They shook hands when they met. Had Febrer been at Valldemosa? Toni had already heard about his trip, thanks to the facility with which the most insignificant news circulates through the calm, monotonous atmosphere of a Biscayan city open-mouthed for gossip.
"They are saying something more," said Toni in his provincial Majorcan dialect, "something that I can't believe. They say you're going to marry the atlota of Don Benito Valls!"
Febrer, surprised that the news had circulated so quickly, dared not deny it. Yes, it was true. He would acknowledge it to no one but Toni.
The smuggler made a gesture of repulsion, while his eyes, accustomed to the greatest surprises, revealed astonishment.
"You are making a mistake, Jaime, a serious mistake."
He spoke gravely, as if dealing with a solemn matter.
The butifarra maintained with this friend a confidence which he would not have risked with any one else. But he was ruined, dear Toni! Nothing that remained in his house was his! His creditors only respected him in the expectation of this marriage!
Toni shook his head with a negative expression. The rude native, the contrabandist who mocked at laws seemed stupefied by the news.
"Any way you look at it, you are making a mistake. You should get out of your money troubles any way you can, but not this way. We, your friends, will help you. You marry a Chueta?"
He took leave of Febrer with a vigorous handclasp, as if he imagined him in danger of death.
"You are making a mistake, think it over," he said with a reproachful expression. "You are making a mistake, Jaime!"
THE TYRANNY OF THE DEAD
When Jaime got into bed three hours after midnight, he fancied he saw in the obscurity of his dormitory the faces of Captain Valls and Toni Clapes.
They seemed to be speaking to him as they had been doing the afternoon before.
"I oppose it," repeated the seaman with an ironic laugh.
"Don't do it," counseled the smuggler with a grave gesture.
He had spent the evening at the Casino, silent and ill humored under the obsession of these protests. What was there so strange and absurd about his plan that it should be rejected by that Chueta, notwithstanding that it would be an honor to his family, and by that peasant, rude and unscrupulous, who lived almost beyond the pale of the law?
It was true that this marriage would arouse scandal and protest on the island; but, what of that? Had he not a right to seek his salvation by any means? Was it perhaps a new idea for people of his class to try to reestablish their fortune by means of matrimony? How about the dukes and high born princes who sought gold in America, giving their hand to daughters of millionaires of origin more censurable than that of Don Benito?
Ah, that crazy Pablo Valls was right in a way! These alliances might be made in the rest of the world, but Majorca, the beloved Roqueta, still possessed a living soul, the soul of former centuries, filled with odium and prejudice. The people were such as they were born, such as their fathers had been, and thus they must continue to be here in this calm atmosphere of the island which was unstirred by new thoughts slowly wafted from the outside world.
Jaime tossed restlessly in his couch. He was not sleepy. He thought of the Febrers, and of their glorious past! How it weighed upon him, like a chain of slavery which made his misery keener!
He had spent many afternoons in the archives of his house, in the apartment next to the dining-room opening the bronze doors of the cabinets and poring over the bundles of papers by the soft light filtering through the Persian blinds, dusty old papers which had to be shaken to keep them from being devoured by moths! Barbarous letters of marque with erroneous and capricious profiles which had served the Febrers in their early commercial campaigns. The whole array of them would barely bring in enough to eat for two days; and yet, the family had fought for centuries to make itself worthy this trust. How much dead glory!
The true fame of his family, spreading beyond the borders of the island, began in 1541 with the arrival of the great Emperor. An armada of three hundred ships manned by eighteen thousand marines assembled in the bay on their way to the conquest of Algiers. Here were the Spanish infantry commanded by Gonzaga, the Germans under the Duke of Alva, the Italians led by Colonna, two hundred knights of Malta at whose head marched the knight commander Don Priamo Febrer, the hero of the family, while the whole fleet sailed under the orders of the famous admiral Andrea Doria.
With festivities in representation of mythologic scenes, Majorca welcomed the Lord of Spain and the Indies, of Germany and of Italy, who now happened to be suffering from gout and other infirmities. The flower of Castilian nobility followed the Emperor on this holy enterprise and was duly lodged in the dwellings of the Majorcan caballeros. The house of Febrer received as guest a parvenu noble, but recently risen from obscurity, whose achievements in a far off country, and whose visible riches, aroused both enthusiasm and criticism. It was the Marquis del Valle de Huaxaca, Hernando Cortes, who, having just conquered Mexico, had come with the expedition in a galley equipped at his own expense, accompanied by his sons Don Martin and Don Luis, eager to figure now among the ancient nobles of the reconquest as an equal.
A royal magnificence distinguished this conqueror from distant lands, this possessor of fabulous wealth. Three enormous emeralds valued at over a hundred thousand ducats decorated the bridge of his galley; one was cut in the form of a flower, another in the figure of a bird, and another was shaped like a bell, with an enormous pearl serving as a clapper. He was attended by persons who had been his companions overseas, and who had adopted exotic customs; slender hidalgos of sickly color who silently whiled away the time lighting bundles of herbs resembling pieces of rope, and puffing smoke out of their mouths like demons who were on fire within.
The long line of Febrer's grandmothers had handed down from generation to generation a great uncut diamond, a souvenir from the heroic captain given in return for their gracious hospitality. The precious stone was described in the family documents, but Don Horacio's grandfather had not had the pleasure of seeing it, since it had disappeared during the course of centuries, as had so many riches swept away by the financial troubles of an ostentatious house.
The Febrers prepared refreshments for the armada, in the name of Majorca, defraying most of the expenses themselves. In order to arouse the Emperor's appreciation of the abundance and productiveness of the island, this "refreshment" included a hundred beeves, two hundred sheep, hundreds of pairs of chicken and peacocks, hundreds of cuarteras of oil and flour, hundreds of cuarterones of wine, more hundreds of cuarterolas of cheese, capers, olives, twenty bottles of arrayan, and four quintales of white wax. Moreover, the Febrers resident on the island and not members of the Order of Malta, embarked in the squadron with two hundred Majorcan gentlemen, eager to conquer Algiers, that nest of pirates. The three hundred galleys sailed out of the bay, their pennants streaming, accompanied by salutes discharged from cannons and bombards, cheered by the multitude crowded upon the walls. Never had the Emperor gathered together so imposing a fleet.
It was October. The able Doria was in bad humor. According to him there existed no other safe ports in the Mediterranean than "June, July, August and—Mahon." The Emperor had delayed too long in Tyrol and Italy. The Pope, Paul III, when he came out to meet him at Lucca, had prophesied misfortunes due to the lateness of the season. The expedition disembarked on the shore of Hama. The knight commander Febrer, with his caballeros of Malta marched in the vanguard, sustaining incessant onslaughts from the Turks. The army took possession of the heights surrounding Algiers and began the siege. Then Doria's predictions were fulfilled. A frightful storm arose with all the violence of the African winter. The troops, without shelter, drenched to the bone during the night of the torrential rain, were stiff with cold. A furious wind compelled the men to lie flat upon the ground. At sunrise, the Turks, taking advantage of this situation, fell suddenly upon the army, which became demoralized and scattered, but the knight commander Priamo, a demon of war, insensible alike to either cold or fire, vigorous, aggressive and untiring, restrained the advance with a handful of his caballeros. Spaniards and Germans rallied. Pursued by the besiegers the Turks had to fall back to the very walls of Algiers, and Don Priamo Febrer, wounded in the face and in the leg, dragged himself to the city gates and thrust his dagger deep into one of its panels in testimony of his attack.
In another sally against the Moors, the onset was so furious that the Italians were driven back, the Germans following their example, and the Emperor, flaming with fury at seeing his favorite soldiers in retreat, unsheathed his sword, called for his colors, set spurs to his war-horse, and shouted to the brilliant retinue of caballeros that followed him: "Forward, gentlemen! If you see me fall with the flag, save it before you do me!" The Turks fled before the charge of this squadron of iron. A Febrer from the island, entitled "the rich," a remote ancestor of Jaime's, had twice rushed in between the Emperor and the enemy, saving his life. At the exit of a narrow defile the fire from the Turkish culverins decimated the cavalry. The Duke of Alva grasped the bridle of his monarch's horse. "Sire, your life is more important than a victory!" and the Emperor, growing calmer, turned back, and with a stately gesture of gratitude re moved the gold chain from about his neck and hung it upon the shoulders of Febrer.
Meanwhile, the storm wrecked one hundred and sixty vessels, and the remainder of the fleet was forced to take refuge behind Cape Matifou. The majority of the nobles agreed upon an immediate retreat. Hernando Cortes, the Count of Alcaudete, governor of Oran, and the Majorcan gentlemen, with the Febrers at their head, begged the Emperor to save himself and to let the army carry forward the expedition alone. At last a retreat was decided upon, and over mountain summits and through rain-swollen streams, they achieved their sorrowful purpose, continually accosted by the enemy, leaving killed and prisoners in their wake. In the teeth of the storm those who were able boarded the ship; the raging sea swallowed up nine more vessels, and the Majorcan galleys sailed mournfully into the bay of Palma convoying the Emperor who left for the Peninsula without landing in Majorca. The Febrers returned to their house covered with renown even in defeat; one bearing the golden testimonial of the Caesar's friendship; the other, the knight commander, lying on a litter, cursing like a pagan because the blockading of Algiers had been discontinued.
