Heinemann's International Library
Edited by Edmund Gosse
ARMANDO PALACIO VALDES
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Heinemann's International Library.
Edited by EDMUND GOSSE.
Crown 8vo, in paper covers, 2s. 6d., or cloth limp, 3s. 6d.
1. IN GOD'S WAY. From the Norwegian of BJORNSTJERNE BJORNSON
2. PIERRE AND JEAN. From the French of GUY DE MAUPASSANT.
3. THE CHIEF JUSTICE. From the German of KARL EMIL FRANZOS.
4. WORK WHILE YE HAVE THE LIGHT. From the Russian of COUNT LYOF TOLSTOI.
5. FANTASY. From the Italian of MATILDE SERAO.
6. FROTH. From the Spanish of DON ARMANDO PALACIO VALDES.
7. FOOTSTEPS OF FATE. From the Dutch of LOUIS COUPERUS.
8. PEPITA JIMENEZ. From the Spanish of JUAN VALERA.
9. THE COMMODORE'S DAUGHTERS. From the Norwegian of JONAS LIE.
10. THE HERITAGE OF THE KURTS. From the Norwegian of BJORNSTJERNE BJORNSON.
11. LOU. From the German of BARON VON ROBERTS.
12. DONA LUZ. From the Spanish of JUAN VALERA.
13. THE JEW. From the Polish of JOSEPH I. KRASZEWSKI.
14. UNDER THE YOKE. From the Bulgarian of IVAN VAZOFF.
15. FAREWELL LOVE! From the Italian of MATILDE SERAO.
16. THE GRANDEE. From the Spanish of DON ARMANDO PALACIO VALDES.
A COMMON STORY. From the Russian of GONCHAROF.
NIOBE. From the Norwegian of JONAS LIE.
Each Volume contains a specially written Introduction by the Editor.
LONDON: W. HEINEMANN, 21 BEDFORD ST., W.C.
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ARMANDO PALACIO VALDES
Translated from the Spanish by Rachel Challice
London William Heinemann 1894
[All rights reserved]
According to the Spanish critics, the novel has flourished in Spain during only two epochs—the golden age of Cervantes and the period in which we are still living. That unbroken line of romance-writing which has existed for so long a time in France and in England, is not to be looked for in the Peninsula. The novel in Spain is a re-creation of our own days; but it has made, since the middle of the nineteenth century, two or three fresh starts. The first modern Spanish novelists were what are called the walter-scottistas, although they were inspired as much by George Sand as by the author of Waverley. These writers were of a romantic order, and Fernan Caballero, whose earliest novel dates from 1849, was at their head. The Revolution of September, 1868, marked an advance in Spanish fiction, and Valera came forward as the leader of a more national and more healthily vitalised species of imaginative work. The pure and exquisite style of Valera is, doubtless, only to be appreciated by a Castilian. Something of its charm may be divined, however, even in the English translation of his masterpiece, Pepita Jimenez. The mystical and aristocratic genius of Valera appealed to a small audience; he has confided to the world that when all were praising but few were buying his books.
Far greater fecundity and a more directly successful appeal to the public, were, somewhat later, the characteristics of Perez y Galdos, whose vigorous novels, spoiled a little for a foreign reader by their didactic diffuseness, are well-known in this country. In the hands of Galdos, a further step was taken by Spanish fiction towards the rejection of romantic optimism and the adoption of a modified realism. In Pereda, so the Spanish critics tell us, a still more valiant champion of naturalism was found, whose studies of local manners in the province of Santander recall to mind the paintings of Teniers. About 1875 was the date when the struggle commenced in good earnest between the schools of romanticism and realism. In 1881 Galdos definitely joined the ranks of the realists with his La Desheredada. An eminent Spanish writer, Emilio Pardo Bazan, thus described the position some six years ago: "It is true that the battle is not a noisy one, and excites no great warlike ardour. The question is not taken up amongst us with the same heat as in France, and this from several causes. In the first place, the idealists with us do not walk in the clouds so much as they do in France, nor do the realists load their palette so heavily. Neither school exaggerates in order to distinguish itself from the other. Perhaps our public is indifferent to literature, especially to printed literature, for what is represented on the stage produces more impression."
This indifference of the Spanish reading public, which has led a living novelist to declare that a person of good position in Madrid would rather spend his money on fireworks or on oranges than on a book, has at length been in a measure dissipated by a writer who is not merely admired and distinguished, but positively popular, and who, without sacrificing style, has conquered the unwilling Spanish public. This is Armando Palacio Valdes, who was born on the 4th of October 1853, in a hamlet in the mountains of Asturias, called Entralgo, where his family possessed a country-house. The family spent only the summer there; the remainder of the year they passed in Aviles, the maritime town which Valdes describes under the name of Nieva in his novel Marta y Maria. He began his education at Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. From this city he went, in 1870, up to Madrid to study the law as a profession. But even in the lawyer's office, his dream was to become a man of letters. His ambition took the form of obtaining at some university a chair of political economy, to which science he had, or fancied himself to have, at that time a great proclivity.
Before terminating his legal studies, the young man published several articles in the Revista Europea on philosophical and religious questions. These articles attracted the attention of the proprietor of that review, and Valdes presently joined the staff. In 1874 he became editor. He was at the head of the Revista Europea, at that time the most important periodical in Spain from a scientific point of view, for several years. During that time he published the main part of those articles of literary criticism, particularly on contemporary poets and novelists, which have since been collected in several volumes—Los Oradores del Ateneo, ("The Orators of the Athenaeum"); Los Novelistas Espanoles ("The Spanish Novelists"); Un Nuevo Viaje al Parnaso ("A New Journey to Parnassus"), sketches of the living poets of Spain; and, in particular, a very bright collection of review articles published in conjunction with Leopoldo Alas, La Literatura en 1881 ("Spanish Literature in 1881"). These gave Valdes a foremost rank among the critics of the day. He wrote no more criticism, or very little; he determined to place himself amongst those whose creative work demands the careful consideration of the best judges.
Soon after he took the direction of the Revista, Valdes wrote his first novel, El Senorito Octavio, which was not published until 1881. In 1883 he brought out his Marta y Maria, a book which, I know not why, is called "The Marquis of Penalta" in its English version. This novel enjoyed an extraordinary success, and had more of the graphic and sprightly manner by which Valdes has since been distinguished, than the books which immediately followed it. Spanish critics, indeed, remembering the wonderful freshness of Marta y Maria, still often speak of it as the best of Valdes' stories. In this same year, 1883, he married, at the seaside town of Gijon, in Asturias, on the day when he completed his thirty years, a young lady of sixteen. His marriage was a honeymoon of a year and a half, of which El Idilio de un Enfermo ("The Idyll of an Invalid"), a short novel of 1884, portrays the earlier portion. His wife died early in 1885, leaving him with an infant son to be, as he says, "my allusion and my fascination." His subsequent career has been laborious and systematic. He has published one novel almost every year. In 1885 it was Jose, a shorter tale of sea-faring life on the stormy coast of the author's native province. About the same time appeared a collection of short stories, called Aguas Fuertes ("Strong Waters").
It was not until 1886, however, that Valdes began to rank among the foremost novelists of Europe. In that year he published his great story, Riverita, one of the characters in which, a charming child, became the heroine of his next book, Maximina, 1887. Of this character he writes to me: "My Maximina in these two books is but a pale reflection of that being from whom Providence parted me before she was eighteen years of age. In these novels I have painted a great part of my life." A Sevillian novice, who has helped to care for Maximina in Madrid, reigns supreme in a succeeding novel, La Hermana San Sulpicio ("Sister San Sulpicio"), 1889. But between these two last there comes a massive novel, describing the adventures of a journalist who founds a newspaper in the provincial town of Sarrio, by which Gijon seems to be intended. This book is called El Cuarto Poder ("The Fourth Power"), and was published in 1888. To these, in 1891, was added La Espuma ("Froth"), of which a translation has already appeared in the "International Library." In 1892 Valdes published La Fe ("Faith").
In La Espuma, his best-known novel, Valdes reverted from those country scenes and those streets of provincial cities which he had hitherto loved best to paint, and gave us a sternly satiric picture of the frothy surface of fashionable life in Madrid. From the illusions of the poor, pathetic and often beautiful, he turned to the ugly cynicism of the wealthy. With his passion for honesty and simplicity, his heart burned within him at the parade and hollowness which he detected in aristocratic and bureaucratic Madrid. One conceives that, like his own Raimundo, he was invited to enter it, took his fill of its pleasures, and found his mouth filled with ashes. His talent for portraiture was never better employed. If he was occasionally tempted to commit the peculiarly Spanish fault of exaggeration—scarcely a fault there, where the shadows are so black and the colours so flaring—he resisted it in his more important characters. The brutality of the Duke de Requena, the sagacity and urbanity of Father Ortega, the saintly sweetness of the Duchess, the naivete of Raimundo, the sphinx-like charm of Clementina de Osorio, with her mysterious sweetness and duplicity, these are among the salient points of characterisation which stand out in this powerful book. La Espuma was a cry from the desert to those who wear soft raiment in king's palaces. It was the ruthless tearing aside of the conventions by a Knox or a Savonarola. It was stringent satire, yet tempered with an artist's moderation, with a naturalist's self-suppression.
