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Before his closed eyes a dark veil would begin to unroll as If the moist, cellar-like gloom in which the Chamber Is always plunged, had thickened suddenly, and against this curtain, like a cinema dream, rows of orange -trees would come into view, and a blue house with open windows; and pour- ing through the windows a stream of notes from a soft voice, ever so sweet, singing lieder and ballads as an accompaniment to the hard, sonorous para- graphs snapping from the Premier's teeth.
Then applause and disorder! The moment for voting had arrived, and the fading outlines of the Blue House still hovering before his dreamy eyes, the member for Alclra would ask his neighbor: "How do we vote?
Yes or no? Now that blue house was actually before his eyes! And he was hurrying toward it, — not without some hesitation; a vague uneasiness he could not explain. Orchard workers came along the road, occasional- ly, stepping aside to make room for the famous man, though he answered their greeting absent-mindedly.
What a nuisance! They would all be sure to tell where they had seen him! His mother would know all about it within half an hour! And, that evening, a scene in the dining-room! As Rafael walked on toward the Blue House, he thought bitterly of his situation. Why was he going there anyhow? Why insist on living in a stew all the time? He had had two or three short but violent scenes with his mother a few months before.
What a fury that stern, pious, and puritanic woman became when she found out that her son had been calling down at the Blue House and was on friendly terms with a strange lady, an outsider, whom the respectable folk of the city would have nothing to do with, and of whom not a good word was ever heard except from the men at the Club, when they were sure their wives were not in hearing distance! Tempestuous scenes they had been!
He was running for Congress at the time. Was he trying — she wanted to know — to dishonor the family and compromise his political future? Was that what his poor father had lived for — a life of sacrifice and struggle, of service to "the Party," which, many a time, had meant shouldering a gun?
And a loose woman was to be allowed to ruin the House of BruU, which for thirty years had been putting every cent it owned into politics, for the benefit of My Lords up in Madrid! Rafael had been no match for that energetic mother, the soul of ''the Party.
However, the upshot of it all had been that Ra- fael simply discovered how weak he was. Despite his promise, he returned to the Blue House often, but by round-about ways and over long detours, skulking from cover to cover, as he had done in childhood days when stealing oranges from the or- chards. There he was, a man whose name was on the lips of the whole county, and who at any mo- ment might be invested with authority from the peo- ple, thus realizing the life-long dream of his father! But the sight of a woman in the fields, a child, a beg- gar, would make him blanch with terror!
And that was not the worst of it! Whenever he entered the Blue House now he had to pretend he came openly, without any fear whatever. And so things had gone on down to the very eve of his departure for Madrid. As Rafael reached this point In his reminiscences, he asked himself what hope had led him to disobey his mother and brook her truly formidable wrath. In that blue house he had found only frank, disin- terested friendship, — a somewhat ironic comrade- ship, the condescending tolerance of a person com- pelled by solitude to choose as her comrade the least repulsive among a host of inferiors.
How clearly he remembered and could again foresee the THE TORRENT 11 sceptical, cold smile with which his words were al- ways received, though he was sure he had crammed them with burning passion! If you want us to go on being friends, all right, but It's on condition you treat me as a man. Comrades, eh, and nothing more.
On another occasion, she was irritable rather; Rafael's appealing eyes, his words of amorous ado- ration, seemed to provoke her, and she had said with brutal frankness: ''Don't waste your breath, please I I am through with love. I know men too well! But even if any- one were to upset me again, it would not be you, Rafaellto dear. He tried to free himself from his infatuation, but unsuccessfully. With that In view he fixed his at- tention on the woman's past; it was said that de- spite her beauty, her arlstrocratic manners, the bril- liancy of mind with which she had dazzled him — a poor country boy — she was only an adventuress who had made her way over half the globe from one pair of arms to another.
But since that was Im- possible, why go on, why continue endangering his career and having trouble with his mother all the time? To forget her, he stressed, before his own mind, words and attitudes of hers that might be judged defects ; and he would taste the joy of duty well done when, after such gymnastics of the will, he could think of her without great emotion. At the beginning of his life in Madrid he Im- agined he had recovered.
New surroundings; con- tinuous and petty satisfactions to vanity; the kow- towing of doorkeepers in Congress; the flattery of visitors from here, there and everywhere who came with requests for passes to admit them to the gal- leries; the sense of being treated as a comrade by celebrities, whose names his father had always men- tioned with bated breath; the "honorable" always written before his name; all Alcira speaking to him with affectionate familiarity; this rubbing elbows, on the benches of the conservative majority, with a battalion of dukes, counts and marquises — young men who had become deputies to round out the dis- tinction conferred by beautiful sweethearts or win- ning thoroughbreds, — all this had intoxicated him, filled his mind completely, crowding out all other thoughts, and persuading him that he had been com- pletely cured.
But as he grew familiar with his new life, and the novelty of all this adulation wore off, tenacious recol- lections rose again in his memory. At night, when sleep relaxed the will to forget, which his vigilance kept at painful tension, that blue house, the green. THE TORRENT 13 diabolical eyes of its principal denizen, that pair of fresh lips with their Ironic smile that seemed to quiver between two rows of gleaming white teeth, would become the inevitable center of all his dreams.
Why resist any longer? He could think of her as much as he pleased — that, at least, his mother would never learn. And he gave himself up to the Imagi- nation of love, where distance lent an ever stronger enchantment to that woman. He felt a vehement longing to return to his city. Absence seemed to do away with all the obstacles at home. His mother was not so formidable as he had thought. After so much isolation and solitude she might receive him In more cordial fashion!
As he approached the place that afternoon he was almost sick with nervousness and emotion. For one last time he thought of his mother, so intent upon maintaing her prestige and so fearful of hos- tile gossip; of the demagogues who had thronged the doors of the cafes that morning, making fun of the demonstration in his honor; but all his scruples van- ished at sight of the hedge of tall rose-bays and prickly hawthorns and of the two blue pillars sup- porting a barrier of green wooden bars.
