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Title: Poor Folk in Spain
Author: Gordon, Jan, 1882-1944, Gordon, Cora, 1879-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Poor Folk in Spain" ***

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    POOR FOLK IN SPAIN



    _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_


    MODERN FRENCH PAINTERS
      With 20 Illustrations in colour and 24
      in black and white. Crown 4to. 21_s._ net.

    MOTHER AND CHILD
      Drawings by BERNARD MENINSKY. With
      letterpress by JAN GORDON. Crown 4to.
      15_s._ net.

    THE BODLEY HEAD


[Illustration: SPANISH COURTYARD]



    POOR FOLK IN SPAIN

    BY JAN AND CORA GORDON

    ILLUSTRATED BY THE AUTHORS

    JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LIMITED
    VIGO ST.:::::::: LONDON



    _First published 1922_

    _Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay & Sons, Ltd., Bungay,
    Suffolk._



CONTENTS


      CHAP.                                           PAGE

        I. LONDON                                        3

       II. JESUS PEREZ                                   7

      III. THE FRONTIER                                 17

       IV. MEDINA DEL CAMPO                             29

        V. AVILA                                        40

       VI. MADRID                                       51

      VII. A HOT NIGHT                                  60

     VIII. MURCIA--FIRST IMPRESSIONS                    70

       IX. MURCIA--SETTLING DOWN                        81

        X. MURCIA--BLAS                                 90

       XI. MURCIA--THE ALPAGATA SHOP                    95

      XII. MURCIA--BRAVO TORO                           98

     XIII. AN EXCURSION                                109

      XIV. VERDOLAY--HOUSEKEEPING                      123

       XV. VERDOLAY--SKETCHING IN SPAIN                133

      XVI. VERDOLAY--CONENI                            142

     XVII. VERDOLAY--THE INHABITANTS                   147

    XVIII. VERDOLAY--THE DANCE AT CONENI'S             156

      XIX. MURCIA--THE LAUD                            161

       XX. ALICANTE                                    169

      XXI. JIJONA--THE FIESTA                          185

     XXII. JIJONA--TIA ROGER                           200

    XXIII. JIJONA--A DAY'S WORK                        207

     XXIV. JIJONA--THE GOATHERDS                       218

      XXV. MURCIA--AUTUMN IN THE PASEO DE CORVERAS     226

     XXVI. LORCA                                       244

    XXVII. MURCIA--LAST DAYS                           260

   XXVIII. THE ROAD HOME                               268



LIST OF PLATES


                                            _To face page_

    SPANISH COURTYARD                       _Frontispiece_

    CARTERS IN THE POSADA                               70

    A MURCIAN BEGGAR WOMAN                              78

    GIRL SINGING A MALAGUEÑA                           220

    THE VALENCIAN JOTA DANCED BY THREE COUPLES         222



POOR FOLK IN SPAIN



CHAPTER I

LONDON


We had tasted of Spain before ever we had crossed her frontiers. Indeed,
perhaps Spain is the easiest country to obtain samples from without the
fatigue of travelling. The Spaniard carries his atmosphere with him:
wherever he goes he re-creates in his immediate surroundings more than a
hint of his national existence. The Englishman abroad may be
English--more brutally and uncompromisingly English than the Spaniard is
Spanish--yet he does not carry England with him. He does not, that is,
re-create England to the extent of making her seem quite real abroad;
there she appears alien, remote, somewhat out of place. So, too, neither
the Russian, the German, the Dane, the Portuguese, the Italian, nor the
American can carry with him the flavour of his homeland in an essence
sufficiently concentrated to withstand the insidious infiltration of a
foreign atmosphere. To some extent the Scandinavian countries, Norway
and Sweden, have this power; but Spain is thus gifted in the greatest
measure. These three countries seem to possess a national
unconsciousness which fends them off from too close a contact with lands
which are foreign to them; perhaps one might almost accuse them of a
lack of sensitiveness in certain aspects....

However, be the reason what it may, we had gathered some experience of
Spain in Paris before, and in London during the war. What we had tasted
we had liked, and so when in our low-ceilinged attic refuge in London we
gazed out upon a sky covered with flat cloud, as though with a dirty
blanket, and wondered how we might escape in order to seek for our
original selves--if they were not irretrievably lost--we thought of
Spain. I think that we went to Spain to look for something that the war
had taken from us. It was as though the low ceiling of our room, and the
low-lying sky, shut us in with something which was not altogether true;
indeed, we feel that many years must pass before the dissipation of this
curious sensation of unreality which the war had stamped on to every
one, except the most callous.

It is now clear that peace is the normal condition of the human race. In
the olden days this was not the case, but the tendency has been
changing, and to-day we increase our powers during times of peace, and
our powers fall from us during the disorganizations of war. The artist,
who is the barometer of social change, was attuned to peace. In peace he
exercises important functions. But with the sudden outbreak of war the
whole foundation of his being was suddenly torn away. When war broke out
Art for the artist seemed almost meaningless. In the face of a human
catastrophe who could paint pictures? Nero may have fiddled while Rome
was burning, but it must have been a poor meaningless tune that he
played, some popular jingle, a Roman variation of "Ta-ra-ra-Boom-de-Ay."
We had come at last to a peace which still carried on its breezes all
the poisons of war, and we, at least, felt an imperative need of escape
to some place where the war had not been; to some place where perchance
life had carried on a not too distorted existence since 1914.

Spain drew us to her more than did Scandinavia. Romance certainly had a
finger in it; the sun perhaps two fingers--for we are undoubted
sun-worshippers; the music of Spain, which had attracted us in Paris,
causing Jan to abandon the banjo for the guitar, added an appeal; and I
think an exhibition of Spanish landscapes by Wyndham Tryon at the
Twenty-One Galleries settled the matter. We had been in Majorca before
the war, and this combined with our experience of Spaniards in Paris had
fixed in our minds a belief in a simplicity and courtliness of the
Spanish people which we hoped would be very soothing. Finally, two
houses were offered by a friend rent free for the whole of the summer,
together with introductions which would smooth the way. We then packed
up painting materials, stamped clothes into a trunk, worried a strangely
assorted collection of packages down our narrow and twisted staircase
into a cab, and so--hey, for the Sun, southward!

Perhaps the reader should be warned that this is not properly a book
about Spain in the true sense of the word; it is a book about ourselves.
We are inclined to doubt if, in the true sense of the word, a book can
ever be written about a country. Curiously enough the native scarcely
perceives his country at all as long as he is living in it. When he
travels he may come to a clearer vision, but then scarcely perceives
with truth the country in which he is travelling. We might say that by
travelling he makes out of the foreign land a sort of inverted image of
his home. What he relishes abroad is probably what is lacking, what he
dislikes abroad is perhaps more perfect in his own country. And thus his
vision of abroad makes, as it were, a mould, and, if one could pour into
it a substance which would reproduce the exact reverse as one makes a
cast, one might procure a fairly faithful image of his unconscious
judgment of his own land. So perhaps if this book could be turned inside
out it might be found that, after all, stripped of its unessentials, we
have been writing a book, not about Spain, but about England. Indeed, we
have been writing about England already--romance, sun, an interesting
national music, the guitar, and national unconsciousness are not assets
to be found here in any overwhelming quantities. We must then deny that
we are trying to write a book of any authority; we do not even assert
that our facts are correct, even though they are as we saw them; we
admit a mental astigmatism which we cannot avoid and which may have
twisted actual happenings or hearings as much as optical astigmatism may
twist a straight line.



CHAPTER II

JESUS PEREZ


Jesus Perez took us to Spain in spirit while we were still in Paris. We
were off to Spain to paint, that being the normal course of our lives,
but in addition Jan had formed a fixed resolution that happen what might
he was not coming home without having bought a good Spanish guitar by
the best guitar-maker he could find, while I wished to buy a Spanish
lute. Arias and Ramirez, the two best modern _luthiers_ in Madrid, both
had recently died; we had, however, the address of the widow of Ramirez,
who carried on her husband's business, but faintly in Jan's mind a cloud
hung over the lady's name. He did not trust her. Not she, but Ramirez
had made those superfine instruments. So we were overjoyed to meet Perez
upon the Boulevard Montparnasse soon after our arrival in Paris. Perez
was a friend of ours from the times before the war. He was almost a
mystery man. Native of Malaga, self-styled painter--though he never
showed his work--nobody could tell how he had managed to make a living
during fifteen years of apparently unproductive existence. It is true
that one summer he had disappeared from the quarter, returning late in
November browned by the sun, and had explained that he had been
smuggling in the Pyrenees; but that event was an exception, and for some
months subsequently Perez was obviously well off as a result of his
risky enterprises. Normally, he survived like so many others in the
Quartier Montparnasse, drawing sufficient nourishment (supplemented very
obviously by borrowing) from mysterious sources. But while most of his
confrères in penury had no talents, not even the talent for painting,
Perez did know the guitar. Rumour said that he was one of the best
amateur players of the Jota Arragonesa in Spain. Rumour may have
exaggerated without detracting from the real quality of Perez's
exquisite gift.

We saw a Perez very much polished up by so many years of war. He wore a
clean straw hat, new clothes of the latest cut, a waistcoat of check
with ornamental buttons, patent leather boots with a lacquer which flung
back the rays of the June sun, and heavy owlish eyeglasses of
tortoise-shell fastened with a broad black ribbon. Indeed, so
transformed was he, that it was he who recognized us; and for some
moments we stood trying to pierce through the new respectability, as
though it were through a disguise.

Seated together at the "Rotonde" we exchanged some petty items of news.
Perez had but recently returned from Spain; he had held a small
exhibition, he said, which had provided funds; pictures were selling
well in Spain.... He was delighted to hear of our plan, and thereupon
wrote for us an introduction to a painter, a friend, who lived in
Madrid. "Un homme très serviable," he said, manufacturing a French word
out of one Spanish. Jan then asked his question. "A good guitar-maker in
Spain," said Perez, pinching his lower lip between finger and thumb. He
shook his head slowly.

"A good guitar-maker," repeated Perez. "In Madrid, eh? Frankly, no, I do
not know of one at the moment. And you are going away at once. Tomorrow.
Well, this afternoon I am free, that is good. The best guitar-maker at
the moment lives here, here in Paris. His name is Ramirez. Yes, a
relative of that other Ramirez. He has found a new form for the guitar.
More fine, more powerful. Each one like a genuine _Torres_. You come
with me. I will show you one or two that he made from an old piano which
he pulled to pieces for the wood. Exquisite! And if you like them,
together we will seek out Ramirez and he will make you one. He is very
busy, oh, excessively busy, but he will make you one because he is an
old friend of mine."

So the hot afternoon found us sweating up the slopes of Montmartre.

"First," said Perez, "I will take you to the house of a friend who
possesses two of Ramirez' guitars. One is one of those made from the old
piano. It is marvellous!"

But when we reached the street he could not remember the number. It was
four years, he explained, since last he had been there.

"However," he went on, "not far away is another possessor of such a
guitar; possibly he will be in."

Up the hill we went into streets which became more narrow and more
steep, until at length he led us through a courtyard with pinkwashed
walls, up five flights of polished stairs, to a studio door upon which a
visiting card was pinned:

    AUGUSTE LA BRANCHE

     _Artiste Peintre_

       _Aquafortist_

The door, under Perez's knuckles, sounded hollow and forlorn. We waited
for a while, and Perez was beginning to finger his lip when a faint
shuffle on the other side of the door changed into the noise of locks.
The door swung ajar revealing a small man, with a thin face and tousled
head, clad in pyjamas and a Jaeger dressing-gown which trailed behind
him on the floor. Failing to penetrate to the real Perez, as we also had
failed, he blinked inquiringly at us. A moment of confused explanation
ended with a warm hand-shake. Perez explained our presence and our
purpose; with protestations of apology for his _négligé_ M. La Branche
led us into his studio.

[Illustration]

From the card upon his door we must presume that M. La Branche was both
painter and etcher, and pictures hanging from the walls, and an etching
press almost buried beneath a mound of tossed draperies, were evidences
of the fact. But where he found space either to paint or to etch was a
puzzle. The large studio was crammed with bric-à-brac. Indian tables,
Chinese tables, wicker chairs, lacquer stools, screens, figures in
armour, large vases, birdcages and innumerable articles strewed the
floor, across which narrow lines of bare parquet showed like channels
upon the chart of an estuary. Over the chairs were heaped draperies,
on the tables smaller bric-à-brac crowded together. Upon a sofa thrust
to one side sat a woman methodically sewing at the hem of a long sheet.
She took no notice of us, nor of M. La Branche, but continued her
sewing, careful, however, not to swing her arm too wide for fear of
banging into several guitars and other musical instruments, which
almost disputed possession of the sofa with her.

Having cleared a table and sufficient chairs, M. La Branche gave us _thé
anglais_, by the usual complex French method. Then from amongst his
guitars he selected that made by Ramirez, and sitting down began to
play. It is strange how a man's personality appears in everything he
does. M. La Branche in his paintings was an expert painter rather than
an artist; his etchings, large colour plates, showed a similar skill
with the burin. His music was of the same nature. Everything that a
practiced player should do, he did; his nimble fingers raced up and down
the frets, his tempo and his modulations were impeccable, yet he did not
make music. But we had not come with the intention of hearing music, but
of hearing the qualities and power of the guitar, and this was, perhaps,
more ably shown by the technicalities of M. La Branche than it might
have been in the hands of a more artistic though less able musician.

The shop of Ramirez, the luthier, was down the hill, and to this,
thoroughly satisfied about the excellence of his instruments, we went,
Perez grumbling to us in undertones.

"That fellow La Branche--he does not play Spanish music. No--he comes
from Toulouse. That explains it. It is the talent of the South of
France, all on the top, all lively and excitable and showing off--that
is how it is. Now I tell you, Monsieur and Madame Gordon, just because
of that the Frenchman never will be able to understand our music. You
English are nearer to us. You, when you have acquired ability, will play
our music with much more insight and much more sensibility than that La
Branche."

This comforted us exceedingly, for one day in wrath Modigliani, the
Italian painter, had said that it was mere impertinence for an
Englishman to think that he could understand the subtleties of the music
of Spain.

Ramirez almost makes his guitars out in the street. His workshop was
about ten feet square with a door six feet wide. Here was a piece of
pure Spain, though we could not recognize it (at the moment having no
data), ten feet square, thrust bodily into the lower floor of a French
house. The only light came in from the door, but the door was nearly as
broad as the room. Almost blocking up the entrance, Ramirez, a burly,
blue-jowled Spaniard, with something of the physical construction of a
boxer, was working at delicate shavings of wood. Behind him the wall was
hung with templates, cut from white wood, of the parts of the
instruments he was making, guitars and lauds and bandurrias, strange
instruments which Europe, outside of Spain, scarcely knows. On a shelf
at the back of the small shop were heaped unfinished bandurrias bound
with string, for the glue to become hardened in them. The workshop of
Ramirez was not what we had expected. One is, I think, justified in
expecting a neatness, a delicacy, about the place where fine musical
instruments are made. Had Ramirez been a maker of chairs, or even of
cartwheels, his workshop, though small, would have appeared appropriate;
but that, from this rough place, could come out "the most difficult of
musical instruments to make" disturbed one's sense of suitability.

The greeting which Ramirez gave us touched with doubt the picture which
we had conceived of the amiability of the Spaniard. There was no
cordiality in him. Some of his aloofness cleared away when he had
penetrated through the disguise of a dandy to the real Perez beneath,
but he continued his occupation, and to the statement that we wished him
to make a guitar for Jan he shrugged his fat shoulders. He declared that
he had already too much work.

"Those two instruments, for instance," he said, pointing to two
unfinished guitars elaborately ornamented standing in a corner, "I have
already been nine months over those, and have not had time to finish
them. It is true they are exhibition instruments, for shops, and
therefore have little if any interest for me."

Perez led him on with compliments, thawing away his frostiness gradually
with Jan's admiration for the guitar of M. La Branche. Suddenly Ramirez
put down his tools.

"Look here," he said, "I'll make the Señor a guitar. Three hundred
francs is the price, and it will be finished in three months."

The bargain concluded, Ramirez picked up one of the unfinished
instruments. He handed it to Jan, exhorting him to explore with a finger
the exquisite workmanship of its interior. He rapped on the belly with
his knuckle, and at the sound of its deep musical boom he smiled for the
first time. Ramirez, having thawed, did not freeze up again. He began
explaining the novel shape of his instrument, a shape which had been
worked out for him by a mathematical philosopher. He said that the
guitar was the most difficult of musical instruments to make, requiring
a volume of tone which had to be produced from strings easy to pluck and
finger. A problem very difficult to solve.

"And the guitar I made for you," he said, turning to Perez, "you gave it
to S----?"

"Yes," said Perez.

"See here," said Ramirez, turning to us, "I make a guitar, an excellent
one, one of my best. This fellow comes to see me, he hears the
instrument. He says to me, 'Ramirez, keep that guitar for me, and I will
at once go to work in a French munition factory, and I will work like a
slave, and every week I will send you money until the guitar is paid
for.' And I agree. And he goes and makes aeroplanes, and does honest
work for the first time in his life, I believe, and every week he sends
money to me. And the week it is all paid up he stops work and goes off
with the guitar. And he is crazy about the instrument. And he goes back
to Spain and then he hears S---- playing. He is so enraptured by the
wonderful playing of the man, that he runs home, fetches his guitar, and
thrusts it into S---- 's hands, exclaiming: 'Here is an instrument
worthy of you. It is too good for me, for I am a mere bungler beside
you.' And so he gives away the guitar that he has laboured for. Ah yes,
you villain, I have heard of you."

As we went down the hill, Perez tried to explain away this generosity so
characteristic of his impulsive nature.

"It is not as though I would have played on the instrument again after
having heard S---- touch it. Every time that I wished to play I would
have thought, 'Ah yes, but if only _he_ were playing it and not I.' And
I had to give it to him, or perhaps I would never have been able to play
again."

He asked us to come that evening to a certain small café in the Rue
Campagne Premier; some other Spaniards were to come also and there was
to be playing and singing. We were to come after the legal closing time,
and we were to thump on the shutters.

In the night, in the dark, we rapped upon the rusty iron shutters, and
one by one, like conspirators, were admitted into the dimly-lit café. It
was a small place, characteristic of Paris, a combination of _buvette_
with zinc bar, and cheap restaurant with marble-topped tables. Five
years ago a good meal could be bought here for less than a franc. Behind
the bar bottles and glass vats reached up to the ceiling; upon the
dirty, green, oil-painted walls, cheap almanacs and trivial popular
prints hung, together with excellent drawings and sketches, presented to
Madame by her clients. One by one the _invités_ slipped in. Madame and
her two girl waitresses laughed and giggled at the kitchen door, while
the _patron_, grey-moustached, hollow-eyed and cadaverous, uncorked the
bottles of wine behind the bar.

Here again for several hours the Spaniards re-created Spain. Perez is a
player of temperament. Half of his skill and art he appears to suck from
his audience. Thus at first he plays but indifferently well; but any
music will rouse a crowd of Spaniards. To the growing excitement Perez
responds, playing the better for it, thus creating more enthusiasm, and
these interchanges continue, until he reaches the limit of his ability.
But he is so sensitive to his audience that one indifferent person can
take the edge off all his power. This night there was no one
unresponsive. The playing of Perez became more and more brilliant. With
his nails be rasped deep chords from his responsive instrument; to and
fro he beat the strings in the remorseless rhythm of Jota Arragonesa. In
the dimly lit café the dark figures and the sallow faces of the
Spaniards were crowded about him in an irregular circle. "Olé! Olé!"
they cried, and clapped their hands in time with the music. The air
within the café throbbed and pulsated with the music. "Mais, c'est très
bien," exclaimed Madame at intervals from her corner. "C'est très
amusant, hein?" Two of the younger men were murmuring to the waitresses
and were making them titter.

"Come," exclaimed Perez at last, "enough of this piece playing. Let us
have a song. Vamos! who will sing?"

But something, possibly my presence, deterred the Spaniards from
singing. They were shy as a group of schoolboys. One at last began to
chant in a high quavering falsetto, but before the first half of his
_copla_ was ended he broke down into a laugh of hysterical shyness.

"Why then," cried Perez, "I'll have to sing myself, and Heaven knows
I've got no voice."

The Spaniard believes that any singing is better than no singing. One of
his chief pursuits in life is that of happiness--"_allègre_" he calls
it. This _allègre_ is produced not by perfect results but by evidence
of good intentions. He would rather have a bad player who plays from his
heart than a good player who plays for his pocket. Any singing, then, so
long as it is of the right nature, will suffice, no matter what its
musical effect. Perez's singing had _allègre_, but no music. He lowed
like a calf, rising up into strange throaty hoarseness like a barrow
merchant who has been crying his goods all day, and descending into dim
growls of deep notes. But even he at last tired; and after Madame had
been yawning for some while, after the last bottle of wine had been
drained of its last drops, we slipped out one by one into the moonlit
streets of Paris and said our farewells on the Boulevard.



CHAPTER III

THE FRONTIER


I wonder what Charlemagne would have done if one had whisked him down
from Paris to the Spanish Frontier in something under twenty hours?
Probably the hero would have been paralysed with terror during the
journey and would have revenged himself upon the magician by means of a
little stake party.

But what would have been magic and miracle to Charlemagne remains in
one's mind as a jumble--the interior of a second-class carriage;
antimacassars; an adolescent who ate lusciously a basket of peaches,
thereby reminding us that French peaches ripen early in June; intrusive
knees and superfluous legs; an obese man who pinched my knee in his
sleep, probably from habit; touches of indigestion which made one
fidget, and in the dawn a little excitement roused by observing the
turpentine tapping operations at work on the pine-trees by the side of
the railroad--cemented together by the thick atmosphere of a summer's
night enclosed between shut windows.

It is a strange fact that the more perfect do we make travelling, the
more tedious does it become--I wonder whether the same may not apply to
almost all progress in civilization.

The most primitive aspect of travel is that of walking, and even upon
the most tedious of walks the exercise itself seldom degenerates into
definite boredom, one is never far away from one's fellow men, yet even
if one is quite alone the mere fact of walking is an occupation which
cannot be despised; of riding similar things may be said. Coaching may
have had its inconveniences, yet a coach drive cannot have been lacking
in definite interest. One was in very close contact with one's fellow
passengers, coaching made as strange bedfellows as any adversity, and
the journey was seldom so short that one could enjoy a sort of snuffy
insulation from one's fellows--mutual discomforts, even mutual terrors
of footpads made a definite bond of humanity.

It is true that in all these primitive processes the act of getting from
here to there is prolonged--perhaps extremely prolonged--but mere
duration is not tedium. If the act itself is interesting and vivid then
the act itself is worth while. To-day the act of travelling by a fast
train is scarcely worth while--the traveller can almost count it out as
so much time lost out of life. I fear that when the aeroplane is
perfected journeys will be performed in a tedium absolutely unrelieved,
and those patients who have to undertake journeys would be advised to
take a mild anæsthetic at the beginning.

What is missing to-day from the act of travelling--and what lacks from
much modern civilization--is the expectation of the unexpected; the
sense of adventure, the true sauce of life.

Now to have the true sense of adventure it is not necessary that one
should always be expecting to meet a lion round the corner. Any little
thing will do, anything not before experienced, anything that will give
the imagination that extra fillip of interest which will convince it
that the world will always remain a Fortunatus purse of new things to
learn, anything that will make positive the fact that the act of living
is also the act of growing,--anything of this nature will contribute to
the sense of adventure.

But the trend of civilization to-day is that all these little interests
are being quietly but very effectively crushed: we fling them beneath
the wheels of railway trains and into the cogs of factories, with the
result that only those experiences which are too large for us to fling
thus are allowed to flourish. We have, in fact, almost cleared away the
little things and left only the big. Now, if we turn the corner, either
there is nothing at all or, in one case out of a hundred, we find the
lion. In our railway travelling to-day, either nothing happens or there
is a railway accident; but we have turned so many corners in our lives
which led to the mere blankness of more empty road, that the possibility
of the lion has almost faded from our minds--and so the sense of
adventure in little, the true sense of adventure, is in danger of
atrophy.

Some day, I feel sure that this sense of adventure will take a revenge
on the civilization which would destroy it. We kill off birds and
caterpillars flourish. Some worm lies near the heart of things ready to
gnaw at the right moment. I fear that never will they apply
"preservation laws" to the sense of adventure, or we, as adventurers,
properly appreciated, should be in receipt of a scholarship or of a
civil list pension.

We were too dazed by the drug of twenty hours of tedium and
sleeplessness to suck any adventure from the passage through the French
Customs House at Hendaye. But this experience roused us so that we were
quite mentally awake by the time that we reached Irun. Here a problem
confronted us.

We had in our large leather trunk a good many yards of government
canvas, several pounds' worth of paints, and ten pounds in weight of
preparation for turning the government canvas into material for painting
upon. We had heard that the Spanish customs were very strict; very
strict in theory, that is.

"But if they worry you, bribe them a bit," had said a friend. Were these
things contraband? If so, how much was one to bribe, and how was one to
do it? There are plenty of men with nerve enough to try to tip Charon
for his trip over the Styx, but Jan is not one of these.

Now for a man of Jan's kind to attempt a delicate piece of palmed
bribing often results in things worse than if he had left well alone.
Ten to one there is a fumble and the coin drops to the floor beneath the
nose of the chief bug-a-bug. So, fingering two unpleasantly warm
five-peseta pieces in his pocket, he prayed fervently to kind
Opportunity to step in.

To his prayer the goddess answered. We had brought with us from our
Paris studio a mosquito curtain which once before had been used in
Majorca. As our baggage was packed in London we had, rather than undo
straps and locks, tied this mosquito curtain, wrapped in clean brown
paper, on to the outside of our suit-case. Upon this the authorities
flung themselves.

"Hi!" they cried. "You will pay duty on this, it is new."

Two gendarmes and a clerk tore off the paper, pitched the mosquito
curtain into a pair of scales, weighed it and wrote out the bill. All
the while we had been clamouring, with a sudden memory from Hugo:
"Antigua, antigua, antigua...."

This clamour became suddenly effective as soon as the officials had
nothing to do than to collect the money. Instead of cash we gave them a
chorus of "Antigua, antigua." The clerk and the two gendarmes then began
what seemed to be an impromptu imitation of Miss Loie Fuller in her
celebrated skirt dancing--mosquito curtain whirled this way and that in
voluptuous curves. They were looking for evidence. Suddenly I pointed
out a spot where perchance some full-blooded mosquito had come to a
sudden death in 1913, when the world was yet at peace. The mosquito
curtain was refolded, the bill torn up. They were quite peremptory with
the rest of our luggage; so Jan dropped the two warm five-peseta pieces
back into his pocket.

However much one may be in a country, one never feels that one _is_ in
the country until the door leading out of the customs house has been
passed. So we never really thought of ourselves as being in Spain until
we stepped on to the platform where the train for Madrid was standing.
With a bitter shock, we realized that it was a chill day and raining.
We had come all the way from England, hunting the sun, to be greeted in
June by a day which would fit, both in temperature and atmosphere, the
tail-end of a March at home.

[Illustration]

Of those minor adventures which make life so valuable, some of the
finest flowers amongst them which may be picked are the delicate first
impressions of a new country. These impressions have a flavour all their
own; they are usually compressed within the space of one hour or so, and
once experienced they never return. New impressions indeed one may
gather by the score, but those first, fine savourings of the new can
never be retasted.

We had expected so much from Spain. We had hoped at the first moment to
open out our arms to her sun, to satiate our colour sense with the
blueness of her skies--we were received instead with this grey, gloomy
weather. How can one describe the revulsion? It would be an exaggeration
to say that it was as though we had touched a corpse where we had
expected to find a living man, but the revulsion was of this nature
though perhaps less poignant.

I left Jan to finish with the larger luggage and, securing the aid of a
porter, set out to look for an hotel. At the exit of the station I was
accosted by a sallow man with a large, peaked jockey cap pulled down
over a thin face.

He said: "Hey, Señora! Hotel? Spik Engleesh. Yes."

"We don't want a dear place," I answered in English. "We want a cheap
one, understand?"

"Hotel. Spik Engleesh. Yes," replied the tout.

"Cheap hotel--cheap," I said.

"Hotel. Spik Engleesh--yes," said he.

"Puede usted recomendarme una fonda barata?" said I, out of the
conversation book, though the "_barata_"[1] at the end was my own.

But the tout turned sulky and would not answer--I suppose he thought his
fee would diminish if he were enticed into Spanish. The porter stood on
one side; he was a small, inadequate man and he sniffed continually.
Whether he had caught cold from the rain, or whether he was expressing
his private opinion of travellers, I did not learn. Jan was arranging
about our trunk and a hold-all; I had in my charge two thermos flasks, a
camera, two rucksacks--memories of days in the German Tyrol before the
war--and a suit-case which had been with us in Serbia and which still
bore the faint traces of a painted red cross, but the cat had for the
last two years been sharpening her claws upon it and the leather now
looked something like "Teddy Bear" material. These I distributed between
the porter and the tout, and, trusting to Providence and my own powers
of observation, we entered Irun.

Where was the queer magic which lies in the first impressions of a new
land, the dreamlike quality, the unreality which almost puts one's feet
for a moment into Fairyland? Spain had played a nasty trick upon us;
the grey sky and the low-lying cloud and the drizzling rain had nothing
of Fairyland for us. With head held low against the drizzle one was
conscious of nothing but a wall on the right hand and of dirty pavement
beneath the feet.

The tout led me into the first house we reached. There, was a narrow
passage which passed by a room of a dingy whiteness; but the tout showed
me on, up some stumbly stairs and through a spring door. We came into a
dark room in which, by means of the light filtering through the slats of
the closed shutters, could be seen the dim outlines of a bed and of a
tin wash-hand-stand.

"Ocho pesetas," said the tout.

"Por todo," I answered.

"Todo--todo--comida y toda," protested the tout. I had been waiting for
this moment. In the conversation book which I had been studying was a
phrase which had caught my fancy; it meant "no extras," but it was much
more beautiful. The time had come.

"No hay extraordinario?" said I sternly.

"No, Señora, no," said the tout, spreading out his hands.

The matter having been thus settled, he took me downstairs again; and,
in the dingy white diningroom, introduced me to a plump woman, the
proprietress. I was ravenously hungry; the tables were laid. I asked:

"What time is lunch?"

"At two, Señora."

I was dismayed. It was now eleven o'clock--we had eaten little since the
night before.

"But," I stammered, "I am hungry. Tengo hambre." My memory shuffled with
conversation-book sentences and faint recollections of Majorca, but
could find nothing about the minutiæ of food.

"Tengo hambre," I repeated desperately. Suddenly inspiration came to
me. I made motions of beating up an omelet and clucked like a hen that
has laid an egg.

For a moment there was a silence, a positive kind of silence, which is
much more still than mere absence of noise. Then a roar of laughter went
up. The fat hostess shook like a jelly, the tout guffawed behind a
restraining hand--he had not yet received his tip--while an old woman
who had been sitting in one of the darker corners, went off:

"Ck! Ck! Ck! He! He! He! Ck! Ck! Ck! He! He! He!"