The latest novel which Valdes has published is that which we here present under the title of The Grandee ("El Maestrante"). Here, as it will be seen, the author is no longer engaged in the jarring notes of satire, but, with more lightness and a greater effusion of humour, he dissects the quaint elements which make up old-fashioned society in a provincial city of Spain. This is one of those books which peculiarly appeal to the foreign reader who desires to enter into a phase of life from which his own experience absolutely excludes him. We may suppose that a limited number of Englishmen can penetrate to the palaces and the club-rooms of Madrid, and see something, however superficially, of the life described in Froth. But the grim and ancient mansions which look down through ancient mullioned windows on the narrow streets of such a town as is brought before us in The Grandee—what can the most privileged Englishman possibly know of the manners and customs of their stately inhabitants?
In the second half of the book, the gaiety and grotesqueness of the pictures of life sink before the solemnity of the terrible and tragic corruption of Amalia, and the martyrdom of Josefina. The last pages of The Grandee are, indeed, tinged with almost intolerable gloom, and in a society comparatively so civilised as our own, the revenge of the unnatural mother may seem almost overdrawn. The author contends, however, that in the cryptic and cloistered provincial life which he describes, where the light of censure can hardly reach a powerful criminal, such wickedness as is perpetrated upon Josefina is neither improbable nor unprecedented. Nor do the reports of Mr. Benjamin Waugh permit us to question that such horrors are daily committed at our own doors. Whether these maladies of the soul are or are not fit subjects for the art of the novelist is a question which every reader must answer for himself.
In the pages of The Grandee we have a singular transcript of Spanish pride and picturesqueness, of a narrow society absolutely fortified against public opinion by its ancient prejudices, a society, nevertheless, in which the primitive passions of humanity stir and interact with as much dangerous vivacity as in freer and more democratic conditions. I may perhaps mention, on the authority of the author, that by Lancia Valdes intends us to understand Oviedo, the capital of the province of Asturias, where he spent many years of his childhood and early youth. The story opens between thirty and forty years ago, and represents Oviedo and its social customs at an epoch a little earlier than the time when the novelist was forming his freshest and most vivid impressions of life.
Of the author of so many interesting books but little has yet been told to the public. In a private letter to myself, the eminent novelist gives a brief sketch of his mode of life, so interesting that I have secured his permission to translate and print it here:—"Since my wife died," Senor Valdes writes, "my life has continued to be tranquil and melancholy, dedicated to work and to my son. During the winters, I live in Asturias, and during the summers, in Madrid. I like the company of men of the world better than that of literary folks, because the former teach me more. I am given up to the study of metaphysics. I have a passion for physical exercises, for gymnastics, for fencing, and I try to live in an evenly-balanced temper, nothing being so repugnant to me as affectation and emphasis. I find a good deal of pleasure in going to bull-fights (although I do not take my son to the Plaza dressed up like a miniature torero, as an American writer declares I do), and I cultivate the theatre, because to see life from the stage point of view helps me in the composition of my stories."
I. THE GRANDEE'S HOUSE 1
II. THE DISCOVERY 25
III. THE TOWN 55
IV. THE HISTORY OF THEIR LOVE 75
V. THE JOKES OF PACO GOMEZ 100
VI. THE SENORITAS DE MERE 113
VII. THE INCREASE OF THE CONTINGENT 138
VIII. FERNANDA AND THE WINE 153
IX. THE MASQUERADE 172
X. FIVE YEARS AFTER 188
XI. AMALIA'S RAGE 206
XII. THE BARON'S JUSTICE 226
XIII. THE MARTYRDOM 239
XIV. THE CAPITULATION 258
XV. JOSEFINA SLEEPS 276
THE GRANDEE'S HOUSE
It was ten o'clock at night, an hour when the number of those who frequented the streets of the noble city of Lancia was always of the scantiest, but in the depth of winter, when our story opens, with a bitter north-east wind and drenching rain, one would find it difficult to stumble upon a living soul. Not that all had surrendered themselves into the arms of Morpheus, for Lancia as capital of a province, albeit not one of the most important, had learnt to sit up late. But the people used to resort at an early hour to parties, whence they only sallied forth to supper and to bed at eleven o'clock. At that hour many noisy groups could be seen passing along under the shelter of umbrellas, the ladies enveloped in warm woollen cloaks, holding up their petticoats, and the gentlemen all wrapped in their cloaks, or montecristos, with their trousers well turned up, breaking the silence of the night by the loud clack of their wooden shoes. For at the time of which we speak there were few that despised this comfortable shoe of the country, unless it were some new-fledged medical student from Valladolid, who considered himself above such old-fashioned things, or some fanciful young lady, who pretended that she could not walk in them. But these were the exceptions. There were no carriages in the town, for only three existed in the place, belonging respectively to the Quinones, the Countess of Onis, and to Estrada-Rosa; the last-mentioned being the only one that did not date from the middle of the last century. When either of these conveyances appeared in the street, it was followed by a crowd of little urchins, whose enthusiasm at the sight knew no bounds. The neighbours inside their houses could tell by the sound of the wheels, and the clink of the horseshoes to which of the above-mentioned magnates the carriage belonged. They were in fact three venerated institutions which the natives of the city had learnt to love and respect. So umbrellas and wooden shoes were the only protections against the rain that falls more than three parts of the year. India-rubber shoes came in later, as well as hooded waterproofs, which at certain times transform Lancia into a vast community of Carthusian friars.
The wind blew stronger at the crossing of Santa Barbara than in any other part of the town. This uncovered passage, between the bishop's palace and the walls of a courtyard of the cathedral, just by the chain which regulates the lightning conductor, leads finally under an archway, a murky corner where the blast, confined within a narrow space, howls and moans on such infernal nights as this.
A man, muffled up to the eyes, crossed with rapid steps the little square in front of the archbishop's house, and entered this recess. The force of the hurricane stopped him, and the rain penetrating between the collar of his coat and the brim of his hat, almost blinded him. He made a few seconds' stand against the violence of the whirlwind, and then, instead of uttering any exclamation of impatience, which would have been more than excusable under the circumstances, he merely gave vent to a long-drawn sigh of distress:
"Oh! my Jesus! what a night!"
He cowered up against the wall, and when the wind had somewhat abated, he resumed his course. Passing under the archway that connects the palace with the cathedral, he entered the widest and best-lighted part of the passage. An oil-lamp fixed in the corner served as its only light. The wretched thing, seconded by a tinfoil reflector placed at the back, made ineffectual attempts to pierce the gloom of the farthest corners.
Ten yards off nobody would have thought it was there, and yet to our muffled traveller it must have seemed an Edison lamp of ten thousand candle-power, from the way he drew his coat-collar higher about his face, and from the haste in which he avoided the pavement, and crept along by the wall where the shadows were deepest. In this way he arrived at the Calle de Santa Lucia, cast a rapid glance around him, and renewed his course on the darkest side of the way. Although one of the most central streets, the Calle de Santa Lucia is solitary to an extreme. It is closed at one end by the base of the tower of the cathedral, a graceful, elegant structure like few to be found in Spain, and so it is only used as a thoroughfare by canons going to the choir, or devotees on their way to early Mass. In this short, straight, narrow street, the palace of Quinones de Leon was situated—a large, dreary, uninteresting-looking building with projecting iron balconies. It was two storeys high, and over the central balcony there was an enormous roughly carved shield, supported by two griffins in high relief, as rudely carved as the quarterings.
One side of the house looked on to a little, damp, melancholy, neglected garden, enclosed by a wall of regular elevation; and the other on to a dull, even damper, narrow street which ran between the house and the black, discoloured wall of the church of San Rafael. To pass from the palace to the church, where the Quinones had a private pew, was a little gallery, or covered way, smaller, but similar to that of the archbishop, over the passage of Santa Barbara.
By the bright light shining from the crevice of a half-opened window on the balcony, it was evident that the people of the house had not yet retired to rest. And if the light were not sufficient proof, the fact was confirmed by the strains of a piano heard occasionally above the roar of the storm.