Priamo Febrer! Jaime could not think of him without sympathy and curiosity aroused by the tales he had heard in his youth. His was the heroic, and also the unconventional soul of the family. The ancient dames of the house never mentioned his name. On hearing it they lowered their eyes and blushed. Although a soldier of the church, a holy knight who had taken the vow of chastity on entering the Order, he always carried women in his galley—Christian women ransomed from the Mussulman, who were in no haste to return to their homes, or else infidels captured on his audacious buccaneering expeditions.
When it came to a division of the booty, he looked with indifference upon the pile of riches, leaving them for the Grand Master of the Order; he was only interested in appropriating the women. If threatened with excommunication, he laughed impishly in the faces of the ecclesiastics of the Order. If the Grand Master sent for him to administer a reproof for his carnality, Febrer would straighten himself arrogantly, reminding him of the glorious victories on the sea which the Cross of Malta owed to him.
Some of his letters, bundles of yellow paper with reddish characters, faded and indistinct, were written in a style which revealed the knight commander's lack of learning. He expressed himself with soldierly fluency, mixing religious phrases with the most shameless expressions.
His name was known along the whole Mediterranean coast where dwelt the infidels. The Mohammedans feared him as they feared the devil; Moorish mothers hushed their babes with threat of the knight commander Febrer. Dragut, the great Turkish corsair, considered him the only rival worthy of his valor. Each feared and respected the other, and, after several engagements in which both were wounded, they endeavored to avoid meeting, either on land or sea.
One day Dragut, on visiting a galley of his fleet anchored off Algiers, found Priamo Febrer, half naked, chained to a seat with an oar in his hands.
"Casualties of war!" exclaimed Dragut.
"Casualties of fortune!" replied the knight commander.
They clasped hands and said no more. One did not offer favor, nor did the other ask for mercy. The people of Algiers flocked to see the "Maltese Demon," now become a slave and fastened to a bench, but when they beheld him as fierce and glowering as a captive eaglet they dared not insult him. The Order paid as ransom for its heroic warrior hundreds of slaves, ships, and cargoes, as if he were a prince. Years afterward, Don Priamo, upon entering a Maltese galley found the intrepid Dragut in turn chained to a rower's seat. The scene was repeated in reverse, with no sign of surprise from either, as if the event were perfectly normal. They clasped hands.
"Casualties of war!" said Febrer.
"Casualties of fortune!" replied the other.
Jaime liked the knight commander because he had represented in the bosom of the noble family lawlessness, license, scorn of convention. What cared he for difference of race and religion when he fancied a woman?
When this noble ancestor had come to middle life he retired to Tunis among his good friends the rich corsairs, who, once hating and fighting him, now at last became his comrades. Of this period of his existence little was known. Some thought that he had become a renegade, and that as a diversion he even gave chase on the sea to the galleys from Malta. Enemies of his, gentlemen of the Order, swore to having seen him during a battle, dressed as a Turk, in the forecastle of a hostile ship. The only positive fact was that he lived in Tunis in a palace on the seashore with a Moorish woman of splendid beauty, a relative of his friend the Bey. Two letters in the archives testified to this incomprehensible liaison. When the Moslem woman died Don Priamo returned to Malta, deeming his career ended. The highest dignitaries of the Order desired to favor him if he would amend his conduct, and they talked of appointing him Commander of the Order of Malta at Negroponte, or else Great Castellan at Amposta, but the incorrigible Don Priamo would not better his ways, and continued a libertine, crusty, fickle in disposition toward his companions, but a beloved hero to his brothers in arms, men of the ranks belonging to the Order, mere soldiers who could display over their cuirasses no other decoration than that of the half cross.
Scorn for their intrigues, and the hatred of his enemies, caused him to abandon the archipelago of the Order, the Islands of Malta and Gozo, ceded by the Emperor to the warrior friars for no other price than the annual tribute of a goshawk such as are native to the island. Old and worn he retired to Majorca, living off the products of the estates belonging to his commandery situated in Catalonia. The impiety and the vices of the hero horrified the family and scandalized the island. Three young Moorish girls and a Jewess of great beauty were his companions in the guise of servants where they occupied a whole wing of the Febrer mansion, which was much larger at that time than today. Moreover, he kept several male slaves; some were Turks; others Tartars; these shook with fear whenever they saw him. He had dealings with old women who were held to be witches; he consulted Hebraic healers; he shut himself up in his dormitory with these suspicious characters, and the neighbors trembled at seeing his windows glow with an infernal fire in the small hours of the night. Some of his male slaves grew pale and languid as if their lives were being sucked away. The people whispered that the knight commander was using their blood for magic drinks. Don Priamo wished to renew his youth; he was eager to reanimate his body with vital fires. The Grand Inquisitor of Majorca hinted at the possibility of paying a visit, with familiars and alguazils, to the apartments of the knight commander, but the latter who was a cousin of the Inquisitor, communicated by letter his intention of knocking open his head with a boarding pike if he ventured to so much as set foot on the first step of his stairway.
Don Priamo died, or rather he burst under pressure of his diabolical beverages, leaving as a testimonial of his freedom from bias a will, the copy of which Jaime had read. The warrior of the church willed the main portion of his property, as well as his weapons and trophies, to his elder brother's children, as had likewise done all the second sons of the house; but in continuation there figured a long list of legacies, all for children of his whom he declared begotten of Moorish slave women or of Jewess friends, Armenians and Greeks, vegetating, wrinkled, and decrepit, in some port of the Levant; an offspring like that of a patriarch of the Bible, but all irregular, hybrid, the product of the crossing of hostile blood of antagonistic races. Famous knight commander! It seemed as if on breaking his vows he tried to minimize the offense by always choosing infidel women. To his sins of carnality was added the shame of traffic with females hostile to the true God.
Jaime looked upon him as a precursor who cleared away his doubts. What was strange about his marrying a Chueta, a woman like others in her customs, beliefs, and education, since the most famous of the Febrers in an epoch of intolerance had lived beyond the pale of the law with infidel women? Suddenly, however, family prejudices provoked in Jaime a twinge of remorse, causing him to recall a clause in the knight commander's will. He left legacies to the children of his slave women, hybrids of other races, because they were of his blood and he wished to shield them from the sufferings of poverty, but he prohibited them from using their father's name, the name of the Febrers which had always been kept legally free from degrading admixtures in their Majorcan house.
Recalling this, Jaime smiled in the darkness. Who could answer for the past? What mysteries might not be hidden at the roots of the trunk of his origin, back in the medieval times, when the Febrers and the rich of the Balearic synagogue trafficked together and loaded their ships in Puerto Pi? Many of his family, and even he himself, with other members of the ancient Majorcan nobility, had something Jewish in their faces. Purity of race was an illusion. The life of nations depends upon constant change, the great producer of mixtures and assimilations. But, ah, the proud family scruples! The dividing lines created by custom!
He himself, though pretending to jest at the prejudices of the past, experienced an irresistible feeling of haughtiness in the presence of Don Benito who was to become his father-in-law. He considered himself superior; he tolerated him with condescending courtesy; he had mentally revolted when the rich Chueta spoke of his pretended friendship for Don Horacio. No, the Febrers had never mingled with these people. When his ancestors were in Algiers with the Emperor, Catalina's forefathers were probably shut up in the ward of Calatrava, making objects of silver, trembling at the thought that peasant-farmers might descend upon Palma under pretext of war, groveling, white with terror, before the Great Inquisitor, undoubtedly some Febrer, to gain his protection.
Outside, in the reception hall, hung the portrait of one of his less remote ancestors, a senor with shaven face, fine colorless lips, white wig, and red silk coat, who, according to a memorandum on the canvas, had been perpetual governor of the city of Palma. King Carlos III sent a royal ordinance to the island prohibiting the insulting of the old-time Jews, "an industrious and honorable people," threatening with penalty of imprisonment whosoever should call them "Chuetas." The island council sniffed at this absurd order of the too kind monarch, and Governor Febrer settled the matter with the authority of his name. "File the ordinance; it will be noted, but it will not be complied with. Why should the Chuetas be given respect like any one of us? They are content so long as their pockets and their women are not touched." Then they all laughed, saying that Febrer spoke from experience, for he was extremely fond of visiting "the street," giving work to the silversmiths so as to be able to talk to their women.