At this moment Jan arrived, having deposited the bigger luggage and
having been informed that the train to Avila, our first stopping-place,
went out at 8 a.m. I led him along the dark passage and upstairs. He
flung wide the shutters. The window looked into a deep, triangular well
at the bottom of which was a floor of stamped earth, a washtub and a
hen-coop. Windows of all sizes pierced the walls at irregular intervals
and across the well were stretched ropes, from some of which flapped
pieces of damp linen or underclothes. In the light of the open window
the room was dingy. We wondered if there were bugs in it, for we had
been cautioned against these insects.

But the room did not smell buggy; it had a peculiar smell of its own.
The strong characteristics of odours need more attention than novelists
give them. For instance, I remember that German mistresses had a faint
vinegary scent, but French governesses an odour like trunks which had
been suddenly opened.

This room had an austere smell. It smelt, I don't know how, Roman
Catholic: not of incense nor of censers, but of a flavour which, by some
combination of circumstances, we have associated with Roman Catholicism
in bulk. The bedroom door was largely panelled with tinted glass; it had
a very flimsy lock, but we did not fear that we would be murdered or
burgled in our bed.

The omelet was ready when we came down. The diningroom had two doors,
one leading to the kitchen, one up some steps and into the street. There
was a broad stretch of window and almost all the other walls of the room
were covered with big mirrors.

[Illustration]

About five grim people, mostly clad in black--including the old
lady--sat in the room and stared at us as we ate. We could not avoid
this disconcerting gaze--look where we would we either caught a human
eye or else, what was worse, we were fascinated by a long procession of
eyes passing away into the dim mysteries of reflection and re-reflection
of the mirrors. We had to choose between the gaze of one real old lady
or of twenty-five reflected old ladies, of one callow youth or of
twenty-five youths diminishing towards the infinite. The audience stared
at us as we ate our omelet, watched the fruit--apricots, cherries and
hard pears--with which we finished the meal, and noted each sip of
coffee. At last, unable to bear any longer the embarrassment of this
mechanically intensified curiosity, we took refuge in our bedroom and
lay down. We then noted that the bed was too small, all the rest of the
furniture, on the contrary, being much too big.

We rested till lunch. The omelet and the fruit had but filled some of
the minor vacancies within us and we were ready again on the stroke of
two. Once more we faced the Spanish stare and all the reflected
repetitions of it. A fair number of persons lunched at the hotel. As
they came in the women sat themselves directly at the table, but the men
without exception went to the far corner where, suspended against the
wall, was a small tin reservoir with a minute tap and beneath it a tiny
basin. Each man rinsed his hands in the infinitesimal trickle, before he
sat down to dinner. Why the men and women made this distinction we could
not guess. It seemed to be a custom and not to be dependent upon whether
the hands were dirty or not. Even if the hands had been dirty the small
amount of water used would not have cleaned them.

In the centre of the dining table were white, porous vessels containing
drinking water. The water oozes through the porous clay and appears on
the outside of the vessel as a faint sweat. This layer of moisture
evaporates and keeps all the water in the vessel at several degrees
cooler than the surrounding atmosphere.

Between mouthfuls of soup and wedges of beef the diners were watching
us. As soon as the meal was over we fled into the streets of Irun. One
cannot call Irun Spanish. It is abominably French, though France is
pleasant in its own place. The café in the little plaza is French, with
a French _terrasse_, French side screens of ugly ironwork and glass, and
faces a square full of shady trees between which one sees modern
fortifications of French appearance. So we sat sipping coffee and we
said to ourselves: "Forget that you are in Spain. Put off your
excitement. Don't waste your sensations with false sentiment".

Nor did the fact that all the wording on the shops was Spanish, nor even
the sight of a building of pure modern Spanish architecture rouse us
from our cloudy resignation. The building which towered into some six
stories by the side of the railway was of a maroon brick. The lower
story, including the entrance door, was decorated with _appliqué_ in the
design which the French used to call "l'art nouveau," and which now is
confined almost exclusively to the iron work on boulevard cafés. It is
marked by exaggerated curves. The whole bottom story of this building
was sculptured in this fantastic fashion; in order to fit in with the
decorations the front door was wider at the top than it was at the
bottom, while the windows were of every variety of shape, squashed
curves, dilated hearts, indented circles and so on. Above this story the
building rose gravely brick save for the corners, which were decorated
with bathroom tiles of bad glaze upon which flowers had been painted;
roses, violets and pansies: the top story, however, was part Gothic,
part Egyptian, with a unifying intermixture of more bathroom tiles.

A munition millionaire went to an art dealer saying he wanted a picture,
but he didn't mind what sort of a picture it was provided it looked
expensive. We imagined that the architect of this house had received a
similar order. Later on we were undeceived.

A yellow tram went by bearing the name "Fuentarabia." Having heard
eulogies of this place, we decided to go. We reached the terminus of the
tramway and the conductor told us we were there. Since then we have met
so many people who were in ecstasies about the beauties of Fuentarabia,
about its pure Spanish character, etc., etc., that we are still
wondering if we went to Fuentarabia after all.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: Cheap.]



CHAPTER IV

MEDINA DEL CAMPO


If civilization were without a flaw, the happy civilized traveller could
pass through and circumambulate a foreign country yet never come into
closer contact with the inhabitants than that transmitted through a
Cook's interpreter. So that if you want to learn anything about a
country, either you must put a sprag into the wheels of this
civilization or you must let Opportunity do it for you. Opportunity is a
very complaisant goddess: give her an inch and the ell at least is
offered to you. She smiled upon us when we decided to stay the night at
Irun; once more she smiled when the porter told us that the train to
Avila left about eight o'clock, so we humped the two rucksacks and the
suit-case from the inn to the station, got our trunk and hold-all from
the baggage office and went to buy our tickets. Then we realized what
Opportunity had been up to. The ticket clerk refused to give us tickets
to Avila.

"Why not?

"The train does not go through Avila, it goes to Madrid by the other
branch through Segovia. The train by Avila goes at four."

"Where, then, does it branch off?"

"At Medina del Campo."

"Then give us tickets to Avila and we will wait at Medina del Campo."

But the authorities did not approve of this novel idea. It seemed that
the through-ticket system had not become the custom in Spain. We must
then take tickets to Medina or wait in Irun till the proper,
respectable Avila train should go, so to the astonishment of the booking
clerk we said:

"All right, give us tickets for Medina."

[Illustration]

I do not believe that any pleasure traveller had stopped at Medina
before we did. That is the impression we received, both from the
behaviour of the porters at Irun and of those at Medina itself.

The scenery from the railway was, as scenery always is, fascinating
because of one's elevation and the scope of one's view, tiring because
of its continuous movement. We passed through mountains worthy of
Scotland, very Scotch in colour, and at last came out upon the big plain
of Valladolid.

While we were streaming across this and the mountains were fading slowly
into a distant blue the luncheon-car waiter announced his joyful news.
We had heard that living in Spain was going to be dear, so, with some
trepidation, we decided to take that train luncheon--for our financial
position did not encourage extravagance. The whole trip was, in theory,
to come within the limits of Jan's war gratuity--about £120. We had
calculated the railway travelling as £50 in all; this gave us £70 for
all other expenses, including the purchase of the musical instruments
upon which we had set our minds, and we hoped to stay for four or five
months. Yet in spite of the need for economy luncheon called us if only
as an experience.

The meal cost us about three and fourpence apiece: it was a complicated
affair of many courses--even in a Soho restaurant the same would have
come to about ten shillings, so that the spirit of economy in us was
cheered and inspirited. Of our fellow passengers we remember nobody save
a gigantic priest who waddled slowly along the corridors, carrying,
suspended on a plump finger, a very small cage in which, like a mediæval
captive in a "little ease," was a canary almost as large as its prison.

Medina station looked like an exaggerated cart-shed on a farm; two long
walls and a roof of corrugated iron--there were no platforms, only one
broad pavement along one of the walls. A small bookstall was against the
wall and further along the pavement a booth of jewellery. This booth had
glass windows and "Precio Fijo"[2]--"No bargaining," in other words--was
painted across the glass in white letters.

Why Spaniards, _en route_, should have mad desires to purchase
jewellery, we have not learned, but these jewellery booths are common on
Spanish stations. The jewellers seem to detest bargaining, for these
words always appear on the windows. I suppose the fact that the
purchaser of jewellery has got to catch a train may give him some occult
advantage over the seller. One may imagine him slamming his last offer
down on the counter and sprinting off with the coveted trinket to the
train, while the defrauded merchant is struggling with the door-handle
of his booth--so "No Bargaining" is painted up, very white and very
positive.

As we had nine hours to wait, there was no need to hurry, so we allowed
the crowd to drift out of the platform before we began to see about the
disposal of our luggage. Stumbling about in Hugo Spanish we discovered
that, owing to the receipt that had been given us at Irun, our big trunk
would look after itself until claimed, but that there was no luggage
office or other facility for getting rid of our smaller baggage. We,
however, insinuated understanding into the head of a porter, who
thereupon led us to a door amongst other doors in the wall labelled
"Fonda." We came into a huge hall. Across one end stretched a majestic
bar four feet high, of elaborately carved wood, upon the top of which
were vases of fruits, tiers of bottles and glittering machines for the
manufacture of drink. Three long tables were in the room, two spread
simply with coffee-cups. The third table occupied the full length of the
middle of the room. It seemed spread for some Lord Mayor's banquet.
Snowy napery was covered along the centre with huge cut-glass dishes,
stacked with fruit, alternated with palms flanked by champagne bottles
and white and red wine bottles. Fully fifty places were laid, each place
having seven or eight plates stacked upon it while the cutlery sparkled
on either hand. A cadaverous, unshaven waiter lounged about amongst this
magnificence and lazily flicked at the flies with his napkin.

This huge, deserted room, expectant of so many guests, made one think of
the introduction to a fairy story: one could have sat the mad hatter,
the dormouse and the March hare down there, but one could never imagine
that fifty passengers could in sober earnestness crowd to have supper at
Medina del Campo upon the same day. No, rather here was one flutter of
the dying pomp and majesty of Spain.

We placed our bags in a corner of the pretentious room and went from the
station to look for the town. It was nowhere to be seen. A white road
deep in dust gleamed beneath the afternoon sun and led away across the
ochreous plain, but, of town, not a sign. Yet the white road was the
only road; Medina must be somewhere, so off we walked. The plain was not
quite flat, it flowed away in undulations which appeared shallow, but
which proved sufficiently deep to swallow up all signs of Medina del
Campo at the distance of a mile.

First we came to a line of little brightly coloured hovels, square
boxes, many of only one room, then to a church, an ancient
Spanish-Gothic church surrounded by gloomy trees. Suddenly the road
turned a corner and we were almost in the middle of the town. Medina was
Spanish enough. Here was the plaza at the end of which towered a high
cathedral decorated with colour and with carving. The plaza lay broad
and shining beneath the sunlight; loungers sprawled in the shadows
beneath the small, vivid green trees, and in the deep stone arcades
which edged the open square the afternoon coffee-drinkers, clad in cool
white, lolled at the café tables.

In the centre of the plaza was a fountain running with water, and about
it came and went a continual procession of women bearing large, white
amphoras upon their hips, children carrying smaller drinking vessels,
and men wheeling long, barrow-like frameworks into which many amphoras
were placed. The shops and cafés were painted in gay colours which were
brilliant in the sun and which contrasted pleasantly with the crude--as
though painted--green of the trees and the clear, soothing hue of the
sky.

I know that historical things have happened at Medina del Campo, but we
are not going to retail second-hand history. To us, as living beings, it
is far more important that we bought our first oily, almondy Spanish
cakes here than that Santa Teresa (who started off at the age of ten
years to be martyred by the Moors) founded a convent in the town.

Medina is a dead place and must be typical of Spain. It has a market, a
plaza and a few ragged fringes of streets more than half full of
collapsing houses, and in this gay-looking remnant of past glory are at
least three enormous churches with monasteries in attendance. But even
the churches are falling into ruin and the storks' nests are clustered
flat on the belfries, while Hymen's debt collectors, clapping their
beaks, gaze down from aloft into the empty roadways.

Sunset had played out a colour symphony in orange major by the time we
had arrived back at the station where we asked for a meal; but the
cadaverous, blue-jowled waiter had not laid covers for fifty in order
that intrusive strangers might push in and demand food at whatever hour
they chose.

"Supper," he said with some dignity and disgust at our ignorance, "is at
eight."

So out we went on to the pavement platform, found a lattice seat and ate
the cakes we had bought. They were like treacly macaroons, so oily that
the paper in which they had been wrapped was soaked through, but it was
with pure almond oil and the cakes were delicious. Lunch had been eaten
at twelve and in trains one never eats quite at one's ease; hunger had
gripped us when eight o'clock struck by the station clock. We took our
seats at the long table before those piles of plates. A quarter-past
eight went by, half-past eight was approaching. One by one about six or
seven persons sauntered into the room and seated themselves, distant
from each other in comparison with the size of the table as are the
planets in the solar system. Nearest to us, our Mars, as it were, was a
very fat commercial man, his face showing the hue of the ruddy planet.
Our Venus was represented by a pale young priest, his long wrists
projecting far from the sleeves of his cassock. Mercury looked
appropriately enough like one who was always travelling; Saturn was
covered with rings--he must have been one of the customers of the
"precio fijo" booths--the other planets were lost amongst cumulus of
fruit and cirrus of palm.

The waiter became active. Balancing a large soup tureen, he ladled a
thin, greenish soup into the upper plate. We then understood that we
would have to eat our way down through the pile of plates, each plate a
course. Mars rushed at his soup in such a wild manner that we felt it
was a good thing indeed that the soup-plate was thus raised so near to
his mouth or fully the half of the soup would have drenched his
waistcoat.

Alice again was recalled to my mind. I remembered her dismay during her
regal banquet when the dishes once introduced to her were whisked away
from under her nose, for every time I laid down my knife and fork to
speak to Jan my plate was seized and carried off by the cadaverous
waiter. No sooner was I introduced to a new Spanish dish than it was
wrested from me. Twice this had occurred. On the third occasion I lay in
wait: as the waiter swooped for my plate I seized it. There was a
momentary struggle, but I had two hands to his one; he retired with a
look of astonishment on his face. Gradually I became aware of the fact
that Mars never loosed his knife and fork until he had cleared his
plate. He held both firmly in his two red hands. If he drank--which he
did with gusto, throwing his head back, washing the wine, which had a
queer tarry taste, about the inside of his mouth, almost cleaning his
teeth with it--he held his fork sceptre-wise as if to say to the waiter,
"Touch that last corner of beefsteak at your peril." When he had quite
finished the course, when he had mopped up all the remnants with a piece
of bread, then and then only did he lay down both knife and fork.
Unconsciously I had been giving a signal to the waiter.

After the beefsteak we had a surprise. One has been so long accustomed
to the French custom in gastronomy, that one almost forgets that
courses are not arranged in an immutable order. Once indeed I did make a
bet in Paris that I would eat a meal in the inverse direction, beginning
with the coffee and sweets and ending with the soup--which, by the way,
proved very hard to swallow--but the mere fact that one could bet about
it proves how fixed one imagines the laws of food progression to be. At
Medina del Campo, after the beefsteak, which was about the third item on
the menu, the waiter brought us fried fish, thereby proving that
gastronomic progression is not so unalterable as is usually imagined.
The fish looked like very small plaice, but they had a strange flavour
which we had never before tasted. That the fish had been packed for
several days in rotting hay seemed the nearest description and
explanation, and we would have clung to this idea if the salad had not
also had a perceptible tang of this unpleasant taste. We asked the
waiter what the flavour was, but our Spanish broke down under the
strain, and the waiter said "Claro"[3] and went away.

For some weeks afterwards the word "Claro" became our bugbear. The
Spaniard gets little amusement from hearing his language spoken by
foreigners. If the unfortunate foreigner does not get pronunciation,
accent and intonation perfect the Spaniard says "Claro," in reality
meaning "I can't make head or tail of what you are talking about." Both
laziness and courtesy make the Spaniard say "Claro," and often the poor
foreigner is quite delighted with his progress in the language--the
people tell him that everything he says is perfectly clear, hooray; he
thinks that he must have an unsuspected gift for languages--until one
day he asks the way to somewhere and receives the usual answer, "Claro."

The Redonda Mesa,[4] which would I think be the Spanish for a "square
meal," cost us again four pesetas, and it was an even better three and
eightpenn'orth than we had been given on the train. The meal finished,
the planets held a public tooth-picking competition for a while, then
one by one they resumed their normal orbits and passed from our sight.

We, with the processes of digestion heavy upon us, went back to the seat
in the ill-lit station. Three more hours we had to wait for the train to
Avila, so we sat in the mild night watching the only engine at
Medina--an engine which looked like an immediate descendant of
Stevenson's Rocket--push trucks very slowly to and fro. This engine,
though it made a lot of spasmodic noise, did not destroy, it only
interrupted, the intense silence which lay over the country-side. The
platform was quite deserted. Presently two small boys came along. One
had a red tin of tobacco which he offered to Jan; Jan shook his head but
did not answer. They then tried to talk to us, but we knew better than
to expose our imperfect Castilian to two small boys--so we kept silence.
At last they said we were "misteriosos" and went away.

A luggage train steamed in. At the tail end of the train were three
third-class carriages, and from these carriages, as well as from the
waggons, poured out a mob of wild-looking men. They were dark brown,
unshaven, covered with broad tattered straw hats, clothed in rough and
ragged fustian and carried blankets of many coloured stripes. Huge
bundles, sacks and strange implements were slung upon their backs. As
they crowded in beneath the dim lamp at the station exit one could
almost have sworn that all the figures from Millet's pictures had come
to life. A smell of the soil and of labour and of sweat went up from
them. These men were peasants from Galicia; they had come in third-class
carriages, in goods waggons, travelling probably for two or three days,
attached to luggage trains, across the country to the harvesting. One by
one they passed out, their voices trailed away into the night towards
Medina, and once more the silence came back.

Time wears itself out in the end. The train to Avila, when it came, was
fairly empty, so we could lay ourselves out at full length and rest,
disturbed, however, by the continual fear that we might overshoot our
destination.

It was pitchy night when we clambered down from the train at Avila. The
large barn of a station was lit by but three minute lamps and the glow
from the fonda door. In the semi-darkness the passengers moved about
like ghosts, each intent on his own business. It was two o'clock in the
morning, so before exploring we again put our baggage in a corner of the
fonda; where also we found the one waiter presiding over a banquet laid
for fifty non-existent guests. Speaking as little of the language as we
did, it seemed impossible to go exploring a foreign town in the dead of
night for a hotel which would probably be shut when we found it. So,
feeling somewhat like Leon Berthelini and his wife in Stevenson's story,
we sat down on a seat in the station to await the dawn.

The temperature of the night was almost perfect; there was a hint of
chill in our faces which, however, did not penetrate through the
clothing. For awhile porters moved about arranging luggage, then one by
one the three lights were extinguished and the station was left to
darkness. One porter clambered into a carriage which was standing on a
siding; as he did not come out again nor pass down on the other side we
imagine he went to bed in it. We were tempted to follow his example, but
feared the train might move off unexpectedly and carry us to some remote
part of Spain before we could wake up. One can tempt opportunity too
far.

But the seat was hard. If, like Berthelini, we had had a guitar we might
have performed miracles with it similar to his, but we had left our
guitars in England. So Jan went exploring. Outside the station he found
a small omnibus, its horses eating hay out of nose-bags. Hearing faint
voices he discovered a sort of dimly lit underground bar annexed to the
fonda, in which the driver of the omnibus and a friend were drinking
spirits, while the tired waiter lounged yawning behind the counter. Our
ignorance of Spanish prevented us from thrusting ourselves into their
company: but we waited for the driver to attend to his horses and in
halting Hugo we asked him at what hour the omnibus went to the hotel. He
replied "In the morning" and went back to his drinking.

The eau-de-nil of dawn found us on the edge of shivering, but the day
warmed rapidly. A train thundered into the station pouring out its
cascade of passengers. Gathering up our packages and tipping the waiter
fifty centimes, we found a new omnibus which was labelled "Hotel Jardin"
and took our seats inside. Dawn was over by the time we reached the
hotel, though it was but four o'clock. We had a confused impression of
great buff battlements overhanging the buildings, of a few stunted
bushes, of one or two girls in black, of a huge room which was to be our
bedroom and then--bed--sleep.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 2: Fixed prices.]

[Footnote 3: "That is clear."]

[Footnote 4: Round table.]



CHAPTER V

AVILA


Borrow has a description of an inn in Galicia in which a whole family
occupies but one bedroom while the servant sleeps across the door. Our
bedroom in the Hôtel del Jardin was quite large enough for any family
other than, perhaps, a French Canadian, which sometimes runs, we have
heard, into twenties and thirties. The walls were painted a pinky-mauve
stucco, decorated with a broad olive-green ribbon of colour making a
complete oblong or frame on each wall about eighteen inches within the
edges of the wall, top, bottom and sides.

This method of making, as it were, a separate frame of each wall, was
novel and rather pleasant. It is a common practice in Spanish wall
decoration and is probably Moorish in origin. The hotel was full of dark
corridors leading to huge bedrooms: it had a broad veranda upstairs full
of large wicker chairs, bottoms up, while downstairs was a dining room
with square tables and a small entrance hall in which sat the three old
ladies.

With one of the old ladies we had bargained in a sleepy way upon our
arrival. She had conceded us the room with full _pension_ (no
extraordinarios) for eight pesetas a day, but in general the three old
ladies sat in the entrada together, giving a sense of black-frocked
repose and of quiet dignity to the place. One was thin-faced, dried-up
but energetically capable; one was large and motherly, while the third
had no characteristics whatever and was ignored by every one.

[Illustration]

I do not think we realized that these three old ladies were
the proprietresses until the second or third day at lunch-time. We had
been given our seats at a table by the waiter; suddenly we found the
three old ladies had surrounded us and were glowering down at us. We
were rising to our feet but they peremptorily commanded us to stay where
we were, breaking the rising tide of their wrath upon the waiter. Then,
for the first time, we realized how completely we were married in Spain.
In France, for instance, married people are "les époux," plural,
separate; in England they are a "married couple," which still
recognizes a duality though perhaps less definitely than does France;
but in Spain we were "un matrimonio," indissolubly wedded into one in
the language, and into a masculine one at that. Somehow I always felt
that we ought to be wheeled in on casters: it was improper that so
stately a thing as a matrimonio like the Queen of Spain should use legs.
From the old ladies' annoyance we understood that the matrimonio had
done something which was not correct, but they talked so fast, and they
all talked together, so that the matrimonio could not make head or tail
of what they were saying. Nor indeed did we ever discover our
misdemeanour.

For our six and eightpence a day we had breakfast in a little side room.
This meal was of _café au lait_ in a huge bowl, rolls and butter.
Sometimes we had companions for this meal. On the second day I was some
minutes earlier than Jan. At the table was a young peasant priest. He
ignored my tentative bow but began muttering to himself protective
prayers in Latin. However, once I looked up suddenly and surprised him
in the act of staring at me. He quickly crossed himself and redoubled
the urgency of his protestations to God.

The other meals were excellently cooked and with four or five courses to
each, but the diningroom bore on its walls a placard saying that owing
to the rise of prices the management regretted that it was unable to
provide wine at the _pension_. So there was an extraordinario after
all--and a very good extraordinario it was too--red Rioja wine with the
faint, strange exotic taste in it of the tar with which the wine barrels
are caulked.

You know the queer old drawings one finds in ancient books: towns like
bandboxes with the walls round a perfect circle, and peaked houses all
comfortably packed inside, and soldiers' heads sticking out of the
battlemented towers? Well, Avila is like that. You may stand on the
opposite hillside and see the full circle of her walls with never a
breach in it, with towers at every two hundred yards or so, and you can
gaze down into her houses, fitted neatly within the bandbox, and wonder
if the old manuscripts were quite as exaggerated as one often supposed.
From this hillside one might imagine that Avila has never changed from
the days when the monks drew their primitive pictures. The walls top the
hill-side and one sees nothing of the modern Avila which has spread
beyond those great frowning gateways facing the plaza, but even the
modern part of Avila which has oozed out beyond the walls is not
overwhelmingly modern. There are none of the exquisite specimens of
Spanish bad taste like that we found in Irun. The plaza is surrounded by
coloured houses and arcades much as is that of Medina; the sun-blinds of
the two large cafés are tattered and weather-beaten; the peasants stare
at strangers with an unspoilt curiosity.

The habit of rushing about towns, of penetrating into every gloomy
interior, ecclesiastical or otherwise, which seems to be decently
penetrable, is a modern convention to which we do not subscribe. There
are two aspects to every place, the living and the dead, and we prefer
the former. There is this advantage in our attitude, that one does not
have to seek out the living, it flows quite easily and naturally by, and
one does not remain an open-mouthed spectator with a jackdaw brain, but
incorporates oneself with it. We did not go into the cathedral, nor into
any convent, nor did we climb up the towers or into the walls: we sat at
the café drinking in both coffee and Spain.

Of costume, as Spain is so often painted, there was little; the peasant
men wore tall, flat-brimmed hats and broad, blue sashes about their
stomachs; the women shawls and woven leggings; the mules and donkeys had
trappings of bright-coloured woolwork and often saddlebags with fine
woven coloured patterns on them. String-soled sandals were the footwear
of the men and of the soldiers: string-soled shoes, alpagatas, were
worn by the women and children. The town was moderately alive until
eleven o'clock. Very early in the morning the peasants came into the
market with their mules or donkeys, then gradually a quiet settled down,
a quiet which lasted till the evening. After six o'clock Avila awoke,
the business men left their shops, the officers their cantonments. The
cadets and youths gathered in the plaza to flirt with the girls who,
dressed in gay cottons, paraded to and fro in small giggling and swaying
groups. Booths selling cool drinks and ices opened at the corners of the
plaza, while wandering sweetmeat merchants sold fried almonds and
sugared nuts. There was no woman with a lace mantilla and a high comb,
nor any one with a flat hat, embroidered shawl and cigarette; so the
cigar boxes are liars.

As one sits at the café table in Spain, life is, perhaps, presented to
one in an aspect almost too crude. Lazarus lay at the rich man's gates
exhibiting his sores, and the Spanish beggar follows his example. Spain
needs no Charles Lamb to write of the decay of beggars. Decayed indeed
they are, but not in that sense of which Lamb wrote: in tattered and
unspeakable rags they pursue their trade from the Asturias to Cadiz. No
dishonour attaches to beggary in Spain. A Spaniard was horrified when
Jan told him that begging was not permitted in England.

"What, then, can those do who are unable or unwilling to work?" he
asked.

A humble though probably verminous official refuge is provided for the
beggar in each town, and, as he tells his clients, "God repays" his
small extortions. The Spaniard is accustomed to his beggars, he does not
nag at his conscience about them, but it harrows the unaccustomed heart
of the Englishman who, taking his modest coffee or Blanco y negro after
supper, finds a procession of misery thrusting importunate hands into
his moment of quiet luxury. The Spanish beggar has no tenderness for
one's sensibility. Each has the motto, "If you have tears prepare to
shed them now." Naturally we were their quarry. They presented us with a
series of specimens worthy of a hospital museum. We hardened our hearts,
as we were afraid of consequences, but after two days, when the beggars,
disappointed with us, relaxed their exertions, we gave or withheld alms
with the outward serenity of a Spaniard, but feeling inwardly brutal
whenever we refused to give a dole.

Dirty, half-naked children dodged about the café pillars, hiding from
the waiter's eyes. They stared wistfully at the small, square packets of
beet sugar which the waiter brought with the coffee, and if a lump were
left over they would creep up and in a cringing whine ask for it. Boys
slightly older usually begged for a perra chica or for a cigarette.
Their voices would be pathetic enough almost to break one's heart--they
would say they had not eaten for three days--but if the refusal was
decisive they would suddenly change their tones and shout out gaily to a
comrade or run away whistling, or turn a few cartwheels down the gutter.

In Avila, too, we encountered the money problem. We had been told that
the Spaniard calculates his cash in pesetas and centimos, the peseta
being worth normally tenpence in English money and the ten-centimo piece
about one penny. So far this had worked fairly well, we had been on the
travellers' route and the peculiarity of travellers had been catered
for; but here we found a new system of coinage.

"How much is that?" I asked a woman in the market, pointing to some
object.

"That," she replied, "is worth six 'little bitches.'"

"Six what?" I exclaimed.

"Well, three 'fat dogs,' if you prefer."

"Three 'fat dogs'?"

"Yes, or one 'royal' and one 'little bitch.'"

"But I cannot understand. What is a 'royal'?"

"Oh, don't you know? Why, twenty 'royals' make a 'hard one.'"

At last we worried it out. The little bitch (perra chica) is five
centimos, or one halfpenny. The fat dog (perro gordo) is the ten-centimo
piece; these are both so called because of the lion on the back, though
why the sex should be changed we do not know. The royal (real) is
twenty-five centimos or twopence-halfpenny, the "hard one" (duro) is a
five-peseta piece. The peseta is ignored. Nobody except an ignorant
foreigner calculates in pesetas. The Spaniard, who often cannot write,
does staggering sums in mental arithmetic, reducing thirty-two "little
bitches" or seventeen "royals" almost instantly into the equivalent in
minted coin.

We had come to Spain for the several reasons mentioned in Chapter I. We
had found the freedom: it was as though some oppressing weight were
lifted from off us, as though an attack of mental asthma had been
relieved. But on the whole we felt that we had been defrauded in other
respects. The weather, except for the afternoon at Medina, had been very
cloudy and at times almost cold. We had heard no guitar during our week
in Spain. One day a man with a primitive clarinet, accompanied by a man
with a side drum, had wandered about the town making a queer music which
had given us thrills of unexpected delight. But Jan does not play the
clarinet. He had made up his mind about guitars, and guitars he would
have. The last night which we were to spend in Avila, he said:

"See here, Jo, we'll go out and we'll walk up and down, through and
round this town, till we hear a guitar playing. Then we will walk in and
explain. I'm sure the people, whoever they may be, will not mind, but I
am going to hear Spanish music."

After supper we set out again. We walked the town from the top to the
bottom. Not a whisper of guitar or of any other music. We bisected the
town from left to right--still silence except for the dim sounds of
normal evening life. We went out into the little garden which was beyond
the walls and, leaning on the parapet, stretched our ears over the
small suburb beneath. The cries of a wailing child or two, of a scolding
woman and the shouts of an angry man answered us; of music not a note.
We walked round the walls and were about to return in disappointment to
the hotel, when Jan said "Hush!"

We listened. Barely audible, from below on the hill-side, came the faint
tinkle of a guitar. We looked out across the dark country. The hill
sloped steeply from our feet and rose again in planes of blue blackness
to the distant mountains. Almost in the bottom of the valley we saw a
square of light from an open door. The sound came from this direction.
Cautiously we crept down the hill, which was steep, pebbly and without
paths. As we came down, the noise grew louder.