Our muffled friend, with a rapid step, keeping as much in shadow as possible, arrived at the door of the palace. There he stopped again, cast a furtive glance down both sides of the street, and entered the portico. It was large, and paved with stones like the street; the bare, discoloured, whitewashed walls were dimly illumined by an oil-lamp hung from the centre. The man quickly crossed it, and before pulling the bell-cord, placed his ear to the door, and listened long and attentively. Convinced that nobody was descending the staircase, he gave one more look down the street. At last he decided to undo his cloak, and drew from under its folds a bundle, which he placed with a trembling hand near the door. It was a basket, covered with a woman's mantle, which hid the contents from view, although they could be pretty well guessed, for from the time of Moses, mysterious baskets seem destined for the consignment of infants.
The man, being now free of his burthen, pulled the bell-cord three times, and the door was immediately opened from above by means of another cord. The three pulls of the bell showed that the visitor to the aristocratic mansion of the Quinones was a nobleman on a par with the Senores. This was an old-established custom of unknown origin. A menial, a servant, an inferior in any degree, only rang once, ordinary visitors rang twice, and the half dozen, or more, persons that the important Senor of Quinones considered his equals in Lancia, rang three times. If those in the town, who had never been admitted to the sacred precincts of the mansion, joked with the habitues of the place on the subject, their witticisms fell flat; but even if the shafts did go home, the feudal custom was so universally respected, that none but the privileged few dared to give the three signals pertaining to the highest rank. Paco Gomez once ventured to break the rule for a joke, but he was received so coldly when he entered the drawing-room that he never cared to repeat the experiment.
So the man of the basket entered quickly, shut the door, crossed the hall, and ascended the wide stone staircase, where holes, worn by long use, retained the damp.
When he reached the first floor, a servant approached to take his hat and cloak; so without further delay, and as if avoiding pursuit, he darted with hasty stride towards the drawing-room door, and opened it. The light of the chandelier and candelabra dazzled him for a moment. He was a tall powerful man, between thirty and thirty-two years of age, with a pleasant expression of countenance and regular features, short hair, and a long, silky beard of reddish hue. His face was pale, and betrayed extreme anxiety. On raising his eyes, which the excessive brightness of the room at first obliged him to lower, he turned them on the lady of the house, who was seated in an armchair. She, on her side, cast an inquiring anxious look at him, and the glance caused him a shock which gave instantaneous repose to his face like the neutralisation of two equal forces.
The gentleman remained at the door waiting for five or six couples, who were pirouetting to the strains of a waltz, to pass him, whilst his pale lips wreathed into a smile as sweet as it was sad.
"What an evening! We did not think you would be here so soon," exclaimed the lady as she gave him her delicate nervous hand, which contracted three or four times with intense emotion as it came in contact with his.
She was a woman of about twenty-eight or thirty years of age, diminutive in stature, with a pale, expressive face, very black eyes and hair, small mouth, and delicate aquiline nose.
"How are you, Amalia?" said the gentleman, without replying to her remark, and trying to hide under a smile the anxiety which, in spite of himself, the trembling of his voice betrayed.
"I am better, thank you."
"Is not this noise bad for you?"
"No; I was bored to death in bed. Besides, I did not wish to deprive the young people of the one enjoyment they can get occasionally at Lancia."
"Thank you, Amalia," exclaimed a young lady who was dancing and overheard the last remark, and Amalia responded by a kind smile.
Another couple from behind then knocked against the gentleman, who was still standing.
"Always devoted, Luis!"
"To no one more than yourself, Maria," replied the young man, affecting to hide his embarrassment under a laugh.
"Are you sure that I am the only one?" she asked with a mischievous glance at the partner who held her in his arms.
Maria Josefa Hevia was at least forty, and she had been almost as ugly at fifteen. As her means were not equal to her weight, no one had dared redeem her from the purgatory of solitude. Until quite lately she still entertained hopes that one of the elderly Indian bachelors, who came to pass their declining years in Lancia, would ask her hand in marriage; and these hopes were founded on the fact that these gentlemen frequently contracted alliances with the daughters of distinguished people in the place, portionless as they generally were.
On her father's side, Maria Josefa was connected with one of the oldest families, being related to the Senor of Quinones, in whose house we now are.
But her father was dead, and she lived with her mother, a woman of low degree, who had been a cook before marrying her master. Either for this reason, or on account of the indisputable ugliness of her face, the Indians fought shy of her; although her exaggerated idea of her position exacted a certain respect in society. Her face was hideous, with irregular features, marked with erysipelas, and disfigured by red patches about the nostrils. She only retained one feminine taste, and that was for dancing, which was a real passion with her; and she felt it dreadfully when she was left a wallflower by the careless young men of Lancia. But, possessing a sharp tongue, she revenged herself so cleverly on both sexes when thus neglected, that the majority of the youths willingly sacrificed one dance on the programme to her at all the balls; and when they failed to do so, the girls would remind them of their duty, so great was their fear of the spiteful old maid. Thus, by dint of the wholesome terror she inspired, she danced as much as the greatest beauty in Lancia.
She was conscious of the reason of her success, and however humiliated she might be in the depths of her heart, she did not fail to make use of the power, as she considered it the lesser evil of the two.
Witty and malicious, she was particularly alive to a sense of the ridiculous in things, and whilst not lacking in the power of narration, she was, moreover, endowed with the peculiar knack of wounding everybody to the quick when she had a mind to.
"Has the count come yet?" asked a sharp voice from the next room, which made itself heard above the sounds of the piano, and the feet of the dancers.
"Yes, here I am, Don Pedro; I am coming."
Whereupon the count made a step towards the door, without removing his eye from the pallid-looking lady; and she riveted another steady gaze upon him, which conveyed the impression of a question. He just closed his eyes in affirmatory reply, and passed on to the next apartment, which, like the drawing-room, was furnished without any regard for luxury.
The highest nobility of Lancia despised all the refinements of decoration so usual nowadays. They scorned every innovation both within and without their dwellings; and this not from feelings of avarice, but from the inborn conviction that their superiority consisted less in the richness and splendour of their houses, than in the seal of ancient respectability.
The furniture was old and shabby, and the carpets and curtains were faded; but the master paid little heed to such matters. Indeed, Don Pedro Quinones showed an indifference, bordering upon eccentricity, on the point. Neither the entreaties of his wife, nor the remarks which some bolder spirit, like Paco Gomez, who was always ready to be facetious, dared to make, ever induced him to call in the painters and upholsterers.
With regard to size, the drawing-room was superb, being both lofty and spacious, and including all the windows of the Calle de Santa Lucia, with the exception of that of the library. The chairs were antique, not a mere imitation of those of bygone ages, as is now the mode, but made in times past, according to the fashion of the period, and covered with green velvet, worn old by time. In many places the floor was visible through the holes in the carpet. The walls were covered with magnificent tapestries, which constituted the one adornment of the house, for Don Pedro had a very valuable collection; but he only exhibited it once a year, when the balconies were draped on the day of Corpus Christi. It was said that an Englishman once offered a million pesetas[A] for their possession.
The count had also several very valuable pictures, but they were so discoloured by time that, if not restored before long by some skilful hand, they seemed likely to disappear altogether. The only new thing in the drawing-room was the piano, bought three years ago, soon after the second marriage of Don Pedro.
The library, also of large dimensions, with a window looking on to the Calle de Santa Lucia, and two on to the garden, was furnished still worse. It had heavy damask curtains, two mahogany presses without mirrors, a sofa upholstered with silk, a few leather chairs, a round table in the centre, and some seats to match the sofa, all old and shabby.