In the reception room there was also another ancestral portrait—that of the Inquisitor Don Jaime Febrer, whose name he bore. In the garrets of the house he had found several visiting cards yellowed by time, bearing the name of the rich priest; cards engraved with emblems such as came into use in the Eighteenth Century. In the center of the card appeared a wooden cross, with a sword and an olive branch; on both sides two pasteboard coronets worn as a mark of infamy by those on whom punishment was to be inflicted, one with the cross of the Sacred Office, another with dragons and Medusa heads. Manacles, whips, rosaries, and candles completed the decoration. Below burned a bonfire around a post with a large iron ring, and there figured a conical hat decorated with serpents, toads, and horned heads. A sort of sarcophagus rose between these decorations, and on it was inscribed in ancient Spanish lettering: "The Senior Inquisitor, Don Jaime Febrer." The peaceful Majorcan who, on returning to his house, found this visiting card, must have felt his hair rise in terror.
Another of his ancestors came into his mind, the one mentioned by the choleric Pablo Valls when he recalled the burning of the Chuetas and Father Garau's little book. He was an elegant and gallant Febrer, who had kindled enthusiasm among the ladies of Palma at the famous auto de fe, with his new suit of Florentine cloth, embroidered in gold, mounted upon a charger as sightly as his master, carrying the standard of the Sacred Tribunal. In flights of lyric rapture the Jesuit described his genteel bearing. At sundown the knight had seen, there near the foot of the castle of Bellver, how the corpulent bulk of Rafael Valls had burned, and how his entrails had burst out and fallen into the coals, a spectacle from which the presence of ladies distracted his attention, making his horse caracole near the doors of their carriages. Captain Valls was right; it was barbarous; but the Febrers were his kindred; his name and the fortune he had squandered he had owed to them. Now he, the last descendant of a family proud of its history, was about to marry Catalina Valls, the offspring of the executed Jew!
The old wives' tales he had heard in childhood, the simple stories with which Mammy Antonia used to entertain him, now surged through his mind like dreams of the past, which had made a deep impression. He thought of the Chuetas, who, according to popular opinion, were not the same as other people; reputed to be creatures of sordid poverty and slimy to the touch, who, no doubt, concealed terrible deformities. Who could say that Catalina was like other women?
Then his thoughts turned to Pablo Valls, so merry and generous, the superior of nearly every other friend Jaime possessed on the island, but Pablo had lived little in Majorca; he had traveled widely; he was not like those of his race, working stationary like automatons in the same posture for centuries, reproducing themselves in their cowardice, lacking courage and unity to compel respect.
Jaime knew rich Jewish families in Paris and in Berlin. He had even solicited loans from the lofty barons of Israel, but as he came into contact with these true Hebrews who clung to their religion and their independence, he did not feel that instinctive repugnance aroused by the devout Don Benito and other Chuetas of Majorca. Was it atmosphere which influenced him? Was it that centuries of submission, and fear, and the habit of cringing, had made of the Jews of Majorca a different race?
Febrer at last sank into the darkness of sleep, with these thoughts whirling through his troubled mind.
While dressing next morning, he decided, by a great effort of the will, to make a certain call. This marriage was something extraordinary and risky, which demanded long reflection, as his friend the smuggler had pointed out.
"Before taking the step I must play my last card," thought Jaime. "I'll go and see the Popess Juana. I haven't seen her for many years, but she is my aunt, my nearest relative. In justice, I ought to be her heir. Ah, if only that idea would occur to her! If she would only bestir herself all my troubles would be over."
Jaime decided upon the most advantageous hour to visit the great lady. In the afternoon she held her famous salon of canons and austere gentlemen whom she received with the airs of a sovereign. These were to be the inheritors of her money, as agents and representatives of various corporations of a religious character. He must visit her immediately; surprise her in her solitude after mass and morning prayers.
Dona Juana lived in a palace near the Cathedral. She had remained unmarried, abominating the world after certain deceptions in her youth for which Jaime's father had been responsible. All the combativeness of her irrascible disposition, and the zeal of her cold and haughty faith, she had dedicated to politics and religion. "For God and for the King," Febrer had heard her say, on visiting her once when he was a boy. In her youth she had dreamed of the heroines of Vendee, she had been aroused by the heroic deeds and sufferings of the Duchess of Berry, and was eager, like those forceful women, devoted to their legitimate rulers and to religion, to mount a war horse, wearing an image of Christ on her breast, with a sabre hanging by her side. This desire, however, did not pass beyond vague dreams. In reality she had been on no other expedition than a trip to Catalonia, during the last Carlist war, to see at closer range the sacred enterprise which was absorbing a great part of her wealth.
The enemies of the Popess Juana declared that the young woman had kept concealed in her palace the Count of Montemolin, a pretender to the crown, and that she had drawn him into conspiracy with General Ortega, Captain General of the islands. To these rumors were added tales of the romantic love of Dona Juana for the pretender. Jaime smiled on hearing this gossip. It was all a lie; Don Horacio's grandfather, who had known the whole story, often mentioned these matters to his grandson. The Popess Juana had loved no other than Jaime's father. General Ortega was a deluded person whom Dona Juana received with extraordinary show of mystery, gowned in white, in a darkened salon, talking in a sweet voice which seemed to come from beyond the tomb, as if she were an angel of the past, concerning the necessity of turning Spain back to its ancient customs, sweeping away the liberals, and reestablishing the government of caballeros. "For God and for the King!" Ortega was shot on the coast of Catalonia when his Carlist expedition failed, and the Popess remained in Majorca, ready to bestow her money upon new pious enterprises.
Many thought that she was ruined after her prodigality during the last civil war, but Jaime knew what a fortune the devout lady possessed. She lived as simply as a peasant; she still owned extensive estates, and the money she had saved by her economies went in the form of gifts to churches and convents and in donations to Saint Peter's treasury. Her old time motto, "For God and for the King!" had suffered mutilation. She no longer thought of the king. Nothing was left of her former enthusiasm for the exiled pretender except a great daguerreotype with a dedication adorning the darker part of her salon.
"A fine young man," she used to say, "but like all liberals! Ah, life in a foreign land! How it changes men! What sins——!"
Now her enthusiasm was only for God, and her money made its way to Rome. One supreme hope dominated her life. Would not the Holy Father send her the "Golden Rose" before she died? It was a gift originally intended for none but queens, but some pious rich women of South America had received this distinction, and Juana gave a detailed account of her liberalities, living in holy poverty so that she might send still more money. The "Golden Rose," and then she would be ready to die!
Febrer arrived at the dwelling of the Popess: a zaguan resembling his own, but better kept, cleaner, with no grass between the paving stones, no cracks nor broken places in the wall, but all in monastic pulchritude! The door was opened to him by a servant, young and pale, dressed in a blue habit with a white cord, who made a gesture of surprise on recognizing Jaime.
She left him in the reception hall among a concourse of portraits, such as that in the house of the Febrers, and she ran with a light, rat-like trot to the interior rooms to announce this extraordinary visit which disturbed the monastic peace of the palace.
Long moments of silence followed. Jaime heard furtive footsteps in the adjoining apartments; he saw curtains which swayed lightly, as if moved by a gentle zephyr; he felt lurking forms behind them, unseen eyes spying upon him. The servant reappeared, bowing low to Jaime with grave courtesy, for was he not the senora's nephew? She left the great salon and disappeared.
Febrer amused himself while waiting by looking over the vast room, with its archaic luxury. His own house had been like this in his grandfather's time. The walls were covered with rich crimson damask forming a background for the ancient religious paintings in soft, Italian style. The furniture was of white and gilded wood, with voluptuous curves, upholstered in heavy embroidered silk. Polychrome figures of saints and Eighteenth Century hangings with mythological scenes were reflected in the deep azure mirrors above the consoles. The vaulted ceiling was painted in fresco, with an assemblage of gods and goddesses seated on clouds, whose rosy nudity and bold gestures contrasted sharply with the dolorous visage of a great Christ which seemed to preside over the salon, occupying a wide space on the wall between two doors. The Popess recognized the sinfulness of these mythological decorations, but as they were reminiscent of a happy epoch, of a time when the caballeros ruled, she respected them, and tried not to see them.
A damask curtain parted, and a woman who looked like an old servant entered the salon, dressed in black, wearing a plain skirt and a poor jacket, after the manner of a peasant woman. Her gray hair was partly concealed by a dark shawl to which time and grease had imparted a reddish tint. Beneath her skirt peeped forth feet shod in hempen sandals, with coarse white stockings. Jaime hastily arose. That old servant was the Popess!
The chairs were arranged in a certain disorder, which suggested the coterie which gathered there every afternoon. Each seat belonged by right of habit to a certain grave person, and stood motionless in its own particular place. Dona Juana occupied a great throne-like chair, from which seat she presided every afternoon over her faithful reunion of canons, old woman friends, and senoras of wholesome ideas, like a queen receiving her court.
"Sit down," she said to her nephew curtly.
She extended her hands, in the automatism of custom, across a monumental empty silver brazier, and stared at Jaime fixedly with her piercing gray eyes so accustomed to commanding respect. This authoritative stare gradually began to soften until it weakened in tears of emotion. She had not seen her nephew for nearly ten years.
