And Other Fascinating Stories
of Spanish Life
LITTLE BLUE BOOK NO. 1195
Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius
An Andalusian Duel
Serafin Estebanez Calderon.
Mariquita the Bald
Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch.
The Love of Clotilde
Armando Palacio Valdés.
Captain Veneno's Proposal of Marriage
Pedro Antonio de Alarcón.
How old was I then? Eleven or twelve years? More probably thirteen,
for before then is too early to be seriously in love; but I won't
venture to be certain, considering that in Southern countries the
heart matures early, if that organ is to blame for such perturbations.
If I do not remember well when, I can at least say exactly how my
first love revealed itself. I was very fond—as soon as my aunt had
gone to church to perform her evening devotions—of slipping into her
bedroom and rummaging her chest of drawers, which she kept in
admirable order. Those drawers were to me a museum; in them I always
came across something rare or antique, which exhaled an archaic and
mysterious scent, the aroma of the sandalwood fans which perfumed her
white linen. Pin-cushions of satin now faded; knitted mittens,
carefully wrapped in tissue paper; prints of saints; sewing materials;
a reticule of blue velvet embroidered with bugles, an amber and silver
rosary would appear from the corners: I used to ponder over them, and
return them to their place. But one day—I remember as well as if it
were today—in the corner of the top drawer, and lying on some collars
of old lace, I saw something gold glittering—I put in my hand,
unwittingly crumpled the lace, and drew out a portrait, an ivory
miniature, about three inches long, in a frame of gold.
I was struck at first sight. A sunbeam streamed through the window and
fell upon the alluring form, which seemed to wish to step out of its
dark background and come towards me. It was the most lovely creature,
such as I had never seen except in the dreams of my adolescence. The
lady of the portrait must have been some twenty odd years; she was no
simple maiden, no half-opened rosebud, but a woman in the full
resplendency of her beauty. Her face was oval, but not too long, her
lips full, half-open and smiling, her eyes cast a languishing
side-glance, and she had a dimple on her chin as if formed by the tip
of Cupid's playful finger. Her head-dress was strange but elegant; a
compact group of curls plastered conewise one over the other covered
her temples, and a basket of braided hair rose on the top of her head.
This old-fashioned head-dress, which was trussed up from the nape of
her neck, disclosed all the softness of her fresh young throat, on
which the dimple of her chin was reduplicated more vaguely and
As for the dress—I do not venture to consider whether our
grandmothers were less modest than our wives are, or if the confessors
of past times were more indulgent than those of the present; I am
inclined to think the latter, for seventy years ago women prided
themselves upon being Christianlike and devout, and would not have
disobeyed the director of their conscience in so grave and important a
matter. What is undeniable is, that if in the present day any lady
were to present herself in the garb of the lady of the portrait, there
would be a scandal; for from her waist (which began at her armpits)
upwards, she was only veiled by light folds of diaphanous gauze, which
marked out, rather than covered, two mountains of snow, between which
meandered a thread of pearls. With further lack of modesty she
stretched out two rounded arms worthy of Juno, ending in finely molded
hands—when I say hands I am not exact, for, strictly speaking, only
one hand could be seen, and that held a richly embroidered
Even today I am astonished at the startling effect which the
contemplation of that miniature produced upon me, and how I remained
in ecstasy, scarcely breathing, devouring the portrait with my eyes. I
had already seen here and there prints representing beautiful women.
It often happened that in the illustrated papers, in the mythological
engravings of our dining-room, or in a shop-window, that a beautiful
face, or a harmonious and graceful figure attracted my precociously
artistic gaze. But the miniature encountered in my aunt's drawer,
apart from its great beauty, appeared to me as if animated by a subtle
and vital breath; you could see it was not the caprice of a painter,
but the image of a real and actual person of flesh and blood. The warm
and rich tone of the tints made you surmise that the blood was tepid
beneath that mother-of-pearl skin. The lips were slightly parted to
disclose the enameled teeth; and to complete the illusion there ran
round the frame a border of natural hair, chestnut in color, wavy and
silky, which had grown on the temples of the original.
As I have said, it was more than a copy, it was the reflection of a
living person from whom I was only separated by a wall of glass.—I
seized it, breathed upon it, and it seemed to me that the warmth of
the mysterious deity communicated itself to my lips and circulated
through my veins. At this moment I heard footsteps in the corridor. It
was my aunt returning from her prayers. I heard her asthmatic cough,
and the dragging of her gouty feet. I had only just time to put the
miniature into the drawer, shut it, and approach the window, adopting
an innocent and indifferent attitude.
My aunt entered noisily, for the cold of the church had exasperated
her catarrh, now chronic. Upon seeing me, her wrinkled eyes
brightened, and giving me a friendly tap with her withered hand, she
asked me if I had been turning over her drawers as usual.
Then, with a chuckle:
"Wait a bit, wait a bit," she added, "I have something for you,
something you will like."
And she pulled out of her vast pocket a paper bag, and out of the bag
three or four gum lozenges, sticking together in a cake, which gave me
a feeling of nausea.
My aunt's appearance did not invite one to open one's mouth and devour
these sweets: the course of years, her loss of teeth, her eyes dimmed
to an unusual degree, the sprouting of a mustache or bristles on her
sunken-in mouth, which was three inches wide, dull gray locks
fluttering above her sallow temples, a neck flaccid and livid as the
crest of the turkey when in a good temper.—In short, I did not take
the lozenges. Ugh! A feeling of indignation, a manly protest rose in
me, and I said forcibly:
"I do not want it, I don't want it."
"You don't want it? What a wonder! You who are greedier than a cat!"
"I am not a little boy," I exclaimed, drawing myself up, and standing
on tiptoes; "I don't care for sweets."
My aunt looked at me half good-humoredly and half ironically, and at
last, giving way to the feeling of amusement I caused her, burst out
laughing, by which she disfigured herself, and exposed the horrible
anatomy of her jaws. She laughed so heartily that her chin and nose
met, hiding her lips, and emphasizing two wrinkles, or rather two deep
furrows, and more than a dozen lines on her cheeks and eyelids; at the
same time her head and body shook with the laughter, until at last her
cough began to interrupt the bursts, and between laughing and coughing
the old lady involuntarily spluttered all over my face. Humiliated,
and full of disgust, I escaped rapidly thence to my mother's room,
where I washed myself with soap and water, and began to muse on the
lady of the portrait.
And from that day and hour I could not keep my thoughts from her. As
soon as my aunt went out, to slip into her room, open the drawer,
bring out the miniature, and lose myself in contemplation, was the
work of a minute. By dint of looking at it, I fancied that her
languishing eyes, through the voluptuous veiling, of her eyelashes,
were fixed in mine, and that her white bosom heaved. I became ashamed
to kiss her, imagining she would be annoyed at my audacity, and only
pressed her to my heart or held her against my cheek. All my actions
and thoughts referred to the lady; I behaved towards her with the most
extraordinary refinement and super-delicacy. Before entering my aunt's
room and opening the longed-for drawer, I washed, combed my hair, and
tidied myself, as I have seen since is usually done before repairing
to a love appointment.
I often happened to meet in the street other boys of my age, very
proud of their slip of a sweetheart, who would exultingly show me
love-letters, photographs, and flowers, and who asked me if I hadn't a
sweetheart with whom to correspond. A feeling of inexplicable
bashfulness tied my tongue, and I only replied with an enigmatic and
haughty smile. And when they questioned me as to what I thought of the
beauty of their little maidens, I would shrug my shoulders and
disdainfully call them ugly mugs.
One Sunday I went to play in the house of some little girl-cousins,
really very pretty, the eldest of whom was not yet fifteen. We were
amusing ourselves looking into a stereoscope, when suddenly one of the
little girls, the youngest, who counted twelve summers at most,
secretly seized my hand, and in some confusion and blushing as red as
a brazier, whispered in my ear:
At the same time I felt in the palm of my hand something soft and
fresh, and saw that it was a rosebud with its green foliage. The
little girl ran away smiling and casting a side-glance at me; but I,
with a Puritanism worthy of Joseph, cried out in my turn:
And I threw the rosebud at her nose, a rebuff which made her tearful
and pettish with me the whole afternoon, and for which she has not
pardoned me even now, though she is married and has three children.