There was a small drinking house or venta by the roadside; near to it,
drawn up on a grassy spot beneath some big trees, were gipsy caravans
and booths, and as we passed by we could see, dimly white, the blanketed
shapes of the gipsies as they lay on the grass asleep under the stars.
From the venta came the sounds of music.

After a momentary hesitation we went in. The room, lit by one dim lamp,
was crowded with gipsies and workmen. It was long in shape and an alcove
almost opposite to the door was partitioned off as a bar. At one end was
a table upon which three gipsies with dark, lined Spanish faces were
sitting, and the audience had formed itself into rough, concentric
semicircles spreading down the length of the room. Most of the men were
swarthy with the sun, clad in the roughest of clothes, some with tall
hats on, others with striped blankets flung over their shoulders. The
inn looked like what the average traveller would describe as a nest of
brigands.

We murmured a bashful "buenos noches," bowed to the company and crept
into the background. A few returned our greeting, but with delicacy of
feeling the majority took no overt notice of our presence.

The man on the table who held the guitar began to thrum on the
instrument. A tall gipsy, whose face was drawn into clear, almost
prismatic shapes, and who might have stepped out of an etching by Goya,
put his stick into a corner, slipped off his blanket and, standing in
the open space before the table, began a stamping dance, snapping his
fingers in time with the rhythm. A workman standing near to us said:

"That man does not play the guitar very well, the other one plays
better."

He went out and in a short while returned with his wife, a laughing
woman whom he placed next to me. There was no drinking of wine. The
alcarraza, an unglazed, bottle shaped drinking vessel, full of water,
was handed about. It has a small spout, and from this the Spaniard pours
a fine stream of water into his mouth. But beware, incautious
traveller--ten to one you will drench yourself.

Though the audience apparently took no notice of our presence, in
reality they were extremely conscious of us. One by one, as if by
accident, gipsy women clad in red cottons came into the already crowded
room. Soon a girl was urged to dance. She demurred, giggling. At last
she was pushed into the open space, and with a gesture of resignation
she began to dance. We are not judges of Spanish dancing: we had been
looking for atmosphere, and had plunged into the thick of it. This was
no café in Madrid or Seville got up for the entertainment of the
traveller. This was the true, natural, romantic Spain. Opportunity again
had blessed her disciples. One of the women pushed her way out of the
door, and in a short while returned, dragging with her a child about
nine years old. The little girl's face was frowning and angered, the
sleep from which she had been roused still hung heavy on her eyelids.

"Aha!" exclaimed the audience. "She dances well."

The man who was reputed the better player roused himself from the table
and sat down on a chair. They put castanets into the child's hands. The
man struck a few chords and slowly the music formed itself into the
rhythm of a Spanish measure.

[Illustration]

Relaxing none of her angry, sleepy expression, the child danced
wonderfully. The castanets clashed and fluttered beneath her fingers,
her skirts swirled this way and that, her feet beat the floor in time
with the pulsation of the guitar. The audience shouted encouragement at
her. With a wild series of movements, the dance at last came to an end.

"Brava! Brava!" cried the gipsies.

"One day that girl will be worth much money," said a man, with approval
in his voice.

Then the best male dancer took the floor. With true artistic instinct he
did not attempt to rival the active dancing of the child, but performed
a stately movement, holding his arms above his head, and slowly turning
himself about. When he sat down an old man of seventy or so began a
series of senile caperings, thumping his stick on the floor. The
audience rolled with laughter at the ancient buffoon.

For some while Jan had been wondering whether he should pay for two or
three bottles of wine for the company, but we did not know the
delicacies of Spanish etiquette, nor had we sufficient language in which
to make an inquiry, so, pushing my way to the child who had danced so
well, I pressed a few coppers into her hand. She looked up at me in
astonishment.

"What do you want me to do, then?" she asked.

Our Spanish failed to shape a proper reply, so I smiled at her as
answer.

"Buenos noches," and "Muchos gracias," we said to the crowd, and made
our way out again into the night.

We were followed up the hill by a gipsy boy who begged cigarettes, but
he had pestered us during the whole of our stay at Avila, and we did not
feel kindly towards him. Nor indeed had we any cigarettes to give,
because Spain was suffering from a tobacco famine, and those which we
had brought with us from France had just come to an end.

The next morning we left the Hôtel del Jardin, which owes its name to
the fact that it possesses in the front a tiny square of earth on which
grow five bushes and a small tree. We were bound for Madrid.



CHAPTER VI

MADRID


Madrid Station was the usual dark barn into which the trains ran and
where they rested, as the diligences rest beneath the barn of the
coaching inn. One descended the steps of the carriage into gloom; found
a dim porter whom one would never recognize again; made one's way
amongst the towering, sniffling black Pargantua of locomotives; was
fought for by an excited mob of cabmen, amongst whom one remained
passive until a cabman dowered with more character than his fellows had
managed to attract one's notice; and finally we were packed into a
small, four-square omnibus, our luggage on the top, the driver and his
tout on the box. A police official in a grey uniform halted us. He asked
our names, our destination and warned us not to pay the driver more than
five pesetas for the trip, including the luggage.

To-day was Sunday. We had, indeed, on getting up at Avila imagined it to
be Saturday. We were leaving Avila expressly on a Saturday in order to
be in Madrid for the great Sunday bullfight, for practically all
bullfighting in Spain is reserved as a mild sport for Sunday afternoon,
or for other days of Church festival. Unfortunately, we had learned on
the train that it was not Saturday but Sunday. Somehow, we had mislaid a
day. We had presented ourselves with a Wednesday or a Thursday or a
Friday too many, and now Sunday had gone bang and the bullfight with it.

But in consequence our entry into Madrid had some of the dignity of a
royal procession. We plunged, a shabby omnibus, into the flood of
carriages which parade the parks of Madrid on bullfight occasions. There
were doubtless ladies with high combs placed in their raven hair; with
lustrous eyes glowing from the deep caverns of their eye sockets; with a
waxy and sensuous flower hanging from their full-blooded lips; clad in
mystery-lending mantilla and gorgeous shawl, over which the Orient has
burst a splendour of silken blossom. There were, no doubt, such
spectacles to see; there must have been; all the artists who paint Spain
cannot lie. Yet I confess that we did not see them. Though we are
beginning to be suspicious of Spanish painters, we will not assert that
no such ladies drove in procession, tempting the lounging Spaniard with
glances from eyes of melting jet.

We did not see them because the whole flood of carriages was plunged in
a strange golden haze. Dusk had fallen and overhead signs of daylight
showed purplish through the fog, but lower down it was quite dark, and
through this haze of orange-gold particles, which drifted in the air as
golden particles drift in a chemical solution, the lamps of the
carriages threw long searchlights, arresting strange silhouettes of the
coach-borne crowd, so that we made our first acquaintance with the
people of Madrid merely as black shadows against a radiance of gold. It
was, indeed, somewhat a prophetic introduction. These black shadows
against the gold may stand as a figure for Spain. We think of Spain as
the land of the last romance, whereas the Spaniard's real romance is
money and the gaining of it. But this is a mixing of secondary and
primary impressions. Before our eyes Madrid rolled forward, gloating in
an aureate solution, accompanied by the shouts of coachmen and the
blaring from aristocratic and impatient motor-cars. We sat looking out
of the black windows of the omnibus with much of that childish delight
which a shadowgraph theatre gives. In time, however, we began to cough.
After a while longer we began to realize that this haze so exquisite in
the lamplight was dust--dust.

We rolled along, manufacturing our halo as we went, until, coming out of
the press of carriages into cobbled and ill-lit streets, our glory fell
away from us and we rocked on, reflecting on this apt illustration of
the old French proverb concerning beauty and suffering. Gradually we
decided that we could have dispensed with this weird introduction to
Madrid in order to have spared our throats.

Our friend Jesus Perez had given us an address appropriately enough in
the Place of the Angel. But there were three _pensions_ in the same
building and he had not discriminated. So I, leaving Jan to look after
the bus, went to explore, and knocking at random was brought face to
face with an old lady who had not a trace of the angelic in her
constitution. While she was grumpily and wilfully misunderstanding me,
insisting that the Señor for whom I was looking did not live there, a
crowd of well-fed persons sifted from the dining-room and stood in a
circle staring at me with cold-eyed curiosity. As they stared they all
picked their teeth. At last I forced understanding on her and she told
me in a surly voice that her _pension_ was full. The other two
_pensions_ were full also. It was explained to me that Madrid was
suffering from congestion, that never had such a season been
experienced.

So I retreated from the stairs and we held a council of distress in the
street. The driver of the bus, who did not indeed look like a very
competent judge, said that he knew of a good _pension_. By a series of
manoeuvres, about as complicated as the turning of a large ship in a
small river, he got his bus reversed and we set off again the way we had
come. But once more we met a refusal, backed by wide-eyed staring and
public tooth-picking.

We had the address of an hotel, as a last resource indeed, for it was
somewhat beyond our means, costing seventeen pesetas a day _en pension_.
So in despair we made our way to it, wondering whether the congestion
had spread from the eight peseta boarding-houses to the
seventeen-peseta hotels, and whether our first night in Madrid was to be
spent in the bus. We came back into the garishly lit main streets of
Madrid and at last the bus halted. There was no hotel front, and we
plunged between two shops along a passage from which photographs of the
beauties of Madrid showed exquisite sets of teeth from the showcases of
a society photographer. A narrow, twisting staircase--the lift was out
of order--spiralled us up to a sumptuous hotel decorated with mirrors
and white paint arranged with a Permanic taste. Rooms were to be had,
and so we resigned ourselves to luxury for a few days.

Luxury indeed it was. For our eight pesetas a day in Avila we had had as
much as we wanted. Here it was in proportion. We were expected to eat
our seventeen pesetas' worth a day. Course followed course until, more
than replete, we had to wave away almost the whole of the second half of
this truly Roman repast. The waiters were aghast. What? Not eat
seventeen pesetas worth when one had paid for it? Incredible! We gazed
about at our fellow diners and saw that we were unique. But then as a
rule our fellow diners surpassed us as much in girth as in appetite;
they had "excellent accommodations." Your true Spaniard adores his
dinner. There is a general superstition that love is the Spaniard's
prime passion. But I doubt it. For the once that we have been asked what
we think of Spanish beauty, we have been twenty times questioned about
our judgment of Spanish cooking.

Madrid at night. How much has one not dreamed of southern romance
beneath skies of ultramarine? But Madrid seems just like any other large
European city. It is Paris without the wit, Munich without the music. We
talk, of course, of first impressions. The first impressions of a town
are rarely national. Collective humanity is collective humanity
everywhere; has the same needs and devises the same methods of
satisfying them. Some needs Madrid supplies more blatantly than is done
in other places. The Latin is indifferent to noise and the Spaniard is
the most hardened of the Latin races. There seems to be no curb on the
cries of the street vendors. The consequence is that each shouts out his
wares in competition with his fellows; the louder the yell the more the
custom. The peculiar qualities of Spanish singing further stimulate to a
point of mordant acidity the Iberian voice. For a person of sensitive
hearing Madrid is intolerable: newspaper men, flower-merchants,
toothpick-sellers, and above all the lottery ticket vendors, scream
their wares with nerve-racking persistency; added to which, to make
pandemonium complete, the cab-drivers and their touts bellow and shout,
while the horns of the motor-cars are the most discordant that we have
ever heard.

As the night progressed from a stifling heat to a comparative coolness
the noise seemed to increase. At two o'clock in the morning we thought,
surely, it had reached its limit. And to some extent it had. One thanks
Heaven sometimes that the human machine runs down; and we, when the
"sweet sister of death" laid her hands upon newspaper and lottery ticket
sellers, sent a thanksgiving up towards the stars, a thanksgiving the
more sincere at the moment because it was silent. The diminution of
noise went on steadily until about three, and we imagined that Madrid
was going to sleep. It was, however, but a ruse of the subtle city. As
is well known, one can become used to a persistent or regularly repeated
noise, for Jan used to sleep sweetly close to the stamp battery of a
mine, the din of which was so deafening that the voice was inaudible,
even at the loudest shout; and dwellers near a railway line are but
little disturbed by the nightly trains. Madrid knew that in time we
would become accustomed to the human babel, in spite of its strident
note; so she substituted a fictitious silence torn into strips by the
sudden passage of motors which had taken advantage of the clearness of
the streets to put on full speed and also to cut off the silencer.
Irregularly these motors went by about one every five minutes. Each
silence was about long enough to let us reach the edge over which one
tumbles into sleep, and each roaring passage of a car jerked us back
into disgusted wakefulness. We arose to a very early breakfast, wishing
we had Mr. G. K. Chesterton at hand so that we could enter into an
argument with him about the beauties of liberty.

To retrace our steps for a moment, it was just about at the hither side
of the noise climax, that is, about 2.20 in the morning, that we got
back to our hotel. We found the street door shut and locked, and no bell
could we find to pull. We thumped on the door, but only a hollow,
drum-like echoing answered us. We were dismayed. We had got up early at
Avila, a train journey and discoverings in Madrid had worn us out, and
on the other side of this locked door our bed tempted us; for we were
not then aware that sleep was forbidden to us whether we got in or
stayed in the street. It seemed strange in Madrid, wide awake and noisy,
that our hotel should have locked up so early and should have shut us
out. Despairingly again we drummed on the door. We awakened sympathy in
a passer-by. A few words explained our plight. He whistled, and we
presently saw a man with a lantern in his hand and with an official cap
on his head coming towards us. Our helper explained and the official
unlocked the door, let us in, and locked the door behind us.

This wandering latchkey is the equivalent to our old night-watchman.
Amongst his duties is that of chanting out the hours of the night as
they pass--for the benefit of the sleepless--to which he adds the
condition of the weather. Since fully ninety-five per cent. of the
Spanish nocturnes are Whistlerian blue, he has earned the title of El
Sereno, or the serene. There is an advantage in this custom--one cannot
forget one's latchkey. The worst evil which can happen to one is that
one's latchkey may forget itself: but Spain is on the whole a sober
country.

A big town reveals its flavour but by degrees. Madrid, whatever its real
character may be, had hidden herself behind a veil--a veil of dust. That
golden aura which had enveloped our first vision was not a permanent
characteristic of the town. The dust hung in the air, rising higher than
the houses. From the outskirts, maybe one would have seen Madrid as it
were enclosed in a dome of dust. We marvelled that people could live in
such at atmosphere.

We had noticed that, in addition to its dustiness, Madrid was suffering
from a dreadful shortage of water. It was, of course, July, and one
might expect some famine on the high and arid tableland of Spain, but we
wondered that so great a city could have arisen with so meagre a water
supply. At street corners queues of tired women and children waited for
hot hours with buckets, pails, jugs and amphoras. Soldiers with a hose
pipe from which trickled a paltry stream of water filled the vessels one
by one. There was gaiety and bad temper, giggling and quarrelling
amongst the women.

"This," said we, "is a primitive city."

In the public gardens water-carts were standing, and crowds of men were
baling water up from the decorative ponds.

"A real famine," said we, "could not be worse than this."

This was in fact the case. Madrid is supplied from the mountains by an
ancient aqueduct. The Spaniard has a principle of interfering with
nothing until the last moment; the ideals of liberty are carried so far
in Spain that they apply to inanimate objects as well as human beings.
Thus, if the aqueduct wishes to break, it is allowed to do so. Panic
ensues. The government is criticized, but words hurt nobody. The
aqueduct had given way a few days before our arrival. Had it not been
for the generosity of a nobleman who turned a private water supply into
the conduits of Madrid, we would have found not calamity but
catastrophe.

Madrid was unsavoury enough. The breakdown of the water-supply entails
also the failure of the drainage system. In a land of wine one might
dispense with water as a mere drink; but to dispense with flushed drains
in a semi-tropical climate is impossible.

[Illustration]

One late afternoon we were in our bedroom, having taken advantage of the
quiet which reigns from one p.m. till five, (for we got no other sleep
during out stay), we heard a faint strange murmur which seemed to be
drawing nearer. We went to the balcony and looked out. The sound was
coming from the direction of the Puerto del Sol, the sun's gate, the
torrid centre of Madrid so well named. The sound drew nearer. Soon it
shaped itself into a word murmur from thousands of throats:

"Agua, agua, agua."

The word passed us and fled down the streets, sweeping before the
hesitating trickle which crept along the gutters. With the word a
communal shiver of delight ran through the town, like a sort of physical
earthquake. Before six o'clock the road men were dragging their hoses
about the street, and the rising damp was dragging the dust out of the
air.



CHAPTER VII

A HOT NIGHT

(_This Chapter should be omitted by Prudes_)


The expense of an omnibus is not necessary to the experienced traveller.
A Spanish friend took us to a bureau of town porters in Madrid, and we
gave instructions to a dark-faced man in a shabby uniform, who promised
to see all our baggage to the station in good time for the evening train
to Murcia. Señor Don Mateo Bartolommeo was the name of the porter, for
he gave us his visiting card, on which was his professional and private
address, and a deep black mourning border like that on one's
grandmother's envelopes.

The preliminaries to travelling in Spain are lengthy. The ticket office
opens fifteen or twenty minutes before the train leaves, but the
passengers arrive an hour before, so that there is always a long queue
waiting at the ticket office. One can buy either tickets for the journey
or tickets for the thousand or more kilometres. The latter are a great
saving if one does much travelling, but they entail further delay at the
booking office, for verifying, tearing off, stamping, and so forth. Then
with one's tickets one goes to the luggage bureau, where the van luggage
is weighed, overweight charged, and a long slip receipt given. The
luggage is then presumed to travel to the journey's end and should be
forthcoming on the production by the passenger of the receipt. This is
not invariably the case; but of that we will tell in its place. The
wealthy traveller does not undergo all this fatigue. He shows a porter
the luggage for the van, tells him the station to which he wishes to
travel, gives him the money to pay for ticket and luggage, and bothers
his head no more about it. The Spanish porter is unusually honest. You
can give him two or three hundred pesetas to buy tickets with, and a few
minutes before the train starts up he runs with the tickets, the luggage
receipt, and the exact change.

We, however, wanted to experience everything; we did not wish to spend
our small capital on exorbitant tips, so I, leaving Jan to see to the
tickets and heavy luggage, argued my way past the ticket collector, who
is supposed to let nobody on to the platform without a ticket, found an
empty carriage, appropriated seats, and sat on the step waiting for the
porter to bring up the smaller luggage. An old lady in black, with a
huge bandbox and a birdcage, accompanied by three hatless girls dressed
in purple silk, all carrying at least four parcels apiece, filled up my
compartment, and I thought: "We are going to have a stuffy time of it."

The train was full of talk. In the corridors the people chattered at the
top of their voices like a rookery. Presently, conversing in shrill
tones, the old lady and her three daughters swooped back into the
carriage, and with much rustling of silk dragged all their parcels to
some other part of the train. A young officer, carrying about six
packages, took one of the vacated places, and marked his seat by
unbuckling his sword, which he placed in the corner. An old man, rather
run to stomach, took the seat opposite the soldier. He then stood in the
doorway, wedging his stomach into the opening, so that nobody else
should enter. The time drew closer to the departure of the train.

The noise increased a hundredfold. Three girls rushed along the corridor
and unceremoniously butted the old gentleman in the waistcoat. The
corridor was filled with a confused crowd of people, who handed in large
hat-boxes, brightly striped, square cardboard boxes, small suit-cases
with gilt locks, and a huge doll. The carriage was filled with a strong
smell of scent. There was giggling and the kissing of adieux. The escort
then retreated down the corridor and the three girls set to arranging
themselves for the journey. One of the girls was very dark, her face
like old ivory, her eyes large caverns of gloom, and her mouth painted a
brilliant scarlet; one was fair with a long face and grey eyes, very
excitable in manner, talking a high-pitched Spanish with a queer
intonation; the third was bigger than either of her companions, yet less
remarkable. One could easily have imagined her dressed in cowgirl's
costume, performing in a travelling Buffalo Bill show. All three had
bobbed hair, though that of the second girl was an elaborate _coiffure_
of short hair rather than a mere bob.

The dark girl picked up the soldier's sword and tossed it into the
luggage rack. The cowgirl pushed the stout old man's suit-case out of
his corner and took his seat. The old man but grinned and guffawed,
seeming pleased rather than angry. The soldier stood in the corridor and
glowered at the dark girl through the glass. He offered no objection to
the robbery of his seat, but it was evident what were his thoughts. The
second girl flung herself down on the seat next to Jan, blew out a long
sigh and exclaimed: "Aie, que calor, que calor."

It was indeed hot. All day long the sun had been beating down into
Madrid. The Puerto del Sol had been more like the "Puerto del Infierno."
The little trickles of water which the repaired aqueduct had afforded to
Madrid had done little to mitigate the dull reverberant heat of the
still air. Even now that the night had come the air was yet quivering,
and came into the lungs like half-warmed water.

The girls got down their dainty suit-cases from the rack, opened them,
burrowing amongst tawdry finery, manicure sets, powder-boxes and other
articles of toilet use, found boxes of cigarettes. To do this, the
cowgirl placed her suit-case on the seat and, standing, bent over it.
The stout old man, with a giggle, leant forward and gave the girl a
resounding smack with his open palm upon that part of her which was
nearest to him. The officer, through the glass, frowned and pursed up
his lips. The girl next to Jan caught my eye, smiled at me, and winked.

"Aie, que calor!" she exclaimed, blowing cigarette smoke into the air.

The train dragged itself out of the station and started southward
through the night.

The girl who was sitting next to Jan broke out into unexpected French.

"Mon Dieu! Qu'il fait chaud!" she exclaimed, as though Spanish would not
properly express the quality of the heat.

"But," said Jan to her, "you speak French very well."

"Well," she retorted, "I ought to, seeing that I am French."

Suddenly she came to a resolution. She stood up and again took down her
suit-case. She took from it a wrapper of tinted muslin. Slowly then she
began to take off her clothes. Her silk dress she folded up very neatly
and laid along the little rack which is set just below the ordinary one.
Then she slipped off her petticoat and camisole, and put on the muslin
wrapper.

"That is better," she exclaimed; folded up her discarded underwear, put
it into the suit-case, which she then replaced on the rack.

She then began on her _coiffure_. She detached a series of little curls
from over her ears, and twisting the wires on which they were made into
hooks, she suspended them from the netting of the rack, where over her
head they swung to and fro with the movement of the train.

"Maintenant," she said, "on est plus à son aise. Besides," she added,
with the instinct of true French economy, "it does so spoil one's
clothes if one takes a long railway journey in them."

The act had been performed with naturalness, and in view of the heat of
the night we could not help envying the French girl for her good sense
in making the long journey as comfortable as possible.

She began to tell Jan the story of her life. "Mother was a nuisance,"
she said; "she made life a little bit of hell at home. Well, one day we
had a fine old flare-up. I told mother that she could go to the devil if
she liked, and I just packed up and ran away. I came down to Madrid, and
on the whole I haven't done so badly. I send mother about eight hundred
pesetas a month. Most of that she'll keep for me, and I'll have a nice
little sum to start business with when I get back. Of course one can't
keep up a quarrel with one's mother for ever. _Hein!_"

Jan asked her how long she had been in Spain.

"Four months," she answered.

"You speak very good Spanish," said Jan.

"Oh," she answered, with a touch of desperation in her voice, "one can't
be all day doing nothing. It's a distraction learning something new."

"Where are you going now?" asked Jan.

"We are all going to Carthagena," said the French girl. "We'll be down
there all the summer. There are English there too, I have
heard--sailors. I like sailors. You see, I had to get away from Madrid.
I had a friend, and one day while I was out he stole all my spare money,
and all my clothes, which he took to the pawnshop. And that left me
stranded. Then I heard these two girls were going to Carthagena, to a
place, so I said, 'I'll come too,' and here I am. Anyway one has to be
somewhere, and I adore knocking about. It's life, isn't it?"

The dark girl was merely a selfish, pretty animal. She curled up on the
officer's seat like a black cat. She then slyly prodded the poor little
stout man with her high heels, so that he gradually moved up towards me,
leaving me little room in which to sit, while the dark girl could
stretch out at her ease. The other girl sat in her corner, saying
little, smoking cigarette after cigarette. She seemed to be one of those
stolid creatures who drop through life, taking good and bad without
change of face or of manner. She might have been rather South German
than Spanish. In contrast with these two the French girl was simple and
attractive. One noted, too, that she had a fine streak of unselfishness
in her character; she even talked without bitterness of the man who had
robbed her.

[Illustration]

Young men drifted along the corridors and stared in at the girls. One
man, who looked well off, dressed in a tweed sporting coat, came in and
made friends. He gave them cigarettes and drinks of brandy from a flask.
At about one o'clock in the morning, one of the cardboard boxes was
opened and disclosed a large pie, which was divided. The stout old
gentleman had a piece, so did "Tweeds." Some was offered to us, but we
had dined well at Madrid and did not feel hungry. But to refuse in Spain
is a delicate matter, so we gave them cigarettes to indicate goodwill.

We stopped at a dark station. The door was flung open and a tall
sunburned man clambered into the carriage. He had around his waist a
broad leather belt which was stuck full of knives. These implements were
clasp knives, and varied from small pocket knives and pruning knives to
veritable weapons a foot in length. He was not a famous brigand, though
he looked one, but a salesman. The larger knives had a circular ratchet
and a strong spring at the back, so that upon opening they made a
blood-curdling noise, which in itself would be enough to induce any
angry man to finish the matter by burying the blade in his enemy's
gizzard. He did no business in our carriage, and went off down the
platform opening and shutting a sample of his murderous wares, crying
out: "Navajos! Navajos!"

The train went on, and as we reached southward the night became warmer.
The stout old man left us, and the black girl stretched out at full
length, occasionally prodding me with her French heels. Presently the
darkness became less opaque. A faint silhouette of low hills, and then a
dim reflection from flat lands, appeared.

We stopped at another station; an unimportant wayside station with a
small house for booking-office and a drinking-booth in a lean-to
alongside.

"I must have a drink," exclaimed "Tweeds." "Who will come with me?"

Neither the black girl nor the cowgirl would move. We had still lemonade
in our Thermos flasks. So the French girl, in her muslin _peignoir_,
and "Tweeds" clambered down the carriage steps and disappeared through
the door of the fonda.

Disappeared is the right word. Without warning, the train began to move.
It gathered speed and clattered away southward. We never saw "Tweeds" or
the French girl again. In the thinnest of _négligés_ she was left
stranded upon the wayside station, to which no other train would come
for at least twelve hours, and possibly not for twenty-four.

The day broke, and we pounded along through a dusty arid country. There
was green in the bottom of the valley, but from the roads rose high
columns of dust, while the plastered villages of box-like houses near
the railroad were dried up and dust-coated. Dust blew in through the
carriage windows and settled thick upon the curls which, still swinging
and bobbing from the netting of the rack, were fast leaving their
mistress behind. At first her companions had been anxious; now they were
laughing.

"But," they said, "we wonder if she knows where to come for her things
when she does arrive?"

The train became more crowded. Soon people were running up and down,
looking angrily for places. Third-class passengers began to fill the
corridor of our second-class carriage. A boy of about nineteen, with the
half-angry intense face characteristic of some Latins, came into the
carriage and demanded a seat from the dark girl who was still stretched
at full length. This seat "Darkey," with her habitual selfishness,
refused to give up. Suddenly, we were in the middle of a full-fledged
Spanish row.

To us it had a comic side. It was not what we would have called a row,
as much as a furious debate. Of course with our slight acquaintance with
Spanish we missed the finer points of the varied arguments.

"Darkey" began by saying that she was keeping the seat for a friend who
was somewhere else. This was to some extent true; the French girl was
somewhere else, though there was little likelihood of her claiming the
seat.

The boy retorted that if she was somewhere else she probably had another
seat.

This argument went to and fro, increasing in acerbity. Each of the
quarrellers listened in silence to what the other had to say, making no
attempt to interrupt, though the voices grew hoarse with anger.

[Illustration]

Presently "Darkey" was telling the boy that he was a wretched
third-class passenger anyhow, and that he had no right in a second-class
carriage, and even if the seat were free he wasn't going to have it.

The boy retorted by saying that anybody could see what she was, and that
her mother was probably sorry that she had ever been born, etc., etc.

No English quarrel could have gone to half the length that this
proceeded. We were waiting to see either the boy jump into the carriage
and shake the life out of "Darkey," or to see "Darkey" spring, like the
young tiger-cat she was, at the boy and scratch his face. But nothing
happened. The crowded corridor listened with delight to the progress of
the quarrel.

The train stopped at a station. "Darkey" had sat up to pulverize the
impertinent youth with some evil retort. The carriage door on the
opposite side opened, and a placid, middle-aged peasant woman, followed
by an ancient peasant man, stepped into the carriage, and before
"Darkey" had well discovered what was happening had squashed down in the
disputed seat, left vacant by the removal of "Darkey's" feet. The woman
grinned at us all and sat nursing a large basket on her lap.

Then the quarrel slowly died down. After a while the boy went away.
However, he came back again whenever he had thought of something good,
and barked it round the corner of the door at "Darkey," who, usually
taken by surprise, could find nothing to retort before he had lost
himself again in the crowd.

The peasant woman smiled at us all, and, opening her basket, handed to
each of us a large peach. She selected one especially big for "Darkey,"
presumably as refreshment after the tiring argument.

The day became hotter and hotter. The dust gathered more thickly on to
the French girl's poor little curls. When the train stopped, children
ran up and down beside the carriages, selling water at the price of "one
little bitch" the glass. We were now in the province of Murcia, and the
scenery put on the characteristic appearance of that province, tall bare
hills of an ochreous mauve, sloping down into a flat, irrigated, fertile
valley. The division between mountain and valley, between the "desert
and the strown" was as sharp as though drawn with the full brush of a
Japanese. On the mountains were dead remnants of Saracen castles, of
dismantled Spanish robber fortresses, and the white or coloured
buildings of monasteries which still lived sparkling in the sun.



CHAPTER VIII

MURCIA--FIRST IMPRESSIONS


One has a right to expect that the station which is the finish of a long
and tiring journey should be both a terminus and have a quality all of
its own. Our egoism makes it seem at that moment the most important
place in the world. But Murcia (pronounced locally Mouthia) had only a
big ugly barn of a station like many through which we had already
passed, and even lacked a Precia Fijo jewellery shop. All we could see
of the town, on emerging, was a few houses and a line of small trees
which appeared as though they had been in a blizzard of whole-meal
flour, so thick was the dust. Over this buff landscape quivered the blue
sky.

In front of us were one or two cranky omnibuses and many green-hooded
two-wheeled carts. These carts were Oriental in appearance and had the
most distinctive appearance we had yet noted in Spain. They were gaily
painted, and the hoods bulged with the generous curves of a Russian
cupola. Inside they were lined with soiled red velvet, and the driver
sat outside of this magnificence on a seat hanging over one of the tall
wheels. Into one of these we were squeezed in company with two grinning
travellers, and started off, soon plunging into the shadow of an avenue
of lime trees, behind the grey trunks of which cowered insignificant
little houses painted in colours which once had been bright.