Resolutely he pushed the gate open, and entered the garden. Orange-trees stretched in rows along broad straight walks of red earth. On either side of the approach to the house was a tangle of tall rose- bushes on which the first buds, heralds of an early spring, were already beginning to appear. Above the chattering of the sparrows and the rustle of the wind in the trees, Rafael could hear the sound of a piano — the keys barely touched by the player's fingers — and a soft, timid voice, as if the song were meant for the singer alone.
It was she. The young man advanced slowly, cautiously, as if THE TORRENT 15 afraid lest the sound of his footsteps break in upon that melody which seemed to be rocking the garden lovingly to sleep in the afternoon's golden sunlight. He reached the open space in front of the house and once more found there the same murmuring palms, the same rubblework benches with seats and backs of flowered tile that he knew so well.
There, in fact, she had so often laughed at his feverish pro- testations. The door was closed; but through a half-opened window he could see a patch of silk; a woman's back, bending slightly forward over the music.
As Rafael came up a dog began to bark at the end of the garden. Some hens that had been scratch- ing about in sand of the drive, scampered off cackling with fright. The music stopped. The lady was rising to her feet. At the balcony a flowing gown of blue appeared; but all that Rafael saw was a pair of eyes — green eyes, that seemed to fill the entire window with a flood of light. Open the door. I don't know why, but I was expecting you this afternoon. We have heard all about your triumphs; the music and the tumult reached even to our desert.
My congratulations to the Honorable don Rafael BruU. As if national unity had not yet been effected and the country were still divided into taifas and waliatos as in the days when one Moorish King reigned over Carlct, another over Denia, and a third over Jativa, the election system maintained a sort of inviolable rulership in every district; and when the Administration people came to Alcira in forecasting their political prospects, they always said the same thing : "We're all right there.
We can rely on Brull. The founder of this sovereign house had been Rafael's grandfather, the shrewd don Jaime, who had established the family fortune by fifty years of slow exploitation of ignorance and poverty. He began life as a clerk in the Ayuntamiento of Alcira; then he became secretary to the municipal judge, then assistant to the city clerk, then assistant-regis- trar of deeds.
There was not a subordinate position in those offices where the poor come in contact with the law that he did not get his hands on; and from such points of vantage, by selling justice as a favor i6 THE TORRENT 17 and using power or adroitness to subdue the refrac- tory, he felt his way along, appropriating parcel after parcel of that fertile soil which he adored with a miser's covctousness.
A brazen charlatan he was, every moment talking of "Article Number So-and-So" of the law that ap- plied to the case. The poor orchard workers came to have as much awe for his learning as fear of his malice, and in all their controversies they sought his advice and paid for It, as if he were a lawyer. When he had gotten a small fortune together, he continued holding his menial posts in the city ad- ministration to retain the superstitious respect which is inspired in peasant-folk by all who are on good terms with the law; but not content with playing the eternal beggar, dependent on the humble gratui- ties of the poor, he took to pulling them out of their financial difficulties, lending them money on the col- lateral of their future harvests.
But six per cent seemed too petty a profit for him. The real plight of these folk came when a horse died and they had to buy another. Don Jaime became a dealer in dray horses, buying more or less defective animals from gypsies in Valencia, praising their virtues to the skies, and reselling them as thor- oughbreds. And no sale on the instalment plan!
Cash down! The horses did not belong to him — as he vowed with his hand pressed solemnly to his bosom — and their owners Vvished to realize on their value at once. The best he could do in the circum- stances — prompted by his greatness of heart, which always overflowed at the sight of poverty — was to borrow money for the purchase from a friend of his.
For the don Jaime who spoke for the unknown party in the deal transferred the cash to the same don Jaime who spoke for the owner of the horse. Result: the rustic bought an animal, without chaffering, at double its value, hav- ing in addition borrowed a lot of money at cut-throat interest. In every turn-over of this sort don Jaime doubled his principal. New straits inevitably de- veloped for the dupe; the interest kept piling up; hence new concessions, still more ruinous than the first, that don Jaime might be placated and give the purchaser a month's reprieve.
Every Wednesday, which was market-day in Al- cira and brought a great crowd of orchard-folk to town, the street where don Jaime lived was the busiest in the city. People came in droves to ask for renewal of their notes, each leaving a tip of several pesetas usually, not to be counted against the debt itself. Others, humbly, timidly, as if they had come to rob the grasping Shylock, would ask for loans; and the strange thing about it, as the malicious noted, was that all these people, after leaving every- thing they owned in don Jaime's hands, went off con- tent, their faces beaming with satisfaction, as if they had just been rescued from a danger.
This was don Jaime's chief skill. The burdens he thus THE TORRENT 19 supposedly assumed won him a reputation as a kind-hearted soul, and such confidence was the wily old demon able to instill in his victims that when mortgages were foreclosed on homes or fields, many of the unfortunates despoiled, would say, resignedly: "It's not his fault. What could the poor man do if they forced him to it?
It's those other fellows who are sucking the blood of us poor folks. Thus his property went on increasing, and, with his radiant smile, his spectacles on his forehead and his paunch growing fatter and fatter, he could be seen sur- rounded by new victims, addressing them with the af- fectionate tu, patting them on the back, and vow- ing that this weakness he had for the doing of favors would some day bring him to dying like a dog in the gutter.
Thus he went on prospering. Nor was all the scoffing of city people of any avail in shaking the confidence reposed in him by that flock of rustics, who feared him as they feared the Law Itself and be- lieved In him as they believed In God. In his eyes now, the only peo- ple in Alcira were such as collected thousands of duros, whenever harvest time came around.
The rest were rabble, rabble, sir! Then, at last he resigned the petty offices he had been filling; and handing his usury business over to those who formerly had served him as go-betweens, he set himself to the task of marrying off his son and sole heir, Ramon, an idling ne'er-do-well, who was always getting into trouble and upsetting the tranquil comfort that surrounded old BruU as he rested from his plunderings.