The two or three hours which my aunt spent morning and evening
together at church being too short for my admiration of the entrancing
portrait, I resolved at last to keep the miniature in my pocket, and
went about all day hiding myself from people just as if I had
committed some crime. I fancied that the portrait from the depth of
its prison of cloth could see all my actions, and I arrived at such a
ridiculous extremity, that if I wanted to scratch myself, pull up my
sock, or do anything else not in keeping with the idealism of my
chaste love, I first drew out the miniature, put it in a safe place,
and then considered myself free to do whatever I wanted. In fact,
since I had accomplished the theft, there was no limit to my vagaries.
At night I hid it under the pillow, and slept in an attitude of
defense; the portrait remained near the wall, I outside, and I awoke
a thousand times, fearing somebody would come to bereave me of my
treasure. At last I drew it from beneath the pillow and slipped it
between my nightshirt and left breast, on which the following day
could be seen the imprint of the chasing of the frame.
The contact of the dear miniature gave me delicious dreams. The lady
of the portrait, not in effigy, but in her natural size and
proportions, alive, graceful, affable, beautiful, would come towards
me to conduct me to her palace by a rapid and flying train. With sweet
authority she would make me sit on a stool at her feet, and would pass
her beautifully molded hand over my head, caressing my brow, my eyes,
and loose curls. I read to her out of a big missal, or played the
lute, and she deigned to smile, thanking me for the pleasure which my
reading and songs gave her. At last romantic reminiscences overflowed
in my brain, and sometimes I was a page, and sometimes a troubadour.
With all these fanciful ideas, the fact is that I began to grow thin
quite perceptibly, which was observed with great disquietude in my
parents and my aunt.
"In this dangerous and critical age of development, everything is
alarming," said my father, who used to read books of medicine, and
anxiously studied my dark eyelids, my dull eyes, my contracted and
pale lips, and above all, the complete lack of appetite which had
taken possession of me.
"Play, boy; eat, boy," he would say to me, and I replied to him,
"I don't feel inclined."
They began to talk of distractions, offered to take me to the theater;
stopped my studies, and gave me foaming new milk to drink. Afterwards
they poured cold water over my head and back to fortify my nerves; and
I noticed that my father at table or in the morning when I went to his
bedroom to bid him good morning, would gaze at me fixedly for some
little time, and would sometimes pass his hand down my spine, feeling
the vertebrae. I hypocritically lowered my eyes, resolved to die
rather than confess my crime. As soon as I was free from the
affectionate solicitude of my family, I found myself alone with my
lady of the portrait. At last, to get nearer to her, I thought I would
do away with the cold crystal. I trembled upon putting this into
execution; but at last my love prevailed over the vague fear with
which such a profanation filled me, and with skillful cunning I
succeeded in pulling away the glass and exposing the ivory plate. As I
pressed my lips to the painting I could scent the slight fragrance of
the border of hair, I imagined to myself even more realistically that
it was a living person whom I was grasping with my trembling hands. A
feeling of faintness overpowered me, and I fell unconscious on the
sofa, tightly holding the miniature.
When I came to my senses I saw my father, my mother, and my aunt, all
bending anxiously over me; I read their terror and alarm in their
faces; my father was feeling my pulse, shaking his head, and
"His pulse is nothing but a flutter, you can scarcely feel it."
My aunt, with her claw-like fingers, was trying to take the portrait
from me, and I was mechanically hiding it and grasping it more firmly.
"But, my dear boy—let go, you are spoiling it!" she exclaimed. "Don't
you see you are smudging it? I am not scolding you, my dear.—I will
show it to you as often as you like, but don't destroy it; let go, you
are injuring it."
"Let him have it," begged my mother, "the boy is not well."
"Of all things to ask!" replied the old maid. "Let him have it! And
who will paint another like this—or make me as I was then? Today
nobody paints miniatures—it is a thing of the past, and I also am a
thing of the past, and I am not what is represented there!"
My eyes dilated with horror; my fingers released their hold on the
picture. I don't know how I was able to articulate:
"You—the portrait—is you?"
"Don't you think I am as pretty now, boy? Bah! one is better looking
at twenty-three than at—than at—I don't know what, for I have
forgotten how old I am!"
My head drooped and I almost fainted again; anyway, my father lifted
me in his arms on to the bed, and made me swallow some tablespoonfuls
I recovered very quickly, and never wished to enter my aunt's room
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.
MARIQUITA THE BALD
Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch
It is as sorry a matter to use words of whose meaning one is ignorant
as it is a blemish for a man of sense to speak of what he knows
nothing about. I say this to those of you who may have the present
story in your hands, however often you may have happened to have heard
Mariquita the Bald mentioned, and I swear by my doublet that you
shall soon know who Mariquita the Bald was, as well as I know who ate
the Christmas turkey, setting aside the surmise that it certainly must
have been a mouth.
I desire, therefore, to enlighten your ignorance of this subject, and
beg to inform you that the said noted Maria (Mariquita is a diminutive
of Maria) was born in the District of Segovia, and in the town of San
Garcia, the which town is famed for the beauty of the maidens reared
within its walls, who for the most part have such gentle and lovely
faces that may I behold such around me at the hour of my death.
Maria's father was an honest farmer, by name Juan Lanas, a Christian
old man and much beloved, who had inherited no mean estate from his
forefathers, though with but little wit in his crown,—a lack which
was the cause of much calamity to both the father and the daughter,
for in the times to which we have attained, God forgive me if it is
not necessary to have more of the knave than of the fool in one's
Now it came to pass that Juan Lanas, for the castigation of his sins,
must needs commit himself to a lawsuit with one of his neighbors about
a vine stock which was worth about fifty maravedis; and Juan was in
the right, and the judges gave the verdict in his favor, so that he
won his case, excepting that the suit lasted no less than ten years
and the costs amounted to nothing less than fifty thousand
maravedis, not to speak of a disease of the eyes which, after all
was over, left him blind. When he found himself with diminished
property and without his eyesight, in sorrow and disgust he turned
into money such part of his patrimony as sufficed to rid him of the
hungry herd of scriveners and lawyers, and took his way to Toledo with
his daughter, who was already entering upon her sixteenth year, and
had matured into one of the most beautiful, graceful, and lovable
damsels to be found throughout all Castile and the kingdoms beyond.
For she was white as the lily and red like the rose, straight and tall
of stature, and slender in the waist, with fair, shapely hips; and
again her foot and hand were plump and small to a marvel, and she
possessed a head of hair which reached to her knees. For I knew the
widow Sarmiento who was their housekeeper, and she told me how she
could scarcely clasp Mariquita's hair with both hands, and that she
could not comb the hair unless Maria stood up and the housekeeper
mounted on a footstool, for if Maria sat down the long tresses swept
the ground, and therefore became all entangled.
And do not imagine, her beauty and grace being such, that she sinned
greatly in pride and levity, as is the wont of girls in this age. She
was as humble as a cloistered lay-sister, and as silent as if she were
not a woman, and patient as the sucking lamb, and industrious as the
ant, clean as the ermine, and pure as a saint of those times in which,
by the grace of the Most High, saintly women were born into the world.
But I must confide to you in friendship that our Mariquita was not a
little vain about her hair, and loved to display it, and for this
reason, now in the streets, now when on a visit, now when at mass, it
is said she used to subtilely loosen her mantilla so that her tresses
streamed down her back, the while feigning forgetfulness and
carelessness. She never wore a hood, for she said it annoyed her and
choked her; and every time that her father reproached her for some
deed deserving of punishment and threatened to cut off her hair, I
warrant you she suffered three times more than after a lash from the
whip, and would then be good for three weeks successively; so much so
that Juan Lanas, perceiving her amendment, would laugh under his
cloak, and when saying his say to his gossips would tell them that his
daughter, like the other saint of Sicily, would reach heaven by her
Having read so far, you must now know that Juan Lanas, the blind man,
with the change of district and dwelling did not change his judgment
and if he was crack-brained at San Garcia, he remained crack-brained
at Toledo, consuming in this resort his money upon worthless drugs and
quacks which did not cure his blindness and impoverished him more and
more every day, so that if his daughter had not been so dexterous with
her fingers in making and broidering garments of linen, wool, and
silk, I promise you that this miserable Juan would have had to go for
more than four Sundays without a clean shirt to put on or a mouthful
to eat, unless he had begged it from door to door.
