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farthing did he give for my son. And that Mariquita is just the same.
Yes, señor, I do say so. She only thinks of decking herself out so
that the cadets may see her."

"For mercy's sake, woman, they will hear you," begged some of the
terrified women.

But others scouted this fear. "Let Don Antolin and his niece hear
them! What did it matter? The Claverias were tired of the rapacity
of the uncle, and the magnificent airs that ugly woman gave herself!
Because they were poor they were not going to spend their lives
trembling before that couple. God only knew what the uncle and niece
did when they were alone in the house together!"

A breath of rebellion had passed over that sleepy world. It was the
unconscious influence of Gabriel. What he had said to his friends had
been passed on to all the men in the Claverias, getting even to the
women. They were confused and garbled ideas, that very few could
understand, but they cherished them like fresh pure air reviving
their minds. They sounded in their ears like a pleasant echo from the
outside world. It was sufficient for them to know that this quiet life
of submission they had led up to now was not immutable - they had
a right to something better - and that human beings ought to rebel
against injustice and oppression.

Don Antolin, who knew well enough the crew confided to his care,
was not long in perceiving this moral upturn. He felt hostility and
rebellion on every side. The debtors answered him haughtily, alleging
their poverty as a reason for no longer enduring his avarice; his
imperious orders were tardily executed, and he had a clear perception
that they were laughing behind his back as he walked through the
cloister, and making threatening gestures. One day his legs trembled
beneath him and his eyes were dimmed, hearing how the Perrero replied
to one of his reprimands, having returned late to the Cathedral, and
obliging him to descend and open the door after he had gone to bed.
The Tato made him understand, with an insolent expression, that he had
bought a knife, and that he intended its first fleshing to be in the
bowels of some priest or other who ground down the poor.

His niece complained to Don Antolin, they paid no attention to her and
flouted her, no woman now ever came to help her gratuitously in her
household duties. They replied insolently that those who wanted
servants must pay for them. What was her uncle thinking about? It was
certainly time to assert his authority and to lay a heavy hand on
these people.

She herself, so lively and energetic in her own house, was now obliged
to retire snorting with rage or weeping, whenever she stationed
herself at her door. All the women of the Claverias wished to revenge
themselves for their former thraldom, standing already on the
declivity of disrespect.

"Look at her!" screamed the shoemaker's wife to her neighbours,
"always so dressed up, the ugly jade. She decks herself with the blood
that vampire of an uncle sucks from the poor."

And from the iron gratings of the upper Claverias, giving on the
roofs, there was generally a voice singing the ancient couplet, no
doubt inspired by the Cathedral garden -

"Las amas de los curas y los laureles
Como nunca dan fruto siempre estan verdes." [1]

[Footnote 1: Priest's housekeepers - like laurels - never have any
fruit, because they are evergreens.]

It was this that ended the patience of Don Antolin; this insulting
conjecture about himself and his niece that disturbed his miserly
chastity. He visited the cardinal to complain of the inhabitants of
the cloister, but His Eminence, who lived in a perpetual rage, grew
furious listening to him and very nearly thrashed him. Why did he
come to him with such tales? For what reason had he been given any
authority? Was there nothing left of a man beneath his cassock? He who
was wanting in the good discipline of the house - turn him out into the
street at once! More energy, and be careful never to trouble him again
with such insignificant tales, otherwise the person who would be
turned into the street would be Silver Stick himself.

Don Antolin felt a little braver after this interview, although he
swore mentally never again to visit that terrible prelate. He was
determined to reassert his authority, by punishing the weakest, whom
he considered as the origin of all these scandals. The shoemaker
should be expelled from the Claverias, as he was there through
no other right but that his wife had been born there. Mariquita,
bewildered by her uncle's energy, must needs speak to some one about
these intentions, and so the news circulated through the cloister.

Don Antolin did not dare to move a step further, terrified by the
silent unanimity with which the whole population rose against him.