"You are a true Febrer. You look like your grandfather—like all of the men of your family."
She concealed her real thoughts; she kept silent about the only resemblance which moved her, his likeness to his father. Jaime was the young naval officer, just as he used to come to see her in the old days! He lacked nothing but the uniform and the eyeglasses. Ah, that monster of liberalism and of ingratitude!
Soon her eyes recovered their accustomed hardness; her features became more dry, more pale and angular.
"What do you wish?" she said rudely; "because you certainly have not come merely for the pleasure of seeing me!"
The moment had arrived! Jaime lowered his eyes with childish hypocrisy, and, afraid of broaching his actual desires, he began his attack in a roundabout manner. He explained that he was good, that he believed in all the old ideals, that he desired to maintain the prestige of his family and to add to it. He had not been a saint; he confessed it; a wild life had consumed his wealth—but the honor of the house remained intact! This life of sin and wickedness had given him two things, experience, and the firm intention to mend his ways.
"Aunt, I want to change my way of living; I want to become a different man."
The aunt assented with an enigmatic gesture. Very well; thus Saint Augustine and other holy men who had spent their early lives in licentiousness, changed their ways and had become luminaries of the church.
Jaime felt encouraged by these words. He certainly would never figure as a luminary of anything, but he desired to be a good Christian gentleman; he would marry, he would educate his children to carry on the traditions of the house—a beautiful future! But, alas! lives as irregular as his were difficult to patch up when the moment came to direct them toward virtuous ends. He needed help. He was ruined; his lands were almost in the hands of his creditors; his house was a desert; he had protected himself by selling the mementoes of the past. He, a Febrer, was about to be thrust into the street, unless some merciful hand should assist him; and he had thought of his aunt, who, when all was said and done, was his nearest relative, almost like a mother, in whom he trusted to save him.
The imaginary motherhood caused Dona Juana to flush slightly, and augmented the hard glitter in her eyes. Ah, memory, with its haunting visions!
"And is it from me you hope for salvation?" slowly replied the Popess in a voice that hissed between the yellow rows of her parted teeth. "You are wasting your time, Jaime. I am poor. I have almost nothing—barely enough to live on and to make a few gifts to charity."
She said it with such an accent of firmness that Febrer lost hope and realized that it would be useless to insist. The Popess would not help him.
"Very well," said Jaime with visible discouragement. "But, lacking your assistance, I must seek another solution for my troubles, and I have one in view. You are now the head of my family, and it is right for me to seek your advice. I am considering a marriage which can save me; an alliance with a rich woman, but one who does not belong to our class; one of low origin. What ought I to do?"
He expected in his aunt a movement of surprise, of curiosity. Perhaps the announcement of his marriage would soften her. It was almost certain that, terrified at this great danger to the honor of her house and of her blood, she would smooth the way for him by conceding assistance, but the one to be surprised, to be dismayed, was Jaime as he saw the pale lips of the old woman part in a cold smile.
"I have heard," she said. "I was told all about it this morning in Santa Eulalia as I was coming away from mass. You were at Valldemosa yesterday. You are going to marry—you are going to marry—a Chueta!"
It cost her an effort to pronounce the word; she shuddered as she spoke it. After this a long silence reigned, one of those tragic and absolute silences which follow great catastrophes, as if the house had just tumbled down, and the echo of the last toppled wall had died away.
"And what do you think of it?" Jaime ventured to ask timidly.
"Do as you wish," said the Popess with frigidity. "You remember that we have lived many years without seeing each other, and we can go on in the same way for the rest of our lives. Do as you please. Henceforward you and I will be like people of different blood; we think along different lines; we cannot understand each other."
"So I ought not to marry?" he insisted.
"Ask yourself that question. For many years the Febrers have wandered on such crooked paths that nothing they do surprises me."
Jaime detected in his aunt's eyes and noted in her voice a repressed joy, a reveling in vengeance, the satisfaction of seeing her enemies fall into what she considered a dishonor, and this irritated him.
"But if I marry," he said, imitating Dona Juana's frigid manner, "will you come to my wedding?"
This put an end to the tranquillity of the Popess, who drew herself up haughtily. The romantic books of her youth rushed through her mind; she spoke like an injured queen at the end of a chapter of a historic novel.
"Caballero! I am a Genovart on my father's side. My mother was a Febrer, but one family is as good as the other. I renounce the blood that is to be mixed with a vile people, Christ killers, and I remain true to my own, to that of my father which will end with me pure and honorable!"
She pointed toward the door with arrogant mien, bringing the interview to a close, but soon she seemed to realize how abrupt and theatrical her protest had been, and she lowered her eyes; she grew more human, assuming an air of Christian meekness.
"Good-bye, Jaime; may the Lord enlighten you!"
Impelled by custom he extended his hand, but she drew hers back, concealing it behind her. Febrer smiled as he recalled certain tales told by the gossips. It was not scorn nor hatred. The Popess had made a vow that as long as she lived she would touch the hand of no man except those of the priests.
When he found himself again on the street, he began to curse mentally, looking at the swelling balconies of the rococo mansion. Rattlesnake! How she rejoiced at his marriage! When it had become a fact she would pretend indignation and scandal before her coterie; perhaps she would get sick so that all the islanders would sympathize with her, and yet, her joy would be great, the joy of a vengeance nourished for many years, on seeing a Febrer, the son of the man she hated, submerged in what she considered the most ignominious of dishonors. Urged on by the certainty of ruin, he must give her this joy by carrying into effect his union with the daughter of Valls! Ah, poverty!
He wandered along the solitary streets near the Almudaina and the Cathedral until past midday. At last hunger instinctively turned his steps homeward. He ate in silence, without knowing what was put before him, not even seeing Mammy, who, worried and restless since the previous day, was eager to start a conversation in order to learn more news.
After luncheon he stepped out upon a small gallery with a crumbling balustrade crowned by three Roman busts which looked into the garden. At his feet spread the foliage of the figs, the varnished leaves of the magnolias, the green balls on the orange trees. Before him the trunks of the palms shut off the blue of space, and, farther away, the sharp-pointed merlons of the wall extended to the sea, the luminous, immense sea, trembling with life as if the barkentines with their wind-filled sails were tickling its greenish surface. At his right lay the port crowded with masts and surrounded with yellow chimneys; beyond, striding into the waters of the bay, the dark mass of the pines of Bellver, and on the summit the circular castle like a bull-ring, with its Torre de Homenaje apart, isolated, with no other link than a graceful bridge. Below lay the modern red houses of Terreno, and beyond, at the end of the cape, the ancient Puerto Pi with its signal towers and the batteries of Don Carlos.
Across the bay, losing itself in the sea, amid the fog floating upon the horizon, was a dark green cape with reddish rocks, gloomy and desolate.
Against the blue sky the Cathedral lifted its buttresses and arcades like a ship of stone bereft of masts, flung by angry waves between the city and the shore. Behind the temple the ancient alcazar, the Almudaina, flaunted its red, Moorish, almost windowless towers. In the bishop's palace the glass panes in the miradors shone like flames of reddened steel, as if reflected from a conflagration. Between this palace and the sea wall, in a deep, grass-grown fosse along whose walls crept windswept garlands of rosebushes, lay some cannons, a few of them very ancient and mounted upon wheels; others more modern, which had awaited for years the call to action, were scattered over the ground. The great iron guns were oxidized, as were the gun-carriages; the long-range cannons, painted red, and sunken in the herbage, resembled exhaust pipes of a steam engine. Neglect and the rust of disuse were aging these modern pieces. The traditional, monotonous atmosphere which, according to Febrer, enveloped the island, seemed to weigh upon these instruments of war, old and out-of-date almost before they were fashioned, and before ever having spoken.
Insensible to the joyousness of the sun, heedless of the luminous palpitation of the blue expanse, deaf to the chirping of the birds fluttering at his feet, Jaime was overcome by intense sadness, by overwhelming depression.
Why struggle with the past? How rid himself of the chain? At birth everyone found the place and the gesture for everything in the course of his existence already defined; it was useless even to wish to change one's situation.
Often in his early youth, on looking down from a height upon the city with its smiling environs, he had felt obsessed by gloomy thoughts. In the sunshine-flooded streets, under shelter of the roofs, swarmed an ant-like humanity, dominated by necessities and ideas of the moment which they considered all important, believing with consuming egotism in a superior and omnipotent being watching and directing their goings and comings, as insignificant as the infusoria in a drop of water. Beyond the town Jaime's imagination pictured cypress tops thrust above sombre walls, the white structures of a compactly built city, multitudes of tiny windows like the mouths of ovens, and marble slabs which seemed to cover the entrances to caves. How many were the inhabitants of the city of the living, in their plazas and on their broad streets? Sixty thousand—eighty thousand. Ah! In that other city but a short distance away, crowded, silent, packed into their little white houses beneath the gloomy cypresses, the invisible inhabitants numbered four hundred thousand—six hundred thousand, perhaps a million!