The years passed by to find Maria every day more beautiful, and her
father every day more blind and more desirous to see, until his
affliction and trouble took such forcible possession of his breast and
mind, that Maria saw as clear as daylight that if her father did not
recover his sight, he would die of grief. Maria thereupon straightway
took her father and led him to the house of an Arabian physician of
great learning who dwelt at Toledo, and told the Moor to see if there
were any cure for the old man's sight. The Arabian examined and
touched Juan, and made this and that experiment with him, and
everything prospered, in that the physician swore great oaths by the
heel-bone of Mohammed that there was a complete certainty of curing
Juan and making him to see his daughter again, if only he, the
physician, were paid for the cure with five hundred maravedis all in
gold. A sad termination for such a welcome beginning, for the two
unhappy creatures, Juan and Maria, had neither maravedi nor
cuarto in the money box! So they went thence all downcast, and Maria
never ceased praying to his Holiness Saint John and his Holiness Saint
James (the patron saint of Spain) to repair to their assistance in
this sad predicament.
"In what way," conjectured she inwardly, "in what way can I raise five
hundred maravedis to be quits with the Moor who will give back his
sight to my poor old father? All! I have it. I am a pretty maid, and
suitors innumerable, commoners and nobles, pay their addresses and
compliments to me. But all are trifling youths who only care for
love-making and who seek light o' loves rather than spouses according
to the law of the Lord Jesus Christ. I remember, notwithstanding, that
opposite our house lives the sword-cutler, Master Palomo, who is
always looking at me and never speaks to me, and the Virgin assist me,
he appears a man of very good condition for a husband; but what
maiden, unless she were cross-eyed, or hunch-backed, could like a man
with such a flat nose, with that skin the color of a ripe date, with
those eyes like a dead calf's, and with those huge hands, which are
more like the paws of a wild beast that the belongings of a person who
with them should softly caress the woman whom Destiny bestows upon him
for a companion? 'Tis said that he is no drunkard, nor cudgeler, nor
dallier with women, nor a liar, and that he is besides possessed of
much property and very rich. Pity 'tis that one who is so ugly and
stiff-necked should unite such parts."
Thus turning the matter over and over in her mind, Maria together
with Juan reached their home, where was awaiting them an esquire in a
long mourning robe, who told Maria that the aunt of the mayor of the
city had died in an honest estate and in the flower of her age, for
she had not yet completed her seventy years, and that the obsequies of
this sexagenarian damsel were to be performed the following day, on
which occasion her coffin would be carried to the church by maidens,
and he was come to ask Maria if she would please to be one of the
bearers of the dead woman, for which she would receive a white robe,
and to eat, and ducat, and thanks into the bargain.
Maria, since she was a well-brought-up maid, replied that if it seemed
well to her father, it would also seem well to her.
Juan accepted, and Maria was rejoiced to be able to make a display of
her hair, for it is well known that the maidens who bear one another
to the grave walk with disheveled locks. And when on the morrow the
tiring-women of the mayoress arrayed Maria in a robe white as the
driven snow and fine as the skin of an onion; and when they girt her
slender waist with a sash of crimson silk, the ends of which hung down
to the broad hem of the skirt; and when they crowned her smooth and
white forehead with a wreath of white flowers, I warrant you that,
what with the robe and the sash and the wreath, and the beautiful
streaming hair and her lovely countenance and gracious mien, she
seemed no female formed of flesh and blood, but a superhuman creature
or blessed resident of those shining circles in which dwell the
celestial hierarchies. The mayor and the other mourners stepped forth
to see her, and all unceasingly praised God, who was pleased to
perform such miracles for the consolation and solace of those living
in this world.
And there in a corner of the hall, motionless like a heap of broken
stones, stood one of the mutes with the hood of his long cloak
covering his head, so that nothing could be seen but his eyes, the
which he kept fixed on the fair damsel. The latter modestly lowered
her eyes to the ground with her head a little bent and her cheeks red
for bashfulness, although it pleased her no little to hear the praises
of her beauty. At this moment a screen was pushed aside, and there
began to appear a huge bulk of petticoats, which was nothing less than
the person of the mayoress, for she was with child and drawing near to
her time. And when she saw Maria, she started, opened her eyes a
hand's-breadth wide, bit her lips, and called hurriedly for her
husband. They stepped aside for a good while, and then hied them
thence, and when they returned the mutes and maidens had all gone.
While they were burying the defunct lady I must tell you, curious
readers, that the mayor and mayoress had been married for many years
without having any children, and they longed for them like the
countryman for rain in the month of May, and at last her hour of bliss
came to the mayoress, to the great content of her husband. Now, it
was whispered that the said lady had always been somewhat capricious;
judge for yourselves what she would be now in the time of her
pregnancy! And as she was already on the way to fifty, she was more
than mediocrely bald and hairless, and on these very same days had
commissioned a woman barber, who lived in the odor of witchcraft, to
prepare for her some false hair, but it was not to be that of a dead
woman, for the mayoress said very sensibly that if the hair belonged
to a dead woman who rejoiced in supreme glory, or was suffering for
her sins in purgatory, it would be profanation to wear any pledge of
theirs, and if they were in hell, it was a terrible thing to wear on
one's person relics of one of the damned. And when the mayoress saw
the abundant locks of Maria, she coveted them for herself, and it was
for this reason that she called to the mayor to speak to her in
private and besought him eagerly to persuade Mario to allow herself to
be shorn upon the return from the burial.
"I warn you," said the mayor, "that you are desirous of entering upon
a very knotty bargain, for the disheveled girl idolizes her hair in
such wise that she would sooner lose a finger than suffer one of her
tresses to be cut off."
"I warn you," replied the mayoress, "that if on this very day the head
of this young girl is not shorn smooth beneath my hand as a melon, the
child to which I am about to give birth will have a head of hair on
its face, and if it happens to be a female, look you, a pretty
daughter is in store for you!"
"But bethink yourself that Maria will ask, who knows, a good few
crowns for this shaving."
"Bethink yourself that if not, your heir or heiress, begotten after
many years' marriage, will come amiss; and bear in mind, by the way,
that we are not so young as to hope to replace this by another."
Upon this she turned her back to the mayor, and went to her apartment
crying out: "I want the hair, I must have the hair, and if I do not
get the hair, by my halidom I shall never become a mother."
In the meantime the funeral had taken place without any novelty to
mention, excepting that if in the streets any loose fellow in the
crowd assayed to annoy the fair Maria, the hooded mute, of whom we
made mention before, quickly drew from beneath his cloak a strap, with
which he gave a lash to the insolent rogue without addressing one word
to him, and then walked straight on as if nothing had happened. When
all the mourners returned, the mayor seized hold of Maria's hand and
said to her:
"And now, fair maid, let us withdraw for a little while into this
other apartment," and thus talking whilst in motion he brought her
into his wife's private tiring-room, and sat himself down in a chair
and bent his head and stroked his beard with the mien of one who is
studying what beginning to give his speech. Maria, a little foolish
and confused, remained standing in front of the mayor, and she also
humbly lowered before him her eyes, black as the sloe; and to occupy
herself with something, gently fingered the ends of the sash, which
girded her waist and hung down over her skirt, not knowing what to
expect from the grave mien and long silence of the mayor, who, raising
his eyes and looking up at Maria, when he beheld her in so modest a
posture, devised thence a motive with which to begin, saying:
"Forsooth, Maria, so modest and sanctimonious is thy bearing, that it
is easy to see thou art preparing thyself to become a black-wimpled
nun. And if it be so, as I presume it to be, I now offer of my own
accord to dispose of thy entry into the cloisters without any dowry,
on the condition that thou dost give me something that thou hast on
thy head, and which then will not be necessary for thee."
"Nay, beshrew me, Sir Mayor," replied Maria, "for I durst not think
that the Lord calls upon me to take that step, for then my poor father
would remain in the world without the staff of his old age."
