that of so many others, and his luck had changed when, in a situation somewhere between chance and fortune-hunting, Mauricio Valls, until then enamoured only of his own prodigious talent and exquisite refinement, wedded the daughter of a tycoon whose far-reaching enterprises supported much of General Franco’s budget and his troops.
The bride, eight years his senior, had been confined to a wheelchair since the age of thirteen, consumed by a congenital illness that mercilessly devoured her muscles and her life. No man had ever looked into her eyes or held her hand to tell her she was beautiful and ask what her name was. Mauricio, who like all untalented men of letters was, deep down, as practical as he was conceited, was the first and last to do so, and a year later the couple married in Seville, with General Queipo de Llano and other luminaries of the state apparatus in attendance.
‘Valls, you’ll go far,’ Serrano Súñer himself predicted during a private audience in Madrid to which Valls had gone to plead for the post of director of the National Library.
‘Spain is living through difficult moments and every well-born Spaniard must put his shoulder to the wheel and help contain the hordes of Marxists attempting to corrupt our spiritual resolve,’ the Caudillo’s brother-in-law announced, looking resplendent in his pantomime-admiral’s uniform.
‘You can count on me, Your Excellency,’ Valls offered. ‘For whatever is needed.’
‘Whatever is needed’ turned out to be the post of director, not of the wondrous National Library in Madrid as he would have wished, but of a prison with a dismal reputation, perched on a clifftop overlooking the city of Barcelona. The list of close friends and protégés requiring plum posts was exceedingly lengthy and Valls, despite all his endeavours, only made the bottom third of the queue.
‘Be patient, Valls. Your efforts will be rewarded.’
That is how Mauricio Valls learned his first lesson in the complex national art of elbowing ahead after any change of regime: thousands of supporters had joined the ranks and the competition was fierce.
That, at least, was the story. This unconfirmed catalogue of suspicions, accusations and third-hand rumours reached the ears of the prisoners – and of whoever would listen – thanks to the shady machinations of the previous governor. He had been unceremoniously removed from office after only two weeks in charge and was poisoned with resentment against that upstart Valls, who had robbed him of the post he’d been fighting for throughout the entire war. As luck would have it, the outgoing governor had no family connections and carried with him the fateful precedent of having been caught, when inebriated, uttering humorous asides about the Generalissimo of all Spains and his remarkable likeness to Dopey. Before being installed as deputy governor of a Ceuta prison he had put all his efforts into badmouthing Don Mauricio Valls to the four winds.
What was uncontested was that nobody could refer to Valls by any name other than ‘the governor’. The official version, which he himself put about and authorised, was that he, Don Mauricio, was a man of letters, of recognised achievement and cultured intellect, blessed with a fine erudition acquired during the years he’d studied in Paris. Beyond his temporary position in the penitentiary sector of the regime, his future and his mission lay in educating the ordinary people of a decimated Spain, teaching them how to think with the help of a select circle of sympathisers.
His lectures often included lengthy quotes from his own writings, poems or educational articles which he published regularly in the national press on literature, philosophy and the much needed renaissance of thought in the Western world. If the prisoners applauded enthusiastically at the end of these masterly sessions, the governor would make a magnanimous gesture and order the jailers to give out cigarettes, candles or
David Drake, S.M. Stirling