. He had arrived with the intention of sailing at once upon a vessel bound for Oceanica, where he was to assume his post as a consul to Australia. It was the first important voyage of his diplomatic career. Up to that time he had served in Madrid, in the offices of the Ministry, or in various consulates of southern France, elegant summery places where for half the year life was a continuous holiday. The son of a family that had been dedicated to diplomacy by tradition, he enjoyed the protection of influential persons. His parents were dead, but he was helped by his relatives and the prestige of a name that for a century had figured in the archives of the nation. Consul at the age of twenty-five, he was about to set sail with the illusions of a student who goes out into the world for the first time, feeling that all previous trips have been insignificant.
Gibraltar, incongruous and exotic, a mixture of races and languages, was to him the first sign of the far-off world in quest of which he was journeying. He doubted, in his first surprise, if this rocky land jutting into the open sea and under a foreign flag, could be a part of his native peninsula. When he gazed out from the sides of the cliff across the vast blue bay with its rose-colored mountains dotted by the bright settlements of La Linea, San Roque and Algeciras,—the cheery whiteness of Andalusian towns,—he felt convinced that he was still in Spain. But great difference distinguished the human groups camped upon the edge of this horseshoe of earth that embraced the bay. From the headland of Tarifa to the gates of Gibraltar, a monotonous unity of race; the happy warbling of the Andalusian dialect; the broad-brimmed hat; the mantilla about the women's bosoms and the glistening hair adorned with flowers. On the huge mountain topped by the British flag and enclosing the oriental part of the bay, a seething cauldron of races, a confusion of tongues, a carnival of costume: Hindus, Mussulmen, English, Hebrews, Spanish smugglers, soldiers in red coats, sailors from every nation, living within the narrow limits of the fortifications, subjected to military discipline, beholding the gates of the cosmopolitan sheepfold open with the signal at sunrise and close at the booming of the sunset gun. And as the frame of this picture, vibrant with its mingling of color and movement, a range of peaks, the highlands of Africa, the Moroccan mountains, stretched across the distant horizon, on the opposite shore of the strait; here is the most crowded of the great marine boulevards, over whose blue highway travel incessantly the heavily laden ships of all nationalities and of all flags; black transatlantic steamers that plow the main in search of the seaports of the poetical Orient, or cut through the Suez Canal and are lost in the isle-dotted immensities of the Pacific.
To Aguirre, Gibraltar was a fragment of the distant Orient coming forward to meet him; an Asiatic port wrenched from its continent and dragged through the waves to run aground on the coast of Europe, as a sample of life in remote countries.
He was stopping at a hotel on Royal Street, a thoroughfare that winds about the mountain,—that vertebral column of the city to which lead, like thin threads, the smaller streets in ascending or descending slope. Every morning he was startled from his sleep by the noise of the sunrise gun,—a dry, harsh discharge from a modern piece, without the reverberating echo of the old cannon. The walls trembled, the floors shook, window panes and curtains palpitated, and a few moments later a noise was heard in the street, growing gradually louder; it was the sound of a hurrying flock, the dragging of thousands of feet, the buzz of conversations carried on in a low voice along the closed and silent buildings. It was the Spanish day laborers arriving from La Linea ready for week at the arsenal; the farmhands from San Roque and Algeciras who supplied the people of Gibraltar with vegetables and fruits.
It was still dark. On the coast of Spain perhaps the sky was blue and the horizon was beginning to be colored by the rain of gold from the glorious birth of the sun. In Gibraltar the sea fogs condensed around the heights of the cliff, forming a sort of blackish umbrella that covered the city, holding it in a damp penumbra, wetting the streets and the roofs with impalpable rain. The inhabitants despaired beneath this persistent mist, wrapped about the mountain tops like a mourning hat. It seemed like the spirit of Old England that had flown across the seas to watch over its conquest; a strip of London fog that had insolently taken up its place before the warm coasts of Africa, the very home of the sun.
The morning advanced, and the glorious, unobstructed light of the bay, yellow blue, at last succeeded in penetrating the settlement of Gibraltar, descending into the very depths of its narrow streets, dissolving the fog that had settled upon the trees of the Alameda and the foliage of the pines that extended along the coast so as to mask the fortifications at the top, drawing forth from the shadows the gray masses of the cruisers anchored in the harbor and the black bulk of the cannon that formed the shore batteries, filtering into the lugubrious embrasures pierced through the cliff, cavernous mouths revealing the mysterious defences that had been wrought with mole-like industry in the heart of the rock.
When Aguirre went down to the entrance of the hotel, after having given up all attempt to sleep during the commotion in the street, the thoroughfare was already in the throes of its regular commercial hurly-burly, a multitude of people, the inhabitants of the entire town plus the crews and the passengers of the vessels anchored in the harbor. Aguirre plunged into the bustle of this cosmopolitan population, walking from the section of the waterfront to the palace of the governor. He had become an Englishman, as he smilingly asserted. With the innate ability of the Spaniard to adapt himself to the customs of all foreign countries he imitated the manner of the English inhabitants of Gibraltar. He had bought himself a pipe, wore a traveling cap, turned up trousers and a swagger stick. The day on which he arrived, even before night-fall, they already knew throughout Gibraltar who he was and whither he was bound. Two days later the shopkeepers greeted him from the doors of their shops, and the idlers, gathered on the narrow square before the Commercial Exchange, glanced at him with those affable looks that greet a stranger in a small city where nobody keeps his secret.
He walked along in the middle of the street, avoiding the light, canvas-topped carriages. The tobacco stores flaunted many-colored signs with designs that served as the trade-mark of their products. In the show windows the packages of tobacco were heaped up like so many bricks, and monstrous unsmokable cigars, wrapped in tinfoil as if they were sausages, glitteringly displayed their absurd size; through the doors of the Hebrew shops, free of any decoration, could be seen the shelves laden with rolls of silk and velvet, or the rich silk laces hanging from the ceiling. The Hindu bazaars overflowed into the street with their exotic, polychrome rarities: clothes embroidered with terror-inspiring divinities and chimerical animals; carpets in which the lotus-flower was adapted to the strangest designs; kimonos of delicate, indefinable tints; porcelain jars with monsters that belched fire; amber-colored shawls, as delicate as woven sighs; and in the small windows that had been converted into display cases, all the trinkets of the extreme Orient, in silver, ivory or ebony; black elephants with white tusks, heavy-paunched Buddhas, filigree jewels, mysterious amulets, daggers engraved from hilt to point. Alternating with these establishments of a free port that lives upon contraband, there were confectioneries owned by Jews, cafes and more cafes, some of the Spanish type with round, marble-topped tables, the clicking of dominoes, smoke-laden atmosphere and high-pitched discussions accompanied by vehement gestures; others resembling more the English bar, crowded with motionless, silent customers, swallowing one cocktail after another, without any other sign of emotion than a growing redness of the nose.
Through the center of the street there passed by, like a masquerade, the variety of types and costumes that had surprised Aguirre as a spectacle distinct from that furnished by other European cities. There were Moroccans, some with a broad, hooded cape, white or black, the cowl lowered as if they were friars; others wearing balloon trousers, their calves exposed to the air and with no other protection for the feet than their loose, yellow slippers; their heads covered by the folds of their turbans. They were Moors from Tangier who supplied the place with poultry and vegetables, keeping their money in the embroidered leather wallets that hung from their girdled waists. The Jews of Morocco, dressed in oriental fashion with silk kirtle and an ecclesiastical calotte, passed by leaning upon sticks, as if thus dragging along their bland, timid obesity. The soldiers of the garrison,—tall, slender, rosy-complexioned—made the ground echo with the heavy cadence of their boots. Some were dressed in khaki, with the sobriety of the soldier in the field; others wore the regular red jacket. White helmets, some lined with yellow, alternated with the regulation caps; on the breasts of the sergeants shone the red stripe; other soldiers carried in their armpits the thin cane that is the emblem of authority. Above the collar of many coats rose the extraordinarily thin British neck, high, giraffe-like, with a pointed protuberance in front. Soon the further end of the street was filled with white; an avalanche of snowy patches seemed to advance with rhythmic step. It was the caps of the sailors. The cruisers in the Mediterranean had given their men shore leave and the thoroughfare was filled with ruddy, cleanshaven boys, with faces bronzed by the sun, their chests almost bare within the blue collar, their trousers wide at the bottom, swaying from side to side like an elephant's trunk, fellows with small heads and childish features, with their huge hands hanging at the ends of their arms as if the latter could hardly sustain their heavy bulk. The groups from the fleet separated, disappearing into the various side streets in search of a tavern. The policeman in the white helmet followed with a resigned look, certain that he would have to meet some of them later in a tussle, and beg the favor of the king when, at the sound of the sunset gun, he would bring them back dead drunk to their cruiser.
Mingling with these fighters were gypsies with their loose belts, their long staffs and their dark faces; old and repulsive creatures, who no sooner stopped before a shop than the owners became uneasy at the mysterious hiding-places of their cloaks and skirts; Jews from the city, too, with broad frocks and shining silk hats, dressed for the celebration of one of their holidays; negroes from the English possessions; coppery Hindus with drooping mustache and white trousers, so full and short that they looked like aprons; Jewesses from Gibraltar, dressed in white with all the correctness of the Englishwomen; old Jewesses from Morocco, obese, puffed out, with a many-colored kerchief knotted about their temples; black cassocks of Catholic priests, tight frocks of Protestant priests, loose gowns of venerable rabbis, bent, with flowing beards, exuding grime and sacred wisdom... And all this multifarious world was enclosed in the limits of a fortified town, speaking many tongues at the same time, passing without any transition in the course of the conversation from English to a Spanish pronounced with the strong Andalusian accent.