"Then, now, I desire to give thee some wise counsel, maid Maria. Thou
dost gain thy bread with great fatigue. Thou shouldst make use of thy
time as much as is possible. Now one of thy neighbors hath told me
that in the dressing of thy hair thou dost waste every day more than
an hour. It would be better far if thou didst spend this hour on thy
work rather than in the dressing and braiding which thou dost to thy
"That is true, Sir Mayor," replied Maria, turning as red as a
carnation, "but, look you, it is not my fault if I have a wealth of
tresses, the combing and plaiting of which necessitate so long a time
"I tell thee it is thy fault," retorted the mayor, "for if thou didst
cut off this mane, thou wouldst save thyself all this combing and
plaiting, and thus wouldst have more time for work, and so gain more
money, and wouldst also give no occasion to people to call thee vain.
They even say that the devil will some day carry thee off by thy hair.
Nay, do not be distressed, for I already perceive the tears gathering
in thine eyes, for thou hast them indeed very ready at hand; I
admonish thee for thine own good without any self-interest. Cut thy
hair off, shear thyself, shave thyself, good Maria, and to allay the
bitterness of the shearing, I will give fifty maravedis, always on
condition that thou dost hand me over the hair."
When Maria at first heard this offer of so reasonable a sum for this
her hair, it seemed to her a jest of the mayor's, and she smiled right
sweetly while she dried her tears, repeating:
"You will give me fifty maravedis if I shave myself?"
Now it appeared to the mayor (who, it is said, was not gifted with all
the prudence of Ulysses) that the smile signified that the maid was
not satisfied with so small a price, and he added:
"If thou wilt not be content with fifty maravedis, I will give thee
Then Maria saw some hangings of the apartment moving in front of her,
and perceiving a bulky protuberance, she immediately divined that the
mayoress was hiding behind there, and that the protuberance was caused
by her portly form. Now she discovered the mayor's design, and that it
was probably a caprice of his spouse, and she made a vow not to suffer
herself to be shorn unless she acquired by these means the five
hundred maravedis needful to pay the Arabian physician who would
give her father back his eyesight.
Then the mayor raised his price from a hundred maravedis to a
hundred and fifty, and afterwards to two hundred, and Maria continued
her sweet smiling, shaking of the head, and gestures, and every time
that the mayor bid higher and Maria feigned to be reluctant, she
almost hoped that the mayor would withdraw from his proposition, for
the great grief it caused her to despoil herself of that precious
ornament, notwithstanding that my means of it she might gain her
father's health. Finally the mayor, anxious to conclude the treaty,
for he saw the stirring of the curtains, and knew by them the anxiety
and state of mind of the listener, closed by saying:
"Go to, hussy, I will give thee five hundred maravedis. See, once
and for all, if thou canst agree on these terms."
"Be it so," replied Maria, sighing as if her soul would flee from her
flesh with these words—"be it so, so long that nobody doth know that
I remain bald."
"I will give my word for it," said the mayoress, stepping from behind
the curtains with a pair of sharp shears in her hands and a wrapper
over her arm.
When Maria saw the scissors she turned as yellow as wax, and when they
told her to sit down on the sacrificial chair, she felt herself grow
faint and had to ask for a drink of water; and when they tied the
wrapper round her throat it is related that she would have immediately
torn it asunder if her courage had not failed her. And when at the
first movement of the shears she felt the cold iron against her skull,
I tell you it seemed to her as if they were piercing her heart with a
bright dagger. It is possible that she did not keep her head still for
a moment while this tonsuring was taking place; she moved it in spite
of herself, now to one side, now to another, to flee from the clipping
scissors, of which the rude cuts and the creaking axis wounded her
ears. Her posture and movements, however, were of no avail to the poor
shorn maiden, and the pertinacious shearer, with the anxiety and
covetousness of a pregnant woman satisfying a caprice, seized the hair
well, or ill, by handfuls, and went on bravely clipping, and the locks
fell on to the white wrapper, slipping down thence till they reached
At last the business came to an end, and the mayoress, who was beside
herself with joy, caressingly passed the palm of her hand again and
again over the maid's bald head from the front to the back, saying:
"By my mother's soul, I have shorn you so regularly and close to the
root that the most skilful barber could not have shorn you better.
Get up and braid the hair while my husband goes to get the money and I
your clothes, so that you can leave the house without anyone
The mayor and mayoress went out of the room, and Maria, as soon as she
found herself alone, went to look at herself in a mirror that hung
there; and when she saw herself bald she lost the patience she had had
until then, and groaned with rage and struck herself, and even tried
to wrench off her ears, which appeared to her now outrageously large,
although they were not so in reality. She stamped upon her hair and
cursed herself for having ever consented to lose it, without
remembering her father, and just as if she had no father at all. But
as it is a quality of human nature to accept what cannot be altered,
poor angry Maria calmed down little by little, and she picked up the
hair from the ground and bound it together and braided it into great
ropes, not without kissing it and lamenting over it many times.
The mayor and the mayoress returned, he with the money and she with
the every-day clothes of Maria, who undressed and folded her white
robe in a kerchief, put on her old gown, hid herself with her shawl to
the eyes, and walked, moaning, to the house of the Moor, without
noticing that the man with the hood over his head was following behind
her, and that when she, in a moment of forgetfulness, lowered her
shawl through the habit she had of displaying her tresses, her bald
head could be plainly seen. The Moor received the five hundred
maravedis with that good-will with which money is always received,
and told Maria to bring Juan Lanas to his house to stay there so long
as there was any risk in the cure. Maria went to fetch the old man,
and kept silence as to her shorn head so as not to grieve him, and
whilst Juan remained the physician's guest, Maria durst not leave her
home except after nightfall, and then well enveloped. This, however,
did not hinder her being followed by the muffled-up man.
One evening the Moor told her in secret that the next morning he would
remove the bandages from Juan's eyes. Maria went to bed that night
with great rejoicing, but thought to herself that when her father saw
her (which would be with no little pleasure) he would be pleased three
or four times more if he could see her with the pretty head-dress
which she used to wear in her native town. Amidst such cavillation she
donned the next day her best petticoat and ribbons to his to the
Arabian's house; and while she was sitting down to shoe herself she of
a sudden felt something like a hood closing over her head, and,
turning round, she saw behind her the muffled-up man of before, who,
throwing aside his cloak, discovered himself to be the sword-cutler,
Master Palomo, who, without speaking, presented Maria with a little
Venetian mirror, in which she looked and saw herself with her own hair
and garb in such wise that she wondered for a good time if it were not
a dream that the mayoress had shorn her.
The fact was that Master Palomo was a great crony of the old woman
barber, and had seen in her house Maria's tresses on the very same
afternoon of the morning in which he saw Maria was bald, and keeping
silence upon the matter, had wheedled the old woman into keeping
Maria's hair for him, and dressing for the mayoress some other hair of
the same hue which the crone had from a dead woman—a bargain by which
the crafty old dame acquired many a bright crown. And the story
relates that as soon as Maria regained her much lamented and
sighed-for hair by the hands of the gallant sword-cutler, the master
appeared to her much less ugly than before. I do not know if it tells
that from that moment she began to look on him with more favorable
eyes, but i' sooth it is a fact that upon his asking her to accept his
escort to the Moor's house, she gave her assent, and the two set out
hand in hand, the maiden holding her head up free from mufflers. As
they both entered the physician's apartment her father threw himself
into Maria's arms, crying:
"Glory to God, I see thee now, my beloved daughter. How tall and
beautiful thou art grown! Verily, it is worth while to become blind
for five years to see one's daughter matured thus! Now that I see
daylight again, it is only right that I should no longer be a burden
to thee. I shall work for myself, for as for thee it is already time
for thee to marry."
"For this very purpose am I come," broke in at this opportune moment
the silent sword-cutler; "I, as you will have already recognized by
my voice, am your neighbor, Master Palomo. I love Maria, and ask you
for her hand."
"Lack-a-day, master, but your exterior is not very prepossessing.
Howbeit, if Maria doth accept you, I am content."
"I," replied Maria, wholly abashed, and smoothing the false hair
(which then weighed upon her head and heart like a burden of five
hundred weight)—"I, so may God enlighten me, for I durst not venture
Palomo took her right hand without saying anything, and as he did so
Maria looked at the master's wrists, and observed the wristbands of
his shirt, neatly embroidered, and with some suspicion and beating of
her heart said to him:
"If you wish to please me, good neighbor, tell me by what seamstress
is this work?"