The Tato looked at him with mocking and threatening eyes, in which
Silver Stick could plainly read "Remember the knife"; but what
terrified Don Antolin more than anything was the silence of the
bell-ringer, and the savage and hostile glance with which he responded
to his words.

Even the good Wooden Staff, Esteban, protested in his own way, saying
quietly to Don Antolin:

"Is it really true that you intend turning out the shoemaker? You will
do wrong, very wrong, for after all he is very poor, and his wife was
born in the cloister. These innovations always bring misfortune, Don
Antolin."

So the priest, finding he had no support, and seeing hostility on
every side, put off his energetic resolutions till the following day,
even reproving his niece when she threw his weakness in his face.

The Canon Obrero, from whom he had implored help, did not care to
disturb the blessed peace of his existence by mixing himself up in the
quarrels of the smaller people. It was Silver Stick's own affair; he
could punish or expel any one he thought fit without fear of anybody.
But Don Antolin, dreading the responsibility that might accrue from
energetic action, ended by delivering himself over to Gabriel and
begging for his assistance. That man was the one who wielded the real
authority in the upper cloister; all those who had listened to him
followed his advice blindly.

"Help me, Gabrielillo," said the priest with an agonised expression.
"If you cannot restore order, this will end badly; they even insult my
poor niece, and some day I shall turn half the people of the Claverias
out into the street, as I hold authority from His Eminence for
everything. Ay, señor! I do not know what has happened here; surely
the devil must have got loose in our upper cloister! How these people
have changed to me!"

Luna guessed Don Antolin's thoughts and his allusions to the devil who
had got loose in the cloister. That devil was himself. No doubt Silver
Stick was right. Without intending it he had introduced discord into
the Cathedral. He had sought calm and forgetfulness in that refuge,
and the spirit of rebellion had followed him even into this
concealment. He recalled his thoughts on the first day, when he was
alone in the silent cloister; he wished to be another stone in the
Cathedral, without thought, without feeling, to spend the rest of his
life fixed to that ruin, with the embryonic life of the fungus on the
buttress, but the spirit of the outside world had entered in with him.

Luna remembered how travellers in time of plague had crossed the
sanitary cordon - they were well and happy, nothing betrayed the
infection in their bodies; but the poisonous germs travelled in the
folds of their clothes and in their hair, carrying death without
knowing it, helping it to leap all barriers and obstacles, without
being in the least aware of it. He was the same, but instead of
spreading death, he spread tumultuous and rebellious life. The protest
of the lower orders that had been surging throughout the world, for
more than a century, had entered with him into this still remaining
fragment of the sixteenth century. He had awakened those men, who had
been like the sleepers in the legend, motionless in their cave for
ages, while the centuries rolled on and the world was transformed.

The awakening of these people was sudden and violent, like that of a
people in revolution. They were ashamed of the old errors that they
had worshipped, and this made them receive as gospel everything that
was new, without quailing before the consequences.

It was the faith of a people which, once it takes form, rushes
onwards, accepting everything, justifying everything, the only
requirement being its novelty, and casting aside contemptuously those
traditional principles which it had just abandoned.

The cowardly submission of Silver Stick was the first victory of those
more daring souls who formed Luna's surrounding. The avaricious and
despotic priest lowered his eyes before them, smilingly anxious to
make himself agreeable. This they owed to the master, for he was now
the true ruler of the upper cloister. Don Antolin consulted him before
making any arrangements, and his ugly niece smiled on Gabriel as the
daughters of the conquered might smile on a triumphant hero.

They now no longer hid themselves in the bell-ringer's house for their
meetings; they formed a circle in the cloister during the evenings,
discussing the audacious doctrines taught by Luna, without now being
intimidated by the religious atmosphere. They sat with the look of
lords, surrounding their master, while in the opposite gallery walked
Silver Stick like a black phantom, reading his book of hours, and
casting now and then an uneasy glance on the group. Even his ancient
vassal, the chaplain of the nuns, had dared to leave him to go and
listen to Gabriel.