Aguirre wondered at the moving spectacle of Royal Street; at the continuously renewed variety of its multitude. On the great boulevards of Paris, after sitting in the same cafe for six days in succession, he knew the majority of those who passed by on the sidewalk. They were always the same. In Gibraltar, without leaving the restricted area of its central street, he experienced surprises every day. The whole country seemed to file by between its two rows of houses. Soon the street was filled with bearskin caps worn by ruddy, green-eyed, flat-nosed persons. It was a Russian invasion. There had just anchored in the harbor a transatlantic liner that was bearing this cargo of human flesh to America. They scattered throughout the place; they crowded the cafes and the shops, and under their invading wave they blotted out the normal population of Gibraltar. At two o'clock it had resumed its regular aspect and there reappeared the helmets of the police, the sailors' caps, the turbans of the Moors, the Jews and the Christians. The liner was already at sea after having taken on its supply of coal; and thus, in the course of a single day, there succeeded one another the rapid and uproarious invasions of all the races of the continent, in this city that might be called the gateway of Europe, by the inevitable passage through which one part of the world communicates with the Orient and the other with the Occident.
As the sun disappeared, the flash of a discharge gleamed from the top of the mountain, and the boom of the sunset gun warned strangers without a residence permit that it was time to leave the city. The evening patrol paraded through the streets, with its military music of fifes and drums grouped about the beloved national instrument of the English, the bass drum, which was being pounded with both hands by a perspiring athlete, whose rolled-up sleeves revealed powerful biceps. Behind marched Saint Peter, an official with escort, carrying the keys to the city. Gibraltar was now out of communication with the rest of the world; doors and gates were closed. Thrust upon itself it turned to its devotions, finding in religion an excellent pastime to precede supper and sleep. The Jews lighted the lamps of their synagogues and sang to the glory of Jehovah; the Catholics counted their rosaries in the Cathedral; from the Protestant temple, built in the Moorish style as if it were a mosque, rose, like a celestial whispering, the voices of the virgins accompanied by the organ; the Mussulmen gathered in the house of their consul to whine their interminable and monotonous salutation to Allah. In the temperance restaurants, established by Protestant piety for the cure of drunkenness, sober soldiers and sailors, drinking lemonade or tea, broke forth into harmonious hymns to the glory of the Lord of Israel, who in ancient times had guided the Jews through the desert and was now guiding old England over the seas, that she might establish her morality and her merchandise.
Religion filled the existence of these people, to the point of suppressing nationality. Aguirre knew that in Gibraltar he was not a Spaniard; he was a Catholic. And the others, for the most part English subjects, scarcely recalled this status, designating themselves by the name of their creed.
In his walks through Royal Street Aguirre had one stopping place: the entrance to a Hindu bazaar ruled over by a Hindu from Madras named Khiamull. During the first days of his stay he had bought from the shopkeeper various gifts for his first cousins in Madrid, the daughters of an old minister plenipotentiary who helped him in his career. Ever since then Aguirre would stop for a chat with Khiamull, a shrivelled old man, with a greenish tan complexion and mustache of jet black that bristled from his lips like the whiskers of a seal. His gentle, watery eyes—those of an antelope or of some humble, persecuted beast—seemed to caress Aguirre with the softness of velvet. He spoke to the young man in Spanish, mixing among his words, which were pronounced with an Andalusian accent, a number of rare terms from distant tongues that he had picked up in his travels. He had journeyed over half the world for the company by whom he was now employed. He spoke of his life at the Cape, at Durban, in the Philippines, at Malta, with a weary expression. Sometimes he looked young; at others his features contracted with an appearance of old age. Those of his race seem to be ageless. He recalled his far-off land of the sun, with the melancholy voice of an exile; his great sacred river, the flower-crowned Hindu virgins, slender and gracefully curved, showing from between the thick jewelled jacket and their linen folds a bronze stomach as beautiful as that of a marble figure. Ah!... When he would accumulate the price of his return thither, he would certainly join his lot to that of a maiden with large eyes and a breath of roses, scarcely out of childhood. Meanwhile he lived like an ascetic fakir amongst the Westerners, unclean folks with whom he was willing to transact business but with whom he avoided all unnecessary contact. Ah, to return yonder! Not to die far from the sacred river!... And as he expressed his intimate wishes to the inquisitive Spaniard who questioned him concerning the distant lands of light and mystery, the Hindu coughed painfully, his face becoming darker than ever, as if the blood that was circulating beneath the bronze of his skin had turned green.
At times Aguirre, as if waking from a dream, would ask himself what he was doing there in Gibraltar. Since he had arrived with the intention of sailing at once, three large vessels had passed the strait bound for the Oceanic lands. And he had allowed them to sail on, pretending not to know of their presence, never being able to learn the exact conditions of his voyage, writing to Madrid, to his influential uncle, letters in which he spoke of vague ailments that for the moment delayed his departure. Why?... Why?...
Upon arising, the day following his arrival at Gibraltar, Aguirre looked through the window curtains of his room with all the curiosity of a newcomer. The heavens were clouded; it was an October sky; but it was warm,—a muggy, humid warmth that betrayed the proximity of the African coast.
Upon the flat roof of a neighboring house he noticed a strange construction,—a large arbor made of woven reeds and thatched with green branches. Within this fragile abode, he was able to make out through its bright curtains a long table, chairs, and an old-fashioned lamp hanging from the top... What a queer whim of these people who, having a house, chose to live upon the roof!
A hotel attendant, while he put Aguirre's room in order, answered all his inquiries. The Jews of Gibraltar were celebrating a holiday, the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the most important observances of the year. It was in memory of the long wandering of the Israelites through the desert. In commemoration of their sufferings the Jews were supposed to eat in the open air, in a tabernacle that resembled the tents and huts of their forefathers. The more fanatic of them, those most attached to ancient customs, ate standing, with a staff in their hands, as if ready to resume their journey after the last mouthful. The Hebrew merchants of the central street erected their structures on the roof; those of the poor quarters built theirs in a yard or corral, wherever they could catch a glimpse of the open sky. Those who, because of their extreme poverty, lived in a shanty, were invited to dine in company with the more fortunate, with that fraternity of a race compelled by hatred and persecution to preserve a firm solidarity.
The tabernacle Aguirre saw was that of old Aboab and his son, brokers who kept their establishment on the selfsame Royal Street, just a few doors below. And the servant pronounced the name Aboab (father and son) with that mingling of superstitious awe and hatred which is inspired in the poor by wealth that is considered unjustly held. All Gibraltar knew them; it was the same in Tangier, and the same in Rabat and Casablanca. Hadn't the gentleman heard of them? The son directed the business of the house, but the father still took part, presiding over all with his venerable presence and that authority of old age which is so infallible and sacred among Hebrew families.
"If you could only see the old man!" added the attendant, with his Andalusian accent. "A white beard that reaches down to his waist, and if you'd put it into hot water it would yield more than a pitcherful of grease. He's almost as greasy as the grand Rabbi, who's the bishop among them.... But he has lots of money. Gold ounces by the fistful, pounds sterling by the shovel; and if you'd see the hole he has in the street for his business you'd be amazed. A mere poor man's kitchen. It seems impossible that he can store so much there!"
After breakfast, when Aguirre went back to his room in search of his pipe, he saw that the Aboab tabernacle was occupied by the whole family. At the back, which was in semi-obscurity, he seemed to make out a white head presiding over the table and on each side elbows leaning upon the tablecloth, and the skirts and trousers of persons who were for the most part invisible.
Two women came out on the roof; they were both young, and after glancing for a moment at the inquisitive fellow in the hotel window, turned their gaze in a different direction, as if they had not noticed him. To Aguirre these Aboab daughters were not very impressive, and he wondered whether the much vaunted beauty of Jewesses was but another of the many lies admitted by custom, consecrated by time and accepted without investigation. They had large eyes, of bovine beauty; moist and dilated, but with the addition of thick, prominent eyebrows, as black and continuous as daubs of ink. Their nostrils were wide and the beginnings of obesity already threatened to submerge their youthful slenderness in corpulence.
They were followed by another woman, doubtless the mother, who was so fat that her flesh shook as she moved. Her eyes, too, were attractive, but were spoiled by the ugly eyebrows. Her nose, her lower lip and the flesh of her neck hung loosely; in her there was already completed the fatal maturity which was beginning to appear in her daughters. All three possessed the yellowish pallor characteristic of Oriental races. Their thick lips, faintly blue, revealed something of the African element grafted upon their Asiatic origin.
"Hola! What's this!" murmured Aguirre with a start.
A fourth woman had come out from the depths of the tabernacle. She must be English; the Spaniard was certain of this. Yes, she was an English brunette, with a bluish cast to her dark skin and a slim, athletic figure whose every movement was graceful. A creole from the colonies, perhaps, born of some Oriental beauty and a British soldier.