"It is the work," replied the master, jocularly, "the work of a pretty
maiden who for five years has toiled for my person, albeit she hath
not known it till now."
"Now I perceive," said Maria, "how that all the women who have come to
give me linen to sew and embroider were sent by you, and that is why
they paid me more than is customary."
The master did not reply, but he smiled and held out his arms to
Maria. Maria threw herself into them, embracing him very caressingly;
and Juan himself said to the two:
"In good sooth, you are made one for the other."
"By my troth, my beloved one," continued the sword-cutler after a
while, "if my countenance had only been more pleasing, I should not
have been silent towards you for so many long days, nor would I have
been content with, gazing at you from afar. I should have spoken to
you, you would have made me the confidant of your troubles, and I
would have given you the five hundred maravedis for the cure of your
And whispering softly into her ear, he added: "And then you would not
have passed that evil moment under the hands of the mayoress. But if
you fear that she may break the promise she made to you to keep
silence as to your cropped head, let us, if it please you, set out for
Seville, where nobody knows you, and thus—"
"No more," exclaimed Maria, resolutely throwing on the ground the
hair, which Juan picked up all astonished. "Send this hair to the
mayoress, since it was for this and not for that of the dead woman
that she paid so dearly. For I, to cure myself of my vanity, now make
a vow, with your good permission, to go shorn all my life. Such
artificial adornments are little befitting to the wives of honest
"But rely upon it," replied the master-cutler, "that as soon as it is
known that you have no hair, the girls of the city, envious of your
beauty, will give you the nickname of Mariquita the Bald!"
"They may do so," replied Maria, "and that they may see that I do not
care a fig for this or any other nickname, I swear to you that from
this day forth I will not suffer anybody to call me by another name
than Mariquita the Bald."
This was the event that rendered so famous throughout all Castile the
beautiful daughter of good Juan Lanas, who in effect married Master
Palomo, and became one of the most honorable and prolific women of the
most illustrious city of Toledo.
THE LOVE OF CLOTILDE
Armando Palacio Valdés
In the dressing-room of Clotilde, leading actress of one of the most
important theaters in the capital, there gathered every night about
half a dozen of her male friends. The reception lasted almost always
about as long as the performances; but it included a number of
parentheses. Whenever the actress, was obliged to change her costume
she would turn towards her visitors with a bewitching smile and
"Gentlemen, will you withdraw for one little moment?—not more than
one little moment."
Thereupon they would all transfer themselves to the ante-room and
remain there patiently waiting. No, I am mistaken, not quite all,
because the youngest of them, a third year student in the School of
Medicine, would avail himself of the chance to take a turn in the
wings to stretch his legs and snatch a fugitive kiss or so. At all
events, the majority remained, either seated or pacing up and down,
until the moment when Clotilde would re-open her door and, putting out
her head, decked as queen or peasant girl, according to the part she
was playing, would call out:
"Now you may come back, gentlemen. Have I been very long?"
Don Jerónimo always lingered. He was the last to withdraw grumbling
and the first to return to the dressing-room. He was never able to
reconcile himself to that modest custom. And although he never allowed
himself to say so openly, yet in the depths of his secret thoughts he
regarded it as a lack of courtesy that he should be ejected from his
seat, merely because the silly child must change her dress,—he, who
for thirty years had passed his life behind the scenes and had been on
intimate terms with every actor and actress, ancient and modern!
He was fifty-four years of age and had been attached to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs ever since he was four-and-twenty. Each successive
government had regarded him as one of the indispensable wheels in the
machinery of colonial administration. Furthermore, he was a bachelor
and living at the mercy of his landlady. It was said that in his youth
he once wrote a play which won him nothing but hisses and free entry
for life behind the scenes of the theaters. Whether resigned or not to
the verdict of the public, he ceased to write plays and assumed
instead the nobler rôle of patron to unrecognized authors and artists
and to ruined managers.
Any youth from the provinces who arrived in Madrid with a drama in his
pocket could take no surer road to seeing it produced than that which
led to the home of Don Jerónimo. One and all, he received them with
open arms, the good and the bad alike. There is no denying that,
since he was rather brusque in his ways, he never spared the young
authors who asked his advice and read him their productions, but
criticized vigorously, even to the verge of insult: "This whole
episode is sheer nonsense; spill your ink-well on it!" "Why, look
here, for the love of heaven! How do you suppose that a man who is on
the point of committing murder is going to stand there for sixteen
seconds, without drawing his breath?" "Lord, what tommyrot! Platonic
love for a woman of that class! You must have tumbled out of the nest
unfledged, my lad!"
But anyone possessed of a little tact refused to take offense, but
went calmly on and ended by intrusting his manuscript to the hands of
Don Jerónimo. And he could rest assured that his drama would be
produced. The veteran of the greenrooms exercised a strong influence,
akin to intimidation, over managers and actors alike; when he was
displeased, he gave his tongue free rein; if a play had been hissed,
he would protest, boiling with rage, against the public verdict, and
would continue to support the author more stanchly than ever. If on
the contrary it scored a hit, he merely kept silent and smiled
ecstatically, but never sought out the successful author in order to
congratulate him. And if the latter should complain of his
indifference, his answer was:
"Now that you have shown that you can use your wings, will you please,
my friend, will you please leave me free to succor some other poor
His private life offered little of special interest. Every night,
upon leaving the theater, he betook himself to the Café Habanero,
where he habitually consumed a beefsteak, together with a small
measure of beer. And, according to a certain friend, who had watched
him repeatedly, he always managed his repast so artfully as to finish,
at one and the same time, the last mouthful of meat, the last fragment
of bread, and the last draught of beer.
On this particular night the little gathering was unwontedly animated.
The actress's friends indulged more freely than usual in gossip and
laughter. Don Jerónimo, muffled closely in his cape (one of his
privileges), lounging at ease in the big corner chair, and with his
inevitable cigar between his teeth (another special privilege), was
giving utterance to rare and racy stories, which from time to time
caused his hearers to cast a glance in the direction of Clotilde and
brought a slightly heightened color to the latter's cheeks.
Don Jerónimo himself took no notice of this; he had first known her as
such a mere child that he considered he had the right to dispense with
certain courtesies that are due to ladies,—assuming that in the whole
course of his life he had ever shown them to any woman, which is very
doubtful. He had met her first as a mere child and had opened the way
for her to the stage. At the time that he ran across her, she was
living wretchedly and trying to learn the art of making artificial
flowers. Today, thanks to her talent, she earned enough to keep her
mother and sisters in comfort.
Clotilde's attraction lay in her charm of manner rather than her
beauty. Her complexion was olive, her eyes large and black, the best
of all her features; her mouth somewhat big, but with bright red lips
and admirably even teeth. Tonight she was costumed as a lady of the
time of Louis XV, with powdered hair, which was marvelously becoming
to her. She took almost no part in the conversation, but seemed
satisfied to be merely a listener, constantly turning her serene gaze
from one speaker to another, and often answering only with a smile
when they addressed her.
All at once there came the voice of the call-boy:
"Señorita Clotilde, if you please—"
"Coming," she answered, rising.
She crossed over to the mirror, gave a few final touches to her brows
and lashes with a pencil, adjusted with somewhat nervous fingers the
coils of her hair, the cross of brilliants which she wore at her
throat, and the folds of her dress. Her friends became for the moment
silent and abstractedly watched these last preparations.
"Good-by for the present, gentlemen." And she left the dressing-room,
followed by her maid, carefully bearing her train, a magnificent train
of cream-colored satin.
"She grows lovelier every day, Clotilde does," said the medical
student, allowing an imperceptible sigh to escape him.
Don Jerónimo took an enormous pull at his cigar, and instantly became
enveloped in a cloud of smoke. For this reason no one observed the
smile of triumph with which he received the medical student's remark.
"I agree with you that she grows prettier every day," said another of
the visitors. "But it seems to me that her disposition has been
undergoing a big change for some time back. You, my boy, have not
known her as long as we have. She used to be a fascinating talker, so
merry, so full of spirits! No one could ever remain out of temper in
her company. But now I find her grave and sad almost all the time."
"It's a fact that I have wondered at the melancholy look in her eyes."
Don Jerónimo took another enormous pull at his cigar. No one saw the
swift flare of anger that passed over his face.