In Madrid, the same thought had flashed through his brain one afternoon while he was strolling with two women through the outskirts of the town. The crests of the hills near the river were occupied by silent villages, among whose white edifices rose pointed groups of cypress; and on the opposite side of the great city also existed other bivouacs of silence and oblivion. The city was surrounded by a closely drawn cordon of fortresses of the departed. Half a million living beings swarmed through the streets, imagining themselves alone in the mastery and direction of their existences, never heeding the four—six—eight millions of their kind, close beside them, but invisible.
The same thought had come to him in Paris, where four millions of stirring citizens dwelt, surrounded by twenty or thirty millions of whilom inhabitants now asleep. The same melancholy reflections had haunted him in all the great cities.
The living were nowhere alone; the dead ever surrounded them, and as the dead were more, infinitely more, they weighed upon the living with the heaviness of time and of numbers.
No; the dead did not depart, as the people thought. The dead remained motionless on the brink of life, spying upon the new generations, forcing upon them the authority of the past with a rude tug at the soul whenever they tried to step out of the beaten path.
What tyranny was theirs! What unlimited power! It was futile to turn away the eyes and to stifle memory; the dead are everywhere; they occupy the highways of the living, and they stride out to meet us and remind us of their benefactions, compelling us to a debasing gratitude. What servitude! The house in which we live was constructed by the dead; religions were created by them; the laws which we obey the dead dictated. Our favorite dishes, our tastes, our passions, came from them; the foods which nourish us, all are produced by earth broken up by hands which now are dust. Morality, customs, prejudices, honor—these are their work. Had they thought in some different way, the present organizations of men would not be as they are today. The things which are agreeable to our senses are so because thus the dead willed them; the disagreeable and useless are detested by the will of those who no longer exist; what is moral and what is immoral are sentences pronounced centuries ago by them.
Those men who make an effort to say new things do nothing but repeat in different words the same thoughts that the dead had been expressing for centuries. That which we consider most spontaneous and personal in ourselves has been dictated to us by unseen masters lying in their earthen couches, who, in their turn, had learned the lesson from other ancestors. The gleam of our eyes is but the glow of the souls of our forefathers, as the lines in our faces reproduce and reflect the traces of generations long disappeared.
Febrer smiled sadly. We imagine that we think our own thoughts, while in the convolutions of our brain stirs a force which has lived in other organisms, like the sap of the grafted shoot which carries energy from old and dying trees to new offshoots. Much of the thought which we express spontaneously, as the latest novelty of our mind, is an idea of those others, encysted in our brain at birth, and which suddenly bursts its bondage. Our tastes, our caprices, our virtues and our defects, our affinities and our repulsions—all inherited, all a work of those who have disappeared but who survive in us.
With what terror Jaime thought of the power of the dead! They concealed themselves to make their tyranny less cruel, but they had not really perished; their souls were lying within the confines of our existence, just as their bodies formed an entrenched field roundabout the man-made towns. They scrutinized us with arbitrary eyes; they followed us, guiding us with invisible clutch at the slightest indication of deviating from the path; they banded together with diabolic determination to lead the flocks of men who rush after some new and extraordinary ideal, reestablishing with violent reaction, the order of life, which they love, silent and placid, amid rustle of dried grasses and the flutter of butterfly wings and the sweet peace of the cemetery, asleep in the sun.
The souls of the dead fill the world. The dead do not go away, they remain as masters. The dead command, and it is useless to resist.
The man of the great cities living a giddy life, knowing not who built his house, nor who makes his bread, seeing no other works of nature than the stunted trees adorning his streets, ignores these things. He does not even realize that his life is spent among millions and millions of his forefathers crowded together but a few steps away, spying upon him and directing him. He blindly obeys their tugging, without knowing where leads the cord fastened upon his soul. Poor automaton, he believes all his acts to be the product of his will, when they are nothing less than impositions of the omnipotent invisible horde.
Jaime, submerged in the monotonous existence of a tranquil island, thinking back upon his forefathers one by one, knowing the origin and history of all that surrounded him, objects of art, clothing, furniture, and the house itself which seemed possessed of a soul, could give account of this tyranny better than could others.
Yes; the dead command! The authority of the living, their startling novelties—illusion, deception, serving only to carry forward existence.
Gazing on the sea, on whose horizon the smoke from a steamer traced a slender column, Febrer thought of the great trans-Atlantic liners, floating cities, speeding monsters, the pride of human industry, which can make the round of the world in a few short weeks. His remote ancestors in the Middle Ages who went to England in a ship no better than a fishing smack, represented something more extraordinary, and the great captains of the present time with their swarming crews, had not achieved greater deeds than the knight commander Priamo with his handful of sailors. What deceptions, what illusions, we form concerning life, to conceal from ourselves the monotony of its shams. The brevity of its experiences was maddening. It mattered not whether one lived thirty years or three hundred. Men perfected the playthings which served their egoism and their well being, machines, means of locomotion; but aside from this, they lived the same. The passions, the joys, and the sorrows were the same; the human animal did not change.
Jaime had believed himself a free man, with a soul which he called modern, his, all his; and now he discovered in it a confused medley of the souls of his ancestors. He could recognize them, because he had studied them, because they were in the next room, in the archives, like dried flowers preserved between the leaves of an old book. The majority of humans retained at the most a memory of their great grandfathers; families which had been unable to scrupulously preserve the history of their past through the centuries gave no heed to the ancestral life perpetuated in their souls, taking as inspirations of their own the cries which their ancestors uttered through them. Our flesh was flesh of those who no longer exist; our souls combined fragments of the souls of many dead men.
Jaime felt within him his austere grandfather, Don Horacio, and along with him the animosities of the Inquisitor-general, he of the appalling visiting card, and the souls of the famous knight commander and other ancestors. In the mind of the man of today still lingered something of that "perpetual governor" who considered the Jewish converts on the island as a separate and degraded race.
The dead command! Now he understood the inevitable repugnance, the arrogance he had felt as he came into contact with the obsequious and humble Don Benito. Those sentiments were unconquerable, and his aversion irremediable. It was imposed upon him by others stronger than himself. The dead command, and they must be obeyed!
His pessimism caused him to reflect upon his present condition. All was lost! He was unfitted for the conduct of a small business, for the petty transactions and details which might suffice for one of meager wants. He would renounce the idea of that marriage which was his only salvation, and his creditors, as soon as they heard the news that this hope had vanished would fall upon him. He would find himself expelled from the house of his forefathers, pitied by everybody, with a pity that would sting more keenly than insult. He felt himself unequal to witness the final wreck of his house and of his name. What could he do? Where should he go?
He sat staring at the sea for a great part of the afternoon, watching the white sails until they hid themselves behind the cape, or vanished into the broad horizon of the bay.
Leaving the terrace without knowing how, Febrer found himself opening the door of the chapel, an old and forgotten door, which, as it creaked upon its rusty hinges, scattered dust and cobwebs. How long it had been since he had entered there! In the dense atmosphere of the closed room he thought he perceived a vague odor of essences, as from a bottle of perfume opened and long abandoned; an odor which brought back to his memory the solemn dames of the family whose portraits hung in the reception hall.
In the ray of light filtering through the tiny windows of the cupola millions of dust motes illuminated by the sun danced in an ascending spiral. The altar, with its antique carving, glowed faintly in the mellowed light with reflections of old gold. Upon it lay a duster and a pail, carelessly left since the last cleaning of the room, many years ago.
Two prayer stools of old blue velvet seemed to still retain the impression of lordly and delicate forms which no longer existed. Two prayer books with worn edges lay upon the rack before them, as if forgotten. Jaime recognized one of the books. It had belonged to his mother, poor lady, pale and sick, who divided her life between praying and the adoration of her son, for whom she dreamed an illustrious future. The other, perhaps, had belonged to his grandmother, that Mexican lady of the days of romanticism, who still seemed to thrill the great house with the rustling of her white garments and the melody of her harp.
The apparition from the past, vague and dim, arising in the deserted chapel, the memory of those two ladies, the one all piety, the other all idealism, aristocratic and dreamy, drove Febrer to distraction. To think that soon the rude hands of the usurer would profane so much that was old and venerable! He could not stay to witness it! Good-bye! Good-bye!
At dusk he sought out Toni Clapes in the Borne. With the confidence which the contrabandist inspired in him he asked him for money.
"I don't know when I can return it. I am leaving Majorca. Everything is going to ruin, but I must not stay to see it."
Clapes gave Jaime more money than he asked for. Toni was to stay awhile on the island, and with the help of Captain Valls he would try to straighten out Jaime's business affairs, if it were still possible. The captain was a good business man, and he knew how to disentangle the most hopeless complications. He and Jaime had quarreled the day before, but that was no matter; Valls was a true friend.