She looked without any bashfulness toward the window of the hotel, examining the Spaniard with the leisurely glance of a bold boy, meeting the shock of his eyes without flinching. Then she wheeled about on her heel as if beginning a dancing figure, turned her back to the Spaniard and leaned against the shoulders of the two other young ladies, thrusting them aside and taking pleasure, to the accompaniment of loud outbursts of laughter, in pushing their unwieldy persons with her vigorous, boyish arms.
When all the women returned to the interior of the tabernacle, Aguirre abandoned his lookout, more and more convinced of the exactness of his observations. Decidedly, she was not a Jewess. And the better to convince himself, he talked at the door with the manager of the hotel, who knew all Gibraltar. After a few words this man guessed to whom Aguirre was referring.
"That's Luna... Lunita Benamor, old Aboab's granddaughter. What a girl, eh? The belle of Gibraltar! And rich! Her dowry is at least one hundred thousand duros."
A Jewess!... She was a Jewess! From that time Aguirre began to meet Luna frequently in the narrow limits of a city where people could hardly move without encountering one another. He saw her on the roof of her house; he came across her on Royal Street as she entered her grandfather's place; he followed her, sometimes in the vicinity of the Puerta del Mar and at others from the extreme end of the town, near the Alameda. She was usually unaccompanied, like all the young ladies of Gibraltar, who are brought up in conformity with English customs. Besides, the town was in a manner a common dwelling in which all knew one another and where woman ran no risk.
Whenever Aguirre met her they would exchange casual glances, but with the expression of persons who have seen each other very often. The consul still experienced the astonishment of a Spaniard influenced by centuries of prejudice. A Jewess! He would never have believed that the race could produce such a woman. Her outward appearance, correct and elegant as that of an Englishwoman, gave no other indication of her foreign origin than a marked predilection for silk clothes of bright hues, especially strawberry color, and a fondness for sparkling jewelry. With the gorgeousness of an American who pays no attention to hours, she would go out early in the morning with a thick necklace of pearls hanging upon her bosom and two flashing pendants in her ears. A picture hat with costly plumes, imported from London, concealed the ebony beauty of her hair.
Aguirre had acquaintances in Gibraltar, idlers, whom he had met in the cafes, young, obsequious, courteous Israelites who received this Castilian official with ancestral deference, questioning him about affairs of Spain as if that were a remote country.
Whenever passed by them during her constant walks along Royal Street,—taken with no other purpose than to kill time—they spoke of her with respect. "More than a hundred thousand duros." Everybody knew the amount of the dowry. And they acquainted the consul with the existence of a certain Israelite who was the girl's affianced husband. He was now in America to complete his fortune. He was rich, but a Jew must labor to add to the legacy of his fathers. The families had arranged the union without even consulting them, when she was twelve years old and he already a man corrupted by frequent changes of residence and traveling adventures. Luna had been waiting already ten years for the return of her fiance from Buenos Aires, without the slightest impatience, like the other maidens of her race, certain that everything would take its regular course at the appointed hour.
"These Jewish girls," said a friend of Aguirre, "are never in a hurry. They're accustomed to biding their time. Just see how their fathers have been awaiting the Messiah for thousands of years without growing tired."
One morning, when the Feast of Tabernacles had ended and the Jewish population of the town returned to its normal pursuits, Aguirre entered the establishment of the Aboabs under the pretext of changing a quantity of money into tender of English denomination. It was a rectangular room without any other light than that which came in through the doorway, its walls kalsomined and with a wainscoting of white, glazed tiles. A small counter divided the shop, leaving a space for the public near the entrance and reserving the rest of the place for the owners and a large iron safe. Near the door a wooden charity-box, inscribed in Hebrew, awaited the donations of the faithful for the philanthropic activities of the community. The Jewish customers, in their dealings with the house, deposited there the extra centimos of their transactions. Behind the counter were the Aboabs, father and son. The patriarch, Samuel Aboab, was very aged and of a greasy corpulence. As he sat there in his armchair his stomach, hard and soft at the same time, had risen to his chest. His shaven upper lip was somewhat sunken through lack of teeth; his patriarchal beard, silver white and somewhat yellow at the roots, fell in matted locks, with the majesty of the prophets. Old age imparted to his voice a whimpering quaver, and to his eyes a tearful tenderness. The least emotion brought tears; every word seemed to stir touching recollections. Tears and tears oozed from his eyes, even when he was silent, as if they were fountains whence escaped the grief of an entire people, persecuted and cursed through centuries upon centuries.
His son Zabulon was already old, but a certain black aspect lingered about him, imparting an appearance of virile youth. His eyes were dark, sweet and humble, but with an occasional flash that revealed a fanatic soul, a faith as firm as that of ancient Jerusalem's people, ever ready to stone or crucify the new prophets; his beard, too, was black and firm as that of a Maccabean warrior; black, also, was his curly hair, which looked like an astrakhan cap. Zabulon figured as one of the most active and respected members of the Jewish community,—an individual indispensable to all beneficent works, a loud singer in the synagogue and a great friend of the Rabbi, whom he called "our spiritual chief," an assiduous attendant at all homes where a fellow-religionist lay suffering, ready to accompany with his prayers the gasps of the dying man and afterwards lave the corpse according to custom with a profusion of water that ran in a stream into the street. On Saturdays and special holidays Zabulon would leave his house for the synagogue, soberly arrayed in his frock and his gloves, wearing a silk hat and escorted by three poor co-religionists who lived upon the crumbs of his business and were for these occasions dressed in a style no less sober and fitting than that of their protector.
"All hands on deck!" the wits of Royal Street would cry. "Make way, for here comes a cruiser with four smokestacks!"
And the four smokestacks of well brushed silk sailed between the groups, bound for the synagogue, looking now to this side and now to that so as to see whether any wicked Hebrew was lounging about the streets instead of attending synagogue; this would afterwards be reported to the "spiritual head."
Aguirre, who was surprised at the poverty of the establishment, which resembled a kitchen, was even more surprised at the facility with which money rolled across the narrow counter. The packets of silver pieces were quickly opened, passing rapidly through the shaggy, expert hands of Zabulon; the pounds fairly sang, as they struck the wood, with the merry ring of gold; the bank-notes, folded like unstitched folios, flashed for a moment before concealing the colors of their nationality in the safe: the simple, monotonous white of the English paper, the soft blue of the Bank of France, the green and red mixture of the Spanish Bank. All the Jews of Gibraltar flocked hither, with that same commercial solidarity which leads them to patronize only establishments owned by members of their race; Zabulon, all by himself, without the aid of clerks, and without allowing his father (the venerable fetich of the family's fortune) to leave his seat, directed this dance of money, conducting it from the hands of the public to the depths of the iron safe, or fetching it forth to spread it, with a certain sadness, upon the counter. The ridiculous little room seemed to grow in size and acquire beauty at the sound of the sonorous names that issued from the lips of the banker and his customers. London! Paris! Vienna!... The house of Aboab had branches everywhere. Its name and its influence extended not only to the famous world centers, but even to the humblest corners, wherever one of their race existed. Rabat, Casablanca, Larache, Tafilete, Fez, were African towns into which the great banks of Europe could penetrate only with the aid of these auxiliaries, bearing an almost famous name yet living very poorly.
Zabulon, as he changed Aguirre's money, greeted him as if he were a friend. In that city every one knew every body else within twenty-four hours.
Old Aboab pulled himself together in his chair, peering out of his weak eyes with a certain surprise at not being able to recognize this customer among his habitual visitors.
"It's the consul, father," said Zabulon, without raising his glance from the money that he was counting, guessing the reason for the movement of the old man behind him. "The Spanish consul who stops at the hotel opposite our house."
The patriarch seemed to be impressed and raised his hand to his hat with humble courtesy.
"Ah! The consul! The worthy consul!" he exclaimed, emphasizing the title as a token of his great respect for all the powers of the earth. "Highly honored by your visit, worthy consul."
And believing that he owed his visitor renewed expressions of flattery, he added with tearful sighs, imparting to his words a telegraphic conciseness, "Ah, Spain! Beautiful land, excellent country, nation of gentlemen!... My forefathers came from there, from a place called Espinosa de los Monteros."
His voice quivered, pained by recollections, and afterwards, as if he had in memory advanced to recent times, he added, "Ah! Castelar!... Castelar, a friend of the Jews, and he defended them. Of the judeos, as they say there!"
His flood of tears, ill restrained up to that moment, could no longer be held back, and at this grateful recollection it gushed from his eyes, inundating his beard.
"Spain! Beautiful country!" sighed the old man, deeply moved.
And he recalled everything that in the past of his race and his family had united his people with that country. An Aboab had been chief treasurer of the King of Castile; another had been a wonderful physician, enjoying the intimacy of bishops and cardinals. The Jews of Portugal and of Spain had been great personages,—the aristocracy of the race. Scattered now over Morocco and Turkey, they shunned all intercourse with the coarse, wretched Israelite population of Russia and Germany. They still recited certain prayers, in the synagogue, in old Castilian, and the Jews of London repeated them by heart without knowing either their origin or their meaning, as if they were prayers in a language of sacred mystery. He himself, when he prayed at the synagogue for the King of England, imploring for him an abundance of health and prosperity even as Jews the world over did for the ruler of whatever country they happened to inhabit, added mentally an entreaty to the Lord for the good fortune of beautiful Spain.