"Changes like that, my boy, have only one cause, and that is love."
"Was she engaged?"
"Precisely,—Don Jerónimo knows the story well."
"Yes, and I am going to tell it to you," said the one referred to,
from the depths of his cloak. "Though you may believe me that it is no
pleasant task to relate such follies. But it concerns a girl whom we
all of us love, and whatever affects her ought to interest us.
"Some three years ago a young man, faultlessly dressed and with the
manuscript of a play under his arm, called upon the director of this
theater. Now there is nothing in the world more impressive and
awe-inspiring than a well-dressed young man who carries the manuscript
of a play under his arm. The director did his best to dodge him, and
held him off with a number of adroit moves; but he was finally
cornered, all the same. In other words, the young man invited him to
breakfast one day, enticing him with the seductive prospect of several
dozen oysters, washed down with abundant Sauterne, and for dessert he
shot off his play at close range.
"As it turned out, the play was no good. Pepe did what you know one
does in such cases: he expressed deep admiration for the
versification, he said 'bravo!' over certain obscurely phrased
thoughts, and finally he recommended a few changes in the second act,
after which the work would be unexceptionable.
"The unwary poet returned home greatly pleased, and set to work
zealously upon the revision. At the end of a fortnight he returned for
another interview with Pepe; this time the latter found the first act
somewhat slow, and advised him at any cost to put more action into it
and make it somewhat shorter. It took the poet a month to rewrite the
first act. When he once more presented himself, the director, while
expressing great admiration for the excellence of the verse and for
some of the ideas, manifested some doubt as to whether the play was
actable. That it was literary, he had none whatever; on the
contrary, it seemed to him that from this point of view it compared
favorably with the best of Ayala's plays,—but actable, really
actable, ah! that was another matter!"
"What is the difference, Don Jerónimo? I don't understand."
"Then I will explain, my boy. We, who are behind the scenes, mean by
actable a good play, and by literary a bad one."
"After expressing these doubts, the manager concluded by recommending
certain additional alterations in the third act.
"At last the poet understood,—a really marvelous occurrence, because
poets, who understand everything else and can tell you why the condor
flies so high, who soar to the skies and descend into the abyss and
penetrate the secret thoughts of all created things, are not capable
of realizing that there are times when their works do not please those
who hear them. Our young man, whom we will call Inocencio, received
back his manuscript somewhat peevishly, and for a while nothing
further was heard of him. But at last, doubtless after a good deal of
profound meditation, he presented himself on a certain morning at the
home of Clotilde. I hardly need tell you that he carried his
manuscript under his arm.
"He waited patiently in the parlor while our young friend completed
her toilet, and when at last she made her appearance, she saw before
her a blushing and confused young man, who nevertheless was
pleasant-mannered and fashionably dressed, and who besought with
stammering lips that she would do him the favor of listening while he
read his play. Women, you must know, find a singular pleasure in
playing the rôle of patroness, especially in regard to young men of
pleasant manners and fashionable dress. So that it is not at all
surprising that Clotilde listened patiently to the play and even
pronounced it acceptable.
"The young man intrusted himself wholly to her guidance, deposited his
manuscript in her pretty hands, as though it were a new-born child,
and she received it like a doting mother, took it under her
protection, and promised to watch over its precious existence and
introduce it to the world. The young man declared that such an
intention was worthy of the noble heart whose fame had already reached
his ears. Clotilde replied that it was no kindness on her part to work
to have the play produced, but only an act of justice. The young man
said that this idea was exceedingly flattering, because Clotilde's
great talent and the accuracy of her judgments were well known to
everyone, but that he dared not build upon such an illusion. Clotilde
declared that there were many unmerited reputations in the world, and
one of them was hers, but that on this occasion she felt that she was
on firm ground.
"The young man replied that when the river roars the water toils, and
that when the whole world unites in admiring not only the exceptional
beauty and artistic inspiration of a certain person, but also her
splendid genius and brilliant intellect, it was necessary to bow one's
head. Clotilde said that on this occasion she refused to bow hers,
because she was quite convinced that the world was greatly mistaken
regarding what it called her talent, which was nothing more nor less
than pure instinct. The young man cried out to heaven against such
mystification, for which there was absolutely no excuse. Then,
promptly calming down, he declared himself profoundly moved by the
modesty of his patroness, and swore by all the saints in heaven that
he never had met her equal,—with the result that the manuscript was
momentarily gaining ground in the heart of our sympathetic friend, and
that the young man, overwhelmed with emotion, took his leave of her
until the following day.
"On the following day, Clotilde called upon the manager, and by
threatening to break her contract, forced from him a promise to
produce Inocencio's play as soon as possible. That same afternoon, the
poet expressed his thanks to his patroness and promptly took her into
his confidence. He belonged to a distinguished provincial family,
although without great financial resources. It was in the hope of
bettering them that he had come to Madrid, relying solely upon his
genius. In his native town they said that he had talent, and that if
the verses which he had contributed to the Tagus Echo had been
published in Madrid, he would be talked of as a second Nuñez de Arce y
Grilo. He did not know whether that was so; but he felt that his heart
was full of noble sentiments, and he loved the theater better than the
apple of his eye. Would he succeed in being an Ayala or a Tamayo?
Would he be rejected by the public? It was an insoluble mystery to
"During this interview, Clotilde became convinced of two very
important things: namely, that Inocencio possessed a talent so great
that his head could scarcely hold it, and secondly, that there was no
one else in all Madrid who could wear so conspicuous a necktie with
such charming effect. I need not tell you that their confidential
interviews increased in frequency, and that consequently Clotilde came
day by day more completely under the fascinating influence of that
supernatural necktie. In the end, she yielded herself vanquished, and
surrendered herself to it, bound hand and foot. The necktie deigned to
raise her from the ground and grant her the favor of its affection."
"What about a necktie?" asked one of the company, who had been
Don Jerónimo took an immense, an infernal pull at his cigar, in
testimony of his annoyance, then proceeded with no further notice:
"Meanwhile the rehearsals of Inocencio's play had begun. It was
called, if I am not mistaken, Stooping to Conquer,—excuse me, no, I
believe it was just the reverse, Conquering to Stoop. Well, at all
events, it contained a participle and an infinitive. Before long I
became aware that lover-like relations had been established between
our fair friend and the author, and since, as a matter of fact, even
if Inocencio was a bad poet, as Pepe insisted, he seemed like a good
lad, I was very glad it had happened and I helped it along as much as
I could. Clotilde confided in me, and declared that she was
desperately in love; that her ambitions no longer had anything to do
with the art of the stage, which seemed to her an unbearable slavery;
that her ideal was to live tranquilly, even if it were in a garret,
united to the man whom she adored; that woman was born to be the
guardian angel of the fireside, and not to divert the public, and
that she herself would rather be queen of a humble little apartment
illuminated with love, than to receive all the applause in the world.
In short, gentlemen, our young friend was living in the midst of an
"Inocencio was, to all appearance, no less in love than she. I
frequently encountered them walking through the unfrequented by-paths
of the Retiro, at a respectable distance from her mother, who lingered
opportunely to examine the first opening buds of flowers or some
curious insect. Mothers, at this critical period of courtship, are
under an obligation to be admirers of the works of nature. The young
pair of turtle-doves would pause when they caught sight of me and
greet me blushingly. I cannot conceal from you that, however much I
felt the loss to art, I was delighted that Clotilde was going to be
married. A woman always needs the protection of a man. And there is no
question that so far as outward appearance went, they were worthy of
one another. Inocencio certainly was a most attractive young fellow.
"At the theater they talked of nothing else than of this wedding,
which was still in the bud. Everybody was delighted, because Clotilde
is the only actress, since the beginning of the world, who took it
into her head to attempt what until now was regarded as impossible, to
make herself beloved by her companions.
"I observed, nevertheless,—for you know that I am an observant
person: it is the only quality that I possess, that of observation, a
thing to which the authors of today attach no importance. Today, in
the drama, everything is so much dried leaves, a lot of moonshine,
which, they let filter down through the foliage of the trees, a lot of
description of dawn and twilight, and a lot of other similar
pastry-shop stuff. That's all there is to it! When any fledgling
author comes to me with nonsense of that sort, I say to him: 'Get down
to the facts! Get down to the facts!' The facts are the drama, which
doesn't exist in the great part of the above-mentioned."