The father felt the satisfaction of a bully in hav- ing such a tall, strong, daring and insolent son, a boy who compelled respect in cafes and clubs more with his fists than with the special privileges con- ferred in small towns by wealth. Let anyone dare make fun of the old usurer when he had such a fire- eater to protect him! Ramon had wanted to join the Army; but every time he referred to what he called his vocation, his father would fly into a rage.
He did not want a boy of his to be shoved about hither and thither like a mere machine. But after all, a slave, a slave! Ramon must be- come a lawyer, the only career for a man destined to rule others. It was a passionate ambition the old pettifogger had, to see his scion enter through the front door and with head proudly erect, the precincts of the law, into which he had crawled so cautiously and at the risk, more than once, of being dragged out with a chain fastened to his ankle.
Ramon spent several years in Valencia without getting beyond the elementary courses In Common Law. The cursed classes were held In the morn- ing, you see, and he had to go to bed at dawn — the hour when the lights in the pool-rooms went out. Besides, in his quarters at the hotel he had a mag- nificent shotgun — a present from his father; and homesickness for the orchards made him pass many an afternoon at the pigeon traps where he was far better known than at the University.
This fine specimen of masculine youth — tall, mus- cular, tanned, with a pair of domineering eyes to which thick eyebrows gave a touch of harshness — had been born for action, and excitement; Ramon simply couldn't concentrate on books! Old BruU, who through niggardliness and pru- dence had placed his son on ''half rations," as he put it, sent the boy just money enough to keep him going; but dupe, in turn, of the wiles he had for- merly practiced on the rustics of Alcira.
Home to Alcira came rumors of other exploits by the "Prince," as don Jaime called his boy in view of the lattcr's ability to run through money. In parties with friends of the family, don Ramon's doings were spoken of as scandalous actually — a duel after a quarrel at cards; then a father and a brother — common workingmen in flannel shirts! Old BruU made up his mind to tolerate these es- capades of his son no longer; and he made him give up his studies.
Ramon would not be a lawyer; well, after all, one didn't have to have a degree to be a man of importance. Besides the father felt he was getting old; it was hard for him to look after the working of his orchards personally. He could make good use of that son who seemed to have been born to impose his will upon everybody around him. For some time past don Jaime had had his eye on the daughter of a friend of his.
The Brull house showed noticeable lack of a woman's presence. His wife had died shortly after his retirement from busi- ness, and the old codger stamped in rage at the slovenliness and laziness displayed by his servants. He would marry Ramon to Bernarda — an ugly, ill- humored, yellowish, skinny creature — but sole heir- ess to her father's three beautiful orchards. Be- sides, she was conspicuous for her industrious, eco- nomical ways, and a parsimony in her expenditures that came pretty close to stinginess.
Brought up with all the ideas of a rural skinflint, he thought no decent person could object to marrying an ugly bad- tempered woman, so long as she had plenty of money. The father-in-law and the daughter-in-law under- stood each other perfectly. The old man's eyes would water at sight of that stern, long-faced puri- tan, who never had much to say in the house, but went into high dudgeon over the slightest waste on the part of the domestics, scolding the farmhands for the merest oversight in the orchards, haggling and wrangling with the orange drummers for a cen- time more or less per hundredweight.
That new daughter of his was to be the solace of his old age! Meantime, the "prince" would be off hunting every morning in the nearby mountains and loung- ing every afternoon in the cafe ; but he was no longer content with the admiration of the idlers hanging around a billiard table, nor was he taking part in the game upstairs. He was frequenting the circles of "serious" people now, had made friends with the alcalde and was talking all the time of the great need for getting all "decent" folk together to take the "rabble" in hand!
That's the way I like to see him. The least objection to his views he regarded as a per- sonal insult; he would transfer debates in session cut into the streets and settle them there with 24 THE TORRENT threats and fisticuffs. His greatest glory was to have his enemies say of him: "Look out for that Ramon. He's a tough proposition. He "did favors," assured a living, that is, to every loafer and bully in town. He was ready to be "touched" by anyone who could serve, in tavern and cafe, as advertising agent of his ris- ing fame.
And he rose rapidly, in fact. The old folks who had pushed him forward with influence and coun- sel soon found themselves left far behind. He got able-bodied men exempted from military service ; he winked at corruption in the city councils that backed him, although the per- petrators deserved to go to prison; he saw to it that the constabulary was not too energetic in running down the roders, the "wanderers," who, for some well-placed shot at election time, would be forced to flee to the mountains.
That scallawag was realiz- ing the old man's dream: the conquest of the city, ruling over men where his father had gotten only money! And, in addition don Jaime lived to see THE TORRENT 25 the perpetuation of the Brull dynasty assured by the birth of a grandson, Rafael, the child of a couple who had never loved each other, but were united only by avarice and ambition.
Old Brull died like a saint. He departed this life with the consolation of all the last sacraments. Every cleric in the city helped to waft his soul heavenward with clouds of incense at the solemn obsequies. And, though the rabble — the political opponents of the son, that is — recalled those Wednesdays long before when the flock from the orchards would come to let itself be fleeced in the old Shylock's office, all safe and sane people — peo- ple who had something in this world to lose — mourned the death of so worthy and industrious a man, a man who had risen from the lowest estate and had finally been able to accumulate a fortune by hard work, honest hard work!
In Rafael's father there still remained much of the wild student who had caused so many tongues to wag in his youthful days. But his doings with peasant girls were hushed up now; fear of the cacique's power stifled all gossip; and since, more- over, affairs with such lowly women cost very little money, dona Bernarda pretended to know nothing about them.
She did not love her husband much. She was leading that narrow, self-centered life of the country woman, who feels that all her duties are ful- filled if she remains faithful to her mate and keeps saving money. By a noteworthy anomaly, she, who was so stingy, so thrifty, ready to start a squabble on the public square in defense of the family money against day- 26 THE TORRENT laborers or middlemen, was tolerance itself toward the lavish expenditures of her husband in maintain- ing his political sovereignty over the region.