Zabulon, despite his respect for his father, interrupted him brusquely, as if he were an imprudent child. In his eyes there glowed the harsh expression of the impassioned zealot.
"Father, remember what they did to us. How they cast us out... how they robbed us. Remember our brothers who were burned alive."
"That's true, that's true," groaned the patriarch, shedding new tears into a broad handkerchief with which he wiped his eyes. "It's true.... But in that beautiful country there still remains something that is ours. The bones of our ancestors."
When Aguirre left, the old man showered him with tokens of extreme courtesy. He and his son were at the consul's service. And the consul returned almost every morning to chat with the patriarch, while Zabulon attended to the customers and counted money.
Samuel Aboab spoke of Spain with tearful delight, as of a marvelous country whose entrance was guarded by terrible monsters with fiery swords. Did they still recall the judeos there? And despite Aguirre's assurances, he refused to believe that they were no longer called thus in Spain. It grieved the old man to die before beholding Espinosa de los Monteros; a beautiful city, without a doubt. Perhaps they still preserved there the memory of the illustrious Aboabs.
The Spaniard smilingly urged him to undertake the journey. Why did he not go there?...
"Go! Go to Spain!..." The old man huddled together like a timorous snail before the idea of this journey.
"There are still laws against the poor judeos. The decree of the Catholic Kings. Let them first repeal it!... Let them first call us back!"
Aguirre laughed at his listener's fears. Bah! The Catholic Kings! Much they counted for now!... Who remembered those good gentlemen?
But the old man persisted in his fears. He had suffered much. The terror of the expulsion was still in his bones and in his blood, after four centuries. In summer, when the heat forced them to abandon the torrid rock, and the Aboab family hired a little cottage on the seashore, in Spanish territory just beyond La Linea, the patriarch dwelt in constant restlessness, as if he divined mysterious perils in the very soil upon which he trod. Who could tell what might happen during the night? Who could assure him that he would not awake in chains, ready to be led like a beast to a port? This is what had happened to his Spanish ancestors, who had been forced to take refuge in Morocco, whence a branch of the family had moved to Gibraltar when the English took possession of the place.
Aguirre poked mild fun at the childish fears of the aged fellow, whereupon Zabulon intervened with his darkly energetic authority.
"My father knows what he is talking about. We will never go; we can't go. In Spain the old customs always return; the old is converted into the new. There is no security; woman has too much power and interferes in matters that she does not understand."
Woman! Zabulon spoke scornfully of the sex. They should be treated as the Jews treated them. The Jews taught them nothing more than the amount of religion necessary to follow the rites. The presence of women in the synagogue was in many instances not obligatory. Even when they came, they were confined to the top of a gallery, like spectators of the lowest rank. No. Religion was man's business, and the countries in which woman has a part in it cannot offer security.
Then the unsympathetic Israelite spoke enthusiastically of the "greatest man in the world," Baron Rothschild, lord over kings and governments—taking care never to omit the title of baron every time he pronounced the name—and he finally named all the great Jewish centers, which were ever increasing in size and population.
"We are everywhere," he asserted, blinking maliciously. "Now we are spreading over America. Governments change, peoples spread over the face of the earth, but we are ever the same. Not without reason do we await the Messiah. He will come, some day."
On one of his morning visits to the ill appointed bank Aguirre was introduced to Zabulon's two daughters,—Sol and Estrella,—and to his wife, Thamar. On another morning Aguirre experienced a tremor of emotion upon hearing behind him the rustle of silks and noticing that the light from the entrance was obscured by the figure of a person whose identity his nerves had divined. It was Luna, who had come, with all the interest that Hebrew women feel for their domestic affairs, to deliver an order to her uncle. The old man grasped her hands across the counter, caressing them tremblingly.
"This is my granddaughter, sir consul, my granddaughter Luna. Her father is dead, and my daughter too. She comes from Morocco. No one loves the poor girl as much as her grandfather does."
And the patriarch burst into tears, moved by his own words.
Aguirre left the shop with triumphant joy. They had spoken to each other; now they were acquainted. The moment he met her upon the street he would cling to her, taking advantage of some blessed customs that seemed to have been made for lovers.
NEITHER could tell how, after several ordinary meetings, their friendly confidence grew, or which had been the first word to reveal the mystery of their thoughts.
They saw each other mornings when Aguirre would go to his window. The Feast of Tabernacles had come to an end, and the Aboabs had taken down the religious structure, but Luna continued to go to the roof under various pretexts, so that she might exchange a glance, a smile, a gesture of greeting with the Spaniard. They did not converse from these heights through fear of the neighbors, but afterwards they met in the street, and Luis, after a respectful salute, would join the young lady, and they would walk along as companions, like other couples they met on their way. All were known to one another in that town. Only by this knowledge could married couples be distinguished from simple friends.
Luna visited various shops on errands for the Aboabs, like a good Jewess who is interested in all the family affairs. At other times she wandered aimlessly through Royal Street, or walked in the direction of the Alameda, explaining the landmarks of the city to Aguirre at her side. In the midst of these walks she would stop at the brokers' shop to greet the patriarch, who smiled childishly as he contemplated the youthful and beautiful couple.
"Senor consul, senor consul," said Samuel one day, "I brought from my house this morning the family papers, for you to read. Not all of them. There are too many altogether! We Aboabs are very old; I wish to prove to the consul that we are judeos of Spain, and that we still remember the beautiful land."
And from underneath the counter he drew forth divers rolls of parchment covered with Hebrew characters. They were matrimonial documents, acts of union of the Aboabs with certain families of the Israelite community. At the head of all these documents figured on one side the coat of arms of England and on the other that of Spain, in bright colors and gold borders.
"We are English," declared the patriarch. "May the Lord preserve our king and send him much happiness; but we are Spaniards historically: Castilians, that is... Castilians."
He selected from the parchments one that was cleaner and fresher than the others, and bent over it his white, wavy beard and his tearful eyes.
"This is the wedding contract of Benamor with my poor daughter: Luna's parents. You can't understand it, for it's in Hebrew characters, but the language is Castilian, pure Castilian, as it was spoken by our ancestors."
And slowly, in an infantile voice, as if he relished the obsolete forms of the words, he read the terms of the contract that united the parties "in the custom of Old Castile." Then he enumerated the conditions of the marriage, the penalties either of the contracting parties might incur if the union were dissolved through his or her fault.
"'Such party will pay,'" mumbled the patriarch, "'will pay... so many silver ounces.' Are there still silver ounces in Castile, senor consul?"...
Luna, in her conversations with Aguirre, demonstrated an interest as keen as that of her old grandfather in the beautiful land, the far-off, remote, mysterious land,—in spite of the fact that its boundary was situated but a few steps away, at the very gates of Gibraltar. All she knew of it was a little fisherman's hamlet, beyond La Linea, whither she had gone with her family on their summer vacations.
"Cadiz! Seville! How enchanting they must be!... I can picture them to myself: I have often beheld them in my dreams, and I really believe that if I ever saw them they wouldn't surprise me in the least.... Seville! Tell me, Don Luis, is it true that sweethearts converse there through a grating? And is it certain that the maidens are serenaded with a guitar, and the young men throw their capes before them as a carpet over which to pass? And isn't it false that men slay one another for them?... How charming! Don't deny all this. It's all so beautiful!..."
Then she would summon to memory all her recollections of that land of miracles, of that country of legends, in which her forebears had dwelt. When she was a child her grandmother, Samuel Aboab's wife, would lull her to sleep reciting to her in a mysterious voice the prodigious events that always had Castile as their background and always began the same: "Once upon a time there was a king of Toledo who fell in love with a beautiful and charming Jewess named Rachel...."
"Toledo!"... As she uttered this name Luna rolled her eyes as in the vagueness of a dream. The Spanish capital of Israel! The second Jerusalem! Her noble ancestors, the treasurer of the king and the miraculous physician, had dwelt there!
"You must have seen Toledo, Don Luis. You surely have been there. How I envy you!... Very beautiful, isn't it? Vast! Enormous!... Like London?... Like Paris? Of course not.... But certainly far larger than Madrid."
And carried away by the enthusiasm of her illusions she forgot all discretion, questioning Luis about his past. Indubitably he was of the nobility: his very bearing revealed that. From the very first day she had seen him, upon learning his name and his nationality, she had guessed that he was of high origin. A hidalgo such as she had imagined every man from Spain to be, with something Semitic in his face and in his eyes, but more proud, with an air of hauteur that was incapable of supporting humiliations and servility. Perhaps he had a uniform for festive occasions, a suit of bright colors, braided with gold... and a sword, a sword!
Her eyes shone with admiration in the presence of this hidalgo from the land of knights who was dressed as plainly as a shopkeeper of Gibraltar, yet who could transform himself into a glorious insect of brilliant hues, armed with a mortal sting. And Aguirre did not disturb her illusions, answering affirmatively, with all the simplicity of a hero. Yes; he had a golden costume, that of the consul. He possessed a sword, which went with his uniform, and which had never been unsheathed.
One sunny morning the pair, quite unconsciously, took the path to the Alameda. She made anxious inquiries about Aguirre's past, with indiscreet curiosity, as always happens between persons who feel themselves attracted to each other by a budding affection. Where had he been born? How had he spent his childhood? Had he loved many women?...