"Don't tell anyone that I am going away," added Jaime. "No one must know it but you—and Pablo. You are right; he is a friend."
"And when are you leaving?"
"On the first steamer for Iviza."
Jaime still had something left there; a pile of rocks covered with thickets and full of rabbits; a crumbling tower belonging to the time of the pirates. He had learned of it by chance the day before; some peasants from Iviza whom he had met in the Borne had reminded him of it.
"I shall be as well off there as anywhere else—better, much better! I will hunt and fish. I am going to live where I cannot see people."
Clapes, remembering the advice he had given the evening before, grasped Jaime's hand with satisfaction. That affair of the Chueta girl was a thing of the past. His peasant soul rejoiced at this solution.
"You are right in going. The other thing, the other thing would have been an act of madness."
END OF PART ONE
Febrer was contemplating his image, a transparent shadow of quivering contours on the changing waters, through which the bottom of the sea could be seen with milky spots of clean sand and dark blocks of stone broken from the mountain overgrown with a strange vegetation.
The seaweed floated backward and forward like waving green hair; fruits round as Indian figs hung in whitish clusters on the rocks; pearly flowers shone in the depths of the green waters, and among the mysterious growth star-fishes spread their colored points; sea-urchins formed balls like dark blots covered with spines; the hippocampi, those little "devil's horses," swam restlessly; and flashes of silver and purple, of tails and fins, passed swiftly among whirlpools and bubbles, dashing out of one cave to disappear into the mouth of another unfathomable mystery.
Jaime was leaning over a small boat, with its sail dropped. In one hand he held the volanti, a long line with several hooks, which almost reached the bottom of the sea.
It was nearly midday. The craft lay in the shade. In the rear extended the wide coast of Iviza with its broad sinuosities of projecting points and steep shores. Before him was the Vedra, an isolated rock, a superb landmark a thousand feet in height, which, standing solitary, seemed even higher. At his feet the shadow of the colossus imparted to the waters a dense and yet transparent color. Beyond its azure shadow seethed the Mediterranean, flashing with gold in the sunlight, while the coasts of Iviza, ruddy and lonely, seemed to irradiate fire.
Every pleasant day Jaime came to the narrow channel between the island and the Vedra to fish. In calm weather this was a river of blue water with submarine rocks which peeped their black heads above the surface. The giant allowed itself to be approached without losing its imposing appearance, harsh and inhospitable. When the wind blew fresh and strong, the half submerged heads were crowned with foam and roared ominously; mountains of water rushed roaring and foaming through this maritime throat, and the fishermen must hoist their sails and hurry away from the narrow pass, from this growling chaos of whirlpools and currents.
In the prow of the boat was old Uncle Ventolera, a seaman who had sailed on ships of many nations, who had been Jaime's companion since he arrived in Iviza. "I am almost eighty, senor," but he never let a day pass without going out to fish. Neither illness nor fear of bad weather prevented him. His face was tanned by the sun and the salt air, but it had few wrinkles. His rolled up trousers displayed spare legs with fresh and healthy skin. His blouse, open on the chest, showed a gray coating of hair of the same color as that on his head, which was covered by a black cap, a souvenir of his last trip to Liverpool, boasting a red tassel on the top, and a broad white and red plaid ribbon. His whiskers were white, and from his ears hung copper earrings.
When Jaime first made his acquaintance he expressed curiosity in regard to these decorations.
"When I was a lad I was a ship's boy on an English schooner," said Ventolera in his Ivizian dialect, singing the words in a sweet little voice. "The master was a very arrogant Maltese, with whiskers and earrings; and I said to myself, 'When I get to be a man I'm going to be like the padrone.' Although you see me like this, I used to be a great swell, and I used to like to imitate persons of importance."
When Jaime first went but fishing to the Vedra he forgot to watch the water and the line in his hand, while he stared at the colossus which stands high above the sea, broken off from the coast.
The rocks piled to a great height, wedged in one by another and mounting into space, compelled the spectator to throw back his head to see the pointed summit. The rocks at the water's edge were accessible. The sea swept over them, sinking in to the low arcades of submarine caves, a refuge of corsairs in former days, and now sometimes the depository of smugglers. One could leap at places from rock to rock among the sabinas and other wild plants along its base, but farther up the rock rose straight, smooth, inaccessible, with polished gray walls. At enormous heights were green-covered benches, and above these the cliff again rose vertically to its crest, sharp as a finger. A party of hunters had scaled a portion of this citadel, climbing along salient angles until they gained the lower benches. Beyond there no one had gone, according to Uncle Ventolera, except a certain friar exiled by the government as a Carlist agitator, who had built on the coast of Iviza the hermitage of the Cubells.
"He was a strong and daring man," continued the old sailor. "They say that he erected a cross on the summit, but the wind blew it down some time ago."
In the hollows of the great gray rock, shaded by the green sabinas and sea pines, Febrer saw points of color jumping about, something like red and white fleas, incessantly moving. They were the goats of the Vedra; goats abandoned for some years which had become wild, and which reproduced beyond the reach of man, having lost all domestic habit, springing up the mountain side with prodigious leaps as soon as a boat approached the cliff. On calm mornings their bleating, increased by the impressive silence, could be heard far out upon the sea.
One morning, Jaime, having brought his gun, took a couple of shots at a cluster of goats a long distance away, not expecting to hit them, but merely for the fun of seeing them leap away. The reports, magnified by the echo within the narrow defile, filled the air with the screaming and flapping of wings of hundreds of enormous old gulls that flew out of their haunts, frightened by the noise. The startled island had given forth its winged inhabitants. Other huge birds emerged and flew from the summit and disappeared like black specks toward the larger island. These were falcons which roosted in the Vedra and lived upon the doves of Iviza and Formentera.
The old sailor pointed out to Febrer certain window-like caves in the most sheer and inaccessible cliffs of the smaller island. Neither goat nor man could reach them. Uncle Ventolera knew what was hidden within those dark passages. They were beehives; beehives centuries and centuries old; natural retreats of bees that, crossing the straits between Iviza and the Vedra, took refuge in these inaccessible caves after having gleaned the flowery fields of the island. At certain times of the year he had seen glistening streams trickling down the cliff from these openings. It was honey melted by the sun at the entrance of the cavern.
Uncle Ventolera tugged at his line with a grunt of satisfaction.
"That makes eight!"
Hanging from a hook, flapping its tail and kicking, was a species of lobster of dark gray color. Others of its kind lay inert in a basket at the old man's side.
"Uncle Ventolera, aren't you going to sing the mass?"
"If you will allow me."
Jaime knew the old man's habits, his fondness for singing the canticles of high mass whenever he was in a joyous mood. Having given up long voyages, his pleasure consisted in singing on Sundays in the church in the town of San Jose, or in that of San Antonio, and indulging in the same diversion during all the happy moments of his life.
"In a minute," he said with a tone of superiority, as if he were going to treat his companion to the greatest of delights.
Placing one hand to his mouth he quickly extracted his teeth and put them in his girdle. His face collapsed into wrinkles around his sunken mouth, and he began to sing the phrases of the priest and the responses of the assistant. The childish and tremulous voice acquired a grave sonorousness as it resounded over the watery expanse and was reproduced by the echoes from the rocks. The goats on the Vedra responded from time to time with mild bleatings of surprise. Jaime smiled at the earnestness of the old man who, with eyes gazing aloft, pressed one hand against his heart, holding his fishline with the other. Thus they remained for some time, Febrer watching his line, on which he did not perceive the slightest movement. All the fish were taken by the old man. This put him in a bad humor, and he suddenly became annoyed at the singing.
"Enough; Tio Ventolera, that's enough!"
"You liked it, didn't you?" said the old man with candor. "I know other things, too; I could tell you about Captain Riquer—a true story. My father saw it all."
Jaime made a gesture of protest. No, he did not wish to hear about Captain Riquer. He already knew the tale by heart. They had been going out fishing together for three months, and rarely did they get through the day without a relation of the event; but Tio Ventolera, with his senile inconsequence, convinced of the importance of everything concerning himself, had already begun his story, and Jaime, his back turned to his companion, was leaning over the boat, gazing into the depths of the sea, to avoid hearing once again what he already knew so well.
Captain Antonio Riquer! A hero of Iviza, as great a mariner as Barcelo, who fought at Gibraltar and led the expedition against Algiers, but as Barcelo was a Majorcan and the other an Ivizan all the honors and decorations were bestowed upon the former. If there were such a thing as justice the sea ought to swallow the haughty island, the stepmother of Iviza. Suddenly the old man recollected that Febrer was a Majorcan and he was silent and confused.