[Illustration: CARTERS IN THE POSADA]

The more communicative of our fellow travellers said it was indeed the
hottest day of the year. It was hot, but we were not oppressed by it,
and found out in time that the Spaniard always seemed to suffer from
the heat more than we did. Our endeavours to be agreeable in imperfect
Spanish worked up the traveller to a discussion on languages, and to
a eulogy on ourselves for taking the trouble to learn. We said that
we were artists. He answered:

"Ah, yes, that explains it. Poor people, of course, are forced to learn
languages."

We drove across a stone bridge, almost in collision with a bright blue
tram-car. A momentary glimpse was given to us of a muddy river running
between deep embankments; and we drew up before a square barrack of red
brick pierced by a regiment of balconied windows. The proprietor, oily
like a cheerful slug, waved his fingers close to us, and drew back his
hand in delicate jerks as though we were rare and brittle china. He
preceded us into an Alhambra-like central hall, led us carefully up a
stone staircase to a wide balcony, opened a door into a palatial bedroom
with a flourish; and demanded fifteen pesetas "sin extraordinario."
Intuition told us that this was not a case of "Precio Fijo," and we
reduced him gently to eleven pesetas before we accepted the bargain.
Then, to take off the raw edge left by the chaffering, Jan said:

"I don't suppose you get many foreigners here, Señor?"

"Si, si!" returned the hotelkeeper, anxious for the reputation of his
caravanserai. "We get quite a lot. Oh, yes, quite a lot. Why, only last
year we had two French people, un matrimonio; and this year you have
come."

The maid was in appearance and behaviour like an india-rubber ball, and
the conviction was firmly fixed in her mind either that we couldn't
speak Spanish or that she could not understand if we did. So she
grunted, bounced at us and smiled with her mouth wide open like a dog,
hoping that by this means she was translating a Spanish welcome into an
English one. With difficulty we dissuaded her from these antics and
persuaded her to speak, but she turned her words--which were already
dialect--into baby talk; and the less we understood the louder she
shouted.

However, she was a kindly creature and succeeded in cheering our
spirits, which were flagging, for we were very tired and almost ill,
having barely recovered from a severe attack of influenza before leaving
London. We washed off the thick dust and went downstairs into the large
cool hall. The central quadrangle had once probably been open to the
sky, but now was covered, five stories up, by a glass roof, beneath
which sackcloth curtains stretched on wires shut out the sun. There were
comfortable wicker chairs all about, and the hall was decorated with
four solemn plaster busts, one in each corner. We were curious to find
out who were thus honoured in a southern Spanish hotel. One was of
Sorolla, a popular Valencian painter, one was of a woman, a poetess. The
other two we did not know, but think they represented contemporary
literature and architecture. Imagine finding in an English hotel hall
busts of Brangwyn, Mrs. Meynell, Conan Doyle and Lutyens.

The hall was cool. We ordered coffee and buttered toast. But the butter
was rancid, for we had crossed the geographical line, almost as
important as the equator, below which butter is not, and oil must take
its place.

Four children, making a lot of noise over it, were in the hall, playing
a game peculiarly Spanish. The smallest boy, who always had the dirty
work to do, carried flat in front of him a board, to the end of which
were fixed a pair of bull's horns. He dashed these at his comrades in
short straight rushes. Two of the other boys carried pieces of red cloth
which they waved in front of the bull. The fourth boy carried a pair of
toy banderillas, straight sticks, covered with tinted paper and pointed
with a nail. As the bull rushed the "banarillero" dabbed his sticks into
a piece of cork. Then they decided that the bull was to die. One of the
cloak-wavers took a toy sword which he triumphantly stuck into the
cork. With a moan the small boy sank on to the floor. His companions
seized his heels and dragged him round the tiled floor of the hall. The
game seemed to us a little tedious; later on we were to learn how like
to actual bullfighting it was.

The hotel interpreter, for whom we had inquired, now came in. He spoke
in French:

[Illustration]

"What can I do for you?"

We wished to find a gipsy guitar-player named Blas, and we had been told
that the interpreter knew his house. We feared that he might be in
Madrid, where he sometimes played in the Flamenco cafés; but the
interpreter said that he was in Murcia, and that we could look for him
at once.

From the cool hall we stepped into the blazing sun of midday Spain,
crossed an open space so dazzling that it hurt the eyes, and entered a
maze of narrow, tall streets. Jan and I moved along in single file,
clinging to the narrow margins of shadow which edged the houses, while
the interpreter with a mere uniform cap on his head stalked
imperturbably in the sunlight. Across squares we hurried as rapidly as
possible to the shadow on the opposite side. The houses were orange,
pink, blue or a neutral grey which set off the hue of the tinted
buildings. The squares were planted with feathery trees of a green so
vivid that it appeared due to paint rather than to nature.

It was a clear and windless day, and soon we remarked a characteristic
which Murcia exhibited more strongly than any other Spanish town we have
visited. Each house had exuded its own smell across the pavement, so as
one went along one sampled a variety of Spanish household odours. Some
people find an intimate connection between colour and smell. We might
say that we passed successfully through a pink smell, a purple smell, a
citron green smell, a terra verte smell (very nasty), a cobalt smell, a
raw sienna smell, and so on. This characteristic clung to Murcia during
the greater part of our stay.

About fifteen minutes' walk through these variegated odoriferous layers
brought us into a street of mean appearance. The interpreter stopped
before a large gateway door, pushed it open and ushered us into a
courtyard in the corner of which was a black earthenware pot astew over
an open fire. A brown-faced crone, withered with dirt and age, her
clothes ragged, her feet shod in burst alpagatas, asked us what had
brought us there.

"Where is Blas?" said the interpreter.

With an unctuous gesture the old gipsy crone spread out her hands, and
turning to a doorway shouted out some words. Gipsy women young and old
came from the house. They were dark, dirty and tousled, clad in draggled
greys or vermilions, many carrying brown babies astraddle on the hip.
With gestures, almost Indian in subservience, they crowded about us,
looking at us with ill-disguised curiosity. The interpreter repeated his
question.

"Blas," said a young, beautiful, though depressed-looking woman, "is not
in the house."

[Illustration]

"The English Señor will speak to him," commanded the interpreter. "Send
him to the hotel when he comes home."

Then our friend the interpreter determined to earn a large tip, and
calculating on our ignorance brought us back by the longest route, past
all the principal buildings of the town; thereby quadrupling the journey
through the baking streets. Our desires, however, were fixed on home.
We were staggering beneath the heat. Had the interpreter but known it,
his tip would have been increased by celerity; but, stung by our apathy
over public monuments, he took us into a courtyard to look at some
gigantic tomatoes gleaming in the shade, and ran us across the street to
examine a skein of fine white catgut, dyed orange at the tips, which a
workman was carrying. He explained that this was for medical operations
and for fishing lines, which was a local industry.

Lunch was ready when we got back, a prolonged and delicious lunch for
those in health, but we could eat little of it. Black olives were in a
dish on the table; and the fruit included large ripe figs, peaches,
pears and apricots. A curious fact we had noted was that much of the
fruit did not ripen properly. Either it was unripe or else had begun to
rot in the centre. The sun was too strong to allow it to reach the stage
of exquisite ripeness which the more temperate climate of England
encourages. The waiter was dismayed by our lack of appetite. He urged us
repeatedly to further gastronomic efforts, and holding dishes beneath
our noses stirred up the contents with a fork. At last he made us a
special salad which was not on the menu. The other occupants of the long
white restaurant were all fat men who swallowed course after course in
spite of the heat. We looked at them and thought: "No wonder there are
so many plump people in Spain."

After coffee in the large hall, we went to our bedroom for a rest. The
windows of our room looked southwards, over the muddy river. Immediately
beneath was a road on which was a wayside stall of bottles and old
ironwork, an ice-cream vendor, a boy roasting coffee on a stove, turning
a handle round and round while the coffee beans rustled in the heated
iron globe, sending up a delicious smell to our windows. A row of
covered carriages, tartanas, waited beneath the shadows of the riverside
trees. All along the opposite bank were two-storied mills, and beyond
them the town stretched out in a wedge of flat roofs bursting up into
church towers. Green market gardens came up to the edge of the town, and
covered the valley to the base of the hills with a dense growth of flat
and flourishing green which one had not expected thus far south in
Spain.

We were awakened from our siesta by the spherical maid who mouthed and
pantomimed that a Señor was waiting for us in the hall. Luis Garay, a
young painter and lithographer to whom our friend had written about us,
had come at the earliest opportunity. He was slim, sallow, almost
dapper, with dark frank eyes, and we took a liking to him at once.
Together we went outside the hotel and sat at a table in the open place
facing the principal promenade of Murcia. The river was on the
right-hand side, and on the left was a line of tall buildings, some
cafés, others municipal. The heat attacked one in waves, it seemed as
palpable as though it possessed substance. When we took our seats the
plaza was empty because the siesta was not yet over, but after four
o'clock had passed gradually the life of the town blossomed out.

The army of beggars attacked us; in monotonous undertones they moaned
their woes.

"Hermanito, una limosna qui Dios se la pagara,"[5] they whined.

To those who seemed unworthy Luis answered, "Dios le ayude."[6]

How exquisite is the courtesy of the Spaniard even to a beggar. Our
manners have not this fine habitual touch--after the international
occupation of Scutari the beggars of the town had learned two English
phrases; one was "G'arn," the other "Git away." It is true that under
this harsh exterior the Englishman may hide a soft heart; he may be
like the schoolmaster who feels the caning more poignantly than does
the schoolboy; indeed many a man puts a deliberately rough exterior on
to mask the flabbiness of his sentimental nature; and the Spaniard, for
all his courtesy, may have the harder nature. Yet the courtesy which
recognizes a common level of humanity is a precious thing. It may be
that by refusing alms with respect one may be preserving in the beggar
finer qualities than would be generated by giving with contempt. A
Spaniard once said, "I like a beggar to say 'Hermanito, alms which God
will repay.' It is naïf and simple. It has a beauty for which one
willingly pays a copper. But when a beggar whines that he has eaten
nothing for three days, it is offensive. It is an insult to give a man a
halfpenny who has eaten nothing for three days; and one cannot afford to
give him the price of a square meal; and anyhow one knows that he is
lying."

As well as the pitiful beggars there were the musical beggars. Two men
came playing the guitar and laud. Another followed with a gramophone
which he carried from his shoulder by a strap. Then came the
barrel-organ. We had not noted its arrival. Suddenly the most appalling
din broke out. Awhile ago in Paris M. Marinetti organized a futurist
orchestra; one could imagine that it had been transported in miniature
to Murcia. There were bangs and thumps and crashes of cymbals, and
tattoos of drums, and tinkles of treble notes, and plonkings of base
notes intermixed apparently without order, rhythm or tune. What a state
the barrel must have been in! Once we presume that it played a tune, but
now it was so decrepit that nothing as such was recognizable. It was
dragged by a donkey and a cart and shepherded by a fat white dog which
had been shaved, partly because of the heat, partly because of vermin.
It was an indecent-looking dog, and the flesh stood out in rolls all
round its joints. No sooner had this musical horror disappeared round
the corner than another organ in an equal state of disrepair took its
place.

[Illustration: A MURCIAN BEGGAR-WOMAN]

"It is all right," Luis reassured us; "you have suffered the worst.
There are only two in the town."

A crowd of urchins carrying home-made boot-blacking boxes pestered us
with offers of "Limpia botas." A man and a woman sauntered between the
tables bellowing and screaming "Les numeros"; these were state lottery
sellers.

Also there were sellers of local lotteries, which were promoted by the
Church in aid of the disabled whom they employed to sell the tickets.
Nuns, too, were amongst the beggars. There were boys selling newspapers;
men selling meringues and pastry, others hawking fried almonds, very
salt to excite thirst; children hunting between the legs of the tables
and chairs for cast cigarette ends or straws discarded by the drinkers;
a man peddling minor toilet articles--toothpicks, scent, powder,
buttonhooks--and another with a basket of very odorous dried fish.

The smell of the fish banished our new-won universal brotherhood and we
waved the fish vender away without courtesy. But an elegantly dressed
young man sitting near accosted him and began to chaff him. But what was
pretence to the dude was earnest to the salesman. He had some talent for
selling and he pestered the dude for nearly half an hour, at the end of
which the latter in self-defence and for the sake of peace bought a
portion of the smelly commerce. Probably the fishmonger's total gain out
of the transaction was a fraction of a penny. But the Spanish is not a
wasteful nation. When the dude walked off home he took with him the fish
wrapped in his newspaper.

At last we called the waiter by the Spanish custom of clapping the
hands, paid for the drinks, and guided by Luis set out to visit the
house which our friend had lent us for the summer. Habits of cleanliness
were shown in the streets. Young girls were hard at work, each
industriously brushing the dust from the sidewalk in front of her house,
even though that sidewalk were itself of dried mud. To us it seemed
that the story was being repeated of the old woman who tried to besom
the tide out of her front door.

Many of the householders had spread their sphere of influence even
beyond the sidewalk, and had soaked their patch of road, turning the
dust into viscous mud. The pavements were already beginning to be
encumbered by chairs, and by groups of people sitting out in the cooling
day.

The Paseo de Corveras is a one-sided street darkened by tall trees. On
the other side stretch maize fields surrounding a small farm, and
walled-in gardens filled with tall feathery date palms. The dates were
already hanging in orange clusters beneath the sprouting heads of
fronds. Luis took us to the house of Antonio Garrigos, who lived at No.
12.

Antonio was a handsome man of pure Spanish type, giving an impression of
nervous vitality. He produced three keys, each of about a pound in
weight and large as any key of a theatrical gaoler. The house key was of
monstrous size, and he assured us that we would have to carry it with us
wherever we went. Our friend's apartment at No. 26 was on the first
floor and spread right across two humbler dwellings below. It was cool
and roomy, filled with specimens of Spanish draperies, pottery and
furniture, which he had collected during several years in Spain. At the
back was a kitchen, with large earthen vessels for water, and Spanish
grids for cooking on charcoal. The bed was big for one, but very small
for two, so we suggested taking off the spring mattress and laying
planks in its place. Antonio at once said that to-morrow he would get
the planks in time for the night.

Then, feeling very tired but thoroughly pleased with our prospective
house, and with the new acquaintances we had found, we walked back to
the hotel, had a supper as liberal as the lunch, and went to bed.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 5: "Little brother, alms which God Himself will repay."]

[Footnote 6: "God will help you."]



CHAPTER IX

MURCIA--SETTLING DOWN


By the time we left the hotel, which we did on the second day, the maid
had reviewed her decision as to the state of our mentality. Receiving
her tips she shook our hands warmly, asked where we were going and said
that she would without fail call upon us. The tatterdemalion bootblack
at the hotel door, who could never quite make up his mind whether he
were bootblack or lottery-ticket seller--neglecting each business in
favour of the other--helped us with our luggage. He also on receipt of a
tip inquired our future address and assured us that he would call upon
us. The driver of the tartana told us that he would look us up one day
to see how we were getting on; and another visit was promised by a
ragged lounger whom we called in to aid us in getting our luggage
upstairs.

"Spain," we said, "seems to be a sociable country."

Don Antonio was waiting for us at his house, which was but a few doors
away from our own. He introduced us to his wife, a buxom, jolly woman of
about twenty-five; his sister, tall, elegant and dark, perhaps the most
complete type of Spanish woman we had yet met; and his brother-in-law.
Don Thomas, for such was the brother-in-law's name, was able to speak a
portion of the American language, and often by his imperfect knowledge
he would deepen our ignorance of what others were saying in Spanish.

Don Antonio had a small box factory. His house was two-storied, as were
most of the houses in the Paseo. On the ground floor the front room, or
entrada, was filled with wood, wood-working benches, and stacks of
unfinished boxes; the kitchen behind was not exempt from business, for
here Antonio made up his glues and pastes, while the whole top story was
occupied by girls who covered the crude shells of the boxes with velvet
and looking-glass and papier mâché adornments. Antonio and his wife were
crowded into two small rooms, a bedroom in the front alongside of the
entrada and a dining-room at the back parallel with the kitchen.

Our planks were ready for us, but Antonio refused to be paid for them.
He said that when we had finished with them he could make boxes out of
them. We spent the afternoon in our flat unpacking and arranging the
plank bed. The mattress was not broad enough to cover the planks which
we put down, but we managed to find a padded sofa-covering which, laid
alongside of the mattress, supplemented the inefficient breadth. As we
had met neither mosquitoes nor net in the hotel, we left the
mosquito-net in the trunk.

In the evening Luis Garay called for us. He led us through a maze of
darkened streets, at one time skirting the tall, over-decorated rococo
front of the cathedral, and brought us to a large doorway within which
was a smaller door. Two sharp raps and the door swung wide mechanically,
though a long rope tied to the latch and looping its way upstairs showed
how it had been opened. Up wide white stone stairs we went, watched by
an old, old man hanging over the balcony of the second floor. Luis said
no word to him, nor he to Luis.

The chief keynote of Spanish interiors is whiteness. The room into which
we came was white, and out of it was another white room set with
dining-tables and decorated with a huge white filter. This was "Elias,"
where we could dine excellently for the sum of one peseta fifty centimos
apiece.

Elias himself looked like a cheery monk painted by Dendy Sadler. Clad in
a long white overall, he stood in the midst of his snowy tables and
greeted us merrily.

Luis went away, having said good night, for he had an engagement. We ate
omelet, beefsteak and fried potatoes, finishing with a plate of fruit,
fixed by the multiple stare of the young men dining there. I was the
only woman at Elias while we dined there, for Spanish women are home
clinging folk, and even to the cafés they never go in large numbers.

As the young men finished their meals, they went out. Each one as he
passed through the door bowed and said something. It sounded like "Dobro
Vetche," but "Dobro Vetche" is Serbian for good evening. We could not
make out what the words were, so, as the Serbian seemed to be
appropriate, we boldly answered it in return. Later on we discovered
that they said "Buen Aproveche" with the first part of the sentence
slurred over by habit. It means "May it do you good," and the customary
sentence to say to any one who is dining. The correct answer is
"Gracias."

We left Elias' very satisfied with our cheap discovery. Jan, who
generally has a good head for locality, engaged to find his way back
without a guide. But he turned the wrong way out of Elias' door. We
wandered amongst deep darkened streets till suddenly we came out into
one as narrow as the others, but laid with flat pavements, instead of
rugged cobbles, and blazing with light. Through this we ran the gauntlet
of Murcia. The street was crowded with hotels and cafés, both sides
being lined with tables at which the evening drinkers were sitting. The
street itself was filled with a flux and reflux of the youth and beauty,
the "Hooventud, Bellitza and Looho,"[7] of the town.

We came, especially I, upon them as a catastrophe. The light died out of
their eyes, the smiles disappeared from their faces, mouths dropped
open, fingers pointed, people grasped each other. It was similar to the
moment when an elephant comes along in the village circus procession,
and I was the elephant.

During our first weeks in Murcia our appearance in the streets
invariably caused excitement and shrieks of laughter among young girls
and gossips. If we entered a shop the children crowded in with us to
listen to our attempts at Spanish. This was not done with deliberate
rudeness, but was more the result of unrestrained curiosity. This
attitude was not very evident when we went for strolls with Luis: the
presence of a fellow-townsman seemed to have a calming influence. At
last I found an effective weapon. With mock horror I stared at the feet
and ankles of any young woman too malicious. Self-consciousness at once
gripped her--almost invariably she hurried away to examine her shoes and
wonder what was wrong with them.

Curiously enough we never became conscious of a case of incivility among
the men. Even groups of lads at the difficult age which breeds larrikins
in Australia were on the whole less offensive than in other countries.
It seemed to us that if a Spanish woman were kind-hearted--and the
majority are so--she was the most kindly and charming of women, but if
of a spiteful nature she took less pains to hide or curb it than do the
women of more sophisticated countries.

The narrow street which we had discovered by accident was perhaps the
most disconcerting part of the town, as it was full of cafés, and
therefore of loungers; but we often had to go there for small
necessities. There we had to go for smoked glasses because of the
brilliance of the sun, for a parasol, and for a hatpin. The first two
objects were easily found, but the last was difficult. Hats, even in
Southern Spain, are worn only by the _crème de la crème_ for great
ceremonies, and the hatpins sold by the jewellers were intended for such
occasions. They were decorated affairs with huge heads of complicated
workmanship set with garish stones. Probably no other woman in the town
wore a hat for normal use, so we gave up the search and Jan made out of
hairpins something which served.

We ran the gauntlet of the quizzing street and made our way home.

All along the streets the people had brought their chairs out of doors
and were sitting on the pavements in the cool of the night. At Antonio's
door we found a group of his family, almost invisible in the dark. We
sat down with them. Presently Antonio said:

"I will go and fetch Don Luis, and he will play for us."

What then could be seen of Don Luis was a large nose, a check cap and a
pair of gnarled hands which grasped his guitar in a capable manner. He
sat down on a chair on the sidewalk and began to play.

"Curse it!" he exclaimed. "Do you know I used to play very well, but all
this factory work ruins the fingers for playing. Mine are getting as
stiff as if they had no joints in them."

Presently he was playing a jota and demanded that somebody should dance.

"Dance, dance!" he shouted. "Curse it! What's the good of playing if
nobody dances?"

By this time most of the inhabitants of the houses near had gathered
round, although almost hidden; but there were no young men. Antonio's
sister danced a jota with a pretty girl. The jota is the most common of
Spanish dances, as the waltz used to be with us. It has a _tempo_ which
fluctuates between three-four and two-four, the phrases being divided
into two beats each or three bars of two beats each at the will of the
player. The jota that evening appeared to be a very sedate kind of
dance. When it was over the crowd urged us to dance something English.
We asked Don Luis to play the jota again, and to it we danced a rather
mad waltz which we had invented. The path upon which we danced was of
dried mud, which is pounded into unusual shapes in the winter and dries
in whatever shape it happens to be when the heat comes. It was full of
lumps and holes, and the light was dim. In a moment we partially
understood why Antonio's sister had been so sedate. But the
brother-in-law informed us:

"Say," he said, "my girl can dance wonderful. But 't'aint proper, in de
town. Say, you see 'er in de country. Den she hop. She kick de window in
wid 'er toe. Sure. Show you one day."

Murcia is a town of about 100,000 inhabitants and is the capital of its
province, but it is hardly more than an overgrown village in spite of
its cathedral, its bullring, its theatre and its cinema palace. Both at
Avila and at Madrid they had said to us: "Aha, you are going to the town
of the beautiful women!"

But the women of Murcia, with the exception of some lovely and filthy
gipsies, were not unusually beautiful. They were thick-set and useful
looking with muscular necks and ankles, and their eyes had a
domesticated expression. Their clothes emphasized their defects. They
indulged in pastel shades and frills which were used in fantastic ways.
We have seen frills in spiral twisting around the frock from neck to
hem, or a series of jaunty inverted frills round the hips, which gave to
the wearer something of the appearance of one of those oleographs of a
maiden half emerging from the calyx of a flower: or perpendicular frills
which made the wearer resemble a cog-wheel.

We had ample opportunities of observing them from the windows of our
house, at which we started our experimental sketches in Spain, but we
had to sit back from the balcony because small crowds began to gather,
and boys to shout. Antonio then said that he would take us to one of the
big walled-in gardens where we could paint at our ease.

A huge gateway led into a courtyard which was completely covered by a
vine pergola. The grapes hung in large bunches, though yet green. At one
side of the courtyard was a low stall on which fruit and vegetables were
for sale, and near an arched door a woman was washing clothes in a large
basin of antique pattern. The garden was a rich mass of green. Huge
trees of magnolia were covered with waxy white flowers and gave out a
strong odour which scented the wide garden. Lemon trees and orange trees
were ranged in rows; the lemons yellow on the trees or lying on the
ground as thick as fallen apples after an autumn storm, the oranges
still hard spheres of dark green. Along the edges of the paths stood up
the tall palm trees with their golden clusters of unripe dates, or with
their fronds tied up in a stiff spike, some mystery of palm cultivation.
Fronds of palm, hacked from off the trees, lay about the ground, and we
were surprised to find by experience that they possessed long, piercing
and painful thorns.

We painted for several days in this small paradise, but our conscience
was accusing us. We had not come to Spain to paint gardens. One day we
took our courage in our hands.

"It is market day," said we; "we will go and paint the market."

Peasant carts loaded with fruit and vegetables were crowding into the
town; men clad in black cottons were dragging donkeys, upon the backs of
which were panniers filled with saleable provisions; women with
umbrellas aloft against the sun carried baskets in their arms or heavy
packages upon their hips. The market was spread in the sunlight behind
the Hôtel Reina Victoria. Grain was for sale in broad, flat baskets,
cheap cottons were on stalls; fruits--peaches, plums, and lemons--were
mixed with tomatoes, berenginas, and red or green peppers. To one side
of the market place was the fonda which had once been a monastery. This
was for the travellers by road as the hotels were for travellers by
rail. In a huge arched entrada carters and villagers were sitting at
their ease. To one side was a kitchen in which could be seen large red
earthen vessels which made one think of the last scene in "The Forty
Thieves," and beyond the entrada was an open courtyard in which the high
tilted road waggons were drawn up in rows.

Skirting the fonda wall I found a corner which seemed secluded, and
sitting down I began to paint an old woman and her fruit stall. One by
one a few people gathered behind me. Blas, the gipsy musician, came up,
greeted me, and added his solid presence to the spectators. A baker came
out of his shop and watched. The crowd began to increase. Soon they were
pressing all round, even in front, so that I could see nothing.

"I cannot paint if I cannot see," I exclaimed to Blas.

He and the baker set themselves one on each side and hustled an opening
in the crowd.

"Atras, atras!" they shouted. "En la cola, en la cola."[8]

But more and more people hurried up to see what was happening. Soon the
crowd, despite the strenuous efforts of Blas and the baker, closed up
again in front, and no efforts could keep an open vista.

Jan, who had been drawing in another part of the market, came up. He saw
in the midst of a maelstrom of heads the extreme tip of my hat and
worked his way through, to speaking distance. Brown-faced old women,
with market baskets, men with turkeys hung in braces over their
shoulders, young women with babies, gipsy men with tall hats and
gig-whips, noisy boys, all smiling, friendly and curious, were peeping
under my hat discussing the phenomenon.

We left the disappointed maelstrom, which changed its shape and followed
us like a rivulet to a café, where they stood for a while gazing
solemnly while we sipped iced coffee.

We then decided that sketching in the streets of Murcia was not to be
thought of. Luis, to whom we confided this, said that he would find us
balconies and roofs from which we could work, but we wanted to settle in
some small village where we could know everybody in a day, and sketch
where we liked, so Luis made arrangements to take us across the plain at
the foot of the mountains to see some villages that might suit us.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 7: (Spelt phonetically.) These three words, meaning youth,
beauty and luxury, are used in all Spanish theatre advertisements as
especial attractions of the spectacle advertised.]

[Footnote 8: "Back, back! Get into queue, get into queue!"]



CHAPTER X

MURCIA--BLAS


Spain is the true home of the guitar. Only in Spain is the guitar--the
most complete of solo instruments--heard in its true perfection. But
even in Spain the cult of the guitar is dying out. Nowadays, at
marriages, births or christenings the guitar is no longer inevitable,
for the cheap German piano and the gramophone are ousting the national
instrument. Jan had become enamoured of the guitar in Paris, some small
progress he had made with the help of a friend; but one cannot get the
true spirit of Spanish music at second hand. So Blas, the gipsy, was
called in to given him instruction.

We had been told not to give Blas more than twenty pesetas a month,
these to be full payment for a daily lesson. However, Blas proved to be
more adept at bargaining than we were. He looked very Egyptian in the
face, was very smart in a grey check suit, patent leather boots and
straw hat, a strange contrast to the poverty of his home and the
slatterns of women who were his family and relations. He came in rubbing
his hands together, grinning with an expanse of strong, white teeth, and
showing a sly expression in his curious eyes. He cringed to us.

He demanded two pesetas a lesson, or sixty pesetas a month. We held out
that we had been told to offer him twenty. This, he answered, was
impossible, quite impossible, out of the question. Some of his
subserviency was immediately put into his pocket. Jan said that as he
would be painting a good deal he would not want more than three lessons
a week. Blas hummed and hawed and chewed the idea for a while. Then,
with the air of one who is making a great concession, he said that since
it was the Señor and since he appeared "muy sympatico" he would consent
to take twenty-five pesetas, and that was his final offer. Jan agreed.
Blas then added that he was reducing his terms solely because of the
sympathetic nature of the Señor, and that he was by no means satisfied
with the bargain, and that it was "muy poco." He then asked Jan if he
had a guitar. Jan said that he was using the big white instrument made
by Ramirez which our friend had left in his house. Blas answered that he
possessed the brother of that instrument himself, and that it was a good
one.

Only after he had gone did we realize that three lessons a week meant
twelve lessons a month, and, at his original price, this would have
amounted to twenty-four pesetas, and that Bias had wheedled out a peseta
more than his original offer.

We do not like the bargaining system which is prevalent all over Spain,
a habit from which, in spite of their stern notices, the "precio fijo"
shops are not quite exempt. We are not registering this objection
because Blas cozened us of a peseta; but it seems to us that the whole
habit of chaffering inculcates a lack of generosity and lays a
foundation of unfriendly relationships between people. No matter upon
what friendly terms the bargaining is carried out, too much of an
element of positive personal competition is brought in; but much
bargaining is not carried on in a friendly way. It also necessitates a
wholesale campaign of lying--appreciative and depreciative--on the part
of both buyer and seller, and a certain amount of personal feeling on
the side of the loser. Nor does the constant simulation of anger tend to
make a person more pacific by habit. Curiously enough the most generous
man is often the worst treated by the bargaining system. He offers a
sum in excess of the real value in order to shorten the ordeal, and by
doing so only excites the seller to greater cupidity. We have noted that
the successful bargainer is treated with respect, while the other who
cuts short the bargain by paying too much earns contempt.

Blas came to our house at about twelve o'clock. He was a true musician
and lived--as far as we could discover--for but two things, music and
drink. He had seemed to understand our Spanish well enough to get the
better of the bargain, but he had forgotten this. He, like the maid, had
a fixed idea that Jan could not speak Spanish. He grinned, and made
strange noises, but never tried to explain anything by means of words.
One cannot say that he was a good teacher. All that he could do was to
play a piece over and over again, and trust you to get it by ear. Now
and again he would grasp Jan's fingers and try to force them into the
necessary positions. He was even incapable of playing his tunes slowly.
If Jan wished to analyse a movement which came in the middle of a melody
Blas had to begin at the beginning. Sometimes Jan was almost in despair,
but he worked hard and in the end drew a profit out of Blas's inadequate
instruction.

Spanish guitar music is unlike the music of Europe. It has a strange
primitive character depending for its marvellous rhythmic properties
upon a rhythm of phrase more than upon the rhythm of the bar division.
The form is simple, a passage played with the back of the nails across
the strings, called the "Rasgueado," a passage like a refrain or chorus,
"the Paseo," in reality the introduction of the dance or melody, and the
melodies proper called "Falsetas." The rhythmic structure which does not
correspond to the bar division of the music is usually emphasized by
drum taps made upon the sound board of the guitar with the nail of the
second finger.