Seated round the table, lighted by an enormous oil-lamp, were three gentlemen playing at tresillo.[B]
The master of the house was one of them. He was between forty-six and forty-eight years of age. For the last three years he had been quite unable to move from the effects of an apoplectic stroke, which left him with both legs paralysed. He was stout, with a red face, and strong well-marked features; his thick curly hair and beard were streaked with grey, and he had keen, piercing black eyes. His face was remarkable for an expression of pride and fierceness, which the kind smile with which he received the Conde de Onis could not entirely hide. He was sitting, or rather reclining, in an armchair constructed especially for facilitating the movement of his body and arms; and it was placed sideways at the table, so that he could play, and keep his legs raised up meanwhile. Although there were logs burning on the hearth, he had a grey cloak round his shoulders, fastened at the throat with a gold clasp. Embroidered on the left-hand side was the large red cross of the order of Calatrava.[C] The Senor of Quinones was rarely seen without this cloak, which afforded him a fantastic, somewhat theatrical, appearance. He had always been eccentric in his dress. His pride impelled him to try and distinguish himself from the vulgar in every way. On ordinary occasions he wore a buttoned-up frock-coat, a high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat, and his hair was long, like that of a cavalier of the seventeenth century, whilst his clothes were generally of velvet or velveteen, with riding-boots of a fashion beyond all recollection, and his wide shirt-collars were turned back over his waistcoat in imitation of the Walloon style. There never was a man prouder of his high degree, nor more retentive of the privileges enjoyed by those of his rank in times gone by. People grumbled at his eccentricities, and many turned them to ridicule, for Lancia is a place not wanting in a sense of humour. But, as usual, unbending pride had ended by making an impression. Those who were the first to joke at Don Pedro's peculiarities, were those who were the most punctiliously respectful in doffing their hats when he appeared almost half a mile off. He had lived some years at Court, but he did not strike root there. He was one of the gentlemen in office, and curiously jealous of every prerogative and distinction due to his fortune and birth. But there was no satisfying a heart so corroded with arrogance, and he bitterly resented the amalgamation of people of birth with those of money. The respect afforded to politicians, which he in his position also had to accede to, perfectly enraged him. Was a son of a nobody, a common fellow, to take precedence of him, and merely give an indifferent or disdainful glance at him?—at him, the descendant of the proud Counts of Castille! Not being able to put up with such a state of things, he resigned his appointment, and took up his abode again in the old-world palace in which we now are. His pride, or maybe his eccentric character, made the rich bachelor at this time of his life do a thousand odd and ridiculous things, to the great astonishment of the town until it became accustomed to him. Don Pedro never went out in the street without being accompanied by a servant, or majordomo, a rough sort of man who wore the costume of the peasants of the country, which consisted of short breeches, woollen stockings, a green cloth jacket, and a wide-brimmed hat. And he not only went out with Manin (he was universally known by this name), but he also took him to the theatre with him. It was a sight to see these two in one of the best boxes: the master stiff and decorous, with his eyes roaming carelessly round; whilst the servant sat with his bearded chin resting on his hands, which clasped the balustrade, staring fixedly at the stage, occasionally giving vent to loud guffaws of laughter, scratching his head, or yawning loudly in the middle of a silence.
Manin soon became a regular institution.
Don Pedro, who scarcely deigned to converse with the wealthiest people of Lancia, talked familiarly with this servant, and allowed him to contradict him in the rude rough way peculiarly his own.
"Manin, man, be careful not to give these ladies too much trouble," he would say to the majordomo when they entered some shop together.
"All right," returned the rough fellow in a loud voice, "if they want to be at their ease, let them bring a mattress from home and recline upon it."
Don Pedro would then bite his lips to keep from laughing, for such coarse and brutal remarks were just to his taste.
When they repaired to a cafe, Manin drank quarts of red wine, whilst his master only sipped a glass of muscat. But although he left it almost full, he always asked and paid for a whole bottle.
An apothecary of the place, with whom the count sometimes condescended to have a chat, once evinced some surprise at this extravagance, but he returned with chilly arrogance:
"I pay for a whole bottle because I think it would be unseemly for Don Pedro Quinones de Leon to ask for a glass like some ink-stained clerk in a government office."
The whole town was impressed with his manners, for when he met any clerics in the streets, he kissed their hands in accordance with the custom of noblemen of bygone centuries. But, like all the rest of his ways, this respect was nothing but a wish to appear different to other people, and to show that he belonged to the old regime; because, although he kissed the hand of his own chaplain in public, he treated him like a servant in private, and, in fact, accorded him far less consideration than he did Manin.
But what most astonished the place, and gave rise to no end of remarks and jokes, was what Don Pedro did with a certain religious solemnity soon after his arrival from Madrid. He appeared at church in the white uniform trimmed with twisted cords pertaining to the office of Maestrante de Ronda.
Just before the elevation of the Host at the Mass, he advanced with a solemn step to the empty space in the centre of the edifice, unsheathed his sword, and made sharp, firm passes in the air, in the direction of the four cardinal points. The women were frightened, the children ran away, and the majority of the congregation thought he had suddenly gone out of his mind. But those who were better informed, and more intellectual, understood that it was meant to be a symbolical ceremony, and that those thrusts in the air signified Don Pedro's resolution, as a noble member of a military Order, to fight all the enemies of the faith from every quarter of the globe. The one little periodical published at that time in Lancia (now there are eleven—six dailies, and five weeklies) devoted a whole page to a humorous account of this event.
But in spite of the eccentricities of his public and private life, the prestige enjoyed by the illustrious nobleman in the town was by no means affected.
He, who in perfect good faith considers himself superior to those about him, is in no danger of humiliation. In spite of his affectations, Don Pedro was a man of culture, fond of literature, and endowed with a taste for poetry. He had been known occasionally to celebrate events pertaining to the kingdom, or the royal family in several stanzas of a classic, somewhat pompous, style. But although people had tried to persuade him to publish them, he never would consent to do so.
Periodicals were one of his particular aversions, for he considered them a sign of the democracy of the times. So he preferred to keep his poems in manuscript, known only to a select circle of friends.
He also had a reputation as a man of valour. He had fought a few duels in Madrid, and in Lancia he had one with a certain political chief, sent by the progressionists to the province through the intervention of the archbishop and Chapter of the cathedral. When he was about forty years of age, our friend married a lady of position who lived in Sarrio. But his wife died within the year, just when he had hopes of an heir to his name and estates. Three years after, he contracted another marriage—this time with Amalia, a Valencian lady, who was a connection of his. They scarcely knew each other, for Don Pedro had not seen her since she was fourteen. The alliance formed ten years later was arranged by letters, and an interchange of photographs. There was no doubt that the bride's will was coerced in the matter, and it was said that for many months she had a separate room to her husband. And the story was told in Lancia, with no lack of detail, how Don Pedro, in pursuance of a canon's advice, managed to overcome these scruples. But in spite of the success of the suggestion of the church dignitary, and the subsequent concession of conjugal rights, Heaven did not see fit to bless the union.
Not long after, Don Pedro was seized with the dreadful apoplectic attack which paralysed the whole of the lower part of his body, and the poor man was much tempted to curse his affliction, although no doubt it was ordered for the best.
"We are in want of a fourth," he said, warmly shaking hands with the count.
"Yes, yes, and we will see if the luck will change, for Moro is winning all our money," said a little old man with a strong Galician accent. He had a fresh, clean-shaven, round face, white hair, and clear, kind eyes. His name was Saleta, and he was a magistrate of the Court of Justice, and a constant visitor at the Quinones' house.
"Not so much as that, Senor Saleta, not so much! I have only two hundred counters, and I want three hundred to make up for what I lost yesterday," returned the man referred to, who was a youth with a genial frank expression of countenance.
"And why did you not call upon Manin?" asked the count with a smile as he glanced at the celebrated majordomo, who in his short breeches, woollen stockings, and green cloth jacket, was sleeping in an armchair.
The other three turned and looked at the man.
"Because Manin is a brute who can play at nothing but brisca,"[A] said Don Pedro, smiling.
"And at tute,"[A] returned the fellow, opening his mouth and yawning loudly.
"All right, and at tute."[A]
"And at monte."[A]
"Very well, man, and at monte, too."
And the friends went on with their cards without paying further attention to Manin, but presently he began again by saying:
"And at parar."[A]
"And at parar, too?" asked the count in a joking tone.
"Yes, senor, and at los siete y media."[D]
"Get along!" said the other, absently, as he opened his hand of cards and examined it attentively.
Then they went on playing with much interest, absorbed and silent. But the majordomo interrupted them again by saying:
"And at julepe."
"All right, Manin, be quiet and don't be a fool," said Don Pedro, crossly.
"Fool, fool," muttered the peasant, surlily; "there are a good many fools about, but as they have money there is no one to call them so."
He then re-settled his broad shoulders in the seat, stretched out his legs, closed his eyes, and began to snore.
The players turned their eyes on Don Pedro in surprise, and some anxiety.
The master looked wrathfully at his majordomo; but seeing him in such a comfortable position he changed his mind, and, shrugging his shoulders, he turned his attention to his cards, merely remarking with a pleasant smile:
"What a barbarian! He is a regular Sueve."
"But, Senor Quinones," said Saleta, "the Suevi only settled in Galicia. You are nothing but Cantabrians, and I have reason to know it."
"What! you have reason to know it!" said a gentleman who was not very old, for he would have passed for fifty, who came in at that moment.
It was Don Enrique Valero, also a magistrate of the Court, a man of an agreeable presence, with a fine expressive face, albeit somewhat marked by the fast life he had lived. As shown by his strong accent, which was mincing and lisping, he was Andalusian, of the province of Malaga.
"I don't quite know that," returned Saleta, calmly, "but I perfectly well know the history of my country, and the particulars regarding my family."
"And why do you mention your family in connection with the Suevi, my friend?"
"Because, according to various documents preserved in my ancestral archives, my family is descended from one of those brave commanders, who penetrated Pontevedra at the time of the invasion."
The players exchanged an amused smile of intelligence with Valero.
"Ah!" exclaimed the latter between amusement and irritation, "so my friend is a Sueve like a cathedral! Who would have thought it to see him so dwarfish and so small!"
