The people of the Primacy always received with obstinate silence the slightest allusion to the reigning prelate. It was a traditional custom in the Claverias, and Gabriel remembered to have noticed the same in his childhood.
If they spoke of the preceding archbishop, these people, so used to grumbling, like all those who live in solitude, would loose their tongues and comment on his history and his defects. There was nothing to fear from a dead prelate, and besides, it was an indirect praise to the living archbishop and his favourites to speak ill of the defunct. But if during the conversation the name of His reigning Eminence arose, they were all silent, raising their hands to their caps to salute, as though the prince of the church were able to see them from the neighbouring palace.
Gabriel, listening to his companions of the upper cloister, remembered the funeral judgment of the Egyptians. In the Primacy no one dared to speak the truth about the prelates, or to discuss their faults till death had taken possession of them.
The most that they dared to do was to comment on the disagreements among the canons, to compare their lists of those who saluted one another in the choir, or who glared at one another between versicle and antiphon like mad dogs ready to fly at one another, or to speak with wonder about a certain polemic discussed by the Doctoral and the Obrero in the Catholic papers in Madrid, which had lasted for three years, as to whether the deluge was partial or universal; answering each other’s articles with an interval of four months.
A group of friends had collected round Gabriel. They sought him, feeling the necessity of his presence, experiencing that attraction exercised by those who are born to be leaders of men even though they remain silent. In the evenings they would meet in the dwelling of the bell-ringer, or when it was fine weather they would go out into the gallery above the Puerta del Perdon. In the mornings the assembly would be in the house of the shoemaker who mended the giants, a yellow little man, who suffered from continual pains in his head, which obliged him to wear sundry coloured handkerchiefs tied round his head in the fashion of a turban.