Blas considered it his duty to teach Jan two falsetas on each visit.

[Illustration]

But if he was a bad teacher, he was a fine player. Resting his chin on
the great guitar as if the passage of the vibrations through his body
were a source of pleasure, he crouched, looking like something between a
bullfrog and a Cheshire cat.

Then with supple fingers he played, drawing delicious melodies; or
rasping with his nails he beat out complex harmonies that seemed to vie
with an orchestra in richness of sound.

When he came to a falseta, he would throw up his negroid eyes like a
Greco saint, he would kiss his hand, and, as likely as not, spit on the
floor to emphasize his delight.

Before he left the house he always tried to get an advance upon his
salary. After all, to him we were only _Busné_ to be fleeced if
possible. But when his indebtedness amounted to the whole of his month's
pay we fended him off by saying that we had no change.

I do not think we realized how much we were overpaying Blas until we
decided to leave Murcia. We found a house, as you will hear, at Verdolay
about five miles away. When he heard that we were leaving, Blas
volunteered to come out as usual for the same pay. He said that he would
cheerfully walk the distance--ten miles--for that money. But we were
getting rather shy of Blas. He was too persistent a borrower for our
slender means and we had heard of other teachers who were cheaper. So we
took this opportunity and dropped him as a pilot to the guitar.



CHAPTER XI

MURCIA--THE ALPAGATA SHOP


Save upon feast days, and with the exception of the nobility, who are
few, and of the merchants, who have to be worldly commonplace,
alpagatas, or string-soled shoes, are the footwear of the Spanish
nation. If you dodge the big towns you may go for days and never see a
boot. The agricultural labourer, the artisan, the beggar, the soldier,
the engine-driver, the porters all wear either the alpagata or, in the
summer, its cooler brother, the string-soled sandal. In Spain boots are
not meant for real wear, you swagger around the town in boots, and have
them cleaned four or five times a day. At a café a horde of bootblacks
precipitate themselves towards you to renew the lustre--possibly dimmed
by the all-prevalent dust--of those foot ornaments. The young man who
goes to meet his _novía_ removes his alpagatas, and puts on boots highly
polished and with check tops; the young maiden who is sitting out with
her _novio_ has placed her alpagatas in the corner and stretches
high-heeled shoes across the pavement. But for all-day-up-and-down use
the alpagata wins every time; the baby wears alpagatas, and its
grandmother wears a larger variant; there are white alpagatas, brown
alpagatas, grey alpagatas, black alpagatas for those in mourning--a very
important ceremony in Spain--and there are the elaborate, almost
Eastern, alpagatas, entirely of esparto grass, the making of which
occupies the time when the goatherd is not yelling at his goats. Even
the horsemen, the caballeros, often wear alpagatas. It is true that one
cannot strap a spur on to an alpagata, but on the whole spurs are
little used in Spain. If the rider wishes his horse or donkey to mend
his pace, he thumps the animal with a thick cudgel at about the place
where St. Dunstan kicked the devil.

The alpagata is also a cheap form of footwear. Those which we were
wearing cost three pesetas, say 2_s._ 9_d._ They should last two months.
We were therefore spending 1_s._ 4-1/2_d._ a month each on shoes. A
little arithmetic will show this as 16_s._ 6_d._ a year. To-day boots
alone cost more than this in repairs, not counting the first cost. For
children, of course, they are unrivalled, as the life of the alpagata
almost fits the growth of the infant, which is spared the torture one
remembers in childhood of boots which were too good to throw away and
yet too small to wear with ease. But to taste the full romantic flavour
of the alpagata, it should have been bought in the true alpagata shop.
If you are in Spain don't go to the boot-shop. It does sell alpagatas,
but it ought not to do so. In Spain the boot-seller should be classed
with the jeweller. He sells ornaments. The boot merchant who sells
alpagatas in Spain is as bad as the jeweller here who sells umbrellas.
Go to the shop which sells things for the road, for that picturesque,
coloured, moving life of Spain. The doorway of this fascinating shop is
piled up with bales of a rough cloth of an exquisite hyacinthine blue,
or of a strange yellow, which is seen to perfection only in the alpagata
shop or in El Greco's pictures. This cloth is used for lining
horse-collars and saddles. Above these beautiful bales are collars of
white leather, heavy with small cone-shaped bells of copper, for the
goats, larger collars of brown leather, either with small bells in rows,
like a lady's pearl collar, or with one large bell pendant, for the
oxen. Within are large coronet-shaped semicircles of leather and
coloured woolwork, red, yellow, black, white, for the oxen's foreheads,
long ribbons of coloured woolwork for the donkeys' harness, and fringes
of brightly coloured wool netting, ending in tassels, like that which
decorated the under edge of our grandmothers' sofas, to hang across the
donkey's chest or down his nose. Muzzles for goats and for donkeys are
here too. There is harness also in the shop, Gargantuan-looking harness
studded with nails, so broad in its facets of leather that when the
horse has his face inside it he looks not unlike an ancient knight in
his armour. Only his eyes and his mouth are visible, and often indeed
not the latter, for it may be guarded by a piece of leather work not
unlike the tongue of a brogue shoe.

Talking of shoes brings us back to the alpagata. A man will be working
at a table like a butcher's block. Deftly he cuts the rope, bending it
around an iron peg into the shape of the sole, then with a long awl he
pierces it through and through, sewing it with great rapidity, and
almost hey presto! as it were, a pair of soles are finished. Women who
sit almost on the edge of the street, chattering and gossiping--often
with the passers-by--are making the uppers of stout canvas. They spring
from work to serve you with a gracious kindliness, and seeing that you
are English they probably with the same gracious kindliness clap an
extra fifty centimos on to the price. If only we had such an alpagata
shop in London what a rush there would be to purchase.

Your old alpagatas you leave behind you. What happens to them is to us a
mystery. Old boots are the nuisance of the London dust heaps, the terror
of the errant mongrel. Yorick, who, Sam Weller assures us, is the only
person who has ever seen a dead donkey, may also in his travels have
seen an extinct alpagata, but his "Sentimental Journey" is unfinished
and we shall never know.



CHAPTER XII

MURCIA--BRAVO TORO


Along cool colonnades of raw-coloured brick, up a staircase arched with
concrete, and out through a sort of concrete culvert which spouted
humanity, we came into the huge round amphitheatre of the bullring.
Owing to Spanish dilatoriness, we were later than we had intended, and
in consequence were unable to get seats within the coveted shadow which
lay over half the great enclosure; but, thank goodness, the sky was
mottled with clouds which tempered both the heat and the glare of the
Spanish afternoon. We were in the cheapest seats, having disdained to go
skywards into the boxes, for we had come to taste the full flavour of an
average bullfight as a popular spectacle, and we wished it as pure as
possible. So we had bought purple tickets for two pesetas and a white
one for me at half price; at the same time repelling the persistence of
a feminine hawker, who pressed upon us large flabby looking paper bags
of mysterious content which we imagined to be some form of refreshment.
The seats of the bullring were of flat stone rising tier upon tier, and
we chose our places low down to get a good view, yet as near as possible
to the slowly creeping shadow; only one row of stone seats and two rows
of chairs of iron lattice separated us from the arena itself. The chairs
were empty, so I asked Luis if they were reserved for some special
purpose. "No," he answered, "but the bull may leap out of the ring.
Those chairs would entangle him, but it is uncomfortable if you happen
to be sitting there, so they are not very popular." As the edge of the
arena was guarded by a palisade of stout planking about five feet high,
through which were cut narrow gaps--bolt-holes--for the toreadors, and
the seats were separated from this palisade by a passage some six feet
wide, the lowest seats being set some ten feet above the floor, I felt
that the risk of finding an enraged bull in one's lap was rather remote.

The culverts spouted Spanish humanity: soldiers in greenish khaki; women
in black, white or colours dominated by a very popular pink; peasants in
blue blouses and sandals; bourgeoisie in straw hats and drill; youths in
caps of exaggerated English cut. Immediately below us two small
children, mothered by a third aged about eleven, all three exceedingly
unkempt, rather dirty, and possibly verminous, took their seats, and,
recognizing that I was a stranger, advised me in hoarse whispers all
through the progress of the spectacle. In spite of her obvious poverty
the eldest girl wore a large tortoise-shell comb of elaborate pattern in
a carefully arranged _coiffure_. Numberless children seemed to have
attended the spectacle thus, as the small Londoners go to the cinema. At
this moment the ring itself was full of them, some playing football, a
game very popular--there is even a Spanish periodical called
_Free-Kick_--others giving imitation exhibitions of bullfighting, more
or less like that played by the children in the hotel. When the
imitation bull, stabbed to death, was dragged around the ring, the real
spectators cheered loudly. We wondered what the bull's mother would say
about the state of his pants.

This was no Mantilla day, nor day of fiesta. It was just an ordinary
Sunday afternoon diversion in this provincial town. We took our first
dose of bullfight in this place for a reason. Essentially a popular
sport should be judged as a sport of the people: not by its highest
exponents, but by its average. An intelligent foreigner would not get
the truest impression of what cricket means to England at Lord's or at
the Oval; but on some village green at an inter-parochial contest.

The horrors of bullfighting began with a band, the age of the bandsmen
varying between fourteen and seventy years. The band marched around the
ring playing music as out of tune as the new age is with the old. The
ring emptied of children, and two horsemen superbly mounted dashed
across the arena to demand from the President the key of the bull-pen.
This was followed by a general parade of the toreros. Alas, for romance!
Their gilt was somewhat tarnished, most of their cloaks worn and faded;
usually the only part of the costume which seemed to have retained its
original brilliance was the coloured seat of the tight trousers, which I
suppose comes in for very little wear and tear. The picadors with their
nail-headed lances seemed veritable Don Quixotes on their more than
Rosinante steeds: poor beasts doomed to the knackers anyhow. The
procession ended with two cart-horses and a yoke destined to drag the
slaughtered bulls from the ring.

There was a pause. Luis said in a low murmur:

"Doesn't your heart beat? Isn't this moment exciting?"

He spoke truly. Around the huge oval all eyes were concentrated on the
red door of the bull-pen: the very air seemed rarefied and electric. For
me, I think this was the most tense moment of the day: that moment
before anything had happened. A bugle call cut the silence. The red door
swung open and with a peculiar rolling gallop the bull dashed into the
arena.

"Now," I thought, "this terrible bullfight, about which so much has been
written, so much discussed, has indeed begun."

The bullfights of our imagination are spectacles of sun and colour--of
madness stained with cruelty; the cruelty perhaps partly condoned by the
fierceness of the bull, by a sort of wild frenzy of sport which seems in
some part to excuse the murderous instinct of man.

[Illustration]

The bull, a coloured rosette nailed to its shoulder, reached the centre
of the ring, and then, for me, half the anticipated interest of the
fight vanished. We had expected a wild and furious gallop around the
arena; a bull lusting to kill or be killed; mad charges at the toreros,
who would elude it with quick baffling passes of the cloaks, wild dashes
at the unfortunate horses, the riders of which would at least make some
pretence of manoeuvering before the furious bull was allowed to fling
horse and rider into the air. But no! The bull slowed up, halted and
looked to this side and that. It was obviously perplexed. One could
almost imagine a crease of puzzlement between its eyes. What was all
this; where the sierras of its youth; into what strange place had it
come? And now began a taunting of the unwilling bull. The toreros
flapped their faded cloaks at it, but whenever the bull was tempted to
charge the man ran for safety and crammed himself through one of the
bolt-holes in the palisade--once a torero scampering for life reached an
opening at the same instant as a companion. For a moment there was a
flurry, but both men contrived to push through before the bull was able
to reach them. The first impression of the fight was of a certain power
and some magnificence on the part of the bull, and of degradation on the
part of the toreros--one thought of the shorn Sampson taunted by the
Philistines. In this contest the men seemed somehow ignoble in
comparison with the animals. The next act of the drama made this feeling
no better. The picador was led out on his blindfolded and skeleton-like
steed by a little man in a red shirt, who from behind the horse's head
held out, like a policeman regulating the traffic, a protesting hand at
the bull, as if to imply that the animal was not to charge till he was
ready to bolt. For some while the bull did not take the invitation,
though whenever he appeared likely to do so the small man dropped the
reins and ran for the paling, from which, however, he took care never to
be very far away. The picador himself is not in great danger, for his
trousers are armour plated.

By this time the audience was shouting out: "No quiere!"[9] but at last
the bull charged, the picador thrust his lance, and the bull with a
great thrust of its head overturned both horse and man. Immediately the
bull was surrounded by the toreros who with flapping cloaks distracted
its attention. Man and horse were lifted up again.

Large numbers of Spaniards do not like bullfighting, but a great many
Spaniards who do not in principle object to bullfighting do object to
the horse-slaughter. One, cutting to the roots of the truth, said it was
"not æsthetic." He was right. There should be a strong sense of the
æsthetic in sport--it is a thing more subtle than mere "fair play," and
when this sense of the æsthetic is ignored the sport becomes brutality.
This horse-slaughter more than oversteps the line of the æsthetic, so
for us did the bolt-holes provided for the toreros. For us bullfighting
would begin to be a serious sport if the men and the bull stood on the
same conditions.

[Illustration]

One picador, who by means of his lance kept the bull off from his horse,
received a round of well-earned applause. The bugle sounded once more
and the picadors were led out of the ring. There followed another rather
dull interval of cloak-flapping. One of the matadors, however, gave an
exhibition of passes which made the bull charge repeatedly within a foot
or so of the man's body, during which the torero did not move his feet.
When the bull, baffled and panting with exhaustion at his fruitless
tosses, paused, the torero went upon one knee before the animal. The
spectators shrieked applause and flung their hats into the ring. But
this exhibition was very different from the usual cloak-flapping
followed by a scamper for the bolt-hole: nor, indeed, was it shown
often.

A torero who had carried an exceedingly faded violet cloak, and who had
been perhaps most hasty in his dashes for the safety gaps, now discarded
his cloak, and waving a pair of pink banderillas stepped into the centre
of the ring. Like a foreigner at cricket we naturally missed much of the
subtlety, but it was obvious that there were certain conditions under
which the banderillero would meet the bull and others under which he
would not. When the toreador seemed to think the bull in a good
position, he waved his banderillas and stamped his feet as though about
to fence. But the bull did not want banderillas stuck into him. Again
and again he declined the invitation while the populace howled "No
quiere, no quiere!" Personally I should have sent the bull home and
ordered another with more ginger in it. At last, exasperated, the bull
charged, the banderillero ran towards it in a slightly circular path,
planted his two sticks, each some thirty inches long, into the bull's
neck, and, curving out more widely, avoided by a few inches the upward
thrust of the bull's horns. This piece of work looked dangerous, and the
pay of a banderillero amounts to between £3 and £4 an afternoon. I think
that he earns his money. What surprised us was to see the torero who had
appeared such a scamperer with the faded purple cloak performing most
pluckily with the paper-covered sticks. I suppose it is the case of a
good batsman and good bowler--the arts are not interchangeable.

The six banderillas having been placed, another interval of harrying the
unfortunate animal with minor exasperations of cloak-flapping followed:
but at last the espatero, the swordsman, and the matador prepared to
give the death stroke. Here again in first-class bullfighting probably
the whole exhibition is one of supreme skill. We expected a certain
number of showy passes with the scarlet flag, the matador keeping the
bull circling about him--"wearing the bull as a waist-belt," as the
saying is in Spain. Then a pause, a sudden thrust with the sword--and,
with a groan, the bull is dead. It was not so. The espatero walked about
flapping the cloak, at which sometimes the bull did charge, but more
often did not. Several times the espatero had to run into a bolt-hole.
The bull showed strong desires to go home: it went to the side of the
ring and looked at the door from whence it had emerged, while more
venturesome members of the audience leaned over the palisade and tried
to snatch out a banderilla as a souvenir. The toreador chivied the bull
round the ring, trying to get it face foremost. However, when he
succeeded in this he did not seem satisfied, for though the people
yelled: "Ahora! Ahora!"[10] the matador only flapped his cloak.

[Illustration]

"He is rather a nervous espatero," said Luis, "so, when he does prepare
to kill, look out. Sometimes the sword flies. Not very long ago it
landed in the audience and killed a spectator." At last, however, the
bull, tongue hanging out, foam dripping from its mouth, blood streaming
from the lance and banderilla wounds in the shoulders, faced the matador
with half lowered and sullen head. The matador, taking up the position
of a man about to throw a javelin, aimed his sword, which was curiously
curved in the blade, and with quick steps ran in, thrust, and
side-stepped. The bull, taken by surprise, could not bring its weight
into action rapidly enough, the upward tossing horns missed the man by
inches: the bull rushed forward at another torero who had taken position
in line to attract the animal's attention. The matador had made no
master stroke, the sword stood eighteen inches out of the bull's
shoulder. The bull showed no signs of death, so the matador went away to
procure another sword. Finally the bull, stabbed by four swords, was
worried to death rather than killed, after which the corpse was dragged
triumphantly around the ring at the tail of the team of horses, while
the spectators stood on the stone seats and cheered.

It may be that we English take our pleasures sadly, but at that moment
it struck me that at an ordinary bullfight the Spaniard seems to take
rather dull pleasures with ecstasy.

The second bull proved more lively, the second matador more expert, or
more lucky than his confrère; but here also the show seemed to partake
rather of the nature of what should properly be termed bull-baiting than
bullfighting. This second bull provided the thrill of the day to the
three small dirty children. With one thrust of its horn it killed a
horse. The small boy (aged six or seven) turned to me with eyes
sparkling with pleasure.

"Did you see that?" he exclaimed. "One thrust only."

After the death of this bull came the Interval.

"Look up the numbers printed on your tickets," said Luis.

Having found the papers, I raised my head and to my amazement saw, in
the centre of the arena, a donkey, two young calves and a
sewing-machine.

"Good heavens!" I exclaimed. "What are those?"

"They are the prizes of the tombola," explained Luis; "you or the Señor
may win one."

The lots were drawn out of a large hat-box, and the numbers displayed on
a blackboard. The donkey fell to a small boy, the calves to a peasant.
But for some while the sewing-machine, forlorn and incongruous, stood in
the centre of the bloodthirsty arena awaiting a claimant. Attention was
finally concentrated upon a point high up amongst the cheap seats, to
the right of the President's box. Shouting, persuasion, hand-clapping
and arm-waving ensued, and at last the crowd squeezed out a small, dark
woman, blushing and giggling behind her fan, accompanied by husband,
husband's friend and six-year-old son. The sewing-machine was escorted
out of the same door through which the dead bulls had been dragged.

Then the bullfight began again. The third bull, a lusty black, was the
most willing of all. He did charge, he leapt high in his endeavours to
kill those phantom cloaks. After all the necessary banderillas had been
placed, there followed an incident. A boy of about sixteen years leapt
the barrier and ran across the ring, hastily as he ran unwrapping
something from a covering of newspaper. There was a sudden hum of
excited voices from the spectators.

"Ei!" cried Luis. "An amateur!"

The boy reached the President's box, the unwrapped objects being a pair
of dirty banderillas. Bowing to the President he craved permission to
plant his banderillas in the bull. But, alas for youthful aspirations,
permission was not given. The boy clambered sadly over the palisade to
hide himself in the audience.

Unfortunately this bull, the bravest of the four, fell to the lot of the
nervous matador. Death was a very lengthy operation, during the progress
of which the bull knocked down the bullfighter. For a moment we wondered
if the bull were going to take its revenge, but flapping cloaks
instantly distracted it. Meanwhile, between the forelegs of the bull the
matador lay very still, shielding his head with his arms. The nervous
matador, however, went on with his task, using three swords before it
was completed.

The matador of the fourth bull made an exceedingly bad thrust. The
populace howled insults at him, flinging at the same time those paper
bags which we had seen on sale near the ticket-office. They contained no
refreshment, nor material for bombarding unsuccessful matadors, but were
stuffed with horsehair to soften the stone seats. By this time we wished
we had inquired more about them, for the stone had proved anything but
soft. The fourth bull dead, the bullfight was over.

"Come and see the toreros," said Luis.

So with the outflowing press we repassed into the culvert, down the
stairs and along the corridors of brick, till we reached a window or
grille, by staring through which we could see the "heroes of Spain"
clambering into an ordinary station bus, in which they sat, stiff,
cramped, dignified and unsmiling, conscious of their importance.

We returned with the returning crowds along the roads deep in dust, back
to the centre of the town where there were cooling drinks and seats
softer than those stone benches. While we were sitting thus, revelling
in varied positions and summing up our first impressions, a large box
cart of lattice work passed by. Within the cart were hung great joints
of meat which swung to and fro as the cart bumped over the uneven road.

"There," said Luis, "go the bulls. They will be sold to-morrow in the
market. The meat is cheap because it is rather tough."

This incident, because it seemed to contain a note of irony, because it
had in it something sardonic and something callous, seemed to us a
fitting termination to the spectacle which we had witnessed.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 9: "He doesn't want to fight."]

[Footnote 10: "Now! Now!"]



CHAPTER XIII

AN EXCURSION


Murcia was very hot, very dusty and very sultry. We did not mind mere
heat--though Spanish midsummer heat was not the best of pick-me-ups for
the influenza--dust we could outlive, but the sultriness of the Murcian
valley was beyond our physique. This flat valley, which is ten miles
wide between abrupt mountains, is irrigated over the whole of its
breadth and is one of the richest agricultural parts of Spain. The
evaporation of the water makes the heat of Murcia damp; the summer in
addition was cloudy, and the sun shining on to the clouds seemed to cook
the air enclosed in the valley until the atmosphere resembled that of a
glass-house for orchids. We wished to leave Murcia in spite of an
affection which was growing in us for the town.

Luis met us at one o'clock on the terrace of the Reina Victoria. We had
_café au lait_ while waiting for the tartana. Luis said that the milk in
the coffee was not good: he deduced preservatives. But the lean waiter
stood loyally by his hotel.

"The milk is excellent, I assure you, Señor," he said. "My stomach is
excessively delicate; the slightest thing and it is ... I assure you
that I drink pints of this milk in this hotel. In fact my stomach is so
delicado that I am a connoisseur in milk, es vero.[11] If the milk were
bad this fatality would happen to me."

He gave a dumb-crambo exhibition of the results of bad milk on his
delicate digestion; it needed no words.

With deference he then proposed a new _café au lait_, which Luis sipped
with a judicial but unconvinced manner.

The tartana was a tight fit. It is about as large as a governess-cart
inside, and we were six. Luis, Jan and myself, a monk in brown, a thin
pale Señor who had long eyelashes and many rings, and another passenger,
a world type, the result of overwork and underpay, neither smart nor
slovenly, with a rough manner covering a kindly nature.


THE DRIVE

[Illustration]

We discovered why tartanas have bulging hoods. The vehicles roll and
rock so much over the bad roads that it is necessary to make room for
the passengers' heads to jerk backwards. Otherwise cerebral concussion
would be the invariable result.

_Luis_ (to the little monk): "Excuse me, but are not your clothes very
hot?"

_The Monk_ (spreading out his hands): "They are hot, but nevertheless
they keep out the sun."

We come out of the town into the gardens. There are flat fields of
cultivation spotted with mulberry trees, the trunks of which seem vivid
purple in the afternoon light.

I make a remark in Spanish. (Jan was still at the stage of appreciative
listener).

_The Clerkly Man_: "Señora, your Spanish is good for a stranger--you can
pronounce the Spanish J, which is difficult for foreigners."

_I_: "I have learned that from speaking German; it is rather like the
German _ch_."

A discussion on idioms at once begins. The Spaniard, though he speaks
foreign languages badly, has an inextinguishable interest in the subject
of tongues. If ever you are bored in Spanish company start an argument
about languages. After the discussion has been going on for some while
the pale Señor says:

"Nevertheless it is sad that the Catalans wish to root Castilian out of
their country."

_Luis_ (with some heat): "Well! why should they not? They are the
hardest working and the most valuable people of Spain. Why should not
they do as they like? Why should everybody not do as he likes if he
hurts nobody else?"

_The pale Señor_ (with frigidity): "But that is Bolshevism."

_Luis_ (with increasing heat): "If that is Bolshevism then I do not mind
being a Bolshevik."

Conversation is at an impasse. The carriage flings us to and fro for a
while.

A motor-car passes us. The dust which is about six inches deep on the
road is whirled up in a cloud so thick that we have to halt for a few
minutes to allow it to settle, or we might have driven into the deep
water-channels which edge each side of the road.

_Luis_ (to the Clerkly Man): "My friends want to live for a while out in
the mountains. Do you by any chance know of a house?"

_The Clerkly Man_: "I am living with my family in the monastery of Fuen
Santa. There is a guest house there and habitations are to let. I will
find out all about them if you wish."

_The pale little Señor_ (who has apparently forgotten all about
Bolshevism): "There are one or two houses in my village of Verdolay. The
proprietor is a friend of mine. I will inquire for you about it."

The tartana stops.

In front of a solitary house is a small wooden frame on which a few
strips of dusty meat are hung. The driver buys some of this from the
woman who comes out of the house.

_The Driver_ (confidentially to the passengers): "Better get a bit of
meat while you have the chance."

Nobody follows his example. The carriage bumps on.

The sun is now shining through the thin dust-laden trees which edge the
road: they appear as flames of pale gold.

We mount over a bridge. A broad deep but waterless canal stretches away
to right and left.

_The little Señor_: "We are now nearing Verdolay. It is still too hot
for you to go hunting for a house. I shall be delighted if you will take
possession of my house until the sun is cooler."

_Luis_: "Señor, I thank you very much, but we cannot do it."

_The little Señor_: "I insist--you will come?"

_Luis_: "Thank you very much."

This is Spanish courtesy. A single invitation is for politeness only,
like the last piece of bread and butter left for Miss Manners. A second
invitation means that it is really offered.

We pass a group of houses the colour of baked bread; the most
arid-looking spot we have seen as yet. The gardens come to an abrupt
end. The road rises slightly, and grey-green olive foliage over gnarled
trunks throw a thin lacework of shadow on the dry earth.

The tartana stops.

We all get out.

The clerkly man goes east; the priest south; we, led by the pale Señor,
west.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were at the entrance of a village. It spread over a mound at the foot
of the higher hills. It was like a pyramid with toy houses coloured
yellow, orange, green and grey upon the ledges, and all around trees
like those from a child's play box. The village was fronted by a line of
houses painted a deep crimson-vermilion. An iron windmill for pumping
water was placed on the extreme point of the mound.

The little Señor showed us through the village to his house and left us
in the entrada, while he went to get beer. The room was decorated with
wooden "art-nouveau" chairs, oleographs and an extremely bad oil
painting of a bull with banderillas shedding much blood. On a cane table
was a gramophone.

The little Señor had shut a door made on the system of a Venetian blind
to keep out the sun, and presently the lattice-work was crowded with
children trying to peer in at us.

The Señor returned preceded by a large English setter. He drew the corks
of the beer and asked us to make ourselves at home.

"The house and all that is in it is at your service," he said in the
phrase of Spanish courtesy.

I was patting the dog.

"That dog," said the little Señor, "is a very valuable dog. It is unique
in the province and possibly is unique in the south of Spain. It has a
romantic history. It is bred by the monks in high Switzerland, and when
the snow is deep on the mountains it goes out to hunt for lost
travellers. It is the only specimen of a San Bernar' in the south of
Spain."

We looked at the setter; and drank some more beer.

"That bull," went on the Señor, pointing to the picture, "was painted by
one of the best bull painters in Spain."

We looked at the picture and again took refuge in beer. Luis, who did
not know about setters, but did know about pictures, drank in sympathy.

The Señor wound up his gramophone.

"Do you know 'Frou-Frou'?" he inquired.

"'Frou-Frou'?" we said.

"Yes, the French Comic Opera."

"But," said Luis, "have you not by chance a disc of Spanish music? You
see," he added as excuse, "the Señors are foreign. It interests them to
hear the national music, the Flamenco."

The little Señor pursed his lips.

"But," he said, "it is so vulgar. Nobody wants to hear that."

He possessed, however, a disc or two which he turned on, to our delight.
But before we left him he insisted that we should sit through his
favourite "Frou-Frou."

We went away. The strains of "Frou-Frou" which the little Señor had
turned on once more followed us on the still air. The setter-St. Bernard
walked with us to the beginning of the hill, from whence he turned
sedately homewards.

We strode upwards--past cottages of all colours, past a large rambling
monastery, which, perched on the far side of the Verdolay hill, very
cubic in shape, is as romantic as it is possible for a building to be;
past a watercourse, above which were dwellings hollowed out of the soft
rock of the mountain-side, cave dwellings, and out on to the side of
the mountains lying between Murcia and Carthagena. From here we could
appreciate the width, flatness and verdure of the Murcian valley in the
midst of which was the town, the campanile of the cathedral soaring into
the air.

Here we had our first experience of a Spanish country walk. We were all
wearing alpagatas, the canvas sides of which are not exceedingly thick.
The dried herbage of the hills was intermingled with all manner of
prickly weeds. The vegetation protects itself in this way from being
eaten by anything less leather-tongued than a goat. The results are
uncomfortable for the walker. The little hairlike spines pierce the
shoes and break off, remaining as a continual irritant until the shoe is
removed. Even then the spines, almost microscopic in size and almost
flesh colour, are often difficult to find. The same uncomfortable fate
is in wait for the unwary stranger who sits down without having
carefully explored the place where he is going to seat himself. Indeed
the fate is worse, because the thorns thus encountered cannot with
decency be extracted in a public place and the victim is condemned to a
lot similar to that of the naughty schoolboy.

The sun poured the full of its summer power on to the hill-side, which
reflected both heat and light with overpowering intensity. Though it was
almost four o'clock in the afternoon we felt that our salamandrine
limits were being put to a test. A broad white road, mounting up the
hill, crossed our path and we turned into it.

"We are going to the monastery of La Luz," said Luis. "I have heard that
they sometimes take visitors for short periods. It would be interesting
for you to spend a fortnight in a monastery."

[Illustration]

The road climbed up beneath high black cliffs. The other side of the
valley was coloured orange and red upon which the sun was shining with
all its force. The side of the hill was dotted with aloes, some having
upright flower stems fifteen feet high in the air, around the flowers
of which the bees were swarming in harmonious halos. A stately stone
pine overshadowed a medley of old buildings which sprang from the top
of a precipice out of which sprouted the weird branches of the prickly
pear cactus. The road circled round the foot of this cliff, and still
mounted till, making a full semicircle, it brought us on to a platform.
On one side of the flat space was an open cistern into which led a pipe.
From the pipe a deliberate trickle of water fell. Two women and two men
sat about this pipe slowly filling their amphoras of Grecian form,
while donkeys waited patiently in the background bearing panniers for
the water-vessels on their backs. On the other side of the platform the
monastery showed a high wall with a large gate leading into a courtyard
from which arose the face of the church, painted a Cambridge blue.