Every election opened a new breach in the fam- ily fortune. Don Ramon would receive orders to carry his district for some non-resident, who might not have lived there more than a day or two. So those who governed yonder in Madrid had ordered — and orders must be obeyed.
In every town whole muttons would be set turning over the fires. Tavern wine would flow like water. Debts would be can- celled and fistfulls of pesetas would be distributed among the most recalcitrant, all at don Ramon's expense of course. And his wife, who wore a calico wrapper to save on clothes and stinted so much on food that there was hardly anything left for the servants to eat, would be arrayed in splendor when the day for the contest came around, ready in her excitement to help her husband throw the entire house through the window, if need be.
This, however, was all pure speculation on her part. The money that was being scattered so madly broadcast was a "loan" simply. Already her pierc- ing eyes were caressing the tiny, dark-complexioned, restless little creature that lay across her knees, see- ing in him the privileged heir-apparent who would one day reap the harvest from all such family sacri- fices.
Dona Bernarda had taken refuge in religion as in a cool, refreshing oasis in the desert of vulgarity and monotony in her life. Thanks to him the wave of demagogy halts at the temple door and evil fails to triumph in the District. He is the bul- wark of the Lord against the impious! The lower scum would conquer — those wild-eyed mechanics and common laborers who read the Valencian newspapers and talk about equality all the time.
And they would divide up the orchards, and demand that the product of the harvests — thousands and thousands of dtiros paid for oranges by the Englishmen and the French — should belong to all. The sacks of money filled by the old man at the cost of so much roguery were shaken empty over all the 28 THE TORRENT District ; nor were several assaults upon the munici- pal treasury sufficient to bring them back to normal roundness.
Don Ramon contemplated this squan- dering impassively, proud that people should be talk- ing of his generosity as much as of his power. The whole District worshipped as a sacred flag- staff that bronzed, muscular, massive figure, which floated a huge, flowing, gray-flecked mustache from its upper end.
The patio of the Brull mansion was the throne of his sovereignty. His partisans would find him there, pacing up and down among the green boxes of plan- tain trees, his hands clasped behind his broad, strong, but now somewhat stooping back — a majestic back withal, capable of supporting hosts and hosts of friends.
There he "administered justice," decided the fate of families, settled the affairs of towns — all in a few off-hand but short and decisive words, like one of those ancient Moorish kings who, in that self- same territory, centuries before, legislated for their subjects under the open sky. On market-days the patio would be thronged. Carts would stop in long lines on either side of the door.
Don Ramon would give them all a hearing, frown- ing gravely meanwhile, his chin on his bosom and one hand on the head of the little Rafael at his side — a pose copied from a chromo of the Kaiser petting the Crown Prince. On afternoons when the Ayiintamiento was In ses- sion, the chief could never leave his patio. Of course not a chair In the city hall could be dusted without his permission; but he preferred to remain Invisi- ble, like a god, knowing well that his power would seem more terrible if It spoke only from the pillar of fire or from the whirlwind.
All day long city councilors would go trotting back and forth from the City Hall to the Brull patio. The few enemies don Ramon had in the Council — meddlers, dona Bernarda called them — Idiots who swallowed everything In print provided it were against the King and religion — attacked the cacique persistently, censuring everything he did. Don Ra- mon's henchmen would tremble with impotent rage. Let's see now: somebody go and ask the boss! His companions would gather about him eager to know the reply that don Ramon's wisdom had deigned to suggest; and a quarrel would start then, each one anxious to have the privilege of anni- hilating the enemy with the magic words — all talk- ing at the same time like magpies suddenly set chat- tering by the dawn of a new light.
If the opposition held its ground, again stupefac- tion would come over them. Another mad dash in quest of a new consultation. Thus the sessions would go by, to the great delight of the barber Cupido — the sharpest and meanest tongue in the city — who, whenever the Council met, would observe to his early morning shaves : ''Holiday today: the usual race of councilors bare- back. This collaboration in the upbuilding and the up- holding of the family influence was the single bond of union between husband and wife.
This cold woman, a complete stranger to tenderness, would flush with pleasure every time the chief approved her ideas. If only she were "boss" of "the Party! Don Andres had often said as much himself!
This don Andres was her husband's most intimate friend, one of those men who are born to be second everywhere and in everything. Where don Ramon could not go in person, don Andres would be present for him, as the chief's alter ego. Don Andres had no relatives, and spent almost all his time at the Brull's. He was like a piece of fur- niture that seems always to be getting in the way at first; but when all were once accustomed to him, he became an indispensable fixture in the family.
In the days when don Ramon had been a young subor- dinate of the Ayuntamiento, he had met and liked the man, and taking him into the ranks of his "heel- ers," had promoted him rapidly to be chief of staff. In the opinion of the "boss," there wasn't a cleverer, shrewder fellow in the world than don Andres, nor one with a better memory for names and faces.
Brull was the strategist who directed the campaign; don Andres the tactician who commanded actual operations and cleaned up behind the lines when the enemy was divided and undone. Don Ramon was given to settling everything in a violent manner, and drew his gun at the slightest provocation. If his methods had been followed, "the Party" would have murdered someone every day. Don Andres had a smooth tongue and a seraphic smile that sim- ply wound alcaldes or rebellious electors around his 32 THE TORRENT little finger, and his specialty was the art of letting loose a rain of sealed documents over the District that started complicated and never-ending prose- cutions against troublesome opponents.
He attended to "the chief's" correspondence, and was tutor and playmate to the little Rafael, taking the boy on long walks through the orchard country. To dona Bernarda he was confidential adviser. That surly, severe woman showed her bare heart to no one in the world save don Andres. When- ever he called her his "senora," or his "worthy mis- tress," she could not restrain a gesture of satisfac- tion; and it was to him that she poured out her com- plaints against her husband's misdeeds.