"Yes, senor," said the other, speaking with firmness and deliberation as if he had not heard the last remark. "The captain to whom our family owes its origin was named Rechila. He was a man of ferocious and bloodthirsty presence, a great conqueror, who extended his dominions immensely, and, from what I understand, his expeditions took him as far as Estremadura. One day, when I was a child, a crown was found buried in the foundations of the old chapel of our house."
"Really, my man, really!" exclaimed Valero, looking at him with such comic indignation that all the others burst out laughing.
But Saleta, quite unperturbed, went on to describe the treasure-trove, its form, weight, and all its embellishments, without omitting a single detail.
And Valero, without taking his eyes off him, continued shaking his head with increasing irritation.
The same thing went on every night. His colleague's unblushing lying propensity aroused in the magistrate an indignation that was sometimes real, and sometimes feigned. It was so seldom that a Galician dared to boast and exaggerate before an Andalusian, that he, wounded in his amour propre and respect for his country, sometimes wondered whether Saleta was a fool, or whether he considered his audience as such.
Really the magistrate of Pontevedra lied with so much ease, and in such a serious way, that it became a question whether he was an artful rogue, who delighted to upset his friends.
"Did you say that this ancestor of yours got to Estremadura?" asked Valero at last in a decided tone.
"Then it seems to me you make a mistake, for this Senor Renchila——"
"Well, this Rechila got farther still, for he got as far as the province of Malaga; but there a company of Vandals went out to meet him: the leader was one of my ancestors. His name is difficult to recollect—wait a bit, he was called Matalaoza. Well, then, this Matalaoza, who was a rough, brave sort of fellow, completely routed him, took him prisoner, and kept him drawing water from a well till his death. And a piece of the machine is still to be seen in the cellar of our house."
Don Pedro, Jaime Moro, and the Conde de Onis stopped playing, and roared with laughter.
"It cannot be so. Rechila never went farther than Merida, which he took after a short siege," said Saleta, not one whit put out.
"Excuse me, friend, in the archives of my house there are documents which show that this Senor Renchila took a company of soldiers through the province of Malaga, and that the Senor Matalaoza, my grandfather on my mother's side, prevented his advancing any farther."
"Excuse me, friend Valero, but it seems to me you are in error. This Rechila must be another one; there were many Rechilas among the Suevi."
"No, sir, no, the Rechila that my ancestor conquered was an ancestor of yours; I am certain of it. He came from the province of Pontevedra; that was clear from his accent."
These remarks were made with great gravity, and the players were more and more amused. As Saleta was accustomed to his companion's chaff, he was not the least put out, neither would he modify any of his boasting assertions. The man was perfectly shameless in the way he invented lies and then stuck to them.
When he saw it was useless to discuss the matter farther, he turned his attention to the game, and the others did the same, although they could not repress an occasional chuckle of amusement.
Jaime Moro went on winning, and he was cheerful and talkative, making tedious remarks at every turn of the game. He was a good-looking young fellow, with a short black beard, regular features, large expressionless eyes, and a delicate pink complexion. His father, who had been parochial administrator of the province, had died the previous year, leaving him an income, according to report, of between 70,000 and 80,000 reales,[E] and this money gave him a certain position in the place. Needless to say, he was considered a prize in the matrimonial market, and he was the golden dream, and the ideal of the girls, who contemplated marriage; but unfortunately Moro was little attracted by the opposite sex. He liked Mercury much better than Venus; and indeed he was so fond of every kind of game, that one might almost say he was born to play, for his whole life was devoted to it.
He lived alone with his housekeeper, man-servant, and cook. He got up between ten and eleven in the morning, and after making his toilette he repaired to the confectioner's shop of Dona Romana, where he found congenial spirits, who told him all the current gossip of the place, and when this was exhausted, he withdrew to the dark, greasy-looking little room, pervaded by an overpowering smell of pastry, at the back of the shop, and there seating himself at a table, which matched its surroundings in dinginess, he indulged in a glass of sherry, and a game of dominoes with Don Baltasar Reinoso, who was one of the many who lived in Lancia on an income of four or five thousand pesetas. At three o'clock he repaired to the Mercantile Club, where, with three of the Indians, who formed the nucleus of that social gathering, he indulged in the classic game of chapo[F] until five o'clock, when, if we went to the house of the dean of the cathedral, we should come across this gentleman enjoying his daily game of tresillo with the dignitary of the church, and the rector of San Rafael. When the chapo went on longer than usual, an acolyte appeared at the club to tell him that his friends were waiting. Then Moro hastened to give the three or four final strokes, the boy, between them, helping him on with his coat to save time; then, after paying or receiving the balance of his account with trembling hands, he ran in breathless haste to the house of the dean. There the tresillo lasted till eight o'clock. Then home to supper. At nine he repaired to Don Pedro Quinone's house to spend an hour or two in the same sort of way, and if he did not go there, he went to Don Juan Estrada-Rosa's for the same thing; and at twelve to the Casino, where a few night-birds met for a game of monte, or lottery. Finally Jaime Moro retired to rest at two or three in the morning, quite tired out with such a hard day's work, to wake to another exactly the same.
It must not be thought that he was a covetous young man, for the whole town knew, and lauded his liberality. He was not incited to play by a passion for gain, but by a devotion to the pastime, which extinguished all better feelings.
His was an excessively active temperament, without the intelligence or the wish for any serious aim in life. In his short moments of idleness he looked like a quiet, careless, lymphatic man, but directly he had the cards, billiard-cue, or dominoes in his hand, he evinced an interest which utterly changed his expression, as his eyes brightened and his hands showed more power.
He was a universal favourite, and there never was a man more suave and gentle in manner. He was never heard to speak ill of anybody, and those who see only the dark side of things and the weak point of people's characters, said that he never grumbled because he did not know how to, and that he was as good as he was, because he could not be otherwise. But there must always be some perverse fools!
However, Moro had one fault, begotten of his playing propensity, he considered he was invincible in every game. It could not be denied that he was a great expert at them, but there is a great difference between that, and being utterly unrivalled, which was the case with Moro. This gave rise to those tedious, eternal commentaries, which seasoned every game, until they became quite a byword in Lancia.
When, after making a stroke on the billiard-table, the balls did not go as he wanted, he struck his head in despair:
"A little less ball and mine would have gone into the pocket! But I was obliged to strike well on the ball so that the red ball should go down, because if the ball does not go down, you know how it would be."
If things went according to his ideas, he did not mind how much he lost; the money was nothing to him as long as he saved his professional honour. He talked unceasingly, making a running commentary upon every stroke he made; and he went on just the same at cards. However, he never blamed his companions, or lost his temper when his plan of action was defeated. He certainly talked incessantly, but it was always to explain or to palliate some point in the game, and the eternal repetitions, delivered in the same eloquent and persuasive tone, provoked a smile from the onlookers.
"If I had only had a king then! If I had but had another trump! I did not dare give the lead because I thought that Don Pedro—Why could not this three of hearts have been three of diamonds? With the deuce of spades this trick was once got."
He was a noisy fellow, but very polite and kind.
"I say, it is your play now, is it not?" said Valero to our friend as he looked over the players' shoulders and had a glance at their cards.
"Do you think that can be done?" said Moro, vacillating.
"Yes, I think so."
"There is too little of this and not enough of that," returned Moro, discreetly pointing at the cards with his finger.
"Nevertheless, nevertheless, I think——"
"Well, well, let us play," replied Moro, with his usual politeness.
That game was lost. Moro gave a look at his companions, and shrugged his shoulders; then as Valero turned away, he said in a low tone:
"I did not want to vex Don Enrique, but I knew that that play could not win."
And having thus vindicated his reputation, he was as pleased as if he had won the game.
The Conde de Onis seemed absent when he came in, and as time went on, he became more and more thoughtful and gloomy; and he played so carelessly that his friends called him to book several times.
"But, Conde, what has come to you?" said Don Pedro, at last, "you seem so very preoccupied."
"Yes, you have actually trumped my trick," added Valero, in distress.
Seeing himself thus taken to task, the count looked as confused as if his companions had read his thoughts.
"Nothing particular is the matter with me," he replied; and taking refuge in an innocent excuse, he added, "I am only suffering from toothache."
"So the poor fellow is ill!" said Valero.
Whereupon they all began pitying him, and asking him particulars about his complaint.
The count being now at his wit's end, answered the questions at random.
"Well, for that pain, Senor Conde," said Saleta, "there is no finer remedy than iron. You will find that it is so. When I was a student I suffered dreadfully from my teeth. I never dared have one drawn, but the landlord I had in Santiago told me the best thing to do was to take a thread, and tie one end to the tooth, and the other to the back of the chair, so that it was gradually drawn out without any pain. I sat myself in a chair, and when the tooth was well tied I got up from the chair and left it hanging behind me. You see I had nothing to do but jump up."