Don Antolin with the keenness of his ecclesiastical training, guessed
the intensity of the evil produced by Luna. But for the moment his
egoism was stronger than his reflection. Let them talk - what did it
matter? It was only a little ebullition of pride in those people,
nothing more. All words and wind in the head. Meanwhile they had
better not ask for any more money! In exchange he had a very good
auxiliary in Luna, who, sharing his authority, spared him many
annoyances, and the Cathedral disposed of his services gratuitously as
interpreter to the foreigners.

These already began to talk of the great intelligence and education
of the Toledan sacristans, a praise Don Antolin received as though it
were entirely deserved by himself.

Gabriel was far more alarmed than Don Antolin at the effect of his
words; he bitterly repented having been led to speak of his past and
of his ideals. He had sought for peace and silence, but he was
still surrounded, though in a smaller degree, by the atmosphere of
proselytism and blind enthusiasm, as in the days of his martyrdom.
He had wished to efface himself and to disappear on entering the
Cathedral, but fate mocked him, reviving the agitation in the midst
of his concealment, to disturb the peace of that ruin. Society had
forgotten him, but he unconsciously was agitating, and drawing to
himself the attention of the outside world.

The enthusiasm of these neophytes was a danger, and his brother, the
Wooden Staff, without understanding the full extent of the evil,
warned him with his usual good sense.

"You are turning the heads of these poor men, with the things you
tell them. Be careful; they are very well meaning, but they are very
ignorant. And having been ignorant all their lives, it is dangerous to
turn such men into sages at one blow. It is as if I, being accustomed
to the homely stew, were taken to-day to His Eminence's table. I
should gorge myself and drink too much; at night I should have a
colic, and should probably hop the twig."

Gabriel acknowledged the truth of this prudent advice, but he could
not draw back - he was driven on by the affection of his disciples and
his own ardour as propagandist. It was a great delight to him to see
the wonder in those virgin minds, entering tumultuously into the
luminous palaces constructed by human thought during the last century.

The description of the future of humanity inflamed all Luna's ardour.
He spoke of the happiness of men, after a revolutionary crisis which
would change all the organisation of humanity with mystic rapture,
like a Christian preacher describing heaven.

"Man ought to seek happiness solely in this world, for after death
there only existed the infinite life of matter with its endless
combinations, but the human being was effaced as entirely as a plant
or an animal - he fell into oblivion when he sank into the tomb.
Immortality of the soul was one of the illusions of human pride worked
up by religions, who laid their foundations on this lie. It was
only in this life that man could find heaven. Everyone embarked on
immensity in the same ship, the earth. We were all comrades in our
dangers and our struggles, and we ought to look upon one another
as brothers seeking the common welfare. And what about the unequal
distribution of goods, the division of classes, the ability to work,
and, above all, the struggle for existence, that the philosophers and
poets of the oppressing classes paint as an indispensable condition of
progress? Communism is the holiest aspiration of humanity, the
divine dream of man since he began to think in the first dawn of
civilisation. Religions had endeavoured to establish it, but religion
had been shipwrecked and was moribund, and only science could enforce
it in the future. They must stop on the way they were going, as
humanity was marching on the road to perdition, therefore it was
necessary to return to the point of departure. The first man who had
cultivated a portion of the earth and garnered the fruits of his
toil, thought it was his for ever, and left it to his sons as their
property; they engaged other men to cultivate it for them - so these
men became robbers, appropriators of the universal heritage. It was
the same with those who possessed themselves of the invention of
human genius, machines, etc., for the benefit of a small majority,
subjecting the rest of mankind to the law of hunger. No, everything
was for everyone. The earth belonged to all human beings without
exception, like the sun and the air; its products ought to be divided
between everyone with due regard to their necessities. It was shameful
that man, who only appeared for an instant on this planet - a minute,
a second, for his life was no more than this in the life of
immensity - should spend this mere breath of existence fighting with
his kin, robbing them, excited by the fever of plunder, not even
enjoying the majestic calm of a wild beast, which when it has eaten,
rests, without ever thinking of doing harm from vanity or avarice.
There ought to be neither rich nor poor - nothing but men. The only
inevitable division must be that between brains more or less highly
organised. But the wise, from the fact of being so, ought to show
their greatness, sacrificing themselves for the more simple, without
seeking to assist the greatness of their minds by material advantages;
for in stomachs there were no categories or ranks. Everything that
exists, even the smallest production that man considers his exclusive
work, is the work of the past and present generations. By what right
can anyone say 'This is mine, mine only'? Man is not consulted before
he is formed if he wishes to burst forth into life. He is born - and
from the fact of being born he has a right to well-being." Gabriel
proclaimed his supreme formula, "Everything for everyone, and
well-being for all."