Her affec- tion for him was that of a dame of ancient chivalry for her private squire. Enthusiasm for the glory of the house united them in such intimacy that the opposition wagged its tongues, asserting that dona Bernarda was getting even for her husband's way- wardness. But don Andres, who smiled scornfully when accused of taking advantage of the chief's in- fluence to drive hard bargains to his own advan- tage, was not the man to be trifled with if gossip ventured to smirch his friendship with the senora.
Their Trinity was most closely cemented, how- ever, by their fondness for Rafael, the little tot des- tined to bring fame to the name of BruU and realize the ambitions of both his grandfather and his father. Rafael was a quiet, morose little boy, whose gen- tleness of disposition seemed to irritate the hard- hearted dona Bernarda. He was always hanging on to her skirts. Every time she raised her eyes she would find the little fellow's gaze fixed upon her.
And the little fellow, moody and resigned, would leave the room, as If In obedience to a disagreeable command. Don Andres alone was successful in amusing the child, with his tales and his strolls through the orchards, picking flowers for him, making whistles for him out of reeds. It was don Andres who took him to school, also, and who advertised the boy's fondness for study everywhere. That kid is going to be another Canovas. Never did a Prince of Wales grow up amid the respect and the adulation heaped upon little Brull.
At school, the children regarded him as a superior being who had condescended to come down among them for his education. A well-scribbled sheet, a lesson fluently repeated, wxre enough for the teach- er, who belonged to "the Party" just to collect his wages on time and without trouble, to declare In prophetic tones: You are destined to great things. How brilliant he is! It's bad for him. See how peaked he looks! The Party organ dedicated an annual article to the scho- lastic prodigies of the "gifted son of our distin- guished chief don Ramon Brull, the country's hope, who already merits title as the shining light of the future!
Here's a duro! On certain occasions, playing in the patio, he had surprised the austere old man gazing at him fixedly, as if trying to foresee his future. Don Andres took charge of settling Rafael in Va- lencia when he began his university studies. The dream of old don Jaime, disillusioned in the son, would be fulfilled in the third generation! And lest the corruption of the city should lead the son astray as it had done Ramon in his student days, she would send don Andres frequently to the capital, and write letter after letter to her Valen- cian friends, particularly to a canon of her inti- mate acquaintance, asking them not to lose sight of the boy.
But Rafael was good behavior itself; a model boy, a "serious" young man, the good canon assured the mother. The distinctions and the prizes that came to him in Alcira continued to pursue him in Valencia; and besides, don Ramon and his wife learned from the papers of the triumphs achieved by their son in the debating society, a nightly gathering of law students in a university hall, where future Scions wrangled on such themes as "Resolved: that the French Revolution was more of a good than an evil," or "Resolved, that Socialism is superior to Christianity.
But Rafael, ever sane and a congenital "mod- erate," was not of those fire-brands; he sat on "the Right" of the august assembly of Wranglers, main- taining a "sound" attitude on all questions, thinking what he thought "with" Saint Thomas and "with" other orthodox sages whom his clerical Mentor pointed out to him. These triumphs were announced by telegraph in the Party papers, which, to garnish the chief's glory and avoid suspicion of "inspiration," always began the article with: "According to a despatch printed In the Metropolitan press You'll see; he'll be a second Manterola!
All the rich girls In town will be after him. He'll have his pick of them. Every time the student came home, his father gave him the same silent caress. In course of time the diiro had been replaced by a hundred peseta note; but the rough claw that grazed his head was falling now with an energy ever weaker and seemed to grow lighter with the years. Rafael, from long periods of absence, noted his father's condition better than the rest. The old man was ill, very ill. As tall as ever, as austere and imposing, and as little given to words.
But he was growing thinner. His fierce eyes were sinking deeper into their sockets. There was little left to him now except his massive frame. His neck, once as sturdy as a bull's, showed the tendons and the arteries under the loose, wrinkled skin; and his mustache, once so arrogant, but now withering with each suc- cessive day, drooped dispiritedly like the banner of a defeated army wet with rain.
The boy was surprised at the gestures and tears of anger with which his mother welcomed expression of his fears. Lot's of use he is to us! May the Lord be mer- ciful and take him off right now. Don Ramon, that somber libertine of Insatiable appetites, prey to a sinister, mysterious inebriation, was tossing in a last whirlwind of tempestuous desire, as though the blaze of sunset had set fire to what re- mained of his vitality. May this man die as soon as possible I May all this come to an end soon, oh Lord!
They were the only ones who dared allude to his disorderly life. He had enough strength left for one more caress the day when, escorted by don Andres, Rafael en- tered with his degree as a Doctor of Law. And as if he had been waiting around just to see the realization of old Don Jaime's ambition, which he himself had not been able to fulfill, he passed away. All the bells of the city tolled mournfully. The Party weekly came out with a black border a palm wide; and from all over the District folks came in droves to see whether the powerful don Ramon BruU, who had been able to rain upon the just and unjust alike on this earth, could possibly have died the same as any other human being.
Ill When dona Bernarda found herself alone, and absolute mistress of her home, she could not con- ceal her satisfaction. Now they would see what a woman could do. She counted on the advice and experience of don Andres, who was closer than ever to her now; and on the prestige of Rafael, the young lawyer, who bade fair to sustain the reputation of the Brulls. The power of the family continued unchanged. Don Andres, who, at the death of his master, had succeeded to the authority of a second father In the Brull house, saw to the maintenance of relations with the authorities at the provincial capital and with the still bigger fish In Madrid.
Petitions were heard in the patio the same as ever. Loyal party adher- ents were received as cordially as before and the same favors were done, nor was there any decline of influence in places that don Andres referred to as "the spheres of public administration.
Don Ramon had left the party machine in perfect condition; all it needed was enough "grease" to keep It running smoothly; and there his widow was besides, ever alert at the slightest suggestion of a creak in the gearing. Brull's son Is as powerful as the old man himself. He confined his personal activities to obey- ing his mother.