Valero shook his head in despair, and the others looked at him and smiled. But Saleta did not notice, or pretended not to notice it, and continued his story in the quiet matter-of-fact way and the strong Galician accent peculiar to him.
"Afterwards I quite overcame my fear of tooth-drawing. The dentist of Corunna extracted five, one after the other; and when I was judge at Allariz I was in dreadful pain, and as there was no dentist the Promotor[G] pulled out three for me with his wife's curling tongs; but do you know this gave me inflammation of the mouth? I was then at Madrid, and Ludovisi, the queen's dentist, burnt my gums with a red-hot iron, and then extracted seven good teeth."
"There went fifteen!" murmured Valero.
"Yes, and I had no further trouble until four years ago, when, whilst I was staying with a friend in a little place in the province of Burgos, the pain came on again. There was no doctor, no surgeon, nobody. But a charlatan happened to come along who extracted teeth whilst on horseback; and I was in such distress that I was obliged to have recourse to him, and he took out two with the tail end of a spoon."
"Oh! my man, what humbug!" exclaimed Valero in utter indignation, "and may I ask if you have a tooth left in your head?"
Manin at this moment, with his usual want of manners, opened his mouth wide with a loud guffaw, to the astonishment of the party. Then the great giant turned round in his chair and composed himself to sleep.
"You have never suffered from your teeth, have you, Manin?" asked the Grandee, who could not be a quarter of an hour without appealing to his majordomo.
"What?" asked the fellow without opening his eyes.
"He is like a rock!" said the nobleman with real enthusiasm.
Then Manin sat up a little, and rubbing his eyes with his fists, he said:
"I never had anything worse than a stomach-ache: It came on as I was loading a cart with hay, and it lasted more than a month. I could not touch a morsel of food, and it was just as if I had a fox continually gnawing at my inside. My ribs felt as if they would break in agony, and I leant against the wall, bowed down with pain, and showed my teeth like a serpent. I became as yellow as corn in harvest time. One day the senor priest said to me: 'Manin, you have no heart.' 'I have no heart, senor cure!' said I. 'You don't know me well if you say that, for it is beating here for its very life. I have more heart than what you would think!' 'Then there is nothing to be done, Manin, but to send for the doctor,' said he. 'No, indeed, senor cure; I want none of their drugs and plaisters.' 'Well, if you don't send for him, I shall,' was his answer. At last there was no help for it, and although I was still against it, Don Rafael, the doctor of the mines, arrived. He made me undress as far as my shirt, and then forced me by the shoulders on to a trough. Then he set to giving me blows on the chest with his knuckles, as if he were knocking at a door. He thumped me here, and he thumped me there, and listened with his ear pressed against my body. 'Nay,' I cried. 'Gently! gently my good fellow! Find the truant!' And he went on for half an hour longer, knocking with his knuckles and listening with his ear. At last he got tired of hearing nothing. 'Ah! friend of my soul!' he said, making the sign of the cross, 'you have a liquid heart. I never saw anything like it in my life!' 'Yes, I knew that before, Don Rafael,' said I."
Having got so far in his relation, Manin stopped suddenly, turned an angry glance on the audience, and muttered under his breath: "And what do these asses find to laugh at?"
Then, throwing his shaggy head back in the armchair, he closed his eyes in great disgust.
The Grandee's guests resumed their game, laughing all the while, but the count became more and more thoughtful and absent.
At last no longer able to control his upset state of nerves, he rose from his seat saying:
"I say, Don Enrique, will you kindly take my place; this pain is so tiresome that I must move about?"
When the count went back to the drawing-room, he found the young people preparing for a rigodon (a country dance). The seat at the piano was occupied by one of the daughters of the Pensioner; for such was the name given in the town to Don Cristobal Mateo, as he was an old government official, who, after serving many years in the Philippines, had retired some time ago on an income of 30,000 reales.[H]
He had a military bearing and quite a martial aspect, with his white moustache, large rolling eyes, thick eyebrows, and powerful hands. Nevertheless, there was not a kinder man in the Spanish dominions. His career had been cast in Exchequer offices, and he always expressed strong opinions against the power of the army. He maintained that the blood-suckers of the State were not those employed in civil functions, but the army and navy. The fact was demonstrated by the production of figures and notes on the subject, when he would quite lose himself in bureaucratic divagations. He said that war was caused by the thirst for blood emanating from the superfluous energy of the nation. This was a phrase he had read in the Boletin de Contribuciones Indirectas and appropriated as his own with marked effect. He said soldiers were vagrants, and his aversion to all uniforms and epaulettes was extreme. When the Corporation of Lancia talked of applying to the government for a regiment to garrison the city, he, as councillor, opposed the measure most resolutely.
What was the good of bringing a lot of spongers into the neighbourhood? Instead of having the comfort of being at some distance from a regiment, they would have all the disadvantages of harbouring one. Everything would get dear, for the colonels and officers liked to live well and have the best of everything, "after all the hard work they did to earn it," he added, ironically. Then they were all gamblers, and their bad example would contaminate the youths of the place, who never indulged in such licence except on times of holiday making. As they were such an idle lot (Don Cristobal firmly believed that a soldier had nothing to do), one could imagine what a set of rogues they were! In short, the regiment would be a corrupting element and a source of disturbance in the place. So Mateo got his way, not merely because it was his way, but because the Minister of War did not consider it necessary to send soldiers to Lancia, considering the peaceable condition of the inhabitants.
With his income of 30,000 reales, the Pensioner might have lived very comfortably in such a cheap place, if his daughters had not been possessed with the silly fancy of preferring the hats of Madrid to those that were made by the milliner of the Calle de Joaquin, and eight-button gloves to four-button ones. Such superior tastes gave rise in the Pensioner's house to many an upset, with all its accompanying tears, hysterics, regrets, disinclination for food, &c. In these terrible conflicts it must be confessed that Don Cristobal did not always comport himself with the dignity, firmness and courage befitting his large moustachios and strongly marked eyebrows. Certainly he was always alone in the fray. Never by any chance did one of his girls side with him, unless it was on a question apart from the domestic arrangement of the house, when some of the daughters joined with papa against the others. But whenever a problem of economy came to the fore, the Pensioner was sure to have all four children against him. Then Don Cristobal, like an experienced general, tried every means to rout the enemy, or to capitulate under fair terms.
One day the girls were suddenly seized with a fancy for morocco-leather shoes like those of some young lady in the town, who proved to be Fernanda Estrada-Rosa. Then Don Cristobal became pensive and turned the matter over in his mind, with the result of casually mentioning, in the course of conversation at supper, that he had heard at la Innovadora (the best bootmaker's) that morocco boots were considered very dangerous in Lancia on account of the damp; and that Don Nicanor, a local doctor happening to be there at the time, observed that morocco was fatal in such a cold rainy climate; in fact, catarrhs, sometimes developing to galloping consumption, were frequently caught from cold feet. But long before the poor old man finished his diatribe against morocco, his daughters burst in with such ironical laughter, and sarcastic speeches that he was quite crushed.
Another time the girls were bent upon having parasols from Madrid like Amalia's. Don Cristobal held out for some time until finally, having the worst of it, he had to give in. But fertile in resources like Ulysses, he conceived a plan by which the expense would be halved. He went to Amalia, and begged her to lend him her parasol for two or three days, so that one of the local milliners could make him four others exactly similar; and this, at his request, the Senora de Quinones promised to keep a solemn secret. But the poor parasols were not up to the mark, and when they arrived properly packed through the post, and ran the gauntlet of the sharp, anxious eyes of his four daughters, the old man was soon called to task for the poorness of the trimmings and the coarseness of the work.
"These parasols were not made at Madrid!" said Micaela in a tone of decision, for she was the sharpest of the four.
"For goodness' sake, don't be so absurd! Where then do they come from?" returned Don Cristobal with assumed surprise, whilst he felt the colour mount to his face.
"I don't know, but I am perfectly sure they were not made in Madrid."
And the four nymphs turned them over, felt them with their experienced fingers, and studied and analysed them so minutely, that their father was plunged into a fearful state of suspense. They exchanged significant glances, smiled scornfully, and spoke in whispers. In the meanwhile the Pensioner was a martyr to such an extreme state of nervous anxiety that his very moustachios were affected.
At last the fanciful beings left the purchases in scornful disdain upon the drawing-room chairs, and ran and locked themselves in Jovita's room, where they remained half an hour in secret conclave, whilst Don Cristobal waited in anxious trepidation, as he walked up and down the corridor like a criminal expecting his sentence.
At last the door opened, and the guilty creature stood awaiting the verdict of the judges. But they maintained a cautious reserve, whilst an enigmatical smile wreathed their white lips. Then two of them put on their mantillas and gloves, and darted into the street, to return in a short time to the domestic hearth with blazing eyes, agitated faces, and in a tremor of indignation.