"That is to say," he added, making excuses for himself, "there are good people everywhere. Your lordship is one of them; but, to come back to Captain Riquer——"
He was the master of a small three-masted vessel called a xebec, armed for privateering, the San Antonio, manned by Ivizans, engaged in constant strife with the galliots of the Algerian Moors and with the ships of England, the enemy of Spain. Riquer's name was known all over the Mediterranean. The event occurred in 1806. On Trinity Sunday, in the morning, a frigate carrying the British flag appeared off Iviza, tacking beyond the reach of the cannons of the castle. It was the Felicidad, the vessel of the Italian Miguel Novelli, dubbed "the Pope," a citizen of Gibraltar and a corsair in the service of England. He came in search of Riquer, to mock him in his very beard, sailing arrogantly in view of his city. The bells were rung furiously, drums were beat, and the citizens crowded upon the walls of Iviza and in the ward of "La Marina." The San Antonio was being careened on the beach, but Riquer with his men shoved her into the water. The small cannon of the xebec had been dismounted, but they hastily tied them with ropes. Every man from the ward of the Marina was eager to embark, but the captain chose only fifty men and heard mass with them in the church of San Telmo. While they were hoisting the sails, Riquer's father appeared. He was an old sailor, and, in spite of his son's opposition, he climbed into the boat.
The San Antonio took many hours and expert maneuvering to draw close to "the Pope's" ship. The poor xebec looked like an insect beside the great vessel manned by the wildest and most reckless crew ever gathered on the wharves of Gibraltar—Maltese, Englishmen, Romans, Venetians, Livornese, Sardinians, and Dalmatians. The first broadside from the ship's cannons kills five men on the deck of the xebec, among them the father of Riquer. He lifts up the old man's body, being bathed in his blood, and he runs to place it in the hold. "They have killed our father!" groan the brothers. "Let's get busy!" replies Riquer sternly. "Bring out the frascos! We must board her!"
The frascos, a terrible weapon of the Ivizan corsairs, fire-bottles, which, as they burst upon the enemy's decks, set it ablaze, begin to fall upon "the Pope's" vessel. The rigging begins to burn, the upper works shiver, and like demons Riquer and his men spring aboard among the flames, pistol in one hand, boarding axe in the other. The deck flows with blood, the corpses roll into the sea with broken heads. They find "the Pope" hiding, half dead with fear, in a locker in his cabin.
Tio Ventolera laughed like a boy as he recalled this grotesque detail of Riquer's great victory. Then, when "the Pope" was brought a prisoner to the island, the people of the city and the peasants gathered in crowds, staring at him as if he were a rare wild beast. This was the pirate, the terror of the Mediterranean! And they had found him stuck between decks, shaking with fear of the Ivizans! He was sentenced to be strung up on the island of the hanged men, a small islet where now stands the lighthouse in the Strait of the Freus; but Godoy ordered him to be exchanged for some other Spaniards.
Ventolera's father had seen great events; he was a cabin-boy on Riquer's ship. Later he had been captured by the Algerians, being one of the last captives enslaved before the occupation of Algiers by the French. There he ran a terrible risk of death once upon a time when one out of every ten of the captives was killed in revenge for the assassination of a wicked Moor whose body was found crammed into a latrine. Tio Ventolera remembered the stories his father used to tell of the days when Iviza produced corsairs, and when captured vessels were brought into port with captive Moors, both men and and women. The prisoners would be haled before the escribano de presas, the scrivener of the captives, as evidences of the victory, and he compelled them to swear "by Alaquivir, by the Prophet and his Koran, with hand and index-finger raised, his face turned toward the rising sun," while the fierce Ivizan corsairs, on dividing the booty, set aside a sum for the purchase of linen for binding up their wounds, and left another portion of the loot under pledge for celebration of daily mass by a priest every day while they were absent from the island.
Tio Ventolera passed from Riquer to earlier valorous corsair commanders, but Jaime, annoyed by his chatter, ever displaying a desire to overwhelm the island of Majorca, its hostile neighbor, at last grew impatient.
"It's twelve o'clock, grandfather. Let's go in; the fish have quit biting."
The old man glanced at the sun, which had passed beyond the crest of the Vedra. It was not yet noon, but it lacked little. Then he looked at the sea; the senor was right; the fish would bite no longer, and he was satisfied with his day's work.
He tugged at the rope with his lean arms, hoisting the small triangular sail. The boat heeled over, pitched without making headway, and then began to cleave the water with a gentle ripple against her sides. They sailed out of the channel, leaving the Vedra behind, coasting along the island. Jaime held the tiller, while the old man, clasping the fish-basket between his knees, began counting and fingering the catch with avaricious delight.
They rounded a cape and a new stretch of coast appeared. On the summit of a mountain of red rocks, dotted here and there by dark masses of shrubbery, stood a broad yellow squat tower, with no opening on the side toward the sea except a window, a mere black hole of irregular contour. The outlines of a porthole in the battlement of the tower, that had formerly served for a small cannon, was outlined against the blue sky. On one side the promontory rose sheer above the sea, and on the other sloped landward, covered with green, with low and leafy groves, among which peeped the white dots of a diminutive village.
The boat headed straight for the tower, and when near it they turned her toward a nearby beach, the bow grating upon the gravel. The old man struck the sail and warped the boat near a rock along shore from which hung a chain. He fastened the boat to it, and then he and Jaime sprang out. He did not wish to beach the boat; he was thinking of going out again after dinner, a matter of putting out a trawl which he would take up again the next morning. Would the senor accompany him? Febrer made a negative gesture, and the old man left him until the following day when he would awaken him from the beach singing the introit, while the stars still shimmered in the sky. Daybreak must find them at the Vedra.
"Let us see how early you will come down from the tower!"
The fisherman turned toward the mainland, his fish-basket hanging on his arm.
"Give my regards to Margalida, Tio Ventolera, and tell her to have my dinner brought over right away."
The sailor replied with a shrug of his shoulders without turning his face, and Jaime walked along the beach in the direction of the tower. His feet, shod in hempen sandals, crunched on the gravel at the edge of the wash from the surf. Among the azure pebbles were fragments of pottery; portions of earthen handles; concave pieces of bowls bearing vestiges of decoration, which had, perhaps, belonged to swelling urns; small, irregular spheres of gray clay in which one seemed to make out, despite the corrosion of the salt water, human features worn by the passing centuries. They were curious relics of days of storm; suggestions of the great secret of the sea, which had come to light after being hidden thousands of years; confused and legendary history returned by the restless waves to the shores of these islands, which had been the refuge in ancient times of Phoenicians and Carthaginians, of Arabs and Normans. Tio Ventolera told of silver coins, thin as wafers, found by boys at play on the beach. His grandfather remembered the tradition of mysterious caves containing treasure, caves of the Saracens and Normans, which had been walled in with heavy blocks of stone, and long forgotten.
Jaime began to ascend the rocky slope leading to the tower. The tamarisk-shrubs stood erect like dwarf pines clothed in sharp and rustling foliage, which seemed to be nourished on the salt carried in the atmosphere, their roots embedded in the rock. The wind on stormy days, as it swept away the sand, left bare their multiple, entangled roots, black and slender serpents in which Febrer's feet were often caught. A sound of hurried flight and a crackling of leaves in the bushes answered to the echo of his footsteps, while a bunch of gray hair with a tail like a button scampered from bush to bush in blind haste. The startled rabbits roused dark emerald-colored lizards basking lazily in the sun.
Together with these sounds there floated to Jaime's ears a faint drumming, and the voice of a man intoning an Ivizan romance. He hesitated from time to time as if undecided, repeating the same verses over and over until he managed to pass on to new ones, uttering at the end of each strophe, according to the custom of the country, a strange screech like a peacock, a harsh and strident trill like that which accompanies the songs of the Arabs.
When Febrer gained the crest, he saw the musician sitting on a stone behind the tower, gazing at the sea.
It was a youth he had met several times at Can Mallorqui, the house of his old renter, Pep. Resting on his thigh was the Ivizan tambourine, a small drum painted blue, decorated with flowers and gilded branches. His left arm was resting on the instrument, his chin in his hand, almost concealing his face. He beat the drum slowly with a little stick held in his right hand, and he sat motionless, in a reflective attitude, with his thoughts concentrated on his improvisation, peeping between his fingers at the immense horizon on the sea.
He was called the Minstrel, as were all those in the island who sang original verses at dances and serenades. He was a tall young man, slender, and narrow shouldered, a youth not yet eighteen. As he sang he coughed, his slender neck swelled, and his face, of a transparent whiteness, flushed. His eyes were large, the eyes of a woman, prominent and rose-colored. He always wore gala costume; blue velvet trousers; the girdle, and the ribbon which served him as a cravat, were of a flaming red, and above this he wore a little feminine kerchief around his neck, with the embroidered point in front. Two roses were tucked behind his ears; his hair, lustrous with pomade, hung like a wavy fringe beneath a hat with a flowered band, which he wore thrust on the back of his head. Seeing these almost feminine adornments, the large eyes and the pale face, Febrer compared him to one of those anemic virgins who are idealized in modern art. But this virgin displayed a certain suggestive bulk protruding beneath his red belt. Undoubtedly it was one of the knives or pistols made by the ironworkers of the island; the inseparable companion of every Ivizan youth.
