Margaret Sanger, "Portet and Ferrer, Part 3," Feb 1917.
Portet got to Paris and was naturally anxious to find Ferrer had not been among the few who had escaped. No news could be had of him. For two weeks his friends in Paris waited and searched in the hopes of a word, but nothing came. They knew he had not been arrested, or the Spanish Government would have shouted it from the housetops, and they knew he must be in Spain. They set to work to try to find him. As it was dangerous for Portet or any Spaniard to return to Spain at that time, they sent another comrade to inquire of personal friends of his whereabouts, so that they could set about to further his escape, but the day before the comrade arrived in Spain, all of Ferrer's family and relatives had been arrested and exiled. Ferrer's brother and wife and child, his companion and companion's sister and brother, his Manager and office assistant,--all had been exiled and were out of reach of communication. The comrade had to return to Paris without the faintest hope for Ferrer's friends to help his escape.
What happened to Ferrer during those two weeks, knowing that those he loved had been arrested, and hearing constantly, night and day, the police in the same room with him, it is needless to imagine. What agonies he must have endured! Two weeks later, September 1st, he was arrested at 2 a.m., when he was about two miles from his home on his way to the railway station, taking a chance on getting into France.
I shall not go into details about the farce called a trial. All who followed the proceedings know that Government had no intention of having a trial. His death was simply the execution of a plot of both church and State, which had failed at the first trial. The shot which was aimed at libertarian education hit Ferrer. Ferrer is dead, but libertarian education has lived... even in Spain.
When the death sentence was pronounced on Ferrer, he began at once to prepare for the future growth of his ideas, and the work he began to do. He spent the last night with an attorney preparing his will and giving instructions to those whom he requested to carry on his work. He left the publishing and educational part to Lorenzo Portet unconditionally, so great was his confidence in Portet's friendship and ideals.
He was shot at sunrise on October 13th, 1909, in the trenches of Montjuich [Castle] . His last request was to be shot with unbandaged eyes and standing. He was not made to kneel down, but his eyes were covered!
Over his picture in the "Casse Editorial" are the words: " Frangar non flectar ", (He could be broken, but he could not be bent).
When word came that Ferrer had been executed, the sound of that shot was heard throughout the world, and the eyes of every civilized country were centered upon Spain.
Portet was at that time residing in Liverpool, and, grief-stricken man though he was, he hastened to Paris to consult with the friends of Ferrer on what action was to be taken. The story is told that before he left his home on that memorable day, he called his eldest son to his side in true Spanish fashion, and requested the lad to promise him on the love of his mother, that he would always remember that the Spanish Government and the Catholic Church had that morning assassinated the best friend of his father.
In France the news had not been received for many hours after it was circulated in England. Paris was again aflame. Thousands of people marched through the streets carrying banners, censuring in no uncertain words the action of the Spanish Authorities. The Spanish Embassy was again attacked, while in London similar demonstrations were held, as well as in Brussels, Rome and Milan. Portet went to Barcelona to remove the body of Ferrer to Paris, but no information could be had of where it had been buried. It was several weeks before actual knowledge was obtained and then its removal was made impossible by a strict law, prohibiting removal for five years. The Spanish Authorities, with all their graft and ignorance and cruelty, are, at least, not stupid!
Portet then began the fight for the books and equipment of the Modern School, and publishing plant which Ferrer in his last hour had bequeathed him. For two years the fight went on and no doubt would have been endless, had not Portet sent word to those responsible for the withholding of them, that he would await their final answer on that day! Without further ado, he was given the keys of the place where the equipment was stored, and allowed to continue the work where Ferrer had left it.
Portet is what we Americans call a "hard-headed business man", which quality to us does not seem at all ideal, but to the Spaniard, who has it so rarely, it seems like a stroke of genius. He is a man of middle height and weight, with the stodginess of the Catalan and the dignity of the Spaniard. There is an alertness about his glance which sums one up with an accuracy which is not always pleasant. At the same time, one does not feel there is that suspicion about him which so many of the European comrades show to a stranger. Rather is Portet's judgement almost instinct, and is unchangeable. He is a born teacher and a natural protestor; a spirit which flames in protest at every injustice he meets. I wondered often how he had the strength to continue these disturbing events, but he seems to thrive and strengthen on protesting diet.
Whenever he steps on Spanish soil, he is at once followed by one or two "shadow-men". One gets to know them, so simple and naive are they in this occupation. They sit in a cafe across from the Hotel where Portet stops while in Barcelona, and wait for his coming. Upon his appearance they doff their hats with a polite "Buenos dias, Senor!" and calmly walk behind him.
On several occasions we found them most convenient as guides. Once my hat blew off and seemed hopelessly lost, but the watchful "shadow-man" scampered off and returned with it, bowing most courteously. On another occasion, one of them came breathlessly up to us where we sat outside a cafe (indulging in a glass of vermouth with which are served in Spain most delicious olives stuffed with herrings), showing his revolver underneath his coat and told us we could well be happy, that we still had possession of our watches, money, etc. Then he related the exciting story of three young thieves who had been on the watch for us, knowing we were visitors, had followed us about from the hotels since morning and were just arranging the finishing touches of their plot to hold us up, when we were to come out of the cafe, as the "shadow-man" discovered them and arrested the three of them.
He described most graphically the size and shape of the long knives they carried, until my flesh began to creep and shivers ran up and down my back-bone.
After that incident I felt they were rather useful dogs, and had a secret sense of protection when I saw them tagging behind us.
There is much one can say of Portet, but his humourous cynicism is most baffling to persons professing ideals. "Civilization?" he would say, "Mainly a question of good roads." He is a good linguist, speaking fluently four languages. He had taught Spanish at the Commercial College at Liverpool up to the time of Ferrer's death. Since then he has given his time exclusively to the carrying forward of the work of Ferrer. He feels he is a long way even from the beginning of the goal he would attain. But I feel certain, if its attainment depends upon courage, foresight and the will to do, then the Modern School will continue to grow and scatter its ideas broadcast; for only through its teachings will it be possible to bring about the regeneration of Spain.
MARGARET H. SANGER.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project