The pen is powerless to portray the subsequent scene in the Pensioner's peaceful dwelling. What cries of rage! what bitter sarcasm! what hysterical laughter! what wringing of hands! what banging of chairs! and what exclamations of woe! And in the midst of such a scene, terrible enough to strike terror into the heart of the most serene, the four parasols, the innocent cause of all the fray, lay on the ground in ignominious ruin.
With the exception of these periodical disturbances which upset the somewhat weak nerves of the Pensioner, his existence was very calm and peaceful, for the numberless, but valuable, little attentions which make life pleasant were never wanting. His daughters were careful about having everything in order, and in its place. His shirts and underclothing were kept in perfect order, his cravats, made from old material, looked as fresh as if straight from the hosiers, his slippers were always ready when he came home, the water put for his foot-bath on Saturdays, his cigar before going to bed, his glass of water with lemon for his morning draught, &c., all went on with the sweet and regular mechanism so pleasing to the aged.
It was true that with four daughters it did not represent much trouble, especially if they were not under the dominion of some fancy or desire. But the sight of some new-fashioned hat, the news of the arrival of a dramatic company, or the announcement of some party at the Casino, would be enough to cause the wildest excitement, in which every other consideration went to the wall, and they were seen flying off to the dressmaker, glove-shop, and perfumer. As these wild freaks of fancy did not harmonise very well with the prosaic details of existence, a slight disorganisation ensued; but Don Cristobal bore these disturbances with composure. After a short time of chaos, order returned, and his life resumed its usual peaceful course. The names of these daughters, in order of age, were as follows: Jovita, Micaela, Socorro, and Emilita. In appearance, they were four insignificant beings, neither beautiful nor ugly, graceful nor ungraceful, young nor old, sad nor vivacious. There was nothing remarkable in any one of them, and yet by the domestic hearth the character of each was quite distinct. Jovita was sentimental and reserved, Michaela was quick tempered, and Emilita was the liveliest of the party. Don Cristobal was greatly exercised on two subjects, one was the reduction of the army and the other was the marriage of his four daughters, or at least two of them. The first project was in a fair way to success, for political opinion inclined in its favour, but as for the other, I am sorry to say that there seemed no likelihood of its realisation. In spite of sacrificing many comforts to dress expenses, and frequenting the promenades, and the Quinones' balls with a regularity deserving success, the precious gifts of Hymen were not attained.
When some imprudent fellow ventured to pay them any attention he was told that they would be quite grieved to marry in their father's life, for it seemed cruel to think of abandoning a poor old man, who loved them so dearly, and had sacrificed so much for them; and these protestations were followed by the warmest eulogy on their father's character.
But the Pensioner was quite anxious to repudiate these too filial sentiments, and his desire of experiencing the cruelty of being abandoned was so evident that it was quite a joke. As if the daughters did not make themselves sufficiently ridiculous, Mateo made the situation worse by throwing them at the heads of all the marriageable young men of the town.
But the praises sung by the old man on the cleverness, economy, and good management of his daughters, were all without effect. Directly a stranger arrived at Lancia, Don Cristobal took care to strike up an acquaintance with him. He invited him to coffee at his house, took him to his box at the theatre, showed him the beauties of the surrounding country, went with him to see the reliques of the cathedral, visited the natural history museum, and, in short, did all the honours of the place.
People smiled at the little play which had been acted so many times without success, for Jovita was the only one who arrived at the dignity of having a lover for three or four years, which fact made her feel far superior to her sisters. The young man had been a foreign student who had courted her during the latter courses of his studies; but when they were over, he returned to his country, and, forgetting his engagement to Jovita, he there married a lady of property. The others never even attained to this degree of love-making, they never got farther than fancies, or flirtations of a fortnight's duration. Trifling attentions were paid, but nothing serious ensued.
By degrees the girls assumed a colder demeanour, for although they had not given up hope, they were tired, and the one all-absorbing idea made a line of care on their brows. But Cristobal did not think of giving in. He firmly believed in the husbands of his daughters, and he propounded the fact with as much assurance as the prophets of the Old Testament announced the coming of the Messias.
"When my daughters marry," he would say, "instead of spending the summer in Sarrio, where the etiquette is as strict as in Lancia, I shall go to Rodillero to breathe the fresh air and fish for perch. Listen to me, Micaela; don't be so sharp, woman. You will find a husband won't put up with those frivolous ways; he will expect to be answered in a proper manner."
"My husband will have to put up with what he can get," returned the pert girl, with a disdainful toss of her head.
"And if he gets tired of that?" asked Emilita, mischievously.
"He will have double work then, for he will get tired, and get tired of getting tired."
"And suppose he took the stick to you?"
"He would have to be careful, for I should be quite equal to poisoning him."
"Goodness! what a horror!" exclaimed the three nereids, laughing.
So that hypothetical husband, that abstract being, figured as constantly in conversation as if he were of flesh and blood, and lived in the next house.
The daughter now playing the piano was Emilita, the most musical of the four sisters. The other three were standing, each hanging on the arm of a young man.
The count crossed the room to Fernanda-Rosa, who was arm-in-arm with a girl friend. She did not seem to care for the dancing, albeit she was a young lady renowned in the town for her beauty, elegance, and fortune. She was the only daughter of Don Juan Estrada-Rosa, the richest banker and merchant of the province. Tall, moderately stout, with a dark complexion, regular, striking features, large, very black, scornful looking eyes, and a graceful figure, embellished by the elegant toilettes, that were the despair and envy of all the girls of the town, she did not look as if she belonged to the place, but as if she had been transported from one of the most aristocratic court salons.
"How charming you are looking, Fernanda!" exclaimed the count, in a low voice, with a bow of admiration.
The beauty scarcely deigned to smile, but made a little scornful pout.
"How do you do, Luis?" she said, giving him her hand with marked displeasure.
"Not so well as you are, but I am pretty well."
"Only pretty well? I am sorry. I am perfectly well—you have not forgotten me, then?" she returned in the same displeased tone, without looking him in the face.
"Why, no, how could one forget the star Sirius?"
"I do not understand astronomy."
"Sirius is the most brilliant star in the heavens, everybody knows that."
"Well then I did not know it. You see how ignorant I am."
"I certainly do not; but you have modesty united to beauty and talent."
"No, I know I have no talent, but you do not like to tell me so."
"My girl, I have but just told you the contrary."
There was a touch of bitterness in the displeased tone of Fernanda, whilst that of the count was calm and ceremonious, although slightly dashed with irony.
"Very well, then I have misunderstood you."
"That is what you always do."
"Caramba, how polite!" exclaimed the young girl, growing pale.
"You always think something disagreeable is meant," quickly added the count, as he saw by the change in her face what idea had crossed her mind.
"Many thanks. I take your words for what they are worth."
"You will be wrong in not thinking them sincere. Besides, there is no need my telling you how worthy you are of admiration, for everybody knows it."
"Thank you; thank you! So you are tired of playing?"
"My teeth hurt me a little."
"Have them out."
"All of them?"
"Those that hurt you, man. Ave Maria!"
"With what indifference you say it. I suppose nothing would affect you?"
"I am always affected by the sufferings of a neighbour."
"A neighbour! What a horror! I had not heard that I was put in the category of neighbour."
"What do you want, sir? Honours come when least expected."
In spite of the vexed, almost aggressive, tone of her voice, Fernanda did not move away, but stood holding the arm of the little friend, who never opened her lips. The rich heiress was evidently very nervous. She gave little taps on the ground with her foot, crushed up her handkerchief in her hand, her lips trembled almost imperceptibly, and round her dark Arab-looking eyes there was a paler circle than usual. The argument evidently interested her.
Her engagement with the Conde de Onis had lasted longer than any previous one.
When Fernanda first appeared in society, and earlier still, when she was a little maiden going to school with a servant, her figure, her elegance, and, above all, the six millions she was to inherit, created quite a sensation. There was not a youth with any pretensions to manners or money, who did not determine, either of his own accord, or at the instigation of his family, to walk down the street with her, send her little notes, and whisper pleasant nothings in her ear.
De Sarrio, de Nueva, and other places also furnished admirers, who came under the pretext of taking a holiday. The girl, pleased and intoxicated with the incense of admiration, never thought of keeping faith with anybody, for she was continually breaking one engagement and entering into another. A young man seldom remained in her good graces more than a couple of months. In fact, there was no one in a position to marry her, and in Lancia and the rest of the province, there was nobody possessed of property equal to her dot. If, perchance, such a one existed, he was not of fitting age to enter into matrimony with such a young girl, for he would be some Indian worn out by tropical heat, or the elderly owner of some remote, grand, country mansion.