We could find no bell. The water-carriers shouted instructions to us.
The bell clanged with an empty sound, as though echoing through miles of
untenanted corridors. We rang again. No response. We rang three or four
times before we heard the sound of shuffling steps. A peep-hole, shaped
like a cross, opened and an eye examined us. The door swung slowly open,
revealing a small obsequious man dressed in peasant costume. Through
passages we came into a cloister which was built around a small
courtyard full of flowers. In the middle of the courtyard was a high
statue of the Virgin. It was framed and almost hidden by a creeper which
offered to it a tribute of gorgeous purple bell-shaped flowers. At the
foot of the figure was stretched a large cat. A strange thought came to
me that the cat did not bother itself about the Virgin other than as
something which threw a grateful shadow.

The apologetic little peasant monk, who had let us in was evidently an
underling. He murmured something about Brother Juan and went away.

Brother Juan came groaning along the corridor with rheumatic steps. He
had a tiny head and large-framed body; dressed in peasant's clothes,
white shirt, black cummerbund, short knee trousers, long white drawers
to the ankle and sandals on bare feet. He was rather like a dear old
gardener who has been in the family for years, and who has supported the
teasings of generations of children. Age and a sweet nature had carved
his face with horizontal wrinkles of kindliness; rheumatism and pain had
crossed these with downward seams of depression.

Luis introduced the object of our visit. Brother Juan doubtingly shook
his head. They did have visitors, yes, but those were always well-known
to the monastery. Introductions would be necessary. But, in any
circumstance, the Father Superior was in Murcia at the moment, and
nothing could be done without him.

I, made conceited by the praise of the clerkly man in the carriage, then
tried to charm Brother Juan by a series of apposite remarks in my most
careful Spanish.

Brother Juan scratched his head.

"Doubtless, what the Señora says is very interesting." He raised his
hands and eyes in pantomimed dismay. "But, oh, these languages! I can't
understand a word!"

Brother Juan, groaning with rheumatism, led us to the gate. By some
means an old woman dressed in black had joined us. As Juan was taking
his leave of us his eyes suddenly lit up with a merry twinkle.

"If you will excuse me," he said to Luis, "it would be better, when you
see the Father Superior, if the woman would dress rather less
indecently. You see, we are monks and are not used to it."

We went down the hill accompanied by the old woman in black, who was
chuckling at Brother Juan's last remark.

"If only the woman would ... he ... he ... we are monks and aren't used
to it ... ho ... ho."

I was surprised. It had not seemed to me that I was indecent. I was
wearing an ordinary English midsummer walking dress. Luis said:

"I think it was the opening at your neck that worried him. You see we
haven't really taken up the open neck in Murcia as yet."

Directed by the old woman, we scrambled down steep paths to the bottom
of the orange-coloured ravine, and up the other side past the aloes; we
went through an olive grove, and again up a steep zigzag road to the
second monastery. Here lived the clerkly man, but we did not know his
name. This monastery began with a terra-cotta-coloured Gothic church
with three tall towers and a cupola of blue glazed tiles, and rambled on
up the ridge of a long hill to end in a tall building which looked like
an overgrown Turkish bath. A grey building with a huge entrance door was
pointed out as the _pension_ of the monastery. We wandered into a large
courtyard and to us came a fat priest wearing a biretta. He was
courteous but firm.

"We have no room," he said.

But we remembered that the clerkly one had said that there was room. I
suppose again my dress was the real objection.

We went back towards the village of the little Señor. On our way we
again crossed the dusty road which led to La Luz. A carriage was driving
along it. In the carriage were two priests. Luis said:

"There probably goes the Father Superior. Shall we ask him now?"

After a moment's hesitation we turned and strode up the hill. We had to
walk fast to catch the carriage, but at last the driver, perceiving that
we were following him, halted.

"No," said one of the priests, "we are not the Superior of La Luz.
Indeed, at this moment he is behind you. There."

He pointed out an old man in the costume of a peasant, who, bent with
age, was toiling up the hill aided by his staff. The Father Superior was
still some distance away. Hastily, with a brooch, we pinned my blouse up
close around my throat.

The Father Superior had the face of one designed to be an ascetic, but
his expression was inscrutable. He was very suave. He felt honoured, he
said, by the request of the Señors, but there was no room. Now Brother
Juan had said that there was room.

Luis tried to urge the matter: he instanced our Red Cross work in
Serbia. The Father Superior said it was very praiseworthy of us, but
... and bowing unfelt regrets he left us.

We went back to our little Señor.

He found for us a woman with the usual pound's weight of keys and
conducted us to two bright red houses. Both were one story in height,
but one was for three months' tenancy only. We decided to take the
other. It was occupied to its limits by a Spanish family, so we took but
the most cursory of glances into it. Then, our business settled, we said
au revoir to the little Señor, who in Spanish fashion offered us his
services whenever they should be needed.

We walked down a road and, in a short while, came to the village of
Alverca. This was the first typical Spanish village we had passed
through. It was long, stretched on the edge between the bare mountain
and the fertile valley. The houses were low, one-storied for the most
part, and the dust was all-prevalent. In the dusty street boys were
playing football, which in Spain seems to be a summer game. In the
middle of the village was a shop, which advertised itself as a Tobacco
Agency, for tobacco is a Spanish government monopoly and can be sold
only in licensed places. We went in to get a drink and to ask if by
chance they had some tobacco, for all the while we were in Spain there
was a famine of tobacco.

The inside of the shop was a curious mixture of the modern and of the
very ancient. At one end of the counter was a modern brass beer machine,
with carbonic acid gas cylinder--which gives to the tepid beer an extra
fizz--pressure gauge and lead-lined sink. At the other end of the shop
were huge jars four feet high, and nine or ten feet in circumference;
amphoras of pale porous unglazed pottery, direct successors of the
Grecian vase; small drinking pots of clay with short spouts for water or
of glass with long spouts for wine, the latter in shape not unlike the
brass drinking-vessels of Benares. Pendent from the ceiling hung candles
two or three feet in length, for devotional purposes, and side by side
with the candles were festooned strings of orange-coloured, highly
flavoured sausages, which appeared very ominous. Some day one felt that
one would be tempted by a Spanish friend to eat one of these sausages,
and the fear of the experiment was always within us. Wine of a deep ruby
tinged with brown filled a large glass barrel; wine which could be
bought for one halfpenny a glass.

Inside the shop, leaning against the zinc bar, were two tramps; the one
swart with three days' beard on his chin, dressed in a blue jean smock
and soiled yellow velveteen trousers; the other leaner, more pallid,
furtive: in spite of the heat of the day he was covered with a large
black cloak.

They at once offered us their glasses of wine.

"Gracias. Buen aproveche," said we in customary refusal. They offered
cigarettes to Jan and Luis. These, by courtesy, had to be accepted.

While we were drinking our tepid beer--fizzed up with the carbonic acid
gas--Jan asked for and bought a box of matches. The Spanish matches,
very bad, a government monopoly, are packed in a small cardboard box.
This box is quite difficult to open. Whichever way you push it, like the
well-known trick matchbox, the inside part seems to have two bottoms and
no opening. The impatient traveller usually tears the box to pieces
trying to get at the forty matches which are inside.

Jan asked for tobacco.

"There is not," sighed the fat woman.

Outside the shop the two tramps were waiting for us. The swart one
peered quickly from left to right.

"We have tobacco," he said in a hoarse whisper. He snapped his fingers
at his companion, who produced from beneath the cloak, furtively, a
square orange packet.

"Good tobacco from Gibraltar," growled "Swart"; "will you buy?"

"No," said Luis.

The pallid man slid the tobacco beneath the cloak again. The two
slouched off through the dust.

"That would be tobacco at each end and cabbage or other refuse in the
middle," said Luis.

We turned towards the setting sun.

Murcia has a tramway system. Blue cars run all over the town and reach
out into the country at several spots. We came to the terminus in this
direction at Palma, on the road to Carthagena. The people of the village
crowded about us in curiosity; but by this time we were becoming used to
a publicity which is, as a rule, only reserved for Royalty.

As the tram carried us home--with several halts due to failure of the
electrical supply--we noticed through an open door a delightful
interior, decorated with the huge water-jars--on a raised step--with
which beautiful specimens of old Spanish pottery were arranged.

The village of the little Señor had pleased us so much that we made
arrangements to move out there as soon as possible; for the heat of
Murcia was now unbearable and we were in consequence on the verge of
being really ill.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 11: That is truth.]



CHAPTER XIV

VERDOLAY--HOUSEKEEPING


The house in Verdolay had five large rooms, stone-floored, and was
unfurnished. We decided to borrow all our friend's kitchen furniture, to
wit, a table, three chairs, water-vessels, etc., and we bought for
ourselves a large frying-pan. But the bed was a problem. Our friend's
bed looked too good to knock about, so at last we determined on the
planks which we had already, and four packing-cases on which to lay the
planks. Antonio, always eager to help us, promised to find the
packing-cases and to make all the arrangements about a cart. At this
moment Antonio's wife Rosa was ill. He had invited us to a noble lunch,
and upon the day following he had told us that the lunch had disagreed
seriously with Rosa. She did not get better. "There is much fever with
it," said Antonio. Marciana, our charwoman, of whom we will tell more
later, was also working for Antonio, and would bring us news of Rosa's
illness, which appeared quite serious for so slight a cause.

"We must look out for tummy-troubles," said I.

It is amazing what a lot a small amount of furniture appears when one is
preparing to move. We had thought the cart much too big, but we had some
difficulty in stacking into it all our material, including the guitar,
of which the driver was told to take especial care.

We drove out to Verdolay in a tartana, passing on the road our cart of
furniture. We noted that the driver had added above our load two huge
bundles of straw colour. We wondered what they might be. We were to
discover later.

The little Señor took us to the owner of our prospective abode. His
house was full of children, and the study, where we signed a Spanish
agreement, was festooned with swords, pistols and guns, while a large
photograph of him in officer's uniform explained the meaning of this
warlike equipment. The proprietor, Don Ferdinand--a most unmilitary
looking man--received our money with aloof dignity; but said, after the
transaction was over, that if we ever needed a friend we now knew where
to look for him. Subsequently Don Ferdinand placed in the yard next to
ours a large dog, which howled all night and prevented us from sleeping,
but the friendliness which he had professed did not induce him to move
it.

The cart of furniture had not arrived by the time we were in full
possession of our new home. The front door led into a large entrada,
from which one passed into an equally spacious kitchen, and then by a
wide double door into the back yard. To the right and left of the
entrada were rooms with windows, covered with a grille, looking on to
the road. To the right of the kitchen the last room had a window looking
into the yard.

Evening had come and still the cart delayed. Antonio had given us an
introduction to a friend called "La Merchora." We found her in the
village shop which she owned. Her shop was smaller than that in Alverca,
but similar, save that she sold her beer in bottles and dispensed with
the beer machine. The same bilious-looking sausage hung in festoons from
the ceiling. She was like a fat, happy aunt to us, talked very fast, but
was very proud of being able to understand what I said. She assured us
that she would arrange things for us.

In the dusk we sat on the step of our empty house, and, illuminated by
the light of a couple of candles lent by the little Señor, we ate
provisions which we providentially had brought with us in the tartana.
The cart arrived at about eight o'clock. The two large bundles had
disappeared, but a certain amount of chopped straw scattered about
amongst the furniture showed us what they had contained. The driver
hesitated before accepting the tip which Jan offered him.

We set up the bed as best we could. We had intended to put the
packing-cases upright, but the structure seemed rather unsafe; so we
laid them flat, put two of the planks lengthways and the rest crossing.
Unfortunately two of the packing-cases were much narrower than the
others. This made the structure slope down about a foot at one end. We
did not have time or surplus energy to alter this arrangement during our
stay, with the result that in the morning we had as a rule slipped
gently down so that our feet projected some distance beyond the end of
the bed. Mosquitoes had threatened us during our meal, so that we rigged
the net at once.

We had been warned by many travellers of the verminous condition of
Spain. We had taken the chances of this house, which in truth had
appeared reasonably clean. Nevertheless we went to bed with some
anxiety. No sooner had we lain down and the candle was out, than the
trouble began. It was as though we had been invaded by a hundred
thousand bugs. We both tossed about and cursed our luck. Suddenly a
piercing and prolonged sting made me clap my hand suddenly to the spot
attacked. I had imprisoned something. I had experienced bugs in Serbia:
this did not seem like a bug, but much larger.

"Jan," I exclaimed, "I've caught something. Strike a light." The match
revealed _a short piece of chopped straw_. The carter, with his bundles
of chaff, had provided us with as uncomfortable a specimen of an
"apple-pie" bed as it has been my lot to experience. The chaff had
sifted down through everything, and had impregnated both the cover of
the mattress and the sheets with the fine spikes of straw. We spent the
better part of the night picking the tiny irritants out of our bedding.
Even the thought that the house had proved bugless was at that moment
but a poor solace. In addition to our discomforts of that night, the
house was almost unbearable from the heat. We had chosen our first
residence with some lack of experience. The house, we discovered on the
morrow, faced east and west, and not, as did the majority of the houses
in the village, north and south. In consequence of this fact we suffered
from the sun, which poured through the front door all the morning, and
through the back door all the afternoon. It was almost impossible to
open the windows on both sides, to allow a draught to pass through the
house. And for the worst house in the village we were being charged
forty pesetas a month by our _friend_, Don Ferdinand.

The discomforts of the night were added to by the cats, which chose our
back wall for the most awesome serenades we have ever heard; and also by
the plaintive baaing of a sheep tethered in an adjoining yard. We fell
into an uneasy sleep about dawn, but were soon awakened by strange
sounds which came from the kitchen. We listened, but could make nothing
of them; they were strange hollow vocal sounds as though a small carpet
was being beaten at irregular intervals. The front door was locked, the
front windows barred; what had come in must have done so by the back,
over the wall. What was it? Jan peeped through a crack of the door. On
the kitchen floor was a flock of pigeons, which had come in to search
the chaff, scattered by the previous night's unpacking, for grains of
corn.

It was now about 5.30. We decided to rest for a while, in view of the
failure of our sleep. A rousing thump, thump on the front door drew Jan
once more from bed.

At the door was a brown-faced peasant, clad in black cotton, with bare
sandalled feet. Spotted about the street were goats, their distended
udders almost trailing on the ground.

"Milk," said the peasant. "Do you want milk? La Merchora sent me."

[Illustration]

He took our milk-jug, selected a goat the udder of which seemed
stretched almost to bursting, and milked the animal directly into the
jug. He handed the jug of milk, hot and frothy, with a flourish.

"Three fat dogs and a little bitch," said he.

In such a hot country the milk keeps better inside the animal than
outside. Milk shops in Spain therefore are usually quadruped, and there
is never a question of inspector or of adulteration.

We made up our minds to get up. We did not know what other venders La
Merchora had prepared for us.

We had scarcely finished our breakfast of tea, bread and chocolate, when
another thump, thump on the door announced the arrival of another
ascetically faced peasant, tall, clad in blue. With him was a pretty
girl of about fifteen and a dusty, tilted donkey-cart.

"Vegetables and fruit," said the girl.

The man, having firmly fixed in his head that we knew no Spanish,
grunted and made noises, strange though cheery, in his throat. The
inside of the cart was piled with all manner of excellent
things--tomatoes, green and yellow melons, berenginas, peaches, plums,
pears, red peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, huge purple onions, and lemons.

We bought many things. The system of weights and measures is supposed to
be that of the kilogramme, as it is in France, but the methods by which
these weights are translated into practice in Spain is delightful.
Evidently there is no inspection of weights and measures. One of the
weights used by the tall man was a small axe-head, another was a lump of
rock.

After the donkey-cart, a man stumpy enough to be almost a dwarf rode up
to our steps. He was grim-visaged and paunchy; and said in a sour voice
that he would fetch us water if we so wished. The price was one peseta a
donkey-load, a donkey-load of water being four full Grecian vases
(called cantaros) which were carried in panniers, on the top of which
the old man sat and looked grumpily at the world, while the water
gurgled and clucked cheerfully beneath him.

Then came a witch-faced woman with a disagreeable voice. She carried a
huge basket and said she was the shopping woman of Verdolay. Verdolay
had no market, nor could one buy there anything other than the few
immediate necessities which La Merchora sold. This woman was equivalent
to our country carriers. She walked to Murcia every day and returned
with laden basket through the heated dust. For this work she demanded a
small percentage upon the value of her purchases; probably she also
extracted a small commission from the shops in which she dealt. We did
not employ her much, as her temperament was not agreeable to us.

[Illustration]

Last of all came a little old woman--with a face seamed like a kindly
walnut--dragging an old grey donkey. On the donkey's back was a pair of
time-worn panniers from which bulged a medley of fruit and vegetables.
She was the donkey-cart's rival. I had forgotten to buy onions.

During our trip we had been bothered by the fact that at moments our
uncertain Spanish would be displaced by the language we had last
learned, Serbian. Instead of the Spanish sentence, quite against our
wills Serbian would speak itself. This phenomenon is quite common, I
believe, to those who learn several languages more or less imperfectly.

I now asked the old woman in unwished-for Serbian for onions. She struck
an attitude of theatrical dismay.

"Señora," she exclaimed, "que es eso?"[12]

I repeated my desire, and again Serbian came out. The old lady shook her
head, and seemed frightened. I got a strong hold over my tongue, and
said slowly in Spanish:

"Tiene cebollas?"[13]

The old lady's face broke into a hundred wrinkles of delight.

"Ahe, Señora," she cried, "if you say 'cebollas,' I can understand that
you want cebollas. But if you say something different from 'cebollas,'
how can I know that you need cebollas?"

We walked round the corner to La Merchora's to discover what could, and
what could not, be bought at first hand. La Merchora could supply us
with olive oil, but not with vinegar. She sold beer, wine, lemonade and
soda-water in siphons; dried sardines, very smelly; orange-coloured
sausages; bread at a peseta the kilo; Dutch cheese, red pepper,
chocolate and eggs. The last-named item on the list she said was scarce
and variable in quality. I then asked her if it would be possible to
find a maid in the village. The little Señor had said that servants were
as plentiful as flies in June, but La Merchora said that they were as
scarce as were the eggs. All the girls went off to Murcia, she said.
There were several women in the little shop and a discussion began; they
reviewed a list of the likely girls. A young woman came in, and said at
once that her sister was out of a job. She would send her along. La
Merchora was reluctant to tell us the correct price to pay. I suppose
she thought that she might be spoiling a beautiful piece of bargaining.
Upon pressure, however, she admitted that the local price was about ten
pesetas a month, this to include all the washing of linen, both house
and personal.

We bought some of La Merchora's chocolate. She asked us if we would have
Spanish or French flavouring. We naturally chose the Spanish variety. It
was very cheap. It had a dusty consistency in the mouth, and tasted of
chocolate not at all, but strongly of cinnamon. It was eatable, but not
exciting; we consoled ourselves with the reflection that it was
nourishing without temptations towards greediness and ate no other
chocolate during our stay in Verdolay. Behind her shop La Merchora had a
large yard, with outside stove for cooking. In the yard was a flock of
turkeys and several pigs. A black and white terrier pup was having a
game with the pigs, running about and pulling their tails with his sharp
teeth.

Our house had inconveniences. There was, as far as we could see, no
place to put household refuse, nor any means in the village of
collecting it. The windows on the road commanded a view almost of the
whole house, and if we left them open at once the curious were at the
grilles, staring through at us. As we could not open the back door or
windows during the afternoon, this meant that if we wished for privacy
we had to live in semi-gloom. Nobody in Spain, however, tries to live
other than in public; the people walked in and watched us as we were
having our meals; walked round the house examining with interest the
pictures which we hung on the walls to dry; and in time we became
case-hardened to this semi-public life.

We had a siesta during the afternoon to make up for the sleep we had
lost. At first we lay down without the mosquito-net, but the flies soon
drove us to its protection. In the evening we called on the little
Señor. He was a delicate and very likeable man, but his pretty wife
showed a strong dislike for us, for which we could find no explanation
save that perhaps she had been a pro-German during the war. We sat
uncomfortably in a mixed atmosphere of liking and hate for some while,
then, making our adieux, and followed by the setter-St. Bernard, we went
home.

I think that we first discovered the lack of privacy while we were
undressing. We had left the front windows open for air, and soon a crowd
was watching our preliminaries to sleep. Luckily we discovered it early.
Jan closed the shutters, upon which a number of boys sat down on our
doorstep and sang serenades to us for several hours.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 12: "What is that?"]

[Footnote 13: "Have you onions?"]



CHAPTER XV

VERDOLAY--SKETCHING IN SPAIN


Sketching in Spain has inconveniences. In the summer the heat makes it
imperative that the painter should be up with the dawn, for between
eleven a.m. and four p.m. the heat and the brilliance of the light
impose too great a strain on the eyes and the endurance. Under any
circumstances we were almost forced to rise with the sun, for Milk and
Vegetables both called before six.

Verdolay was an excellent spot at which to begin an acquaintance with
Spanish scenery. There was a great variety of subject matter. The
village itself was full of vividly coloured houses, and at the back was
the wonderful old monastery of Santa Catalina. In the valley less than
half a mile away were the huertas, or irrigated gardens, full of rich
green. On the sides of the mountains were the olive terraces, which
traced the architecture of the hills in a way to delight the painter's
heart. Between the olives and the garden was the dusty cart road with
its intermittent traffic, and the small dusty strung-out villages, the
houses threaded on the road like beads on a necklace, especially that
one called El Angel--though anything more arid and less angelic could
hardly be imagined. In the hills themselves were fine ravines of
strangely coloured ferruginous earths, orange, purple and blue; and the
tops of the foothills were often crested with monasteries, like that of
La Luz, which gave the scene a most romantic atmosphere. I clung more or
less to the village, Jan wandered about the surrounding country or sat
in the insufficient shadow of the olive trees near El Angel.

[Illustration]

The first real inconvenience which we noted was that seldom did the best
view possess a suitable piece of shade from which to paint it. Thus the
artist's task was doubled; one had to find coincident scene and shadow.
The apparently aimless wander of the artist looking for a subject
usually excited the curiosity of the passers-by, so that either one was
irritated by a series of remarks or became possessed of a small
following of the curious. I use a square hole cut in a piece of
cardboard in order to test the view and judge whether it would frame as
satisfactorily as it promised to do. Whenever I placed this square to my
eye one of my followers bobbed up his head and stared back at me
through the hole, trying to fathom the mystery of my act. Once I had
begun work I would become the centre of an excited conversation.

[Illustration]

The first strokes of the brush aroused merriment. But often some
onlooker astonished me by perceiving the object of my sketch long before
the drawing was in any way clear. She (it was generally a she) would
then be eager to exhibit her superior knowledge to the others. She would
therefore dab her finger on to my painting to point out what she had
perceived. This nuisance I fought by covering intrusive fingers with oil
paint. By the time the overwise one had cleaned off the paint the
drawing would be far advanced enough for the others to see for
themselves what I was doing. As soon as I got well into the swing of
work questions would begin.

"Why do you do this? Is it to make picture postcards from? Why isn't
your husband with you? Are your father and mother alive? Do you like
Spanish food? Have you got any children? If you have no children, as we
have too many, would you like a baby to take away with you? Are you
doing this for the cinematograph? Do you like painting? How old are you?
Why haven't you put in So-and-so's house?" In this case the house in
question was usually behind me.

These questions were asked in Murcian Spanish not very easy to
understand with my small lack of acquaintance; and I had to take my
attention off my painting in order to find suitable Spanish answers. I
tried once not to answer, but my audience then demanded:

"Are you deaf? Can't you hear? Don't you understand what we say?"

All this was said with the most courteous of intentions, direct
questioning being permissible in Spain. Chairs were generally brought
out, one for me and others for the spectators. Nurse-maids with
half-nude babies formed a large proportion of my audiences. The Spanish
baby suffers from over nursing; it is carried remorselessly about from
six in the morning till twelve at night; it is as a rule fretful and
feverish both from the heat and from lack of sleep. Indeed Verdolay
always shrilled with wailing children.

At about nine o'clock the Spaniard takes a morning snack. This consists
of a slice of bread soaked with olive oil and a dried sardine, the smell
of which was almost paralysing. With the perfect courtesy which marked
all my peasant audiences, this would be offered to me before it was
chewed loudly in my ear. When the heat was very great I would abandon my
sketch as soon as the sardine stage arrived.

I was continually pestered by polite requests that So-and-so should be
painted in. This often led to a lecture on composition and on the
introduction of figures. If I did, however, paint in anybody the
enthusiasm was enormous. People would run down the road shouting in at
every cottage door:

"She has painted Enrico" (or Miguel or Maria) "into her picture."

Once while near the water-fountain I painted in the donkey of a
water-carrier. For days afterwards Paco, the donkey-boy, grasped the
passers-by and exclaimed with tears of joy in his voice:

"Ha pintado mi burro, _mi_ burro."[14]

The water-fountain was one of the gathering places of the village. It
was the end of a small iron pipe which writhed down from the hills.

There were generally three or four donkey-boys with cantaros, and a
crowd of women with amphoras waiting their turns to wedge their pots
beneath the small trickle which ran from the nozzle of the pipe. Old
Grumpy spent the best part of his day there, sitting with sour face in
the shadow of a small tree--his chief work was either waiting his turn
or leaving his pots to fill themselves. A tall bank of prickly pear
cactus made a background to the gay scene. Women came from dawn until
midnight, and even from the villages of the valley, for water was very
scarce and most of the water in the valley wells unfit for drinking.
With their heavy cantaros balanced on a projecting hip, these women
walked two miles or more beneath the sweltering sun; and they asked me
if I _liked_ painting.

Sometimes the ladies of the village stopped and made suitable remarks.
One, a summer visitor, told me that she knew a very good painter--"very
good indeed," she said with a gentle emphasis which revealed what she
thought of my work. "Why, he painted things five times as big as these
which you do."

As the sketch progressed my audiences were very eager to point out to me
anything which I seemed to have forgotten. At this moment somebody
always said that Uncle Pepe's or Aunt Conchas' house wasn't in the
sketch. These houses were invariably out of sight or behind my back. The
Spaniards had futuristic instincts. But once they knew me, my friends
would not have me criticized. One passer-by made some disparaging
remark about the painting.

[Illustration]

"We won't have our Doña abused," said the nurse-maids. "She is very
clever. She knows lots more than you do; and plays the piano as well."

Sometimes I accompanied Jan out into the country, in the direction of La
Luz or down into the huertas.

One day we were near La Luz and my interest was captured by a lemon and
vine garden which was cultivated on terraces down the side of a baking
ravine. The farmer's house with a red roof topped the hill. I sat down
to paint. Presently the farmer with his wife and family clambered down
into the ravine and climbed up the side to where I was sitting. Each
time I returned the family came back and in awed silence watched the
progress of the sketch.

It happened that the water of Verdolay was not very nice for drinking
purposes, being full of minerals and salts, while that of La Luz was
delicious. A poor woman, who did charing jobs for the farmer
above-mentioned, was delighted to be allowed to carry us heavy cantaros
full of La Luz water, a mile and a half, for the pay of fivepence a
cantaro. One day after the sketch was finished she came in with a look
of importance on her face.

"My Señora," she said, "is enamoured of the little painting which you
have done of her house and farm. She wishes to buy the sketch."

I had had some experience of Spanish prices, so I said:

"These paintings are made to exhibit in England. It is of no use to tell
you the price, because English prices and Spanish prices are different."

"But, Señora," said the woman, "my masters are very rich, excessively
rich. They will pay any price that you like to ask."

But I suspected her protestations. The sketch was one of the best I had
done in Spain. I was not very eager to part with it. But owing to her
entreaties, against my better judgment, fixing a low price because of
Spain, I said at last:

"Two hundred pesetas."[15]

Her mouth dropped open. For a moment she remained speechless with
amazement. Then hastily crossing herself she gasped out:

"Madre Maria Sanctissima!"

Being a woman I was often asked to paint female portraits, but
suspecting the monetary value which the people would put on paintings I
refused. Jan overheard a red-faced, wealthy looking farmer discussing
with his father on our doorstep the question of how much I was likely to
ask for a portrait of the farmer's daughter.

_Red Face_: "I think we might offer her ten pesetas."[16]

_The Grandfather_: "Well, she is foreign, she might demand fifteen."

_Red Face_: "Even if she wishes twenty we might yet consider it; or
perhaps twenty-five; but then we would have to think it carefully over."

Occasionally we would be asked into houses to examine pictures which the
peasants believed to have value. In one house, a room was set aside as a
small private chapel; it was full of painted plaster images covered with
false jewels and tinsel; on the walls were oleograph reproductions of
the Virgin by Spanish Old Masters, but one painting of the Murillo
School probably had a real value. In another house we found a picture of
Napoleon before which the inhabitants were burning a candle under the
impression that the print represented an unidentified Saint. Maybe
stranger personalities have been canonized before now.

Jan escaped from intimate touch with the people by making for the open
country. He thus had fewer adventures than did I. Often, however,
peasants spied him from the distance of a mile, and came to see what he
was doing.

Once, when he had been painting on the cart-road near El Angel and had
put a cart into his painting, a small boy followed him all the way home,
shouting out to every one that he passed:

"That is a painter! He painted a cart and horse; just as it went along;
all in a flash!"

We used to pin up our sketches on the wall of the house; because, as we
intended to travel, we wished the sketches to become as dry as we could
make them. This used to attract numbers of people, and usually the
grilled window of our front room was occupied by a crowd of faces
peering into the house. The fame of our picture exhibition spread over
the country-side. People came from some distance to see the pictures;
and if the front door was unlocked walked in, saluted us, and proceeded
to go the round of the walls. At first we found this disconcerting, but
with use much of our needless self-consciousness and desire for
unessential privacy began to wear off.

As we left our front window open during the night for air, we were many
times awakened by the voices of the picture-gazers who gathered at our
window as soon as the day broke.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 14: "She has painted my donkey, _my_ donkey."]

[Footnote 15: £8.]

[Footnote 16: 8_s._ 4_d._]



CHAPTER XVI

VERDOLAY--CONENI


The peasant who came every morning with his daughter and donkey-cart
full of vegetables and fruit at the dawn was rather like a genial bird
of prey in features. This type is typically Spanish. There was something
of the condor about him, though one can scarcely picture a condor with
his welcoming smile or his kindly nature. He began with a fixed idea of
our practical dumbness and deafness to the Spanish language. He was, we
learned later, an exquisite dancer. We have heard tell of a well-known
musician who has a dance for making the household beds, and another for
digging potatoes, and so on, trying to bring æsthetics into the
commonplaces of life. Coneni, for such was the peasant's name, tried to
dance for us the fact that tomatoes were a halfpenny a pound or that a
melon was sixpence. His pretty, demure daughter resorted to more
practical measures, held up fruit as samples and condescended to
calculate in pesetas and centimos instead of in "royals" and "little
bitches."

But the manners both of Coneni and of his daughter were impeccable. I
think that they overcharged us slightly, but that was the Spanish
tradition. Certainly they did not overcharge us as much as they would
have done had they not liked us, and later on they quieted their
consciences by making us presents.

Coneni was one of the first of our picture admirers, but he had
pre-Raphaelite tendencies, and always said that he supposed they would
be better when we painted them out properly. He became eager that we
should sketch in his market garden, and gave us elaborate topographical
directions. So one day, shouldering our sketch-boxes, off we set.