They passed beneath the arches of an old gate that dated back to the time of the Spanish possession, and which still preserved the eagles and the shields of the Austrian dynasty. In the old moat, now converted into a garden, there was a group of tombs,—those of the English sailors who had died at Trafalgar. They walked along an avenue in which the trees alternated with heaps of old bombs and cone-shaped projectiles, reddened by rust. Further on, the large cannon craned their necks toward the gray cruisers of the military harbor and the extensive bay, over whose blue plain, tremulous with gold, glided the white dots of some sailing vessels.
On the broad esplanade of the Alameda, at the foot of the mountain covered with pines and cottages, were groups of youths running and kicking a restless ball around. At that hour, as at every hour of the day, the huge ball of the English national game sped through the air over paths, fields and garrison yards. A concert of shouts and kicks, civil as well as military, rose into the air, to the glory of strong and hygienic England.
They mounted a long stairway, afterwards seeking rest in a shady little square, near the monument to a British hero, the defender of Gibraltar, surrounded by mortars and cannon. Luna, gazing across the blue sea that could be viewed through the colonnade of trees, at last spoke of her own past.
Her childhood had been sad. Born in Rabat, where the Jew Benamor was engaged in the exportation of Moroccan cloths, her life had flowed on monotonously, without any emotion other than that of fear. The Europeans of this African port were common folk, who had come thither to make their fortune. The Moors hated the Jews. The rich Hebrew families had to hold themselves apart, nourishing themselves socially upon their own substance, ever on the defensive in a country that lacked laws. The young Jewish maidens were given an excellent education, which they acquired with the facility of their race in adopting all progress. They astonished newcomers to Rabat with their hats and their clothes, similar to those of Paris and London; they played the piano; they spoke various languages, and yet, on certain nights of sleeplessness and terror, their parents dressed them in foul tatters and disguised them, staining their faces and their hands with moist ashes and lampblack, so that they might not appear to be Jewish daughters and should rather resemble slaves. There were nights in which an uprising of the Moors was feared, an invasion of the near-by Kabyles, excited in their fanaticism by the inroads of European culture. The Moroccans burned the houses of the Jews, plundered their treasures, fell like wild beasts upon the white women of the infidels, decapitating them with hellish sadism after subjecting them to atrocious outrages. Ah! Those childhood nights in which she dozed standing, dressed like a beggar girl, since the innocence of her tender age was of no avail as a protection!... Perhaps it was these frights that were responsible for her dangerous illness,—an illness that had brought her near to death, and to this circumstance she owed her name Luna.
"At my birth I was named Horabuena, and a younger sister of mine received the name Asibuena. After a period of terror and an invasion of the Moroccans in which our house was burned down and we thought we were all doomed to slaughter, my sister and I fell ill with fever. Asibuena died; happily, I was saved."
And she described to Luis, who listened to her under a spell of horror, the incidents of this exotic, abnormal life,—all the sufferings of her mother in the poor house where they had taken refuge. Aboab's daughter screamed with grief and tore her black hair before the bed where her daughter lay overcome by the stupor of fever. Her poor Horabuena was going to die.
"Ay, my daughter! My treasure Horabuena, my sparkling diamond, my nest of consolation!... No more will you eat the tender chicken! No more will you wear your neat slippers on Saturdays, nor will your mother smile with pride when the Rabbi beholds you so graceful and beautiful!..."
The poor woman paced about the room lighted by a shaded lamp. In the shadows she could detect the presence of the hated Huerco, the demon, with a Spanish name who comes at the appointed hour to bear off human creatures to the darkness of death. She must battle against the evil one, must deceive the Huerco, who was savage yet stupid, just as her forefathers had deceived him many a time:
She repressed her tears and sighs, calmed her voice, and stretching out upon the floor spoke softly, with a sweet accent, as if she were receiving an important visit:
"Huerco, what have you come for?... Are you looking for Horabuena? Horabuena is not here; she has gone forever. She who is here is named... Luna. Sweet Lunita, beautiful Lunita. Off with you, Huerco, begone! She whom you seek is not here."
For some time she was calm, then her returning fears made her speak again to her importunate, lugubrious guest. There he was again! She could feel his presence.
"Huerco, I tell you you're mistaken! Horabuena is gone; look for her elsewhere. Only Luna is here. Sweet Lunita, precious Lunita."
And so great was her insistence that at last she succeeded in deceiving Huerco with her entreating, humble voice, although it is true that, to give an air of truth to the deceit, on the following day, at a synagogue ceremony, the name of Horabuena was changed to that of Luna.
Aguirre listened to these revelations with the same interest as that with which he would read a novel about a far-off, exotic land that he was never to behold.
It was on this same morning that the consul revealed the proposal which for several days he had guarded in his thoughts, afraid to express it. Why not love each other? Why not be sweethearts? There was something providential about the way the two had met; they should not fail to take advantage of the fate which had brought them together. To have become acquainted! To have met, despite the difference of countries and of races!...
Luna protested, but her protest was a smiling one. What madness! Sweethearts? Why? They could not marry; they were of different faiths. Besides, he had to leave. But Aguirre interrupted resolutely:
"Don't reason. Just close your eyes. In love there should be no reflection. Good sense and the conventionalities are for persons who don't love each other. Say yes, and afterwards time and our good luck will arrange everything."
Luna laughed, amused by Aguirre's grave countenance and the vehemence of his speech.
"Sweethearts in the Spanish fashion?... Believe me, I am tempted to assent. You will go off and forget me, just as you've doubtless forgotten others; and I'll be left cherishing the remembrance of you. Excellent. We'll see each other every day and will chat about our affairs. Serenades are not possible here, nor can you place your cape at my feet without being considered crazy. But that doesn't matter. We'll be sweethearts; I should love to see what it's like."
She laughed as she spoke, with her eyes closed, just like a child to whom a pleasant game has been proposed. Soon she opened her eyes wide, as if something forgotten had reawakened in her with a painful pressure. She was pale. Aguirre could guess what she was trying to say. She was about to tell him of her previous betrothal, of that Jewish fiance who was in America and might return. But after a brief pause of indecision she returned to her former attitude, without breaking the silence. Luis was grateful to her for this. She desired to conceal her past, as do all women in the first moment of love.
"Agreed. We'll be sweethearts. Let's see, consul. Say pretty things to me, of the sort that you folks say in Spain when you come to the grating."
That morning Luna returned to her house somewhat late for the lunch hour. The family was awaiting her impatiently. Zabulon looked at his niece with a stern glance. Her cousins Sol and Estrella alluded to the Spaniard in a jesting manner. The patriarch's eyes grew moist as he spoke of Spain and its consul.
Meanwhile the latter had stopped at the door of the Hindu bazaar to exchange a few words with Khiamull. He felt the necessity of sharing his brimming happiness with another. The Hindu was greener than ever. He coughed frequently and his smile, which resembled that of a bronze child, was really a dolorous grimace.
"Khiamull, long live love! Believe me, for I know much about life. You are sickly and some day you'll die, without beholding the sacred river of your native land. What you need is a companion, a girl from Gibraltar... or rather, from La Linea; a half gypsy, with her cloak, pinks in her hair and alluring manners. Am I not right, Khiamull?..."
The Hindu smiled with a certain scorn, shaking his head. No. Every one to his own. He was of his race and lived in voluntary solitude among the whites. Man can do nothing against the sympathies and aversions of the blood. Brahma, who was the sum of divine wisdom, separated all creatures into castes.
"But, man!... friend Khiamull! It seems to me that a girl of the kind I've mentioned is by no means to be despised...."
The Hindu smiled once more at the speaker's ignorance. Every race has its own tastes and its sense of smell. To Aguirre, who was a good fellow, he would dare to reveal a terrible secret. Did he see those whites, the Europeans, so content with their cleanliness and their baths?... They were all impure, polluted by a natural stench which it was impossible for them to wipe out. The son of the land of the lotus and the sacred clay was forced to make an effort in order to endure contact with them... They all smelled of raw meat.
IT was a winter afternoon; the sky was overcast and the air was gray, but it was not cold. Luna and the Spaniard were walking slowly along the road that leads to Europa Point, which is the extreme end of the peninsula of Gibraltar. They had left behind them the Alameda and the banks of the Arsenal, passing through leafy gardens, along reddish villas inhabited by officers of army and navy, huge hospitals resembling small towns, and garrisons that seemed like convents, with numerous galleries in which swarms of children were scurrying about; here, too, clothes and tableware were being washed and cleaned by the soldiers' wives—courageous wanderers over the globe, as much at home in the garrisons of India as in those of Canada. The fog concealed from view the coast of Africa, lending to the Strait the appearance of a shoreless sea. Before the pair of lovers stretched the dark waters of the bay, and the promontory of Tarifa revealed its black outline faintly in the fog, resembling a fabulous rhinoceros bearing upon its snout, like a horn, the tower of the lighthouse. Through the ashen-gray clouds there penetrated a timid sunbeam,—a triangle of misty light, similar to the luminous stream from a magic lantern,—which traced a large shaft of pale gold across the green-black surface of the sea. In the center of this circle of anemic light there floated, like a dying swan, the white spot of a sailboat.