"Aren't you exciting yourself, Don Jerónimo?"
"Well, as I was telling you, I observed that as the rehearsals
progressed the ascendency of Inocencio over our young friend
increased. The tone in which he addressed her was no longer the humble
and courteous tone of earlier days; he corrected her frequently in her
manner of delivery, he dictated the attitudes and gestures which she
should adopt, and sometimes, when the actress did not quite understand
his wishes, he allowed himself to address her publicly in rather
severe terms, and the way he looked at her was severer still. Our poet
was already thundering and lightning like a true lord and master.
"Clotilde accepted it with good grace. She, who had always been so
haughty, even towards the most distinguished authors, stretched out
and shrank back like soft wax in the hands of that insignificant
jackanapes. You ought to have seen the humility with which she
accepted his suggestions, and the distress which his censures caused
her. All the time that the rehearsal lasted she kept her eyes steadily
fixed upon him, watching like a submissive slave to catch the wishes
of her master. The poet, lolling at ease in an arm-chair, with a
brazier of hot coals before him, directed the action in as dictatorial
a manner as either Gracia Gutierrez or Ayala could have done. A mere
glance from him sufficed to make Clotilde flush crimson or turn pale.
The other actors made no protest, out of consideration for her. When
she had finished her scene she came eagerly to take her seat beside
her betrothed, who sometimes deigned to welcome her with a haughty
smile, and at other times with an Olympian indifference. I, meanwhile,
looked on, scandalized.
"On one occasion I came upon them from behind, and overheard what they
were saying. Clotilde was speaking, and hotly maintaining that
Inocencio's Stooping to Conquer or Conquering to Stoop was better
than A New Drama. The young man protested feebly. On another
occasion they were speaking of their future union. Clotilde was
picturing in impassioned phrases the nook to which they would go to
hide their happiness; some lofty spot on the hills of Salamanca, a
dear little nest, bathed in sunlight, where Inocencio could work in
his private study, writing plays, while she sat by his side and
embroidered in absolute silence. When he was tired they could talk for
a while, to let him rest, and then she would give him a kiss and go
back again to her work. In the evening they would go out, arm in arm,
to take a short walk, and then home again. But no more of the
theater; she abhorred it with all her soul. In the spring they would
go every morning to take a walk in the Retiro and take chocolate under
the trees; in the summer they would spend a month or two in
Inocencio's birthplace, so as to bring back from the country a supply
of good color and health for the coming winter.
"The description of this tender idyl, which, even if I am a confirmed
bachelor, set my heart beating within my breast, produced no other
effect upon the new author than an insolent somnolence which would not
disappear until he suddenly raised his imperious voice to admonish
some one of the actors.
"At last the opening night arrived. We were all anxious to see the
result. The prevailing opinion was that the play offered little
novelty; but since Clotilde had staked her whole soul upon the
outcome, a big success was predicted. At the dress rehearsal our young
friend had achieved genuine prodigies. There was a moment when the few
of us whom curiosity had brought to witness it, rose to our feet
electrified, convulsed, making a most unseemly outcry. You have no
conception how marvelously she rendered her part. Then and there, all
of a sudden, an idea entered my head. Recalling all my observations of
Clotilde's love affair, I felt convinced, in view of the evidence,
that Inocencio had had no other purpose in winning her love than to
assure an exceptional interpretation of the leading rôle of his
play, and a flattering outcome of his venture. I decided not to
communicate my suspicions to anyone. I kept silent and hoped, but
there is no doubt that from that time on the young man was decidedly
out of favor with me.
"The noise which Inocencio's friends had been making in regard to the
theme of his play, the fact that Clotilde had chosen it for her
benefit performance, and the wide-spread rumor that the celebrated
actress was going to win a signal triumph in it, all worked together
to help the speculators to dispose of every seat in the house at
fabulous prices. I know a marquis who paid eleven duros for two
orchestra stalls. This room where we are now sitting was filled, just
as it is annually, with flowers and presents; it was impossible to
move about in the midst of such a conglomeration of porcelain, books
with costly bindings, ebony work-boxes, picture-frames, and no end of
other fancy trifles.
"The audience room was unusually brilliant. The most resplendent
ladies, the men most distinguished in politics, literature, and
finance; in short, the high life, as the phrase goes, was all there.
But even more brilliant and more radiant was Inocencio himself;
radiant with glory and happiness, and graciously receiving the crowds
of visitors who came to see the presents, dictating orders to the
call-boys and scene-shifters regarding the proper setting of the
scene, and multiplying his smiles and hand-shakings to the point of
infinity. Clotilde also seemed more beautiful than ever, and her
expressive face revealed the tender emotion which possessed her, as
well as her deep anxiety to win laurels for her future husband.
"The curtain arose and everyone hurried to occupy his seat. In the
wings there was no one save the author and three or four of his
friends. The opening scenes were received as usual with indifference;
the following ones with a little more cordiality; the versification
was fluent and polished, and, as you know, the public appreciates
sugar-coated phrases. At last the moment arrived for Clotilde's
entrance, and a faint murmur of curiosity and expectation ran through
the audience. She spoke her lines discreetly, but without much warmth;
it was easy to see that she was afraid. The curtain fell in a dead
"Immediately the waiting-room and passage-way were filled by
Inocencio's friends, who came eagerly to tell him that this first
performance of his play was a great success,—but what was the matter
with Clotilde? She hardly put any movement into her part,—and she was
usually so much alive, so tremendously forceful! Our young friend
acknowledged that, as a matter of fact, she had felt badly scared, and
that this had hampered her seriously. The author, greatly alarmed for
the fate of his work, endeavored to persuade her that there was
nothing to be afraid of, that all she had to do was to be herself, and
that she was not to think of him at all while she spoke her lines.
"'I can't help it,' insisted Clotilde, 'all the time that I am
speaking I keep thinking that you are the author, and imagining that
the play is not going to succeed, and it makes me so frightened.'
"Inocencio was in despair; he tried entreaties, advice, arguments, he
embraced her without caring who saw him; he tried to infuse courage
into her by appealing to her vanity as an artist; in short, he did
everything imaginable to save his play.
"The second act began. Clotilde had a few pathetic scenes. In the
beginning there was a certain slight disturbance in the audience, and
this sufficed to disconcert her completely, and to make her acting
irremediably bad, worse than she had ever acted in her whole life. A
good deal of coughing was heard, and some loud murmurs of impatience.
At the end of that second act a few indiscreet friends tried to
applaud, but the audience drowned them out with an immense and
terrifying series of hisses. The author, who was standing by my side,
pale as death, relieved his feelings with a flood of coarse words, and
made his way to Pepe's room, which faces that of Clotilde, and where
his friends consoled him, casting the whole blame for the failure upon
her, and inflaming more and more the anger surging in his heart.
Meanwhile, our friend was utterly crushed and overcome, and
continually calling for her Inocencio. In order to spare her further
trouble, I told her that the author had accepted the situation
resignedly, and had left the theater to get a breath of air. The
unhappy girl bitterly blamed herself, taking the entire failure on her
"The curtain rose for the third act; and we all gathered anxiously at
the wings. Clotilde, by a powerful effort of will, showed herself at
first more self-possessed than in the previous acts, but the audience
was in a mood to have some sport, and nothing could have made them
take the play seriously. When the public once scents a trail, it is
like a wild beast that smells blood; there is no way of heading it
off, and you have got to let it have its flesh at any cost. And there
is no doubt that on this occasion it gorged itself full. Coughs,
laughter, sneezes, stampings, hisses,—there was a little of
everything. Tears sprang to our poor friend's eyes, and she seemed
upon the point of fainting. When the curtain finally fell her eyes
sought on all sides for her lover, but he had disappeared. In her
dressing-room, where I followed her, she sobbed, groaned, gave way to
despair, called herself a fool, said that she was going to hire
herself out on some farm to tend the geese and more to the same
effect. It cost me some hard work to calm her down, but at last I
succeeded so that she sank into a sort of silent lethargy. In the
sorrow which her eyes revealed I saw that what tormented her horribly
was the absence of Inocencio.