Seeing Jaime, the Minstrel arose, leaving the tambourine hanging from his left arm by a strap, while he touched the brim of his hat with his right hand, still holding his drumstick.
"Good-day to you!"
Febrer, who, like a good Majorcan, had believed in the ferocity of the Ivizans, admired their courteous manners when he met them on the roadways. They committed murder among themselves, always on account of love affairs, but the stranger was respected with the same traditional scruples that the Arab possesses for the man who seeks hospitality beneath his tent.
The Minstrel seemed ashamed that the Majorcan senor had surprised him near his house, on his own land. He had come because he liked to look at the sea from this height. He felt better in the shadow of the tower; no friend was near to disturb him, and he could freely compose the verses of a romance for the next dance in the town of San Antonio.
Jaime smiled at the Minstrel's timid excuses, suggesting that perhaps the verses were dedicated to some maiden. The boy inclined his head. "Si, senor."
"And who is she?"
"Flower of the Almond," said the poet.
"Flower of the Almond? A pretty name."
Encouraged by the senor's approbation, the youth continued talking. The "Flower of the Almond" was Margalida, the daughter of senor Pep of Can Mallorqui. The Minstrel himself had given her this name, seeing her as white and beautiful as the flowers which the almond tree puts forth when the frosts are done and the first warm breezes blowing in from the sea announce the spring. All the youths roundabout repeated it, and Margalida was known by no other name. He had a certain gift for thinking of pretty sobriquets. Those which he gave lasted forever.
Febrer listened to the boy's words with a smile. In what a strange creature had the muse taken refuge! He asked the youth if he worked, and the boy replied negatively. His parents did not wish him to do so; a doctor from the city had seen him in the market place one day and advised his family that he must avoid all fatigue; and he, pleased at such counsel, spent the working days in the country in the shade of a tree, listening to the songs of the birds, spying on the girls walking along the paths, and when some new verse rung in his head he sat down on the seashore to quietly work it out and fix it in his memory.
Jaime took leave of him, saying that he might continue his poetic occupation, but a few steps away he stopped, turning his head at not hearing the tambourine again. The troubador was going down the hill, fearful of annoying the senor with his music, and seeking another solitary retreat.
Febrer reached the tower. All that which from a distance seemed to belong to a lower story was massive foundation. The door was on a level with the elevated windows; thus the guards in early days could avoid being surprised by the pirates. For ingress and egress they made use of a ladder which they drew up after them at night. Jaime had ordered made a rude wooden ladder by which to reach his room, but he never drew it in. The tower, constructed of sandstone, was somewhat eroded on its exterior by the winds from the sea. Many stones had fallen from their places, and these hollows simulated steps for scaling the tower.
The hermit ascended to his habitation. It was a round room with no other opening than the door and the window, which almost seemed to be tunnels, so great was the thickness of the walls. These, on the inside, were carefully whitewashed with the gleaming lime of Iviza, giving a transparency and milky softness to all the buildings, and to the modest little country houses the appearance of elegant mansions. Only on the ceiling, broken by a skylight, which told of the ancient ladder-way leading to the flat-roof above, did there remain any trace of the soot of the fires which used to be lighted in former days.
Rough boards, crudely fastened to wooden cross-pieces, which served to reinforce them, were used for door, window-shutter, and ceiling trap-door. There was not a pane of glass in the tower. It was still summer, and Febrer, undecided, and, in truth, indifferent as to his future, put off the details of actually settling down until some other time.
This retreat seemed to him romantic and pleasing, in spite of its crudity. He detected in it the skilful hand of Pep and the grace of Margalida. He noticed the whiteness of the walls, the neatness of three chairs and of the deal table, all scrubbed by the daughter of his former tenant. Fish nets were draped upon the walls like tapestry; beyond hung the gun and a bag of cartridges. Long, slender sea-shells with the brown translucency of the tortoise were arranged in the form of fans. They were the gift of Tio Ventolera, as were two enormous periwinkles on the table, white, with erect points, and the interior of a moist rose-color, like feminine flesh. Near the window his mattress lay rolled up with his pillow and sheets—a rustic bed which Margalida or her mother made every afternoon.
Jaime slept there more peacefully than in his palace in Palma. When Tio Ventolera failed to awaken him at dawn by singing mass down on the beach or by climbing up the hill to fling stones at the door of the tower, the hermit rested on his mattress until late in the morning, listening to the music of the sea, the great crooning mother; watching the mysterious light, a mixture of golden sun and blue waters filtering through the cracks and trembling on the white walls; hearing the gulls scream outside, as they passed before the windows in joyous flight, flinging swift shadows within the room.
At night he retired early and lay open-eyed in the diffused starry light, wakeful in the glint of the moon as it shimmered through the half-opened door. It was that half hour in which all the past appears supernatural; that forerunner of sleep, in which the remotest memories are revived. The sea roared, strident calls of the night birds broke the stillness, the gulls complained with a lament like tortured children. What were his friends doing now? What were they saying in the cafes of the Borne? Who might be in the Casino?
In the morning these recollections brought a sad smile to his lips. The returning day seemed to gladden his life. Had he ever been like others who rejoiced in existence in the city? Here was where one could really live.
He glanced over the interior of his round tower. It was a veritable salon, more agreeable to him than the house of his forefathers; this was all his own, free from the dread of co-ownership with money lenders and usurers. He even had handsome antiquities which no one could claim. Near the door was a pair of amphorae, drawn up by fishermen's nets—whitish earthern jars with pointed bases, indurated by the sea and capriciously decorated by Nature with garlands of adhering shells. In the center of the table, between the periwinkles, was another gift from Tio Ventolera, a terra cotta female head with a strange round tiara crowning her braided hair. The grayish clay was dotted with little, hard spherical concretions formed while lying for centuries in the salt water. As Jaime gazed at this companion of his solitude his imagination pierced the harsh outer crust and he recognized the serenity of feature, the strangeness and mystery of the almond-shaped, Oriental eyes. It appeared to him as to no one else. His long hours of silent contemplation had brushed away the mask, the work of centuries.
"Look at her! She is my sweetheart," he had said one morning to Margalida while she was cleaning his room. "Isn't she beautiful? She must have been a princess of Tyre or of Ascalon, I am not sure which; but the thing of which I am sure is that she was destined for me, that she loved me four thousand years before I was born, and that she has come down through the ages to seek me. She owned ships, robes of purple and palaces with terraced gardens, but she abandoned all to hide in the sea, waiting dozens of centuries for a wave to bear her to this coast so that Tio Ventolera might find her and bring her home to me. Why do you stare at me like that? You, poor child, cannot comprehend these things."
Margalida did, indeed, look at him in surprise. Imbued with her father's respect for this high-caste gentleman, she could only imagine him talking seriously. What things he must have seen in this world!
Now his words about this millenial sweetheart shook her credulity, causing her to smile nervously, while at the same time she looked with superstitious fear at the great lady of forgotten centuries who was nothing but a terra cotta head. How could Don Jaime talk like that? Everything about him was strange!
Whenever Febrer climbed up to the tower he sat down near the doorway and looked across the landscape. At the base of the hill spread recently ploughed fields, wooded areas belonging to Febrer which Pep was clearing for cultivation. Then began the plantations of almonds, of a fresh green color, and the ancient and twisted olive trees, which lifted up their dark trunks with tufted branches bearing silver gray leaves. The house, Can Mallorqui, was a sort of Moorish dwelling, a cluster of buildings, all as square as dice, dazzling white, and flat-roofed. New white buildings had been added as the family increased, and as its necessities were augmented. Each of the dice constituted one room, and, taken together, they formed a house, which resembled an Arabian village. From without no one could guess which were the living rooms and which the stables.
Beyond Can Mallorqui lay the grove, and the high-banked terraces, separated by thick stone walls. The strong winds did not suffer the trees to grow tall, so they put out many luxuriant branches round about them, gaining in width what they lost in height. The branches of all the trees were upheld by numerous forked sticks. Some of the fig trees had hundreds of supports and spread out like an immense green tent ready to shelter sleeping giants. They were natural summer-houses in which nearly a whole tribe might be sheltered. The horizon in the background was shut out by pine-clad mountains, having here and there red, barren spots. Columns of smoke rose out of the dark foliage from the pits of the charcoal burners.
Febrer had now been on the island three months. His arrival had astonished Pep Arabi, who was still busy telling his friends and relatives of his stupendous adventure, his unheard of daring, his recent voyage to Majorca with his children, his few hours in Palma, and his visit to the Palace of the Febrers, a place of enchantment, which held within its confines all the luxurious and regal splendor that existed in the world. Jaime's brusque declarations had astonished the peasant less.
"Pep, I am ruined; you are rich compared to me. I have come to live in the tower; I don't know how long; perhaps forever."