Our friends there will be happy to see you. Instead of going out for a ride, spend your after- noon at the Club! They would sit around, filling their coflee-saucers with cigar-ash, disputing as to which was the better orator, Castelar or Canovas, and, in case of a war between France and Germany, which of the two would win — Idle subjects that always provoked disagreements and led to quarrels. The only time he entered Into voluntary relations with "the Party" was when he took his pen in hand and manufactured for the Brull weekly a series of articles on "Law and Morality" and "Liberty and Faith," — the rehashings of a faithful, industrious plodder at school, prolix commonplaces seasoned with what metaphysical terminology he remembered, and which, from the very reason that nobody under 42 THE TORRENT Stood them, excited the admiration of his fellow partisans.
They would blink at the articles and say to don Andres: "What a pen, eh? Just let anyone dare to argue with him. Deep, that noodle, I tell you! They broke the mould In which the friends of his mother had cast his mind and made him dream of a broader life than the one known to those about him.
French novels transported him to a Paris that far outshone the Madrid he had known for a moment in his graduate days. Love stories awoke in his youth- ful Imagination an ardor for adventure and in- volved passions In which there was something of the intense love of Indulgence that had been his father's besetting sin.
He came to dwell more and more in the fictitious world of his readings, where there were elegant, perfumed, clever women, prac- ticing a certain art In the refinement of their vices. The young ladies of the city seemed to him peasants in disguise, with the narrow, selfish, stingy instincts of their parents. They knew the exact market price of oranges and just how much land was owned by each aspirant to their hand; and they adjusted their love to the wealth of the pretender, believing It the test of quality to appear implacable toward every- thing not fashioned to the mould of their petty life of prejudice and tradition.
For that reason he was deeply bored by his color- less, humdrum existence, so far removed from that other purely imaginative life which rose from the pages of his books and enveloped him with an exotic, exciting perfume. Some day he would be free, and take flight on his own wings; and that day of liberation would come when he got to be deputy. He waited for his com- ing of age much as an heir-apparent waits for the moment of his coronation.
From early boyhood he had been taught to look forward to the great event which would cut his life in two, opening out new pathways for a ''forward march" to fame and fortune. And he'll marry a mil- lionairess! He was like those noble youngsters of bygone centuries who, graced In their cradles by the rank of colonel from the monarch, played around with hoop and top till they were old enough to join their regiments.
He had been born a deputy, and a deputy he was sure to be : for the moment, he was waiting for his cue in the wings of the theatre of life. His trip to Italy on a pilgrimage to see the Pope was the one event that had disturbed the dreary course of his existence. But in that country of mar- vels, with a pious canon for a guide, he visited churches rather than museums.
Of theatres he saw only two — larks permitted by his tutor, whose aus- terity was somewhat mollified In those changing scenes. Indifferently they passed the famous artistic works of the Italian churches, but paused always to venerate some relic with miracles as famous as ab- surd. Even so, Rafael managed to catch a con- fused and passing glimpse of a world different from the one in which he was predestined to pass his life.
From a distance he sensed something of the love of pleasure and romance he had drunk in like an Intoxi- cating wine from his reading. In Milan he admired a gilded, adventurous bohemia of opera; in Rome, the splendor of a refined, artistic aristocracy In per- petual rivalry with that of Paris and London; and In Florence, an English nobility that had come in quest of sunlight and a chance to air Its straw hats, show off the fair hair of its ladies, and chatter Its own language In gardens where once upon a time the somber Dante dreamed and Boccaccio told his merry tales to drive fear of plague away.
That journey, of impressions as rapid and as THE TORRENT 45 fleeting as a reel of moving-pictures, leaving in Rafael's mind a maze of names, buildings, paintings and cities, served to give greater breadth to his thinking, as well as added stimulus to his imagina- tion. Wider still became the gulf that separated him from the people and ideas he met in his com- mon everyday life. He felt a longing for the extra- ordinary, for the original, for the adventuresome- ness of artistic youth; and political master of a county, heir of a feudal dominion virtually, he never- theless would read the name of any writer or painter whatsoever with the superstitious respect of a rustic churl.
What would he not give to be a bohemian like the personages he met in the books of Murger, member of a merry band of "intellec- tuals," leading a life of joy and proud devotion to higher things in a bourgeois age that knew only thirst for money and prejudice of class! Talent for saying pretty things, for writing winged verses that soared like larks to heaven!
A garret underneath the roof, off there in Paris, in the Latin Quarter! A Mimi poor but spiritual, who would love him, and — between one kiss and another — be able to dis- cuss — not the price of oranges, like the girls who followed him with tender eyes at home — but serious "elevated" things! In exchange for all that he would gladly have given his future deputyship and all the orchards he had inherited, which, though en- cumbered by mortgages not to mention moral debts 46 THE TORRENT left by the rascality of his father and grandfather — still would bring him a tidy annuity for realizing his bohemian dreams.
Such preoccupations made life as a party leader, tied down to the petty interests of a constituency, quite unthinkable! At the risk of angering his mother, he fled the Club, to court the solitude of the hills and fields. There his imagination could range in greater freedom, peopling the roads, the meadows, the orange groves with creatures of his fancy, often conversing aloud with the heroines of some "grand passion," carried on along the lines laid down by the latest novel he had read.
One afternoon toward the close of summer Rafael climbed the little mountain of San Salvador, which lies close to the city. From the eminence he was fond of looking out over the vast domains of his family. For all the inhabitants of that fertile plain were — as don Andres said whenever he wished to emphasize the party's greatness — like so many cattle branded with the name of Brull.
As he went up the winding, stony trail, Rafael thought of the mountains of Assisi, which he had visited with his friend the canon, a great admirer of the Saint of Umbria. It was a landscape that suggested asceticism.