His friends listened in profound silence. The right to well-being
sank profoundly into their minds; it was the saying that most cruelly
touched their poverty, taunted by the contrast of the wealth of the
Church.

Don Martin, the young chaplain, was the only one who timidly raised
any objections to the master's sayings. He wished to know if, when
everything was for everyone, when man should have recognised his
right to happiness, without laws or compulsion to force him to
production - would he work? seeing that work was a necessity, and not a
virtue, as those who employ labour say, to glorify it.

Gabriel loudly affirmed the necessity of work in the future. The
man of the future would work without being forced to do so by his
necessities; he would not be ruled by the body and its imperious
requirements; his conscience would be inspired with the clear
understanding of solidarity with his fellows and the certainty that
if one abandoned social duties others would follow the example, thus
rendering life in common impossible and so returning to the actual
times of poverty and robbery.

"Why do not the few men of culture and sound conscience living at
present kill and rob?" exclaimed Gabriel. "It is not through fear of
the law and its representatives, for a clear intelligence, if it takes
the trouble, can easily find ways of evading both; neither can it be
through fear of eternal penalties and divine punishment, as such
men do not believe in these inventions of the past. It is from that
respect to his fellows which is felt by every elevated mind, from the
consideration that all violence should be avoided, for if everyone
gave themselves over to it, all social life must disappear. When this
understanding, which now only belongs to a few, embraces all humanity,
men will live ruled by their own consciences without laws or police,
working from social duty, without requiring man to be the only spring
of activity, and sweating without compassion to be the only way to
ease."

Throughout all his revolutionary raptures Luna had no illusions as to
the present. Humanity was at present an infected land, in which the
best seeds rotted, or which at best produced only poisonous fruits; we
must wait till the equalising revolution begun in the human conscience
a century ago should be completed, after that it would be possible
and easy to change the basis of society; he had a blind faith in
the future. Man must progress in the same way as communities; these
reckoned their evolutions by centuries, but man by millions of
years. How could a man of to-day be compared to the biped animal of
prehistoric times, though bearing visibly the traces of the animalism
from which he had lately emerged? Living in fellowship with his
ancestors the monkeys, the principal difference being the first
babblings of speech, and the first trembling spark that began to burn
in his brain.

From the ravenous beast of former days, suffering from all the cruel
forces of nature and living in fraternal misery with the lower
animals, the man of to-day was evolved, asserting his superiority to
his ancestors, dominating all nature. From the men of to-day, in whom
the passions of their former animalism are finding their equilibrium
with the gradual unfolding of the mind, will arise that superior and
perfect being indicated by philosophers, pure from all animal egoism,
and endeavouring to change the actual cruel, restless, and uncertain
life, into a period of happy and prosperous equality.

The animalism at present dominant in man exasperated Gabriel; it was
the great stumbling-block to all his generous views of the future,
and he explained to his astonished listeners the transformations of
natural creatures and of the origin of man, and the wondrous poem of
the evolution of nature from the original protoplasm to the infinite
varieties of life. We still carry in us the marks of our origin. One
could not help laughing at the God of the Jews, who had modelled a man
from clay, like a sculptor. Unlucky artist! Science pointed out much
carelessness and bungling in His work, without being able to justify
such mistakes. The skin of our bodies did not serve us as a covering
like the fur of an animal. How could we then believe it? Why were
nipples given to human males, if they were of no use for milk giving?
Why was the vertebral column at the back of the body as in quadrupeds,
when it would have been more logical, in creating a man who stands on
his feet, to place it in the centre of the body as a strong support,
thus avoiding the curvatures and weakness of the spine that are now
suffered by this disequilibrium in the support of its weight?