It was not necessary for her father to mention the matter, for the girl perfectly understood that there was no one to suit her; but she enjoyed flirting all round and making the youths of Lancia adore her. There was one young man, however, whom no girl of the town had ever dared to think of marrying, and that was the Conde de Onis. He was deeply respected on account of his old family in the province, where the abject worship of aristocracy sinks the burgess beneath the level of the servant and the agricultural labourer; and his retired style of life and the mystery and silence of his old palace, added to his handsome income, seemed to exalt him to an atmosphere aloof from the darts of all the local beauties.
But it was for this very reason, that there arose in Fernanda's bosom a desire, at first vague, and then strong, and overwhelming, to make a conquest of him. This is a very natural wish, and being especially a feminine one, it requires no explanation. In the bottom of her heart the daughter of Estrada-Rosa felt herself inferior to the Conde de Onis. Nevertheless, she had heard so much flattery; and the glitter of her father's money seemed so irresistible, that she thought she could well aspire to making him her husband. If she did not really think so, she pretended to do so when speaking of the count behind his back, and affecting a certain familiarity in his presence.
In Lancia, as in all the little capitals, the young men and women adopt the fashion of tutoyant each other, and this was authorised from their having known each other and played together as children. But for a long time the Conde de Onis never exchanged a word with Fernanda, although they constantly met in the street. Nevertheless, when they first met at a little party at the De Mere's, the young beauty immediately addressed him as tu, and dropped his title. It was Luis here, and Luis there, as if she were quite accustomed to his name. The count was surprised without being displeased. No one is sorry to find himself tutoye by a lovely girl, and a naturally shy and timid man, like the count, was not likely to be the exception.
Fernanda at once tried to enlist him as an admirer, or at least to make him appear as such in the eyes of the public, who looked upon it as a proper state of things. There was no other husband for Fernanda, and no other wife for the count in the province.
The distance that separated them was retrospective: it existed only in Fernanda's lack of ancestors, and it was generally thought that the young girl's beauty, money, and brilliant education, would make the count overlook this drawback.
These relations lasted about a year.
The two met at a party of the Senoritas de Mere, which was always considered a pleasant occasion. She had often hinted to the count that he might go to that house, but he had either not understood, or pretended not to understand her. But one day Fernanda openly made the suggestion. He tried to get out of it as well as he could. Was he timid? or was he proud? Fernanda could not make him out; however, this reserve increased his attraction for her, and made her like him all the more. But suddenly, when the public least expected it—when, in fact, it had begun to ask the reason of the delay of the marriage, the engagement was broken off. It was done diplomatically and secretly, so much so that it had been over for a month, and yet people were still joking them, not knowing there had been a break. The fact when revealed, produced a great sensation, and became the subject of ceaseless conversation at all the parties. No one could say what had happened, or who had given the initiative in the matter. If the count was asked, he stoutly maintained that Fernanda had given him up; and so much stress did he lay upon the statement, that nobody doubted his sincerity. The heiress, Estrada-Rosa, corroborated her lover's assertion without going into particulars, and this in the off-hand tone she always adopted when speaking of, or to, the count, for they went on seeing each other pretty frequently, albeit not quite so often, although they attended parties at the houses of mutual friends. Moreover, Fernanda soon after became an habituee at the dances at the Quinones' house. But the past relations were never renewed, and when the two former lovers met and talked a little as now, the guests looked on with bated breath and interested eyes.
"They will go on as before; they will end by marrying!" they thought.
But they were disillusioned at the sight of the indifference with which they parted.
Just as he was going to reply to the last words of the proud heiress, the glance of the count wandered absently round the room and fell upon a pair of eyes fixed upon him with a sharp and jealous gaze, whereupon he gave his hand to his friend and said with a forced smile:
"How badly you treat me, Fernanda! It will ever be so, I suppose, but I, you know, am always your devoted admirer. Au revoir."
"I am sorry that this devotion neither pleases nor displeases me," she returned, without moving a step away.
Then the count went off shrugging his shoulders resignedly and saying:
"And I am still more sorry."
Passing by the couples, who had commenced the rigodon, he returned to the lady of the house, who was at that moment with Manuel Antonio, one of the persons most worthy of note in this period we are recording.
He was known as much by the nickname of the Chatterbox, or Magpie, as by his own name. This fact is sufficient to give us an idea of his moral and physical characteristics.
Manuel Antonio was not young—he was certainly fifty; and all the artificial means not distinguished for refinement, then in vogue in Lancia, were brought into play to hide the fact.
He had an unmistakable wig, several false teeth badly put in, a little black on his eyebrows and red on his lips; there was a strong scent of patchouli about him, and there was a dash of originality in his whole get-up befitting his reputation for former splendour. He really had been a rare combination of face and figure: tall, slender, and well-built, with regular delicate features, fine auburn hair falling in graceful curls, a smiling countenance, and gentle voice. There now only remained a faint trace of all this beauty. The straight shoulders had become bent, the beautiful curls had vanished like a dream that was past; unwelcome wrinkles furrowed the smooth brow; and the rows of pearly teeth, so ornamental to his mouth, were substituted by ugly gaps which time had made, and the dentist had failed to replace satisfactorily. Finally, his slight, delicate, silky moustache had become white, bristly, and shaggy, and neither dye nor cosmetic could keep it presentable.
What a trial this was for the handsome young man of Lancia and for the friends who had known him in the palmy days of his beauty! But his mind kept as youthful as when he was eighteen. He was the same impassioned, affectionate creature, sweet one moment, irascible and terrible another, following the bent of his caprices and living in quiet idleness.
He enjoyed the pleasures of the bath so intensely that he would have it three or more times running, until the water was as clear as when it left the spring. He loved flowers and birds, but no delight equalled that of trying on different articles of adornment before the glass to see which suited him best. He considered that a dash of the feminine made his costume more fetching, so in winter he liked to wear a short cape with a gold clasp and a wide brimmed hat which suited him to perfection. In summer he dressed in white flannel, very well cut to show off the graceful lines of his figure. His neckerchiefs were nearly always of gauze, his shoes low, and the collar of his shirt cut sailor fashion. On his wrist he wore a bracelet; it was certainly only a bright gold band, but this detail caught the eyes of all his fellow citizens. Whenever Manuel Antonio was spoken of, the bracelet was sure to be mentioned, as if there was nothing about his interesting person more calculated to excite attention. But if years had not materially changed this kind creature, so eminently created for love, they had nevertheless made him more cautious and more reserved. He did not show his preferences in the ingenuous fashion of former years, and he did not give play to the impulsive fancies of his susceptible heart until he had proved the worthiness of the object of his affection. Many were the disillusions he had suffered in his life, and it was particularly sad when he was getting old to meet not only coldness from his old friends, from those to whom he had been lavish in marks of kindness, but to find that he was an object of derision, in fact the laughing-stock of the youths of the new generation. The young people of the present day made a regular butt of him.
As they had not witnessed his triumphs, nor known his past radiant beauty, they were far from professing that respect that the last generation had had for him. They never lost an opportunity of worrying and teasing him cruelly. When he appeared in the Calle de Altavilla, or entered the Cafe de Maranon, he was surrounded by a crowd of gamins. Cristo! the remarks that were made; and, sad to say, they passed from using their tongues to using their hands. This was what Manuel Antonio could not put up with. They could talk as much as they liked, for he had the gift of repartee and could well hold his own with his turn for sarcasm and his sense of the ridiculous; and years, and long practice had made him such an adept in this art of repartee, that his retorts were terrible; and those who tried to get a rise out of him generally got the worst of it, and were staggered by the words they brought on themselves. But when these shameless fellows passed from speech to touch, patting his face and pulling his beard, he entirely lost his self-control, and gave vent to expressions which were neither intentional nor rational. Needless to say that as this was known to be his weak point, the teasing always terminated in this way. Nevertheless, apart from the pardonable desire to retort on those who hurt him, he was not naturally malignant, but really a most useful and serviceable being. His talents were many, and various. He could crochet most perfectly, and his coverlets were unrivalled in Lancia. He decked an altar, or dressed the images as well as any sacristan. He could upholster furniture, make wax flowers, paper walls, embroider with hair, and paint plates. And when any of his female friends wished to have her hair well dressed to go to some ball, Manuel Antonio gallantly went to the rescue, and did it as cleverly as the best hairdresser in Madrid. If any of his friends were ill, then was the time to see the unfailing care and attention of our old Narcissus. He immediately took up his post by the sick bed, he kept count of the draughts, made the bed, and put on poultices as cleverly as the most practised nurse. Then, if the illness became serious, he knew how to suggest the idea of confession with so much tact, that instead of the patient being offended, he accepted it as the most natural thing in the world. And when he saw that death was imminent, he prepared for the reception of the solemn guest, and no lady could have taken greater pains to receive some most important personage: