AN ANDALUSIAN DUEL
Serafin Estebanez Calderon
Through the little square of St. Anna, towards a certain tavern, where
the best wine is to be quaffed in Seville, there walked in measured
steps two men whose demeanor clearly manifested the soil which gave
them birth. He who walked in the middle of the street, taller than the
other by about a finger's length, sported with affected carelessness
the wide, slouched hat of Ecija, with tassels of glass beads and a
ribbon as black as his sins. He wore his cloak gathered under his left
arm; the right, emerging from a turquoise lining, exposed the merino
lambskin with silver clasps. The herdsman's boots—white, with Turkish
buttons,—the breeches gleaming red from below the cloak and covering
the knee, and, above all, his strong and robust appearance, dark curly
hair, and eye like a red-hot coal, proclaimed at a distance that all
this combination belonged to one of those men who put an end to horses
between their knees and tire out the bull with their lance.
He walked on, arguing with his companion, who was rather spare than
prodigal in his person, but marvelously lithe and supple. The latter
was shod with low shoes, garters united the stockings to the
light-blue breeches, the waistcoat was cane-colored, his sash light
green, and jaunty shoulder-knots, lappets, and rows of buttons
ornamented the carmelite jacket. The open cloak, the hat drawn over
his ear, his short, clean steps, and the manifestations in all his
limbs and movements of agility and elasticity beyond trial plainly
showed that in the arena, carmine cloth in hand, he would mock at the
most frenzied of Jarama bulls, or the best horned beasts from Utrera.
I—who adore and die for such people, though the compliment be not
returned—went slowly in the wake of their worships, and, unable to
restrain myself, entered with them the same tavern, or rather
eating-house, since there they serve certain provocatives as well as
wine, and I, as my readers perceive, love to call things by their
right name. I entered and sat down at once, and in such a manner as
not to interrupt Oliver and Roland, and that they might not notice me,
when I saw that, as if believing themselves alone, they threw their
arms with an amicable gesture round each others' neck, and thus began
"Pulpete," said the taller, "now that we are going to meet each
other, knife in hand—you here, I there,—one, two,—on your
guard,—triz, traz,—have that,—take this and call it what
you like—let us first drain a tankard to the music and measure
of some songs."
"Señor Balbeja," replied Pulpete, drawing his face aside and spitting
with the greatest neatness and pulchritude towards his shoe, "I am not
the kind of man either for La Gorja or other similar earthly matters,
or because a steel tongue is sheathed in my body, or my weasand slit,
or for any other such trifle, to be provoked or vexed with such a
friend as Balbeja. Let the wine be brought, and then, we will sing;
and afterwards blood—blood to the hilt."
The order was given, they clinked glasses, and, looking one at the
other, sang a Sevillian song.
This done, they threw off their cloaks with an easy grace, and
unsheathed their knives with which to prick one another, the one
Flemish with a white haft, the other from Guadix, with a guard to the
hilt, both blades dazzling in their brightness, and sharpened and
ground enough for operating upon cataracts, much less ripping up
bellies and bowels. The two had already cleft the air several times
with the said lancets, their cloak wound round their left arm—first
drawing closer, then back, now more boldly and in bounds—when Pulpete
hoisted the flag for parley, and said:
"Balbeja, my friend, I only beg you to do me the favor not to fan my
face with Juilon your knife, since a slash might use it so ill that
my mother who bore me would not know me, and I should not like to be
considered ugly; neither is it right to mar and destroy what God made
in His likeness."
"Agreed," replied Balbeja; "I will aim lower."
"Except—except my stomach also, for I was ever a friend to
cleanliness, and I should not like to see myself fouled in a bad way,
if your knife and arm played havoc with my liver and intestines."
"I will strike higher; but let us go on."
"Take care of my chest, it was always weak."
"Then just tell me, friend, where am I to sound or tap you?"