The two lovers were oblivious to their surroundings. They walked along, engrossed in that amorous egotism which concentrates all life in a glance, or in the delicate contact of the bodies meeting and grazing each other at every step. Of all Nature there existed for them only the dying light of the afternoon, which permitted them to behold each other, and the rather warm breeze which, murmuring among the cacti and the palms, seemed to serve as the musical accompaniment to their conversation. At their right rumbled the far-off roar of the sea striking against the rocks. On their left reigned pastoral peace,—the melodious calm of the pines, broken from time to time only by the noise of the carts, which, followed by a platoon of soldiers in their shirt sleeves, wheeled up the roads of the mountain.
The two looked at each other with caressing eyes, smiling with the automatism of love; but in reality they were sad, with that sweet sadness which in itself constitutes a new voluptuousness. Luna, influenced by the positivism of her race, was gazing into the future, while Aguirre was content with the present moment, not caring to know what would be the end of this love. Why trouble oneself imagining obstacles!...
"I'm not like you, Luna. I have confidence in our lot. We'll marry and travel about the world. Don't let that frighten you. Remember how I came to know you. It was during the Feast of Tabernacles; you were eating almost on foot, like those gypsies that wander over the earth and resume their journey at the end of their meal. You come from a race of nomads which even today roams the world. I arrived just in time. We'll leave together; for I, too, am, because of my career, a wanderer. Always together! We will be able to find happiness in any land whatsoever. We'll carry springtime with us, the happiness of life, and will love each other deeply."
Luna, flattered by the vehemence of these words, nevertheless contracted her features into an expression of sadness.
"Child!" she murmured, with her Andalusian accent. "What sweet illusions... my precious consul! But only illusions, after all. How are we to marry? How can this be arranged?... Are you going to become a convert to my religion?"
Aguirre started with surprise and looked at Luna with eyes that betrayed his amazement.
"Man alive! I, turn Jew?..."
He was no model of pious enthusiasm. He had passed his days without paying much attention to religion. He knew that the world contained many creeds, but without doubt, as far as he was concerned, decent persons the world over were all Catholics. Besides, his influential uncle had warned him not to jest with these matters under penalty of hampering advancement in his career.
"No. No, I don't see the necessity of that.... But there must be some way of getting over the difficulty. I can't say what it is, but there surely must be one. At Paris I met very distinguished gentlemen who were married to women of your race. This can all be arranged. I assure you that it shall be. I have an idea! Tomorrow morning, if you wish, I'll go to see the chief Rabbi, your 'spiritual head,' as you call him. He seems to be a fine fellow; I've seen him several times upon the street; a well of wisdom, as your kind say. A pity that he goes about so unclean, smelling of rancid sanctity!... Now don't make such a wry face. It's a matter of minor importance! A little bit of soap can set it aright.... There, there, don't get angry. The gentleman really pleases me a great deal, with his little white goatee and his wee voice that seems to come from the other world!... I tell you I'm going to see him and say, 'Senor Rabbi, Luna and I adore each other and wish to many; not like the Jews, by contract and with the right to change their minds, but for all our life, for centuries and centuries. Bind us from head to foot, so that there'll be none in heaven or on earth that can separate us. I can't change my religion because that would be base, but I swear to you, by all my faith as a Christian, that Luna will be more cared for, pampered and adored than if I were Methuselah, King David, the prophet Habakkuk or any other of the gallants that figure in the Scriptures.'"
"Silence, you scamp!" interrupted the Jewess with superstitious anxiety, raising one hand to his lips to prevent him from continuing. "Seal your lips, sinner!"
"Very well. I'll be silent, but it must be agreed that we'll settle this one way or another. Do you believe it possible for any one to sever us after such a serious love affair... and such a long one?"
"Such a long one!" repeated Luna like an echo, imparting a grave expression to his words.
Aguirre, in his silence, seemed to be given over to a difficult mental calculation.
"At least a month long!" he said at last, as if in wonder at the length of time that had flown by.
"No, not a month," protested Luna. "More, much more!"
He resumed his meditation.
"Positively; more than a month. Thirty-eight days, counting today.... And seeing each other every day! And falling deeper and deeper in love each day!..."
They walked along in silence, their gaze lowered, as if overwhelmed by the great age of their love. Thirty-eight days!... Aguirre recalled a letter that he had received the day before, bristling with surprise and indignation. He had been in Gibraltar already two months without sailing for Oceanica. What sort of illness was this? If he did not care to assume his post, he ought to return to Madrid. The instability of his present position and the necessity of solving this passion which little by little had taken possession of him came to his thoughts with agonizing urgency.
Luna strolled on, her eyes upon the ground, moving her fingers as if counting.
"Yes, that's it. Thirty-eight.... Exactly! It seems impossible that you could have loved me for so long. Me! An old woman!"
And in response to Aguirre's bewildered glance she added, sadly, "You already know. I don't hide it.... Twenty-two years old. Many of my race marry at fourteen."
Her resignation was sincere; it was the resignation of the Oriental woman, accustomed to behold youth only in the bud of adolescence.
"Often I find it impossible to explain your love for me. I feel so proud of you!... My cousins, to vex me, try to find defects in you, and can't!... No, they can't! The other day you passed by my house and I was behind the window-blinds with Miriam, who was my nurse; she's a Jewess from Morocco, one of those who wear kerchiefs and wrappers. 'Look, Miriam, at that handsome chap, who belongs to our neighborhood.' Miriam looked. 'A Jew? No. That can't be. He walks erect, with a firm step, and our men walk haltingly, with their legs doubled as if they were about to kneel. He has teeth like a wolf and eyes like daggers. He doesn't lower his head nor his gaze.' And that's how you are. Miriam was right. You stand out from among all the young men of my blood. Not that they lack courage; there are some as strong as the Maccabees; Massena, Napoleon's companion, was one of us, but the natural attitude of them all, before they are transformed by anger, is one of humility and submission. We have been persecuted so much!... You have grown up in a different environment."
Afterwards the young woman seemed to regret her words. She was a bad Jewess; she scarcely had any faith in her beliefs and in her people; she went to the synagogue only on the Day of Atonement and on the occasion of other solemn, unavoidable ceremonies.
"I believe that I've been waiting for you forever. Now I am sure that I knew you long before seeing you. When I saw you for the first time, on that day during the Feast of the Tabernacles, I felt that something grave and decisive had occurred in my life. When I learned who you were, I became your slave and hungered anxiously for your first word."
Ah, Spain!... She was like old Aboab; her thoughts had often flown to the beautiful land of her forefathers, wrapped in mystery. At times she recalled it only to hate it, as one hates a beloved person, for his betrayals and his cruelties, without ceasing to love him. At others, she called to mind with delight the tales she had heard from her grandmother's lips, the songs with which she had been lulled to sleep as a child,—all the legends of the old Castilian land, abode of treasures, enchantments and love affairs, comparable only to the Bagdad of the Arabs, to the wonderful city of the thousand and one nights. Upon holidays, when the Jews remained secluded in the bosom of the family, old Aboab or Miriam, her nurse, had many a time beguiled her with ancient ballads in the manner of old Castile, that had been transmitted from generation to generation; stories of love affairs between arrogant, knightly Christians and beautiful Jewesses with fair complexions, large eyes and thick, ebony tresses, just like the holy beauties of the Scriptures.
En la ciudad de Toledo, en la ciudad de Granada, hay un garrido mancebo que Diego Leon se llama. Namorose de Thamar, que era hebrea castellana....
(In the city of Toledo, in the city of Granada, there is a handsome youth called Diego Leon. He fell in love with Tamar, who was a Spanish Jewess....)
There still echoed in her memory fragments of these ancient chronicles that had brought many a tremor to her dreamy childhood. She desired to be Tamar; she would have waited years and years for the handsome youth, who would be as brave and arrogant as Judas Maccabeus himself, the Cid of the Jews, the lion of Judea, the lion of lions; and now her hopes were being fulfilled, and her hero had appeared at last, coming out of the land of mystery, with his conqueror's stride, his haughty head, his dagger eyes, as Miriam said. How proud it made her feel! And instinctively, as if she feared that the apparition would vanish, she slipped her hand about Aguirre's arm, leaning against him with caressing humility.
They had reached Europa Point, the outermost lighthouse of the promontory. On an esplanade surrounded by military buildings there was a group of ruddy young men, their khaki trousers held in place by leather braces and their arms bare, kicking and driving a huge ball about. They were soldiers. They stopped their game for a moment to let the couple pass. There was not a single glance for Luna from this group of strong, clean-living youths, who had been trained to a cold sexuality by physical fatigue and the cult of brawn.
As they turned a corner of the promontory they continued their walk on the eastern side of the cliff. This part was unoccupied; here tempests and the raging winds from the Levant came to vent their fury. On this side were no other fortifications than those of the summit, almost hidden by the clouds which, coming from the sea, encountered the gigantic rampart of rock and scaled the peaks as if assaulting them.
The road, hewn out of the rough declivity, meandered through gardens wild with African exuberance. The pear trees extended, like green fences, their serried rows of prickle-laden leaves; the century-plants opened like a profusion of bayonets, blackish or salmon-red in color; the old agaves shot their stalks into the air straight as masts, which were topped by extended branches that gave them the appearance of telegraph poles. In the midst of this wild vegetation arose the lonely summer residence of the governor. Beyond was solitude, silence, interrupted only by the roar of the sea as it disappeared into invisible caves.