"The door of the room was suddenly flung open. The defeated poet made
his appearance; he was quite pale but apparently calm. Nevertheless, I
perceived at the first glance that his calmness was assumed, and that
the smile which contracted his lips closely resembled that of a
condemned man who wishes to die bravely.
"A gleam of joy illuminated Clotilde's face. She rose swiftly and
flung her arms around his neck, saying in a broken voice:
"'I have ruined you, my poor Inocencio, I have ruined you! How
generous you are! But listen, I swear to you, by the memory of my
father, that I will atone for the humiliation you have just suffered.'
"'There is no need for you to atone, my dear girl,' replied the poet,
in a soft tone under which a disdainful anger could be felt, 'my
family has not achieved its illustrious name through the intercession
of any actor. From this day henceforth I gladly renounce the theater
and all that is connected with it. Accordingly,—I wish you good-day.'
And, unclasping the arms that imprisoned his neck, and smiling
sarcastically, he retreated a few steps and took his leave. Clotilde
gazed at him in a stupor, then fell unconscious on the divan.
"At the sight of her in such a state I felt my blood take fire, and I
followed the young man out. I overtook him near the stairs, and,
grasping him by the wrist, I said to him:
"'A word with you. The first thing that a man has to be, before he can
be a poet, is a gentleman,—and that is something you are not. Your
play was hissed because it lacks the same thing that you lack,—and
that is a heart. Here, sir, is my card.'"
"And did you not send him your seconds, Don Jerónimo?" inquired the
"Silence, silence!" exclaimed another of the group, "here is
And, in fact, the charming actress at that moment appeared in the
doorway, and her large and sad black eyes, all the more beautiful
beneath her white Louis XV coiffure, smiled tenderly upon her
CAPTAIN VENENO'S PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE
Pedro Antonio de Alarcón
"Great heavens! What a woman!" cried the captain, and stamped with
fury. "Not without reason have I been trembling and in fear of her
from the first time I saw her! It must have been a warning of fate
that I stopped playing écarté with her. It was also a bad omen that
I passed so many sleepless nights. Was there ever mortal in a worse
perplexity than I am? How can I leave her alone without a protector,
loving her, as I do, more than my own life? And, on the other hand,
how can I marry her, after all my declaimings against marriage?"
Then turning to Augustias—"What would they say of me in the club?
What would people say of me, if they met me in the street with a woman
on my arm, or if they found me at home, just about to feed a child in
swaddling clothes? I—to have children? To worry about them? To live
in eternal fear that they might fall sick or die? Augustias, believe
me, as true as there is a God above us, I am absolutely unfit for it!
I should behave in such a way that after a short while you would call
upon heaven either to be divorced or to become a widow. Listen to my
advice: do not marry me, even if I ask you."
"What a strange creature you are," said the young woman, without
allowing herself to be at all discomposed, and sitting very erect in
her chair. "All that you are only telling to yourself! From what do
you conclude that I wish to be married to you; that I would accept
your offer, and that I should not prefer living by myself, even if I
had to work day and night, as so many girls do who are orphans?"
"How do I come to that conclusion?" answered the captain with the
greatest candor. "Because it cannot be otherwise. Because we love each
other. Because we are drawn to each other. Because a man such as I,
and a woman such as you, cannot live in any other way! Do you suppose
I do not understand that? Don't you suppose I have reflected on it
before now? Do you think I am indifferent in your good name and
reputation? I have spoken plainly in order to speak, in order to fly
from my own conviction, in order to examine whether I can escape from
this terrible dilemma which is robbing me of my sleep, and whether I
can possibly find an expedient so that I need not marry you—to do
which I shall finally be compelled, if you stand by your resolve to
make your way alone!"
"Alone! Alone!" repeated Augustias, roguishly. "And why not with a
worthier companion? Who tells you that I shall not some day meet a man
whom I like, and who is not afraid to marry me?"
"Augustias! let us skip that!" growled the captain, his face turning
"And why should we not talk about it?"
"Let us pass over that, and let me say, at the same time, that I will
murder the man who dares to ask for your hand. But it is madness on
my part to be angry without any reason. I am not so dull as not to see
how we two stand. Shall I tell you? We love each other. Do not tell me
I am mistaken! That would be lying. And here is the proof: if you did
not love me, I, too, should not love you! Let us try to meet one
another halfway. I ask for a delay of ten years. When I shall have
completed my half century, and when, a feeble old man, I shall have
become familiar with the idea of slavery, then we will marry without
anyone knowing about it. We will leave Madrid, and go to the country,
where we shall have no spectators, where there will be nobody to make
fun of me. But until this happens, please take half of my income
secretly, and without any human soul ever knowing anything about it.
You continue to live here, and I remain in my house. We will see each
other, but only in the presence of witnesses—for instance, in
society. We will write to each other every day. So as not to endanger
your good name, I will never pass through this street, and on Memorial
Day only we will go to the cemetery together with Rosa."
Augustias could not but smile at the last proposal of the good
captain, and her smile was not mocking, but contented and happy, as if
some cherished hope had dawned in her heart, as if it were the first
ray of the sun of happiness which was about to rise in her heaven! But
being a woman—though as brave and free from artifices as few of
them—she yet managed to subdue the signs of joy rising within her.
She acted as if she cherished not the slightest hope, and said with a
distant coolness which is usually the special and genuine sign of
"You make yourself ridiculous with your peculiar conditions. You
stipulate for the gift of an engagement-ring, for which nobody has yet
"I know still another way out—for a compromise, but that is really
the last one. Do you fully understand, my young lady from Aragon? It
is the last way out, which a man, also from Aragon, begs leave to
explain to you."
She turned her head and looked straight into his eyes, with an
expression indescribably earnest, captivating, quiet, and full of
The captain had never seen her features so beautiful and expressive;
at that moment she looked to him like a queen.
"Augustias," said, or rather stammered, this brave soldier, who had
been under fire a hundred times, and who had made such a deep
impression on the young girl through his charging under a rain of
bullets like a lion, "I have the honor to ask for your hand on one
certain, essential, unchangeable condition. Tomorrow morning—today—a
soon as the papers are in order—as quickly as possible. I can live
without you no longer!"
The glances of the young girl became milder, and she rewarded him for
his decided heroism with a tender and bewitching smile.
"But I repeat that it is on one condition," the bold warrior hastened
to repeat, feeling that Augustias's glances made him confused and
"On what condition?" asked the young girl, turning fully round, and
now holding him under the witchery of her sparkling black eyes.
"On the condition," he stammered, "that, in case we have children, we
send them to the orphanage. I mean—on this point I will never yield.
Well, do you consent? For heaven's sake, say yes!"
"Why should I not consent to it, Captain Veneno?" answered Augustias,
with a peal of laughter. "You shall take them there yourself, or,
better still, we both of us will take them there. And we will give
them up without kissing them, or anything else! Don't you think we
shall take them there?"
Thus spoke Augustias, and looked at the captain with exquisite joy in
her eyes. The good captain thought he would die of happiness; a flood
of tears burst from his eyes; he folded the blushing girl in his arms,
"So I am lost?"
"Irretrievably lost, Captain Veneno," answered Augustias.
One morning in May, 1852—that is, four years after the scene just
described—a friend of mine, who told me this story, stopped his horse
in front of a mansion on San Francisco Avenue, in Madrid; he threw the
reins to his groom, and asked the long-coated footman who met him at
"Is your master at home?"
"If your honor will be good enough to walk upstairs, you will find
him in the library. His excellency does not like to have visitors
announced. Everybody can go up to him directly."
"Fortunately I know the house thoroughly," said the stranger to
himself, while he mounted the stairs. "In the library! Well, well, who
would have thought of Captain Veneno ever taking to the sciences?"
Wandering through the rooms, the visitor met another servant, who
repeated, "The master is in the library." And at last he came to the
door of the room in question, opened it quickly, and stood, almost
turned to stone for astonishment, before the remarkable group which it
offered to his view.
In the middle of the room, on the carpet which covered the floor, a
man was crawling on all-fours. On his back rode a little fellow about
three years old, who was kicking the man's sides with his heels.
Another small boy, who might have been a year and a half old, stood in
front of the man's head, and had evidently been tumbling his hair. One
hand held the father's neckerchief, and the little fellow was tugging
at it as if it had been a halter, shouting with delight in his merry
"Gee up, donkey! Gee up!"