Crags of bluish or reddish rock lined the roadway on either side, with pines and cypresses rising from the hollows, and extending black, winding, snaky roots out over the fallow soil. At intervals, white shrines with tiny roofs harbored mosaics of glazed tiles depicting the Stations on the Via Dolorosa. The pointed green caps of the cy- presses, as they waved, seemed bent on frightening away the white butterflies that were fluttering about THE TORRENT 47 over the rosemary and the nettles.
Reaching the little square In front of the Hermi- tage, he rested from the ascent, stretching out full length on the crescent of rubblcwork that formed a bench near the sanctuary. There silence reigned, the silence of high hill-tops. From below, the noises of the restless life and labor of the plain came weakened, softened, by the wind, like the murmuring of waves breaking on a distant shore.
Among the prickly-pears that grew In close thicket behind the bench, Insects were buzzing about, shining In the sun like buds of gold. Some hens, belonging to the Hermitage, were pecking away In one corner of the square, clucking, and dusting their feathers in the gravel. Rafael surrendered to the charm of the exquisite scene. With reason had It been called "Paradise" by Its ancient owners. Behind the Hermitage all the lower rihera stretched, one expanse of rice-fields drowned under an artificial flood; then, Sueca and Cullera, their white houses perched on those fecund lagoons like towns in landscapes of India; then, Albufera, with its lake, a sheet of silver glistening in the sunlight; then, Valencia, like a cloud of smoke drifting along the base of a mountain range of hazy blue; and, at last, in the background, the halo, as it were, of this apotheosis of light and color, the Mediterranean — the palpitant azure Gulf bounded by the cape of San Antonio and the peaks of Sagunto and Alme- nara, that jutted up against the sky-line like the black fins of giant whales.
As Rafael looked down upon the towers of the crumbling convent of La Murta, almost hidden in its pine-groves, he thought of all the tragedy of the Reconquest; and almost mourned the fate of those farmer-warriors whose white cloaks he could imagine as still floating among the groves of those magic trees of Asia's paradise.
It was the influence of the Moor in his Spanish ancestry. He pictured to himself the tiny kingdoms of those old walls ; vassal districts very like the one his fam- ily ruled. But instead of resting on influence, bribery, intimidation, and the abuse of law, they lived by the lances of horsemen as apt at tiUing the soil as at capering in tournaments with an elegance never equalled by any chevaliers of the North.
He could see the court of Valencia, with the romantic gardens of Ruzafa, where poets sang mournful strophes over the wane of the Valencian Moor, while beautiful maidens listened from behind the blossom- ing rose-bushes. And then the catastrophe came. In a torrent of steel, barbarians swept down from the arid hills of Aragon to appease their hunger in the bounty of the plain — the almogdvares — naked, wild, bloodthirsty savages, who never washed.
And as allies of this horde, bankrupt Christian noblemen, their worn-out lands mortgaged to the Israelite, but good cavalrymen, withal, armored, and with dragon- wings on their helmets; and among the Christians, adventurers of various tongues, soldiers of fortune out for plunder and booty in the name of the Cross — the "black sheep" of every Christian family.
And they seized the great garden of Valencia, installed themselves in the Moorish palaces, called themselves counts and marquises, and with their swords held that privileged country for the King of Aragon, while the conquered Saracens continued to fertilize it with their toil. And Rafael could see, passing like phantoms before his eyes, leaning forward on the necks of small, sleek, sinewy horses, that seemed to fly over the ground, their legs horizontal, their nostrils belching smoke, the Moors, the real people of Valencia, conquered, degenerated by the very abundance of their soil, abandoning their gardens before the onrush of brutal, primitive invaders, speeding on their way toward the unending night of African barbarism.
At this eternal exile of the first Valencians who left to oblivion and decay a civilization, the last vestiges of which today survive in the universities of Fez, Rafael felt the sorrow he would have experienced had it all been a disaster to his family or his party. While he was thinking of all these dead things, life in its feverish agitation surrounded him.
A cloud of sparrows was darting about the roof of the Hermitage. On the mountain side a flock of dark- fleeced sheep was grazing; and when any of them discovered a blade of grass among the rocks, they would begin calling to one another with a melan- choly bleating. Rafael could hear the voices of some women who seemed to be climbing the road, and from his reclin- ing position he finally made out two parasols that were gradually rising to view over the edge of his bench.
One was of flaming red silk, skilfully em- broidered and suggesting the filigreed dome of a mosque; the second, of flowered calico, was appar- ently keeping at a respectful distance behind the first. Two women entered the little square, and as THE TORRENT 51 Rafael sat up and removed his hat, the taller, who seemed to be the mistress, acknowledged his cour- tesy with a slight bow, went on to the other end of the esplanade, and stood, with her back turned to- ward him.
The other sat down some distance off, breathing laboriously from the exertion of the climb. Who were those women? Rafael knew the whole city, and had never seen them. The one seated near him was doubtless the serv- ant of the other — her maid or her companion.
She was dressed in black, simply but with a certain charm, like the French soubrettes he had seen in illustrated novels. But rustic origin and lack of cultivation were evident from the stains on the backs of her unshapely hands; from her broad, flat, finger-nails; and from her large ungainly feet, quite out of har- mony with the pair of stylish boots she was wearing — cast-off articles, doubtless, of the lady.
She was pretty, nevertheless, with a fresh exuberance of youth. Her large, gray, credulous eyes were those of a stupid but playful lamb; her hair, straight, and a very light blond, hung loosely here and there over a freckled face, dark with sunburn. She handled her closed parasol somewhat awkwardly and kept looking anxiously at the doubled gold chain that drooped from her neck to her waist, as if to reas- sure herself that a gift long-coveted had not been lost.
Rafael's interest drifted to the lady. His eyes rested on the back of a head of tightly-gathered golden hair, as luminous as a burnished helmet; on a white neck, plump, rounded; on a pair of broad, lithe shoulders, hidden under a blue silk blouse, the 52 THE TORRENT lines tapering rapidly, gracefully toward the waist; on a gray skirt, finally, falling in harmonious folds like the draping of a statue, and under the hem the solid heels of two shoes of English style encasing feet that must have been as agile and as strong as they were tiny.