"My dear Balbeja, there's always plenty of time and space to hack at a
man; I have here on my left arm a wen, of which you can make meat as
much as you like."
"Here goes for it," said Balbeja, and he hurled himself like an arrow;
the other warded off the thrust with his cloak, and both, like skilful
penmen, began again tracing S's and signatures in the air with dashes
and flourishes without, however, raising a particle of skin.
I do not know what would have been the end of this onslaught, since my
venerable, dry, and shriveled person was not suitable for forming a
point of exclamation between two combatants; and the tavern-keeper
troubled so little about what was happening that he drowned the
stamping of their feet and clatter of the tumbling stools and utensils
by scraping street music on a guitar as loud as he could. Otherwise he
was as calm as if he were entertaining two angels instead of two
I do not know, I repeat, how this scene would have ended, when there
crossed the threshold a parsonage who came to take a part in the
development of the drama. There entered, I say, a woman of twenty to
twenty-two years of age, diminutive in body, superlative in audacity
and grace. Neat and clean hose and shoes, short, black flounced
petticoat, a linked girdle, head-dress or mantilla of fringed taffeta
caught together at the nape of her neck, and a corner of it over her
shoulder, she passed before my eyes with swaying hips, arms akimbo,
and moving her head to and fro as she looked about her on all sides.
Upon seeing her the tavern-keeper dropped his instrument, and I was
overtaken by perturbation such as I had not experienced for thirty
years (I am, after all, only flesh and blood); but, without halting
for such lay-figures, she advanced to the field of battle.
There was a lively to-do here; Don Pulpete and Don Balbeja when they
saw Doña Gorja appear, first cause of the disturbance and future prize
for the victor, increased their feints, flourishes, curvets, onsets,
crouching, and bounds—all, however, without touching a hair. Our
Helen witnessed in silence for a long time this scene in history with
that feminine pleasure which the daughters of Eve enjoy at such
critical moments. But gradually her pretty brow clouded over, until,
drawing from her delicate ear, not a flower or earring, but the stump
of a cigar, she hurled it amidst the jousters. Not even Charles V's
cane in the last duel in Spain produced such favorable effects. Both
came forward immediately with formal respect, and each, by reason of
the discomposure of his person and clothes, presumed to urge a title
by which to recommend himself to the fair with the flounces. She, as
though pensive, was going over the passage of arms in her mind, and
then, with firm and confident resolution, spoke thus:
"And is this affair for me?"
"Who else should it be for? since I—since nobody—" they replied in
the same breath.
"Listen, gentlemen," said she. "For females such as I and my parts,
of my charms and descent—daughter of La Gatusa, niece of La Mêndez,
and granddaughter of La Astrosa—know that there are neither pacts nor
compacts, nor any such futile things, nor are any of them worth a
farthing. And when men challenge each other, let the knife do its work
and the red blood flow, so as not to have my mother's daughter present
without giving her the pleasure of snapping her fingers in the face of
the other. If you pretend you are fighting for me, it's a lie; you are
wholly mistaken, and that not by halves. I love neither of you.
Mingalarios of Zafra is to my taste, and he and I look upon you with
scorn and contempt. Good-by, my braves; and, if you like, call my man
She spoke, spat, smoothed the saliva with the point of her shoe,
looking Pulpete and Balbeja full in the face, and went out with the
same expressive movements with which she entered.
The two unvarnished braggarts followed the valorous Doña Gorja with
their eyes; and then with a despicable gesture drew their knives
across their sleeve as though wiping off the blood there might have
been, sheathed them at one and the same time, and said together:
"Through woman the world was lost, through a woman Spain was lost; but
it has never been known, nor do ballads relate, nor the blind beggars
sing, nor is it heard in the square or markets, that two valiant men
killed each, other for another lover."
"Give me that fist, Don Pulpete."
"Your hand, Don Balbeja."
They spoke and strode out into the street, the best friends in the
world, leaving me all amazed at such whimsicality.