Soon the two lovers noticed, at a great distance, signs of motion amidst the vegetation of the slope. The stones rolled down as if some one were pushing them under his heel; the wild plants bent under an impulse of flight, and shrill sounds, as if coming from a child being maltreated, rent the air. Aguirre, concentrating his attention, thought he saw some gray forms jumping amid the dark verdure.
"Those are the monkeys of the Rock," said Luna calmly, as she had seen them many times.
At the end of the path was the famous Cave of the Monkeys. Now Aguirre could see them plainly, and they looked like agile, shaggy-haired bundles jumping from rock to rock, sending the loose pebbles rolling from under their hands and feet and showing, as they fled, the inflamed protuberances under their stiff tails.
Before coming up to the Cave of the Monkeys the two lovers paused. The end of the road was in sight a little further along abruptly cut off by a precipitous projection of the rock. At the other side, invisible, was the bay of the Catalanes with its town of fisherfolk,—the only dependency of Gibraltar. The cliff, in this solitude, acquired a savage grandeur. Human beings were as nothing; natural forces here had free range, with all their impetuous majesty. From the road could be seen the sea far, far below. The boats, diminished by the distance, seemed like black insects with antennae of smoke, or white butterflies with their wings spread. The waves seemed only light curls on the immense blue plain.
Aguirre wished to go down and contemplate at closer range the gigantic wall which the sea beat against. A rough, rocky path led, in a straight line, to an entrance hewn out of the stone, backed by a ruined wall, a hemispherical sentry-box and several shanties whose roofs had been carried off by the tempests. These were the debris of old fortifications,—perhaps dating back to the time in which the Spaniards had tried to reconquer the place.
As Luna descended, with uncertain step, supported by her lover's hand and scattering pebbles at every turn, the melodious silence of the sea was broken by a reverberating raack! as if a hundred fans had been brusquely opened. For a few seconds everything vanished from before their eyes; the blue waters, the red crags, the foam of the breakers,—under a flying cloud of grayish white that spread out at their feet. This was formed by hundreds of sea-gulls who had been frightened from their place of refuge and were taking to flight; there were old, huge gulls, as fat as hens, young gulls, as white and graceful as doves. They flew off uttering shrill cries, and as this cloud of fluttering wings dissolved, there came into view with all its grandeur, the promontory and the deep waters that beat against it in ceaseless undulation.
It was necessary to raise one's head and to lift one's eyes to behold in all its height this fortress of Nature, sheer, gray, without any sign of human presence other than the flagstaff visible at the summit, as small as a toy. Over all the extensive face of this enormous cliff there was no other projection than several masses of dark vegetation, clumps suspended from the rock. Below, the waves receded and advanced, like blue bulls that retreat a few paces so as to attack with all the greater force; as an evidence of this continuous assault, which had been going on for centuries and centuries, there were the crevices opened in the rock, the mouths of the caves, gates of ghostly suggestion and mystery through which the waves plunged with terror-inspiring roar. The debris of these openings, the fragments of the ageless assaults,—loosened crags, piled up by the tempests,—formed a chain of reefs between whose teeth the sea combed its foamy hair or raged with livid frothing on stormy days.
The lovers remained seated among the old fortifications, beholding at their feet the blue immensity and before their eyes the seemingly interminable wall that barred from sight a great part of the horizon. Perhaps on the other side of the cliff the gold of the sunset was still shining. On this side already the shades of night were gently falling. The sweethearts were silent, overwhelmed by the silence of the spot, united to each other by an impulse of fear, crushed by their insignificance in the midst of this annihilating vastness, even as two Egyptian ants in the shadow of the Great Pyramid.
Aguirre felt the necessity of saying something, and his voice took on a grave character, as if in those surroundings, impregnated with the majesty of Nature, it was impossible to speak otherwise.
"I love you," he began, with the incongruity of one who passes without transition from long meditation to the spoken word. "I love you, for you are of my race and yet you are not; because you speak my language and yet your blood is not my blood. You possess the grace and beauty of the Spanish woman, yet there is something more in you,—something exotic, that speaks to me of distant lands, of poetic things, of unknown perfumes that I seem to smell whenever I am near you.... And you, Luna. Why do you love me?"
"I love you," she replied, after a long silence, her voice solemn and veiled like that of an emotional soprano, "I love you because you, too, have something in your face that resembles those of my race, and yet you are as distinct from them as is the servant from the master. I love you... I don't know why. In me there dwells the soul of the ancient Jewesses of the desert, who went to the well in the oasis with their hair let down and their pitchers on their heads. Then came the Gentile stranger, with his camels, begging water; she looked at him with her solemn, deep eyes, and as she poured the water in between her white hands she gave him her heart, her whole soul, and followed him like a slave.... Your people killed and robbed mine; for centuries my forefathers wept in strange lands the loss of their new Zion, their beautiful land, their nest of consolation. I ought to hate you, but I love you; I am yours and will follow you wherever you go." The blue shadows of the promontory became deeper. It was almost night. The sea-gulls, shrieking, retired to their hiding-places in the rocks. The sea commenced to disappear beneath a thin mist. The lighthouse of Europe shone like a diamond from afar in the heavens above the Strait, which were still clear. A sweet somnolence seemed to arise from the dying day, enveloping all Nature. The two human atoms, lost in this immensity, felt themselves invaded by the universal tremor, oblivious to all that but a short time before had constituted their lives. They forgot the presence of the city on the other side of the mountain; the existence of humanity, of which they were infinitesimal parts.... Completely alone, penetrating each other through their pupils! Thus, thus forever! There was a crackling sound in the dark, like dry branches creaking before they break.
All at once a red flash sped through the air,—something straight and rapid as the flight of a fiery bird. Then the mountain trembled and the sea echoed under a dry thunder. The sunset gun!... A timely boom.
The two shuddered as though just awakening from a dream. Luna, as if in flight, ran down the path in search of the main road, without listening to Aguirre.... She was going to get home late; she would never visit that spot again. It was dangerous.
THE consul wandered through Royal Street, his pipe out, his glance sad and his cane hanging from his arm. He was depressed. When, during his walking back and forth he stopped instinctively before Khiamull's shop, he had to pass on. Khiamull was not there. Behind the counter were only two clerks, as greenish in complexion as their employer. His poor friend was in the hospital, in the hope that a few days of rest away from the damp gloom of the shop would be sufficient to relieve him of the cough that seemed to unhinge his body and make him throw up blood. He came from the land of the sun and needed its divine caress.
Aguirre might have stopped at the Aboabs' establishment, but he was somewhat afraid. The old man whimpered with emotion, as usual, when he spoke to the consul, but in his kindly, patriarchal gestures there was something new that seemed to repel the Spaniard. Zabulon received him with a grunt and would continue counting money.
For four days Aguirre had not seen Luna. The hours that he spent at his window, vainly watching the house of the Aboabs! Nobody on the roof; nobody behind the blinds, as if the house were unoccupied. Several times he encountered on the street the wife and daughters of Zabulon, but they passed him by pretending not to see him, solemn and haughty in their imposing obesity.
Luna was no more to be seen than as if she had left Gibraltar. One morning he thought he recognized her delicate hand opening the blinds; he imagined that he could distinguish, through the green strips of wood, the ebony crown of her hair, and her luminous eyes raised toward him. But it was a fleeting apparition that lasted only a second. When he tried to make a gesture of entreaty, when he moved his arms imploring her to wait, Luna had already disappeared.
How was he to approach her, breaking through the guarded aloofness in which Jewish families dwell? To whom was he to go for an explanation of this unexpected change?... Braving the icy reception with which the Aboabs greeted him, he entered their place under various pretexts. The proprietors received him with frigid politeness, as if he were an unwelcome customer. The Jews who came in on business eyed him with insolent curiosity, as if but a short time before they had been discussing him.
One morning he saw, engaged in conversation with Zabulon, a man of about forty, of short stature, somewhat round shouldered with spectacles. He wore a high silk hat, a loose coat and a large golden chain across his waistcoat. In a somewhat sing-song voice he was speaking of the greatness of Buenos Aires, of the future that awaited those of his race in that city, of the good business he had done. The affectionate attention with which the old man and his son listened to the man suggested a thought to Aguirre that sent all the blood to his heart, at the same time producing a chill in the rest of his body. He shuddered with surprise. Could it be he?... And after a few seconds, instinctively, without any solid grounds, he himself gave the answer. Yes; it was he; there had been no mistake. Without a doubt he beheld before him Luna's promised husband, who had just returned from South America. And if he still had any doubts as to the correctness of his conjecture, he was strengthened in his belief by a rapid glance from the man,—a cold, scornful look that was cast upon him furtively, while the looker continued to speak with his relatives.
That night he saw him again on Royal Street. He saw him, but not alone. He was arm in arm with Luna, who was dressed in black; Luna, who leaned upon him as if he were already her husband; the two walked along with all the freedom of Jewish engaged couples. She did not see Aguirre or did not wish to see him. As she passed him by she turned her head, pretending to be engrossed in conversation with her companion.
Aguirre's friends, who were gathered in a group on the sidewalk before the Exchange, laughed at the meeting, with the light-heartedness of persons who look upon love only as a pastime.
"Friend," said one of them to the Spaniard, "they've stolen her away from you. The Jew's carrying her off.... It couldn't have been otherwise. They marry only among themselves... and that girl has lots of money."
Aguirre did not sleep a wink that night; he lay awake planning the most horrible deeds of vengeance. In any other country he knew what he would do; he would insult the Jew, slap him, fight a duel, kill him; and if the man did not respond to such provocation, he would pursue him until he left the field free.... But he lived here in another world; a country that was ignorant of the knightly procedure of ancient peoples. A challenge to a duel would cause laughter, like something silly and extravagant. He could, of course, attack his enemy right in the street, bring him to his knees and kill him if he tried to defend himself. But ah! English justice did not recognize love nor did it accept the existence of crimes of passion. Yonder, half way up the slope of the mountain, in the ruins of the castle that had been occupied by the Moorish kings of Gibraltar, he had seen the prison, filled with men from all lands, especially Spaniards, incarcerated for life because they had drawn the poniard under the impulse of love or jealousy, just as they were accustomed to doing a few metres further on, at the other side of the boundary. The whip worked with the authorization of the law; men languished and died turning the wheel of the pump. A cold, methodical cruelty, a thousand times worse than the fanatic savagery of the Inquisition, devoured human creatures, giving them nothing more than the exact amount of sustenance necessary to prolong their torture.... No. This was another world, where his jealousy and his fury could find no vent. And he would have to lose Luna without a cry of protest, without a gesture of manly rebellion!...Now, upon beholding himself parted from her, he felt for the first time the genuine importance of his love; a love that had been begun as a pastime, through an exotic curiosity, and which was surely going to upset his entire existence... What was he to do?
He recalled the words of one of those inhabitants of Gibraltar who had accompanied him on Royal Street,—a strange mixture of Andalusian sluggishness and British apathy.
"Take my word for it, friend, the chief Rabbi and those of the synagogue have a hand in this. You were scandalizing them; everybody saw you making love in public. You don't realize how important one of these fellows is. They enter the homes of the faithful and run everything, giving out orders that nobody dares to disobey."
The following day Aguirre did not leave his street, and either walked up and down in front of the Aboabs' house or stood motionless at the entrance to his hotel, without losing sight for a moment of Luna's dwelling. Perhaps she would come out! After the meeting of the previous day she must have lost her fear. They must have a talk. Here it was three months since he had come to Gibraltar, forgetting his career, in danger of ruining it, abusing the influence of his relatives. And was he going to leave that woman without exchanging a final word, without knowing the cause for the sudden overturn?...
Toward night-fall Aguirre experienced a strange shudder of emotion, similar to that which he had felt in the brokers' shop upon beholding the Jew that had just returned from South America. A woman came out of the Aboabs' house; she was dressed in black. It was Luna, just as he had seen her the day before.
She turned her head slowly and Aguirre understood that she had seen him,—that perhaps she had been watching him for a long time hidden behind the blinds. She began to walk hastily, without turning her head, and Aguirre followed her at a certain distance, on the opposite sidewalk, jostling through the groups of Spanish workmen who, with their bundles in their hands, were returning from the Arsenal to the town of La Linea, before the sunset gun should sound and the place be closed. Thus he shadowed her along Royal Street, and as she arrived at the Exchange, Luna continued by way of Church Street, passing by the Catholic Cathedral. Here there were less people about and the shops were fewer; except at the corners of the lanes where there were small groups of men that had formed on coming from work. Aguirre quickened his gait so as to catch up with Luna, while she, as if she had guessed his intention, slackened her step. As they reached the rear of the Protestant church, near the opening called Cathedral Square, the two met.
She turned her glance upon Aguirre, and then instinctively they made for the end of the square, fleeing from the publicity of the street. They came to the Moorish arcades of the evangelist temple, whose colors were beginning to grow pale, vanishing into the shade of dusk. Before either of them could utter a word they were enveloped in a wave of soft melody,—music that seemed to come from afar, stray chords from the organ, the voices of virgins and children who were chanting in English with bird-like notes the glory of the Lord.
Aguirre was at a loss for words. All his angry thoughts were forgotten. He felt like crying, like kneeling and begging something of that God, whoever He might be, who was at the other side of the walls, lulled by the hymn from the throat of the mystic birds with firm and virginal voices:
He could say nothing else, but the Jewess, stronger than he and less sensitive to that music which was not hers, spoke to him in a low and hurried voice. She had stolen out just to see him; she must talk with him, say good-bye. It was the last time they would meet.
Aguirre heard her without fully understanding her words. All his attention was concentrated upon her eyes, as if the five days in which they had not met were the same as a long voyage, and as if he were seeking in Luna's countenance some effect of the extended lapse of time that had intervened. Was she the same?... Yes it was she. But her lips were somewhat pale with emotion; she pressed her lids tightly together as if every word cost her a prodigious effort, as if every one of them tore out part of her soul. Her lashes, as they met, revealed in the corner of her eyes lines that seemed to indicate fatigue, recent tears, sudden age.
The Spaniard was at last able to understand what she was saying. But was it all true?... To part! Why? Why?... And as he stretched his arms out to her in the vehemence of his entreaty Luna became paler still, huddling together timidly, her eyes dilated with fear.
It was impossible for their love to continue. She must look upon all the past as a beautiful dream; perhaps the best of her life... but the moment of waking had come. She was marrying, thus fulfilling her duty toward her family and her race. The past had been a wild escapade, a childish flight of her exalted and romantic nature. The wise men of her people had clearly pointed out to her the dangerous consequences of such frivolity. She must follow her destiny and be as her mother had been,—like all the women of her blood. Upon the following day she was going to Tangier with her promised husband, Isaac Nunez. He himself and her relatives had counselled her to have one last interview with the Spaniard, so as to put an end to an equivocal situation that might compromise the honor of a good merchant and destroy the tranquility of a peaceful man. They would marry at Tangier, where her fiance's family lived; perhaps they would remain there; perhaps they would journey to South America and resume business there. At any rate, their love, their sweet adventure, their divine dream, was ended forever.
"Forever!" murmured Luis in a muffled voice. "Say it again. I hear it from your lips, yet I can't believe my ears. Say it once more. I wish to make sure."
His voice was filled with supplication but at the same time his clenched hand and his threatening glance terrified Luna, who opened her eyes wide and pressed her lips tightly together, as if restraining a sob. The Jewess seemed to grow old in the shadows.
The fiery bird of twilight flashed through the air with its fluttering of red wings. Closely following came a thunderclap that made the houses and ground tremble.... The sunset gun! Aguirre, in his agony, could see in his mind's eye a high wall of crags, flying gulls, the foamy, roaring sea, a misty evening light, the same as that which now enveloped them.
"Do you remember, Luna? Do you remember?"...
The roll of drums sounded from a near-by street, accompanied by the shrill notes of the fife and the deep boom of the bass drum, drowning with its belligerent sound the mystic, ethereal chants that seemed to filter through the walls of the temple. It was the evening patrol on its way to close the gates of the town. The soldiers, clad in uniforms of greyish yellow, marched by, in time with the tune from their instruments, while above their cloth helmets waved the arms of the gymnast who was deafening the street with his blows upon the drum head.
The two waited for the noisy patrol to pass. As the soldiers disappeared in the distance the melodies from the celestial choir inside the church returned slowly to the ears of the listeners.
The Spaniard was abject, imploring, passing from his threatening attitude to one of humble supplication.
"Luna... Lunita! What you say is not true. It cannot be. To separate like this? Don't listen to any of them. Follow the dictates of your heart. There is still a chance for us to be happy. Instead of going off with that man whom you do not love, whom you surely cannot love, flee with me."
"No," she replied firmly, closing her eyes as though she feared to weaken if she looked at him. "No. That is impossible. Your God is not my God. Your people, not my people."
In the Catholic Cathedral, near by, but out of sight, the bell rang with a slow, infinitely melancholy reverberation. Within the Protestant Church the choir of virgins was beginning a new hymn, like a flock of joyous birds winging about the organ. Afar, gradually becoming fainter and fainter and losing itself in the streets that were covered by the shadows of night, sounded the thunder of the patrol and the playful lisping of the fifes, hymning the universal power of England to the tune of circus music.
"Your God! Your people!" exclaimed the Spaniard sadly. "Here, where there are so many Gods! Here, where everybody is of your people!... Forget all that. We are all equals in life. There is only one truth: Love."
"Ding, dong!" groaned the bell aloft in the Catholic Cathedral, weeping the death of day. "Lead Kindly Light!" sang the voices of the virgins and the children in the Protestant temple, resounding through the twilight silence of the square.
"No," answered Luna harshly, with an expression that Aguirre had never seen in her before; she seemed to be another woman. "No. You have a land, you have a nation, and you may well laugh at races and religions, placing love above them. We, on the other hand, wherever we may be born, and however much the laws may proclaim us the equals of others, are always called Jews, and Jews we must remain, whether we will or no. Our land, our nation, our only banner, is the religion of our ancestors. And you ask me to desert it,—to abandon my people?... Sheer madness!"
Aguirre listened to her in amazement.
"Luna, I don't recognize you.... Luna, Lunita, you are another woman altogether.... Do you know what I'm thinking of at this moment? I'm thinking of your mother, whom I did not know."