Gabriel enumerated the various inexplicable inconsistencies and
incongruities found in the human body, presuming it to be of divine
origin.

"I feel prouder," said he, "of my animal origin; to be a lineal
descendant of inferior beings than to have emerged imperfect from the
hand of a stupid God. I feel the same satisfaction that a nobleman
feels in speaking of his ancestors when I think of our remote
forefathers, those men-beasts, exposed like the animals to all the
cruel severity of nature, who, little by little, through hundreds of
centuries, have transformed themselves, triumphing in the unfolding of
their minds, their brains, and their social instincts. Making clothes,
edible foods, arms, tools and houses, neutralising the exterior
influences of nature. What hero or discoverer in the four thousand
years comprising our history can compare with those elementary men who
have slowly evolved and maintained on the earth the existence of our
species, exposed thousands of times to annihilation. The day on which
our ancestors cared for the sick and wounded, instead of abandoning
them as all animals had previously done; on which the first seed was
planted, the first arrow shot, brought nature face to face with the
greatest of her revolutions. Only one in the future will be able to
equal it; if man in remote times was able to free his body, now he
requires the great revolution to free his mind. The races who go
furthest in their intellectual development will be the ultimate
survivors; they will be masters of the earth, destroying all others.
The least wise in those days will probably be far superior to the most
cultivated intellects of the present times. Each individual will find
his happiness in the happiness of his fellows, and no one will try to
exercise compulsion on his neighbour. No laws or penalties will exist,
and voluntary associations will supply through the influence of reason
the present power of authority. This will be in the future - far, very
far off. But what do centuries matter in the life of humanity! They
are like seconds in our existence. On the day when man shall be
transformed into this superior being, with the full development of
all his intellectual faculties, now so embryonic, this earth will no
longer be the vale of tears spoken of by religion, but the paradise
dreamed of by the poets."

In spite of the enthusiasm with which Gabriel spoke, his hearers did
not appear to share these illusions. They were silent, and their
attitude was one of coldness before the immense distance of that
future to which their master confided all his hopes of universal
prosperity. They wished for it at once, with the eagerness of a child
who is shown a dainty which is afterwards put out of its reach. The
sacrifices, the slow work for the future, struck no chord in their
minds. From Gabriel's explanations they only drew the fact that they
were unhappy, but that they had the same right to happiness and
comfort as those privileged few whom they had formerly respected in
their ignorance. As a certain portion of human felicity belonged to
them they wished to possess it at once, without delay or resistance,
with all the fervour of one claiming what belongs to him. Luna
remarked in this silence a certain rebellion, like those ironical
gestures with which his companions in Barcelona had received his
illusions about the future and his anathemas against violence of
action.

These ardent neophytes outdistanced their teacher; they listened to
him with respect, but they were obliged to isolate themselves from him
in order to digest his teachings in their own fashion. Don Martin was
the only one who followed him in his visionary excursions into the
future. The bell-ringer, the organ-blower, the shoemaker and the Tato
now went up nightly to the bell-ringer's house, without summoning
the master, and there they gave vent to their hatred of everything
existing, under the forgotten old prints, yellow and wrinkled, which
pictured the inglorious episodes of the Carlist war.

This nocturnal reunion was a continual complaint against social
injustice. They thought themselves even more unfortunate when they
took an exact review of their situation. The shoemaker recalled with
tearful eyes the little child who had died of hunger, and spoke of the
misery of his offspring, so numerous as to render his work useless.
The organ-blower spoke of his miserable old age, the six reals daily
during his life, without any hope of earning more. The Tato, in the


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Online LibraryVicente Blasco IbáñezThe Shadow of the Cathedral → online text (page 22 of 25)