The lady called to her maid in a voice that was sonorous, vibrant, velvety, though Rafael could catch only the accented syllables of her words, that seemed to melt together in the melodious silence of the mountain top. The young man was sure she had not spoken Spanish. A foreigner, almost cer- tainly!
She was expressing admiration and enthusiasm for the view, talking rapidly, pointing out the prin- cipal towns that could be seen, calling them by their names, — the only words that Rafael could make out clearly. Perhaps the wife of one of the French or English orange-dealers established in the city! Meanwhile his eyes were devouring that superb, that opulent, that elegant beauty which seemed to be challenging him with its indifference to his presence.
The keeper of the Hermitage issued cautiously from the house — a peasant who made his living from visitors to the heights. Attracted by the promis- ing appearance of the strange lady, the hermit came forward to greet her, offering to fetch water from the cistern, and to unveil the image of the miraculous virgin, in her honor.
She was tall, ever so tall, as tall as he perhaps. But the Impression her height of stature made was softened by a grace of figure that revealed strength allied to elegance. A hot mist of emotion seemed to cloud his vision as he looked into her large eyes, so green, so luminous!
The golden hair fell forward upon a forehead of pearly whiteness, veined at the temples with delicate lines of blue. Viewed in profile her gracefully moulded nose, quiv- ering with vitality at the nostrils, filled out a beauty that was distinctly modern, piquantly charming.
In those lineaments, Rafael thought he could recognize any number of famous actresses. He had seen her before. He did not know. Perhaps In some Illustrated weekly! Perhaps In some album of stage celebrities! Or maybe on the cover of some match-box — a common medium of publicity for famous European belles. Of one thing he was cer- tain : at sight of that wonderful face he felt as though he were meeting an old friend after a long absence.
The recluse, in hopes of a perquisite, led the two women toward the door of the hermitage, where his wife and daughter had appeared, to feast their eyes on the huge diamonds sparkling at the ears of the strange lady. She came here alone all the way from Majorca. People down In Palma claim they have the real Virgin. But what can they say for themselves? At the rear, on a baroque altar of tarnished gold, stood the little statue with Its hollow cloak and its black face.
Rapidly, by rote almost, the good man recited the history of the image. The Virgin del Lluch was the patroness of Majorca. A hermit had been com- pelled to flee from there, for a reason no one had been able to discover — perhaps to get away from some Saracen girl of those exciting, war-like days! And to rescue the Virgin from profanation he brought her to Alclra, and built this sanctuary for her. Later people from Majorca came to return her to their Island.
But the celestial lady had taken a liking to Alclra and Its Inhabitants. Over the water, and without even wetting her feet, she came gliding back. Then the Majorcans, to keep what had happened quiet, counterfeited a new statue that looked just like the first. All this was gospel truth, and as proof, there lay the original hermit buried at the foot of the altar; and there was the Virgin, too, her face blackened by the sun and the salt wind on her miraculous voyage over the sea.
The beautiful lady smiled slightly, as she listened. The maid was all ears, not to lose a word of a lan- guage she but half understood, her credulous peasant eyes traveling from the Virgin to the hermit and fram the hermit to the Virgin, plainly expressing the wonder she was feeling at such a portentous miracle.
Rafael had followed the party Into the shrine and taken a position near the fascinating stranger. She, however, pretended not to see him. If the story has been handed down so long, there must be some- thing to it. It was a poorly clad orchard worker, young, it seemed, but with a face pale, and as rough as wrinkled paper, all the crevices and hollows of her cranium showing, her eyes sunken and dull, her unkempt hair escaping from beneath her knotted kerchief.
She was barefoot, carrying her shoes in her hand. She stood with her legs wide apart, as if in an effort to keep her balance. She seemed to feel intense pain whenever she stepped upon the ground. Illness and poverty were written on every feature of her person.
The recluse knew her well; and as the unfortunate creature, panting with the effort of the climb, sank upon a little bench to rest her feet, he told her story briefly to the visitors. She was ill, very, very ill. With no faith in doctors, who, according to her, "treated her with nothing but words"; she believed that the Virgin del IJuch would ultimately cure her. And, though at home she could scarcely move from her chair and was always being scolded by her husband for neglect- ing the housework, every week she would climb the 56 THE TORRENT Steep mountain-side, barefoot, her shoes in her hand.
The hermit approached the sick woman, accept- ing a copper coin she offered. A few couplets to the Virgin, as usual, he supposed! And his daughter came into the chapel — a dirty, dark-skinned creature with African eyes, who might just have escaped from a gipsy band. She took a seat upon a bench, turning her back upon the Virgin with the bored ill-humored expres- sion of a person compelled to do a dull task day after day; and in a hoarse, harsh, almost frantic voice, which echoed deafeningly in that small en- closure, she began a drawling chant that rehearsed the story of the statue and the portentous miracles it had wrought.
The sick woman, kneeling before the altar with- out releasing her hold upon her shoes, the heels of her feet, which were bruised and bleeding from the stones, showing from under her skirts, repeated a refrain at the end of each stanza, imploring the pro- tection of the Virgin. Her voice had a weak and hollow sound, like the wail of a child.
Her sunken eyes, misty with tears, were fixed upon the Virgin with a dolorous expression of supplication. Her words came more tremulous and more distant at each couplet. The beautiful stranger was plainly affected at the pitiful sight. Her maid had knelt and was follow- ing the sing-song rhythm of the chant, with prayers In a language that Rafael recognized at last. It was Italian. But he ransacked his memory in vain. That charming woman had filled his mind with thoughts far other than quotations from the Fathers!
The couplets to the Virgin came to an end. With the last stanza the wild singer disappeared; and the sick woman, after several abortive efforts, rose pain- fully to her feet. But, what to do with the problem about torrent sites going down? Well, for this issue, you need to know most powerful torrent sites which have potential to stand against all the internet laws and also keep track of new torrent sites being launched.
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