[Illustration]

We passed through El Angel on to the Murcia road. We then asked a group
of men, who were winnowing corn on a flat biblical threshing floor of
beaten mud, which was the direction. Unfortunately we had got rather
mixed in the name. The peasant had not spoken his name very clearly and
we had confused it with conecho.[17] The winnowers said that they could
not understand us very clearly, but that it was probably further along,
and they wished us to "go with God." Further along the road we, having
found in the dictionary what conecho really means, tried the other name.


The use of this brought us into a narrow side-path between rows of
mulberry trees and deep watercourses. It took a sudden turn to the left,
and on the path we saw Coneni, tall and lank, waving welcoming arms at
us.

The place was embowered in trees: lemon, fig, pear, plum, apple, quince
and pomegranate flourished luxuriantly in the irrigated soil. The
huertas of the Murcian plain were not separated, one from another, by
hedges, and it was difficult to know how large was Coneni's garden. In
one corner, beneath the shelter of overhanging fruit-trees, was a hut
made of stiff bamboo-like reeds, the roof daubed with mud against the
rain. From the front of this hut projected a long awning of reeds,
beneath which the Coneni family was awaiting us. Mrs. Coneni was plump,
motherly, and had a genial nature covering an inflexible will. She also
had perfect manners, was full of courtliness and kindness, and was
delighted to see us. She showed her naïve pleasure by touching me
whenever she was able to do so without rudeness. Our broken Spanish
aroused her sense of wonder. Coneni, for the first time in his life,
made up his mind to understand us. He stopped his habitual pre-breakfast
pantomime and swaggered about, saying:

"But I understand all they say. Yes, I do."

He disappeared into the square small hut and came out again carrying an
enormous green water-melon called locally a sandia. He tapped it with a
knuckle and, from the sound that it made, decided that it was ripe. He
then cut off top and bottom with a small hatchet and divided it into
huge slices. While we were eating the luscious pink fruit neighbours
began to saunter up. They stood in a circle around us. Coneni, with the
air of a showman, said:

"Now I will show you something. She smokes; it is true. I have seen her
myself."

He made me a cigarette. The men were delighted and Mrs. Coneni was
amazed. Coneni stood behind me with a lean hand on his hip, as if to
say: "Alone I did it."

Beneath the reed shelter some of the children were lying asleep, and the
youngest of all, a baby, was sitting by itself in a corner, stark naked,
playing with a large lemon. The exquisite colour contrast between the
transparency of skin of the sunburnt child and the hard yellow
brilliance of the lemon filled me with a wild desire to paint it.
Indeed, one does not come to appreciate the full beauty of the nude
until one has seen it in a country where it is natural. In Spain the
children, usually half nude, sprawled about in the heat in the most
graceful of relaxed poses, sometimes lying half asleep across their
mothers' laps, and a continual impulse was driving me to make studies of
them. But the task is almost impossible. The fact of being sketched is
too unusual. The people, naturally unselfconscious, at once become stiff
and formal.

Within Coneni's hut was no furniture other than a four-post bed which
almost filled the floor space. Here slept Coneni and his wife, and the
space beneath the bed was used as a storehouse for melons. The children,
three girls and four boys, all slept on the ground in the open beneath
the shelter. But Mrs. Coneni explained to me with some care that the
poverty was only apparent; that this was but their summer residence. For
the winter they had a fine house in Alverca.

We did not have any very keen impulse to paint--it had become for that
afternoon rather too much of a ceremony, like the old State painter
_performing_ before the Court--but to save our faces we had to do
something, so Jan painted a portrait of a calf, while I selected a lemon
tree. Before I had half finished, the interior of the tree was swarming
with Coneni's children, hoping that they would be included. By my side
sat Coneni's little girl nursing a bantam, like a doll, assuring it that
mother wouldn't love it if it were not more quiet.

"And the Señor plays the guitar," exclaimed Coneni. "He is affectionate
to music."

We discussed Spanish music and dancing. Coneni, bursting with
hospitality, said:

"Come again next Sunday. I will invite the young men and the girls and
we will have a party. There are guitar and lute players at Alverca. They
will all come."

Antonio's brother-in-law, Thomas, had spoken of the gay times when there
is a party in the huertas; we accepted eagerly.

We went home laden with presents of fruit which Coneni had pressed upon
us. Especially was our greed delighted with a large basket of figs. We
had been asking the Conenis to bring us some figs for some days, but
they had said:

"We can't bring you figs. Nobody sells figs here. We give them to the
pigs."

So that evening we rivalled the pigs

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 17: Rabbit.]



CHAPTER XVII

VERDOLAY--THE INHABITANTS


The little village of Verdolay was not a characteristic Spanish village,
it was a watering-place. One came into it along the dusty road between
banks on which grew the spiky aloe shrubs, behind which spread the
spaced olive groves with trees drawn up into demure lines, amongst the
grey foliage of which could be seen the red painted corrugated roofs of
the French Silk Company. The village scrambled up a terraced hill. The
lower edge was a line of orange-vermilion one-storied houses faced with
a small promenade. Then the houses scattered. To the right as one faced
the hill were the baths, a collection of bulky, ramshackle buildings
which hid deep, cool courtyards, and from which came the plash of water
and the sound of young voices. The hill-side was covered with terraced
gardens in which were set houses painted yellow, green, blue or pink.
The apex of the hill was decorated by an iron windwheel for pumping. A
ridge joined the crest of the hill to the mountains, and here perched
the ancient monastery of Santa Catalina; while a mile away to the right,
showing white amongst a green bed of palms and firs, was the country
seat of the Count of El Valle, and to the left amongst groves of oranges
was the villa of an ex-Prime Minister.

One had almost a specimen of Spain in little in this one village. The
vermilion houses, called the Malecon, sheltered a transitory population;
visitors to the baths, who like ourselves arrived in carts with
furniture, and after a few months disappeared back to town duties. These
were usually of the superior artisan or small shopkeeping class. The
second row of houses contained persons such as Don Ferdinand, the little
Señor or the people who kept the baths. These represented the larger
tradesmen and in general lived all the year in Verdolay, travelling to
Murcia by tartana or by tram via Palmar. The two roads which swept up
each side of the hill were edged with small cottages where the real
peasantry lived, and the houses which stood amongst gardens on the hill
terraces, each owning its proper entrance, were the residences of the
merchantry. The Count of El Valle represented the county aristocracy and
the ex-Prime Minister the Court.

[Illustration]

In spite of a somewhat evil local reputation, the peasantry could be
counted as a quiet, hard-working, rather unintelligent, good-natured
community which leaned vaguely, on the male side, to liberalism and
atheism, but lacking the courage or determination to make either
effective. It cursed the Court and told dirty stories about the
priesthood, but all exasperation evaporated in words. This peasantry is
the foundation on which the whole of this plutocratical hill of Verdolay
rests; and it labours as severely as any other peasantry, perhaps even
working harder because of the lack of water, which adds a need to be
satisfied before work is over. The average traveller has the idea that
the Spaniard is lazy. We are not sure that this is a correct estimate of
him. We English have made a god of "Work." But indeed unnecessary work
is mere foolishness. The great blessing to be sought for is leisure.
Human advance comes from the reflections of leisure rather than from the
activities of work. The Spaniard recognizes leisure as the benefit which
it is. He has no false ideas about work. Adam bit the apple, and we pay
his debts, but why load ourselves with compound interest at many
hundreds per cent.? That is the Spaniard's point of view. He works when
he must work. He rises with the dawn or before it, say four a.m., he
works till eleven o'clock, then in the afternoon resumes toil from 3.30
till 6.30. The late-rising traveller who mouches about in his English
custom during the hottest hours of the day sees the Spanish labourer at
his siesta, snoozing by the roadside, or thrumming his guitar to a herd
of sleepy goats. He draws a natural, though incorrect, conclusion.

The Spaniard may be dilatory. He puts off doing to-day what he can do
to-morrow, but it is from an exaggerated respect for the benefits of
leisure. His handicap is that he has no proper means of filling that
leisure, his apparent laziness comes from lack of education. About
eighty per cent. cannot read, schooling is not enforced, and children
begin work at ten years of age or thereabouts. But do not lay up the
Spaniard's desire for inactivity as a crime; it is a virtue ill
employed.

Our particular specimen of the Spanish peasant was my female servant,
named Encarnacion. She was thirteen years old, could neither read nor
write, and worked like a small mule for the not extravagant wage of
eleven shillings and sixpence a month. She only worked half the day, it
is true, but we did not give her food. We indeed overpaid her, for the
regular wage of her kind was about eight shillings and fourpence a
month. She had a small, stumpy child's body, sprouting into a long neck,
at the top of which was a rounded head. Her forehead was intellectual,
her features flattened, and her hair, done up tight into a small ball,
was usually decorated with a flower or a green leaf.

At first, like all Spanish peasants, she made up her mind that she could
not understand what I said, but gradually learned that she had to do so,
and in general succeeded pretty well. But it was to her a tremendous
intellectual effort. She would wrinkle her noble-looking brow with the
strain, and was never satisfied until she had translated my orders into
her own patois for clarity. But she would not allow her fundamental
ideas of what was proper to be influenced by my foreign notions.
Sometimes she would interrupt me.

"No, Señora," she would say, "I do not like it done thus. That is not
the custom. It must be done so."

If one insisted upon one's own way, the work was ill done. So that, as a
rule, to save trouble, one allowed her to do as she wished. Encarnacion
worked all the morning, singing an interminable Spanish song, which
struck our ears queerly and pleasantly at the beginning, but of which in
the end we grew very tired. By eleven o'clock she would have done all
the housework, the shopping and the cooking, and would leave the stone
floors soaked in water, the evaporation of which did a little to
counteract the intense heat. She had a habit which we did not like of
scattering our household refuse all over the small square yard. It
looked dirty and untidy, but we found out that she knew better than we
did. The vagrant cats soon cleared up any remains of meat, while the
hot sun dried up all the other refuse, which could then be thrown away
conveniently.

Encarnacion was sad that she could neither read nor write, and was
proudly jealous of her younger sister, who, working in the milk factory,
was being taught to spell.

She of course acquired a proprietary right in us. She upheld the honour
of the house, and gave a lesson in manners to a gipsy girl from the cave
dwellings who had once thrown a stone at me. She also criticized our
work. To the almost daily parties of strangers who walked into our house
whenever the door was left unlocked, she acted as guide to our pictures
drying on the walls, and she would explain to whom each house in the
sketches belonged.

But she never said "Thank you."

There are considerable differences between Spanish customs and those of
ordinary Europe, and these are apt to disconcert the traveller. Here are
a few Spanish ones that we noted _en passant_.

You may walk into any house or garden if moved to do so by curiosity if
you, previous to entering, utter the magic formula: "Se pueda
entrar?"[18]

You may stare as much as you like at anything or anybody, for staring is
in reality a compliment.

Self-consciousness is a silly vanity.

If you feel friendly towards an acquaintance you may call on him at nine
in the morning and you may repeat your call three or four times during
the same day. (What the man does to get rid of you we have not yet
discovered. We have only been the victims, not the visitors.)

You must refuse everything that is suddenly offered to you, except
cigarettes or sweets offered in the fingers. Do not accept other things
until the third offer. But to refuse sweets or cigarettes is almost
insulting.

You must offer to give any object to anybody who admires it (especially
objects of jewellery or babies).

You may ask any questions you like, even upon the most intimate of
subjects; and you must expect to be asked similar questions.

If invited to a meal, you may refuse no dish that is served to you, even
though indigestion is clutching at your vitals, or repletion stopping
your throat.

For a specimen of the small tradesman class of the malecon we had La
Merchora. She kept the village shop, the last house on the terrace, and
was in some way a relative of Antonio. Her home was planned like ours
was, and one of the rooms beside the entrada had been filled with a
counter, some shelves, and a large tin of paraffin oil; ginger-coloured
sausages were festooned from the roof and the shop was complete. She was
unmarried, and therefore, from a theoretical point of view, negligible;
but it did not disturb her. Indeed, little did disturb her. She had the
figure which grows out of a combination of good living, no thinking and
reasonable working. In any village you will find an example of her kind.
She is good-natured but respected. Liberties are not taken with her, and
in Cornwall she is called Aunt So-and-so. La Merchora was not even
black-visaged, there was in fact nothing that one can count for Spanish
about her.

She had two epithets--atrocidad and barbaridad--but she said them with
so jovial an aspect that atrocity or barbarity faded into the gentlest
of denunciations. When our first servant, Encarnacion's elder sister,
deserted us without warning for a better job, La Merchora said it was an
atrocidad; when the water-carrier overcharged us she said it was
barbaridad. When the Count El Valle's watchman chased us off some square
miles of unfenced unproductive mountain she said it was atrocidad; when
the weather was hot she said it was barbaridad.

Every evening after supper there was a gathering outside La Merchora's
shop. La Merchora, Uncle Pepe, her father, the niece, the gaunt woman
from next door, her baby, half naked but with a flower in its hair,
women coming through the night to fetch water (an interminable task),
carters returning from work and others, would gather on chairs, benches,
or on the stone wall of the malecon; and beneath the faint glow of the
electric light would gently talk of things, while the niece was catching
the foolish cicadas or crickets (attracted by the light) with which to
amuse the baby and with which to awaken in the child some primary
instinct of cruelty to animals.

Uncle Pepe was La Merchora's father. He was a withered brown peasant
baked by the sun to the colour of a pot. Wrinkles of careful economy and
of good humour were as indelibly roasted into him as the pattern on a
Roman dish. In recognition of La Merchora's accumulated kindnesses I
painted his portrait on a small panel for her. She pondered some while
on the problem of a suitable recompense, and at last gave us an antique
Sevillian basin decorated with a primitive painting of a yellow and
green cat. It was an old and valuable piece of earthenware used for
washing the linen, and had probably been employed to wash Uncle Pepe's
shifts and himself as well when he was a baby. These basins, two feet in
diameter, are used as decorative and practical adjuncts to the huge red
earthenware pots in which the villagers of the Murcian valley store the
household water. We protested against the generosity of this gift, but
in vain. One day, while we were out, she had it carried to our house,
and would on no account receive it back.

Pepe and La Merchora illustrate the rapid evolution of the modern
Spanish gentleman. Antonio is the third stage in the development. The
little Señor is the fourth. Pepe is an unlettered peasant, knowing
nothing but the labour of the soil but possessing the traditional
culture of Spain. By the time one has reached the little Señor and the
people of the Baths, one has arrived at letters but one has lost much
of the culture. Pepe's wisdom is the common sense of centuries stored up
in proverbs; he has one to fit every occasion. The little Señor's
learning is supplied by the newspapers. The grandparents of all these
people, even of the rich merchants who lived on the apex or Verdolay
hill, were peasantry--Pepes, as a rule. Then one perceives that with the
accumulation of wealth, the culture gradually diminishes in a like
proportion. The third generation has lost almost all culture and has
nothing but a kind heart and a love of making money. The Spanish
bourgeoisie is inverting the processes which are going forward in
England to-day. It is trying to forget its old customs--too late we are
trying to revive ours. It has learned to despise its exquisite folk
music, already becoming forgotten--we are trying to fudge out a few
miserable tunes from the memories of senile fiddlers.

These people have won to that leisure so sweet to the heart of man; but
they don't know what to do with it. They sleep and so grow fat. Having
become fat they are good-natured and laugh. The old saw should be
inverted. Indeed, many an old saw is in reality the truth turned inside
out. They were a good-natured kindly people, these bulky tradesmen, but
they were deadly dull. The daughters of Verdolay banged untuned pianos
to the strains of dances forgotten by Europe, polkas, mazurkas and pas
de quatre; but their own dances--the malagueñas and baturras--were
unknown to them. They were pressing in their invitations, and were angry
with us because we preferred La Merchora's doorstep with its changing
audience of passers-by.

Of the Count and the ex-Prime Minister we know but little; they lie,
anyway, beyond the scope of this book. The Count possessed in this
district a country house set in a deep, wooded valley, in which was a
medicinal spring, and a few square miles of unfenced sterile mountain
land from which his watchman, armed with a gun, was instructed to drive
away unauthorized pedestrians. He was not popular and was always at
daggers drawn with the village; though from other sources we have
learned that he is personally a charming and a generous man. At any rate
he has left a fine estate to remain practically unproductive (the two
farms and the house itself are in ruins). This practice seems to be
normal in Spain, and we have heard of many a case where the aristocracy
have deliberately hindered national development. There are rumours,
however, that this estate is being bought for the government and will be
afforested and developed.

The ex-Prime Minister's villa was the most amazing example of bad taste
in architecture that we have ever seen.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 18: "May one enter?"]



CHAPTER XVIII

VERDOLAY--THE DANCE AT CONENI'S


We had been looking forward to the dance which Coneni had promised us.
Spanish music had become with us a hobby, and the dancing which goes
with it had excited our imagination. Antonio's sister had led us to
believe that wonderful dancing was to be found in the Murcian huertas,
and the vague hints of gay times _al campo_ stirred us up to eager
anticipation.

On Sunday afternoon at about four o'clock we set off, Jan carrying the
big white guitar in its case. The cicadas were making their accustomed
strident din in the mulberry trees, men on the roadside shouted to us:
"Vaya con dios, y con la guitarra."

The Conenis were furbished up for the occasion. A few girls in bright
cottons and a few young men in check suits, English caps and buttoned
brilliant boots were awaiting us. Others came in one by one. Coneni
chopped up a huge pink-fleshed melon for us, and while we were yet
revelling in its cool lusciousness the faint sound of music was heard
through the saw-note of the cicadas. The sound came nearer. Presently
through the trees a band of youths and girls headed by a girl playing a
guitar, and a boy of fourteen playing a Spanish lute (or laud) were
visible.

They marched into the garden thrumming bravely a popular two-step march.
It is the custom of the musicians thus to arrive in full cry, as it
were. Amongst the group was the little Señor's nurse-maid bravely
carrying through the heat the inevitable baby. Later on the baby caused
a diversion by getting itself stung by a bee.

The arrival of the music drove Coneni to a pitch of excitement. He
brought out a drinking flask of wine. The flask had a long slender
spout, and the guests drank by pouring the wine straight into their
mouths, tilting their heads backwards. I was afraid of this method, and
to my disgrace had to be given a glass. Tables and chairs, made of rough
planking, were brought from neighbouring huertas.

"Now," cried Coneni, "for some dancing."

The guitar and laud players sat down. They played a polka, a common
polka. And the girls and English-capped youths danced a solemn polka.
Then followed a schottische, then another polka, then a murdered
two-step.

Disappointment rushed upon us.

But where then was the Spanish dancing? Had this infernal European
mechanical civilization quite driven all feeling from the land? Where
were the jotas, the malagueñas, the baturras?

"But," said Jan at last to Coneni, "can you not dance a Spanish dance?"

"Why, of course," cried Coneni. "Here, let us dance a malagueña. It is
my favourite dance. Come, who will dance with me?"

But there was nobody amongst the girls who could dance it. Mrs. Coneni
said that she was too old and too fat. Nor was there amongst the laud
players one who could play a malagueña, nor could the guitar player beat
the _tempo_.

So in the end it was Jan who played the malagueña as best he could,
while Coneni, using his lank limbs with the flexibility of a youth,
danced in marvellous fashion. But he soon tired of dancing solos.

We went home, headed by the band, seconded by Coneni's son carrying for
us a large green melon, followed by Coneni's daughter loaded with a
basket of figs.

We parted from the band at El Angel, we going up to Verdolay, they going
across to Alverca, but with the good-byes the guitar playing girl said:

"Aha, but since you are so 'affectionate' to music we will come and play
to you this evening at your house."

When Encarnacion heard this, she said:

"Oh, beautiful! And I will ask all my friends and we will dance. And I
will bring all Mother's chairs."

[Illustration]

We arranged all Encarnacion's mother's chairs in a neat circle in our
entrada and waited. Nine o'clock went by--no music--ten passed and
10.30. At eleven o'clock we heard the band far away on the Alverca road.
It came musically through the night. We had contrived an especial
illumination of candles, but our guests repudiated houses. They were too
hot. So in spite of any possible traffic the chairs were dragged out
into the middle of the road, and we had our concert there.

It was not a very inspiring concert. At the opening of it the young laud
player handed his instrument to Jan, demanding that it should be tuned.
We discovered later that quite a number of the minor village executants
cannot tune their own instruments. Jan, however, at this time knew
nothing about lauds. So the boy had to do the best he could with it. He
managed to worry the instrument more or less into tune with itself, but
the task of getting his laud accorded with his sister's guitar was
beyond his power. However, a concert could not be disturbed for so
trifling a matter; and to the perfect satisfaction of the players, and,
as far as we could see, of the audience, the two instruments played
until about three o'clock in the morning, each one a semi-tone different
in pitch from the other.

We had provided bottles of wine for the occasion at the cost of sixpence
a bottle. This wine was the ordinary drinking wine of the district. It
speaks well of the abstemiousness of the Spaniard that though we had at
least thirty guests about half a bottle of wine only was drunk. The
major part of the audience contented itself with cool water from the
algazarra.

Some time later on in the evening the players confided to us that they
were the pupils of a maestro who lived in Alverca, and that they had
only been studying for two months. The fact that there was a teacher in
Alverca fired me. I had wanted to learn the laud for some while, but the
opportunity had not offered itself. I inquired his terms. The band said
that they were twopence-halfpenny a lesson. So I at once told it to send
the maestro along. At 3.30--after we had been wondering for some time
how much longer our eyes would remain open--the band took its leave,
saying that it would come again one evening. It then marched, playing
loudly, back to Alverca.

The maestro sent word that he would come on Tuesday evening. He was of
that type of southern European that the American terms "Dago." He was
typically Dago. He was a plumber by trade, and in the evening augmented
his income by odd twopence-halfpennies picked up from the would-be
"affectionates" of the guitar or laud. He loved wine with a sincere
though timid reverence. When she heard that he was coming to give me a
lesson, Encarnacion said:

"Oh, beautiful! And we will all come and listen to your lesson, and
afterwards we will dance."

But even Spain could not make me unselfconscious enough to support that
test. With grim harshness we locked the door on our lessons.

The maestro, like Blas, considered two airs his daily portion. At the
end of the first air he would empty his tumbler of wine, and would
gently repudiate the idea that it should be refilled. The third glass he
accepted with quite vehement protestations. His course homeward was, I
fear, usually more discursive than that of his coming. Like all Spanish
musicians he sang upon the slightest excuse. He corrected my melody by
singing: "Lo, La, Lo, La, Lo, La," as I played.

Having played the violin, the mandolin and the piano, I did not find the
laud very difficult. It has a queer tuning in fourths and is played with
the plectrum. But when La Merchora discovered that I had learned a piece
in two days she was quite eloquent in her astonishment.



CHAPTER XIX

MURCIA--THE LAUD


During our month in Verdolay we had not quite cut off communication with
Murcia. Luis and his friend Flores had come out to lunch with us,
bringing with them a slab of odoriferous dried fish which _they said_
was excellent in salads. On this occasion many families in Verdolay had
offered to cook our dinner for us, Encarnacion's mother, the shopping
woman, the woman who brought the water and La Merchora were the
principal competitors; and the dinner was finally cooked out in the open
in La Merchora's back-yard in a huge frying-pan. We had also travelled
the five dusty miles into Murcia, walking, to the grave astonishment of
Verdolay plutocracy. On the first occasion Antonio told us with a face
of joy that his wife _was out of danger_.

"Out of danger," cried we; "but she was only suffering from a small
digestive attack!"

"Oh, no," replied Antonio; "didn't I tell you that she had smallpox?
Why, a man died of it three doors down the street."

Before we had quitted Verdolay, Rosa (Antonio's wife) was well enough to
be moved, and Antonio had brought her into the country to the Count's
country house. She was spotted like a pard with large brown marks which
Antonio assured us would disappear with time, leaving no pits.

[Illustration]

On another visit Jan had gone into the shop of Emilio Peralta to buy
some guitar strings. The shop of Emilio was not like that of Ramirez in
Paris. It was set in a canyon of a street so deep that the midday sun
for one short hour or so shines on the cobbles, so narrow that the carts
which pass through it are permitted to go in one sole direction marked
at the entrance by a pointing arrow. Ramirez had a workshop only, but
Emilio had as well onhis working bench three brave showcases painted
apple green, one of which was filled with instruments--guitars, lauds
and bandurrias--with a drawer for strings, capo-d'astros and other
instrumental appurtenances. Of the two other showcases, one housed the
guitar-maker's tools, the third having degenerated to a pantry, and
while one was buying strings from Emilio, his wife would be
surreptitiously taking dishes of boiled garbanzos or of dried sardines
out of the garishly painted frand. The place was indeed workshop,
pantry and reception room. A counter cut the place in two. To the left
as you entered Emilio made his instruments. To the right was a rough
semicircle of chairs, and here the _aficionados_[19] of the guitar came
in the evening, to play on Emilio's latest creation. To our dismay,
however, we found that the intensely interesting music of Spain, the
Flamenco, as it is called, was somewhat despised in Emilio's shop. In
Spain, music is divided to-day into the major divisions, Classical and
Flamenco. Classical includes anything from Beethoven to Darewski, from
Sonata or Symphony to Fox-trot or Polka. The guitar-maker to-day says
proudly: "I do not make instruments for 'Flamenco,' mine are made for
'Classical'": and he but echoes the bad taste of the educated Spaniard.
The Flamenco, the native music, having perhaps a stronger character
than any other Folk music in Europe, is considered very vulgar; it is
called "Tavern Music," as "still lives" in painting are called "Tavern
pictures."

Nevertheless, we were not to be seduced from our desire to study the
Flamenco, and for the purpose of continuing that study I had been
looking out for a laud which is peculiarly adapted to the music, much of
which was composed originally upon this instrument. Hitherto I had been
unable to find an instrument which I had liked, for the ordinary lute is
queer in shape and rather harsh in quality. But the plumber-maestro in
Alverca had lent me an instrument--a laud of simpler form and sweeter
tone, called a sonora--which pleased me.

Jan going into Emilio's shop had found there a newly completed sonora,
very like that of the little maestro's, but better in quality. He
engaged Emilio to keep it till we returned, and Emilio said he would
bring the Professor down to play it for us to show off its qualities. On
the evening of the day on which we came back to Murcia we went to
Emilio's shop. The chairs were all set in their prim semicircle and
Emilio, round-shouldered and heavy-faced, sat us down while he
expatiated on the excellence of the workmanship and the beauty of the
tone of his instrument. He demanded sixty pesetas for the instrument,
but said that we might possibly come to some friendly arrangement over
the price, as he was trying to popularize this form of laud. The little
Professor came in. He was a strange man. He was extremely emaciated,
with one eye destroyed and almost blind in the other, dressed in _outré_
style as though he were acting as jockey in an impromptu charade. His
flexible hands seemed almost translucent in their delicacy. He at once
addressed us with such rapidity of speech that we were unable to
understand what he said (though our understanding of Spanish had made
great progress), and he was extremely irritable with us for seeming so
stupid. This frail, delicate, peering thing was a queer contrast to the
burly, almost clumsy form of Emilio.

The little Professor picked up the sonora, and passed it backwards and
forwards slowly beneath his short-sighted eye. He sat down and played.
His nimble fingers ran up and down the strings. We had almost decided to
begin the delicate matter of bargaining when a fat form,
white-waist-coated, straw hat perched jauntily over an Egyptian face,
showed itself in the doorway. It was Blas. And Blas was drunk. He bowed
in an heroic manner to me, shook hands in simulated affection with Jan;
and, his soul obviously consumed with jealousy, greeted the little
Professor, who returned his salutation with coldness.

"Go on," ordered Blas to the little Professor, "play." The little man
put the sonora again on his thigh. One could almost hear his teeth grit.
Then he began to show off. He possessed a very effective trick of
playing intricate runs by the mere beat of the fingers of his left hand,
that is without plucking the strings with his right. This he now
exhibited to its full. He was on his mettle, Greek and Trojan were face
to face. Blas, seated on his chair, his fat hands on his knees, smiled a
drunken and somewhat patronizing approval of his rival's exhibition.

[Illustration]

The little Professor finished his exhibition, which the gipsy did not
attempt to rival, for he played only the guitar. For a moment there was
an embarrassing silence. The gentle art of bargaining was about to
displace the art of music. But we had reckoned without the half-drunken
Blas.

Suddenly rising to his feet he faced Jan, and rubbing his finger and
thumb together he exclaimed:

"Now comes the main point. The brass. Now is the question of cashing up
for it."

Doubtless this was a frank statement of fact. But three-quarters of life
continues bearable enough because one does not put things frankly.
Emilio changed colour and put on a sullen face, Emilio's wife looked
alarmed, Jan was embarrassed, the little Professor seemed to wither into
a crouching shape of half his normal smallness.

But Blas went on in a breezy voice to Jan:

"Come on, come on. What's the matter? You suggest a price to him and he
will tell you if it fits."

Emilio's delicacy was quite revolted by this crude exhibition of gipsy
bad taste. He seized the laud from the little Professor, thrust it on
one side and said loudly that he did not want to sell it at all.

Unfortunately, Jan was afraid of offending Emilio's susceptibility. Not
knowing how to behave in the unfortunate circumstances, he blurted out:

"Look here, Emilio, you said sixty pesetas. Will you not come down a
little, and then we could settle the matter?"

Emilio was, however, extremely bad-tempered by the turn things had
taken. The Spanish sense of decency was outraged. At last, with an evil
look at Blas, he muttered:

"Well, fifty-five pesetas. Not a penny less and no more bargaining."

Jan, to cut the scene short, agreed. The instrument was wrapped up in a
paper bag. While Jan was paying over the money, Blas said:

"And you will give five pesetas to this gentleman, who is a poor man:
and five pesetas to me also."

He seized five pesetas of the money from the counter and pressed them on
the little Professor. The latter, with girlish giggles, refused; but
Blas, with the insistence of a drunkard, pressed his desire until, to
quieten him, the little Professor slipped the money into his waistcoat
pocket. Blas then demanded his own commission, saying that as he had
been Jan's Professor, and as Jan had once mentioned the subject of the
laud to him, he was fully entitled to his claim. But Jan, outwardly
calm, inwardly annoyed with Blas, would not give him a halfpenny. At
last Blas was begging:

"Well, at least give me a peseta to get a drink with."

"You have had enough drink already," said Jan.

He picked up the laud, and with farewells to Emilio, his wife and the
little Professor we walked out of the shop, pushing our way through the
crowd which had gathered at the shop door.

On the following day we returned to Emilio's shop to apologize for the
contretemps. We found both Emilio and his wife very disturbed by what
had happened. They said that their regrets were eternal, and that it
would have been better had we deferred the business matter until a
better occasion.

"It was a disgraceful affair," said Emilio, "disgraceful; and to cap it
all, after you had gone, Blas was most outrageous. We had actually to
pay him two pesetas to go away."

"We were afraid for our lives," said Mrs. Emilio. "He is a bad man, and
one never knows what rogues he might have brought upon us."

Though Jan did not believe much in the active danger of Blas, yet the
terror of Emilio and of his wife was quite evident. So in the end he
disbursed the five pesetas given to the little Professor as well as the
two given to Blas. So that our laud actually cost us sixty-two pesetas,
instead of the sixty for which we might have bought it without any
bargaining.

With the little Professor we had made an engagement for the afternoon.
He was to give me a lesson on which I could study while we were away at
Jijona. He came, feeling his way up our staircase. He shook hands with
us and said that the affair of last night had greatly oppressed his
spirit.

"I felt it much in my heart," he said.

We explained to him that we were going away for a month, but that we
would return to Murcia later, and that when we returned I would take
lessons from him.

"My price," he exclaimed (all his speech was exclamation), "is one duro
a month. I am not one of those villains who charge one price to one
person and a different price to another. No, my price is fixed and
unalterable. One duro, five pesetas, a month."

Now, although this little man was probably as good a teacher as could be
found in the town of Murcia, his price averaged about _twopence a
lesson_.

We discovered later that the laud suffers not only from a ban of "bad
taste," but also from a moral one. To-day its use in Spain is almost
limited to the playing of dance music in houses of bad fame.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 19: Lovers.]



CHAPTER XX

ALICANTE


Our second experience in Spanish village life was to be at Jijona, a
small town in the country near Alicante. Our friend had what he called a
studio there, and this was at our service. Luis said that there was
furniture in the studio but no cooking utensils or bed. After our
packing-case bed in Verdolay, we determined to take with us nothing but
a mattress and either to sleep on the floor or to buy planks locally. So
we had packed our trunk with painting materials, crockery and clothes.
We had also made up a large roll of bedclothes and mattress such as
emigrants travel with. Having risen with the dawn, our preparations were
complete by the time at which the donkeyman who peddled drinking-water
about the streets of Murcia called for us with his long cart. He was not
quite satisfied with our roll, and with expert hands repacked it in a
professional manner. But his long water-cart would only take our trunk
and the rolled mattress, so, burdened with rucksacks, camera, guitar,
thermos flasks and a rush basket containing crockery which would not
pack into the trunk, and the laud, we walked the quarter of a mile to
the station. Thus burdened, we expected more staring and laughter than
before from the Murcianos, but, to our amazement, the people looked upon
us with kindly eyes and wished us God-speed. Thus Spain reverses the
manner of England.

[Illustration]

Jan took his place in the ticket queue while I, assisted by a friendly
porter, looked for seats in a third-class carriage. The carriages were
full enough despite the fact that we were in good time. Large numbers of
children seemed to be travelling, and many of the passengers were
stretched out on the wooden seats, taking a snooze before the train
should start. The divisions between the compartments were only breast
high, and already animated conversations had begun between the passengers
who, from different compartments, shouted remarks to each other. In our
compartment were a sandalled peasant stretched at full length, a bearded
man with a huge brass plate on his breast and a shot-gun, evidently a
gamekeeper, and a smart young man with patent leather boots and a straw
hat. The last was reading a hook. On the platform we noted an important
priest striding about, his black soutane covered with a silk dust-coat,
and an old woman with a posy of bright flowers about twice as big as her
head. The train was the centre of an excited crowd, the carriage full
almost to bursting-point. As the time for departure came near most of
those we had imagined to be our fellow passengers got slowly down on to
the platform; all the children disappeared. They had merely been taking
advantage of the train's presence in the station to take a rest.

The three strokes on the bell, which denote the starting of the train,
had sounded when our carriage door was flung open and a panting bundle
of humanity was thrust upwards and amongst us. As the train moved out,
it resolved itself into a small woman, very loquacious, carrying in her
arms three babies. Talking very excitedly, she laid her brood out on a
wooden seat. The woman was-black-haired and her jet eyes sparkled with
excitement.

"They are bandits," she exclaimed. "Yes, bandits they are, rushing about
like that. I was with my children in Uncle Pepe's donkey-cart. Then they
come along. Of course the bullocks in the stone waggon in front wouldn't
move quick enough, and so they come tearing across the road, flip us
under the axle, and over we all go into the dust. Uncle Pepe strained
his wrist and the shaft is broken. And that's the way they treat us just
after my poor husband has died of smallpox. It's lucky that nobody was
killed and that I didn't lose the train. Murderers, that's what they
are."

We noted that she and her babies were covered with dust, and that she
was dressed all in black even to her alpagatas. While she had been
talking so volubly she had been unpacking a basket which, with the
bundles, had been thrust in after her. She got out a bottle of water and
a piece of rag. With a moistened rag she tried to wash the babies, but
made rather a smeary mess of it. The occupants of the other compartments
were leaning over sympathizing with her mishap. But, as she had omitted
the cause of the mishap, somebody questioned her.

"Why, motors, of course," she snapped. "It's murderous the way they go
rushing about. Not caring for any one, and not waiting to see what
damage they have done."

As most of the carriage occupants seemed to be peasantry, they agreed
with her. Somebody went on:

"And are those all you have?"

The young woman drew herself up with pride. "No," she answered, "I've
got four, and all men too."

The train was rolling with a determined manner down the Murcian valley.
On one side the bills drew closer, on the other they were receding. We
noted that all the carriage doors were left swinging wide open to admit
as much air as possible. Presently there was a noise outside and the
ticket-collector scrambled into the carriage. He examined all the
tickets in our coach, and swung himself again out on to the footboard,
making his way slowly forward. Some of the passengers, too, who had
friends in other carriages made visits _en route_, scrambling along the
moving train. And the carriage doors had notices on them saying: "It is
dangerous to put the head out of the window."

After an hour or more of sedate travel, we came to Orihuela, which
boasts a huge monastery on the hill and a broad zigzag road which looked
like an engineering feat. The station was like a flower shop. Vendors
were running up and down the train thrusting elaborate bouquets into the
windows. Some women dressed in royal blue satin came into our carriage,
they stuffed unfortunate live poultry and rabbits, with feet tied up,
under the seat and covered the wooden bench of the compartment with
magnificent flowers. During the rest of the journey, the monotonous
flip, click of their fans as they were opened and shut punctuated the
conversation.

We passed through the famous date palm groves of Elche and at last came
in sight of the sea at Alicante, which was our terminus. The journey of
about forty-five miles had taken us nearly four hours, and we were
almost an hour and a half late. Time-tables are more or less ornamental
in Spain.

Outside the station at Alicante there was a horde of omnibuses
surrounded by a fringe of touts. They were conducting their chaffering
for passengers with a reasonable quietness, until they espied us. But
perceiving that we were English and, therefore, fair prey, pandemonium
broke out. Gradually the omnibuses filled and the babel, for babel it
was, consisting of Spanish, Valenciano, bad French and worse English,
died down. Two omnibus touts, however, persisted, and at last, in order
to prevent battle between them, we chose our man for his looks. He
promised to take us to the fonda from which started the motor service to
Jijona.

We had been warned by our English friend that it was often difficult to
get seats on the motor, because the conveyance started from Jijona and
many of the passengers booked return tickets. The omnibus tout added to
this that there was a fiesta at Jijona, and that many people were going
there. However, he said:

"If there are no seats in the motor, we will surely get them on the
lorry, which will do just as well and is cheaper."

The omnibus was full with an unsmiling family, but we were crushed in.
We were dragged along beneath a magnificent avenue of date palm trees
which bordered the deep blue expanse of the Mediterranean, and then into
streets of modern and of bad architecture. The family got out and paid
the driver. Jan strained his eyes to see how much was the price, for we
had foolishly made no bargain with the driver. As far as he could see
most was paid in coppers. We then passed up into narrow and steep
streets and halted before a wide door. The tout got down, but returned
almost immediately, saying that the motor was full for two days.

"The motor-lorry is better," he said.

With some difficulty the bus was turned round in the narrow street and
we went downhill again, coming at length to the entrance of another
fonda. We passed through its broad entrance and at a small office window
interviewed an old man who said that there was room in the lorry but
that he did not know when it was going. So we deposited our luggage in
the wide entrance, amongst packing-cases, sacks of flour, mattresses
and japanned boxes. We then asked the price of the bus from the tout.

"Seven pesetas," he said.

The whole drive had not taken twenty minutes, and Jan was sure that the
other family of four had not paid more than two pesetas for the lot.
After some argument and much blasphemy from the driver, we paid five
pesetas, and the bus drove off vomiting curses at us from both driver
and tout. (On the return journey from Jijona we happened on the same
bus, but we made our bargain beforehand. The same trip then cost us two
pesetas, and was accomplished with smiles instead of curses, and both
driver and tout clapped us on the shoulder and wished us: "Vaya con
dios.")

This fonda was a typical peasant inn. The entrance door which pierced
through a block of buildings was big enough to admit a full-sized
traction engine, had there been such a thing in Alicante. This wide
passage led into a big courtyard open to the skies. On each side of the
courtyard a staircase led to balconies from which opened the doors of
the bedrooms, below were the dark stables, and the courtyard itself was
filled with the large two-wheeled tilted carts which, dragged by from
two to eight draught animals, keep up communications in Spain wherever
the railway does not penetrate. To the right of the entrance was the
fonda restaurant, and also a huge kitchen with several cooking fires at
which the traveller, if he wished, could cook his own meals, and a long
dining-table at which he could eat them. We went into the restaurant,
for we were hungry. To our table came an old couple. They were at once
friendly and told us that they had come from Africa. They were Spanish
but had lived more than thirty years in North Africa, and though the old
man could neither read nor write he could speak several African dialects
quite well. They were making a pleasure tour of the south of Spain for a
short holiday. They told us that the fonda was quite clean, and that we
could take a room in it without fear. They added that though Murcia was
but "a dirty village" the fonda there had been clean also, but that at
Guadix they had been eaten alive.

Our dinner finished, we sat ourselves down on a bench in the entrada and
looked about us.

To one side of the entrance was a small stall which sold iced drinks.
Men and women were sitting in after-lunch ease amid the boxes and sacks
which lined the opposite wall, on low chairs, or on the bench with us. A
dog, shaved all over its body, partly because of the heat, partly to
keep off the fleas with which all Spanish animals are infested, was
asleep on our mattress. The proprietor of the fonda was standing in a
lordly manner in the middle of the floor. He was dressed in white shirt
and flannel trousers, and must have weighed almost sixteen stone,
although quite young. He looked as if he had been inflated with air.

We had noticed, though we have not before mentioned, a curious illness
which seems prevalent in Spain. In Murcia were large numbers of
monstrous children; boys and girls had reached enormous proportions
before the age of ten years old. We came to the conclusion that it was a
form of illness, because, though the children seemed healthy enough, we
have never seen this development of monstrosity elsewhere, nor did large
numbers of them appear to survive adolescence, though there were a
certain number of excessively fat girls. The proprietor was such a
monstrosity grown up. His wife, a dark-eyed beauty, was sitting in a
rocking-chair near the kitchen door and her baby of about three years
old, standing in its mother's lap, was having a great lark, pretending
to catch lice in its mother's head. Thus do our ideas of innocent sports
for children differ from those of other nations.

There was some coming and going amongst the fonda visitors. The guests
seemed to be all peasants, the men in blouses, the women in pale skirts,
black blouses and shawls of paisley pattern over the shoulders. Many had
bundles of towels and of bathing dresses. One group we heard saying that
they had come down to Alicante for a week's sea bathing.

As the afternoon drew on and the lorry delayed, we again interviewed the
old man, who answered that probably it would not come that day.
Accordingly, we spoke to the proprietor, who rather roughly said that we
could have a room for two pesetas a night. The room was small, and the
bed only just big enough for two. There were two doors, one leading into
the interior of the inn, one out on to a balcony. The latter was half of
glass and had no lock, and as there was plenty of traffic along the
balcony, which was used for drying linen, underclothes and bathing
dresses, one only had a chance of privacy by closing the shutters,
leaving oneself in the dark, and no chance of sleeping with the window
open despite the heat. But Spain does not believe in open windows or
doors at night; it has "a robber complex."

We put our small luggage into the bedroom, leaving the large trunk and
the roll of mattress in the entrada. We then went out to explore the
town and to find a young painter to whom we carried an introduction from
Luis. Emilio, for such was his name, was one of the lucky ones of this
world. His parents kept a wine-shop which relieved him of a pressing
need of earning a living. He could thus study at his ease. Our
investigations took us through a shop full of large barrels, up some
narrow stairs and on to a landing where two girls were working at pillow
lace. Emilio received us with a brusque cordiality, showed us some of
his work, which had talent, came back to the inn with us, where he
arranged for our transport by the lorry whenever it should arrive, and
said that he would also find a carter to take our heavier luggage out on
a road waggon. This readiness to help a stranger, often at considerable
personal effort, we found characteristic of the parts of Spain which we
have visited.

Emilio, having an engagement, left us, and we strolled through the town.
To the east lies the older part of the Port clambering up the rugged
side of the steep rock, at the top of which lies the castle. The fishing
village, at the extreme end of Alicante, is beautiful with its small
primitive cubic houses painted in garish patterns. Through steeply
sloping streets we came to the beach. Here were Mediterranean fishing
boats drawn up in ranks; then, as we returned towards the harbour, more
open beach covered with people in gay dresses and children playing on
the sands. Then came the bathing establishments built out on piles over
the tideless sea. The bathing establishments increased in luxury towards
the town and were, for the most part, fantastic wooden erections of
Moorish design. We came back to the broad double avenue of palm trees
which faced the more luxurious hotels and cafés.

Night came softly on, and one by one amongst the palms the lights of the
town threw beams over the chattering people who strolled in
ever-thickening processions to and fro beneath the palm trees; mingled
with the conversation was the incessant click, click of the fans of the
girls and women. We went back to the fonda for supper and afterwards
returned to the sea front. The cafés had spread tables beneath the
palms, and we sat down enjoying our "Blanco y negro," an iced drink
composed half of white cream ice flavoured with vanilla, and half of
iced coffee.

Bands of musical beggars assailed us. Most of the mendicants were blind.
One group, a veritable orchestra, travelled from café to café clinging
to the edges of a bass viol which the one seeing member, the money
collector, dragged the way it should go, by the peg-head. There was an
old guitarist who played and made queer noises through a small gazoo.
Another orchestra of three, guitar, laud and bandurria, the latter
instrument a small cousin of the laud, and in this case played
beautifully by a blind boy of about nineteen years. There were other
beggars too, but the devil of cheap European music had entered into them
all. Not one played their own native Spanish music. I suppose nobody
would pay to hear it played.

At the end of the palm avenue an artist had set up an easel on a raised
dais. His work was illuminated by a strong acetylene gas lamp. The
canvas was painted bright sparrow's egg blue and surrounded by a frame
of staring gilt.

[Illustration]

On the blue canvas he was painting an imaginary landscape, the blue
serving as sky and for the waters of a still lake. A drab woman was
threading her way to and fro through the crowd which surrounded him,
crying out: "The numbers, the numbers. Who would like to win a
magnificent picture, framed complete for ten chances a penny?"

Another crowd surrounded a buck nigger who, displaying his magnificent
and gleaming teeth, was crying out the virtues of his dentifrice.

A third crowd listened to a quack doctor who, backed by a large picture
depicting the jungle, was selling a specific called "African Tonic." The
tonic, he said, was derived from essences extracted at enormous expense
from the tiger, the elephant, the monkey, and from I know not what else.
From time to time he rested his voice by turning on a squeaky
gramophone.

Tired from our journey we went to bed betimes.

We got up early. In the waggons, which were lined up in the big
courtyard, the families which had slept in them were making their
toilet. In the entrada, the old man of the inn, aided by the stable boy,
was packing away the hammock beds slung from trestles, on which slept
those travellers who, having no waggon, did not wish to pay the expense
of a bedroom.

We had noted small café stalls near to the market, so, in order to see
some more of Alicante life, we took our breakfast there rather than in
the fonda. The café stalls were wooden box-like kiosks, and they spread
wicker chairs and tables over the open street, and soldiers and workmen
were sitting sipping their morning refreshment. Beneath the shelter of
the kiosk a lad was making the day's supply of ice cream. The cream is
frozen by the amount of heat absorbed from it by the freezing mixture.
One might also say that the amount of refreshment to be derived from ice
cream seems proportionate to the amount of energy absorbed from the lad
who manufactures it: it appeared a fatiguing business. Crowds of people
on the way to market passed us, and to where we sat came the cries of
the market salesmen. We were not stared at here as we had been in
Murcia. Strangers were evidently more common.

A small boy stationed himself near our table gazing longingly at a
breakfast roll. To all intents and purposes he hypnotized it from the
table into his hand. He broke into unexpected French. His father, like
so many Spaniards, had been working at Lyons during the war. He deplored
the fact that he had no education, but said that he was trying to learn
some English from the sailors who came to Alicante. He had begun with
the swear words, of which already he had a fair collection. He said that
his father was a bootmaker, out of work, and asked if we had any boots
to mend. He wheedled also some cigarettes and a few coppers from us.

Emilio, who had sent off our heavy luggage on the previous night as he
had promised, met us, and together we went to a café on the front, where
we wrote a letter to Antonio saying that we had left our passports
behind by accident. In spite of this oversight we had decided to push on
to Jijona and to trust to luck.

After lunch we again sat down in the fonda wondering if the motor-lorry
would come. Many peasants also were there. Motor omnibuses drove in, but
these were destined for other parts. Opposite the bus office was a
gambling machine, into which one pushed a penny and if one were lucky
received back twopence, fourpence, sixpence or even tenpence. But this
machine had gone wrong, and the bulky proprietor spent the greater part
of the afternoon over it with a screw-driver. A drunkard was staggering
up and down, now shouting, now singing, now dancing a few unsteady
steps. The stable boys were making a butt of him. Presently he sat down
on a sack and fell asleep, his head tilted back, his mouth open. The
opportunity was too good to miss.

Pulling out his sketch book, Jan began to make a sketch. The old
ticket-office man, perceiving what Jan was doing, leaned over his
shoulder, and as the sketch developed began to chuckle. Soon there was a
double queue of spectators, giggling with suppressed laughter,
stretching on each side from Jan to the drunkard across the width of the
entrada. When the drawing was finished, the old man exclaimed:

"But that is excellent; will you not give it to me, Señor?"

Jan made of the drawing a rapid tracing which pleased the old man as
much as the original.

"I'll keep that," said the old man.

[Illustration]

To our horror he walked across the entrada, with a thump in the ribs
awoke the drunkard, and showed him the sketch. Gradually, as he realized
what had been done, an expression of wrath grew on the drunkard's face.
Luckily for us, he became possessed of the idea that the drawing had
been done by one of the stable boys. No one undeceived him and, amidst
roars of laughter, he addressed a long speech to the stable boy in
question.

"The rights of man," said the drunkard, "are inalienable, and of all the
rights of man, the greatest right is that of his person. The stable boy
has, therefore, transgressed against the most sacred of men's rights. I
could have excused most things," went on the drunkard, "but this is
inexcusable; to inflict indignity on a man in his own person. Since
neither the stable boy nor the spectators of this crime seem sensible of
the enormity they have committed, the only act by which I can express
the contempt which I feel for the meanness of your natures is that of
removing myself from the company of such low mortals."

Having thus delivered himself with the air of a Demosthenes, he
literally shook the dust from the soles of his alpagatas and staggered
out into the street. Coincident with the departure of the drunkard was
the arrival of the Jijona motor-lorry.

The lorry was heavy, with solid tyres. Michelin's motor guide had
described the route as: "Cart road bad and very indisposed," and we
wondered what the sixteen miles would value as experience. We all
scrambled in, arranging our luggage as best we could on our laps or
under the narrow wooden benches nailed to the lorry's sides. The centre
of the lorry was occupied with cargo, in this case barrels, some full,
some empty, standing on end. We thought that we had all fitted in so
nicely, but a wail from the courtyard drew our attention to an old woman
who, loaded with parcels and almost weeping with despair, had failed to
find a seat. We said "Move up" to each other, but no moving up was
possible. The old man came out in anger from the ticket-office.

"But this is ridiculous," he shouted; "there is room, there are so many
seats on the lorry, I sell so many seats, therefore there must be room."

Slowly the elucidation of the mystery dawned on us. Three of our
passengers were of such girth that each ought in common fairness to have
booked two seats for himself. So with much effort we squeezed and
shoved into the fat men until we gained a narrow slit of seat into which
the little old woman was dropped. But immediately the active pressure
was released the resilience of fat reasserted itself, and the little old
woman spent the first part of the journey moaning out that she was being
crushed to death. Most of the voyagers were peasants; one or two were
travellers going to the fiesta; one was dressed in soldier's uniform,
but he seemed to be neither officer nor private. We discovered later
that he was a veterinary surgeon. Our musical instrument caused some
attention and our fellow voyagers smiled at us with sympathy and
kindness.

"Are you artists?" they asked.

"Yes," we replied.

"Then we will come to your concert," said they.

The road was indeed "indisposed." We rolled, rocked, and bumped along
miles of dusty road, by the side of which the trees were so drenched in
dust that they were but ghosts of themselves; the herbage below seeming
like the delicate clay work of a magic potter, having no hint of green
for the eye. Nor can empty barrels be considered good travelling
companions. If the lorry were toiling uphill the barrels sidled down the
floor with a seeming leer. One snatched one's toes out of the way
without ceremony. On reaching the end of the lorry, the barrels spread
themselves sideways, crushing the knees of the sitters. When the lorry
reached the top of the hill and began to thunder down the new slope the
barrels bounced and bumped to the other end of the lorry, bruising
everybody in their passage. Finally the young soldier sat on one of the
centre barrels and tried to quell their antics, without much success.

The lorry climbed into the mountains, round roads which curved like a
whiplash. At one spot the young soldier remarked: "The motor-bus fell
over here once; six of the passengers were killed."

The sun beat down on the canvas top of the lorry, and the large white
porous water-jug hanging at the end was in constant demand. We halted at
a small and lonely house where beer was for sale. The passengers also
bought beans pickled in salt and handed them to each other.

The dusty miles rolled off, at one moment through grey cliffs which
shone in the evening light, and another over deep water courses, along
the bottom of which ran serried terraces of vines. Presently a pretty
girl, whom we took to be the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and who had
spent the better part of the journey flirting with the young soldier,
exclaimed: "Mira! Shishona!"[20]

Through a cleft between two mountains we caught a glimpse of distant
houses clustered up the side of a hill towards an old Saracen ruin which
gleamed ochreous against the evening sky.

In spite of the presence of a couple of factories, the entrance of
Jijona from the south is one of the most romantic sights we have seen in
Spain. Ancient Spanish buildings sprang from the edge of a ravine
covered with prickly pear, and faced a steep cliff, along the
precipitous face of which ran water courses. Old houses stood step above
step, on a hill so steep that the roadways were all staircases and the
houses had two entrances, the front into the lowest story and the back
into the upper, and often the back-yard was higher than the roof. A
white stone bridge carried the road with a noble curve across the
ravine, and round this curve we swung, the passengers waving hands and
shouting greetings, into the town.

Our destination was a casa de huespedes (half inn, half boarding-house)
called "La Vinaigre," and the name was not altogether unsuitable. But
our first reception was as cordial as we could have wished. Owing to our
friend's mattress, which the old hostess had recognized, we were
welcomed with open arms.



CHAPTER XXI

JIJONA--THE FIESTA


The only fiesta we had hitherto experienced in Spain had been a small
peasant feast during an afternoon at Verdolay. We had gone to it; but
finding that we as foreigners constituted the chief centre of interest,
we had run away to the seclusion of our house. At the big fiesta of
Jijona were so many strangers that we were almost overlooked.

[Illustration]

The family at the "Vinegar" consisted of an old bent-backed father
peasant, sandalled; a mother, in black with black shawl; several sons,
reaching towards mercantile gentility owing to the turron factory, which
was in the cellars of the house; and several daughters, most of whom had
married personages of importance in the little town. In fact the
"Vinegar" family was upon the up-grade. They promised us a week of
unparalleled amusement.

First, they said the town was crammed with people--a most necessary
concomitant to Spanish enjoyment. In no other country in the world is
the gregarious nature of man so plainly exhibited. The man who plays his
lonely golf matched with an imaginary colonel would not be understood;
your solitary pleasurer would find no sympathizers. Crowds, crowds, form
the oil in the salad of Spanish amusement. Secondly: that very night the
priests were giving a free public cinema entertainment. Thirdly: "They
will loose a cow on the streets to-morrow night. Oh, it is precioso. It
is a wonderful diversion. The cow gallops, the men try to catch her.
They are tossed right and left, others come to the rescue. Magnificent!
Eh?" Fourthly: the old drama of the Moors and Christians was to be
performed.

Jijona lies in territory once captured by the Moors. They say that the
original name was Saracena, and to-day locally it is pronounced
"Shishona." It owes its considerable wealth to the extensive terrace
cultivation of almonds, by means of which the hard-working Moors
converted the mountains from barrenness to fertility.

"There is a castle of boards erected in the plaza," said the Vinegars;
"this will be stormed first by the Moors, then by the Christians. It is
very luxurious. Not so luxurious as last year, perhaps, because the
captains of the fiesta are not so wealthy as those of last year, and
owing to the tobacco famine, the Contrabandistas will omit their drama
of tobacco smuggling. Yet it will exhibit much lujo."[21]

At supper we tasted for the first time the famous turron of Jijona.
This was manufactured by our hosts. It is a crisp, dry, almond
sweetmeat, probably Moorish in origin, for it is not unlike Halva de
Smyrne and carries behind its almond flavour a queer but not unpleasant
taste resembling the smell of an over-heated chair. Supper over, we went
out to the plaza. The first need of Spanish amusement had been
fulfilled. The streets were crowded. A few of the more sophisticated
visitors were even wearing hats.

At the far end of the plaza, dimly, could be seen the wooden castle, in
shape not unlike one of those quaint wood cuts from an old edition of
Froissart; some distance in front of it, high in the air, was the sheet
on which the free "pictures" were to be thrown from the topmost pinnacle
of the castle. As the time of the performance drew near, the people came
bringing chairs with them until both before and behind the screen the
plaza was crammed. The performance was not a success. The illumination
was dim; the sheet stretched high above the people's heads. In addition,
a young moon in its first quarter intruded from above the mountain-tops.
This intrusive crescent, shining almost through the centre of the sheet,
sometimes took the place of the heroine's head, sometimes of the hero's
waistcoat. After straining our eyes for a while, having reflected on
gift-horses and teeth we went back to the Vinegars' and to bed. As we
went we wondered what those spectators who were on the wrong side of the
sheet and who in consequence could not read the legends--if they were
able to read--would construe out of those dim dramas.

We awoke on the morrow eager to see what the "Studio" of our friend was
like. Father Vinegar had gone before us, but Mother Vinegar took the
road and showed us up through tortuous and romantic staircases of
streets, up--up--until we reached the highest level of the town. But our
friend's house was yet higher. We clambered up a zigzag path over a
widening hill-side to the crest of the ridge. There on the top, fronting
the ruins of the old Saracen fortress, was our friend's house "El Torre
de Blay." It was a long house of one story, backed by a round tower of
three stories. The tower was claimed to be Saracen in origin: it
overlooked a walled yard, which was filled with chickens, rabbits and
turkeys, for the Vinegars were using the house during the absence of our
friend. A pile of almond shells was in the entrada and a back door led
out into a terraced garden full of pomegranate, pear, fig, almond and
olive trees and grape vines. Old Vinegar, called locally "Père Chicot,"
led us round, discoursing on the beauty of the house, which was indeed
cool, large and airy. But the _clou_ of the house Père Chicot kept till
the last. With a gesture of profound pride he swung open a small door.

"Señor and Señora," he exclaimed, "I will warrant that there is not a
W.C. to compare with this in the whole province of Alicante."

Mother Vinegar, talking in a high-pitched, querulous voice, was
complaining of the rise in prices, of the hardness of the season. The
garden of the Torre, she said, was not worth looking after, there were
no grapes, and as for the almonds, she went on, pointing to a small
heap, that was the whole crop for the year. She added that only a little
while ago somebody had broken into the yard and had stolen two hundred
and fifty pesetas' worth of poultry and rabbits.

It occurred to us that some of her cordiality to us came from the fact
that she looked on us to make up some of that lost money. So I gently
led her on to the question of ways and means. She said:

"Oh, El Señor used this place as a working place only. He lived and
slept at our house, and for that he paid ten pesetas a day."

Now El Señor (our English friend) had told us that he paid seven
pesetas. Our suspicions were correct. I am afraid that in the end Mrs.
Vinegar, like the undertaker in Tcheckov's story, counted us amongst her
losses. Her manner changed gradually from cordial to chilly: she had
promised to help me to shop, but she put obstacles in my way and also, I
believe, tried to prevent us from finding a servant. Finally we made an
arrangement that Mrs. Vinegar should supply us with meals at two pesetas
fifty each. Remembering that Elias had fed us in Murcia for one peseta
fifty I struggled to reduce the price to two pesetas for less food, but
Mrs. Vinegar said that Jijona was far more expensive than Murcia (as a
matter of fact it was, if anything, cheaper), and that the reputation of
her house would not stand a lower price. Finally, to her disgust, I
announced that we could not afford more than three meals a week at that
rate, and we were accordingly scrawled down, heavily underlined, with
red ink, amongst the stolen chickens and rabbits.

But the idea of the cow chase through the streets excited us. As in the
well-known story, the cow turned out to be a bull; nor was the chase to
be in the narrow winding streets, but in the plaza, the entrances of
which had been blocked up with extempore barricades of wooden beams. The
women and the less courageous of the men were to fill the balconies, and
places in a balcony had been found for us by the Vinegar girls, who were
quite different in manners from their parents. The bulls were stabled at
the back of the town; and, like a wasp in a spider's web, plunging at
the ends of long ropes tied to its horns, the bull was dragged to the
plaza, when it was insinuated into a rough bull-pen erected near the
castle. There were three bulls, and a second was thus dragged up and
penned in. The third, however, was tied to a tree, and pads, like
boxing-gloves, were fixed solidly to its murderous horns. Then with some
precautions the bull was loosened. The game was a sort of
ticky-touchwood. Home in this case was anywhere out of reach of the
bull's tossing capacity: open doors, the ironwork of windows, water
pipes, trees, the barricades of the streets, lamp posts, a
fountain--around which one could dodge--and a wall topped by a rickety
pailing, and the woodwork of some swing-boats near the castle.

Jan had gone down into the plaza to get some photos. From the balcony
the game was exciting, though not furious. Some of the boys showed
considerable pluck; and it was amusing to watch the strange concavities
shown in the back of one running away who thought that the bull was
close behind and who could feel in imagination those horns prodding his
spine.

[Illustration]

But the fun was not furious enough to bear long watching from the
balcony. So I went down into the square and joined Jan. I had several
reasons for this action. I was bored, and thought it would be more
exciting below. But the chief idea I had was that by this manoeuvre I
would be able to introduce myself to Jijona _en bloc_. I should be
universally known, and would thus escape the continual shrieks and
giggles with which strangers greeted my appearance. So I went down into
the plaza.

A loud gasp went up from the crowds.

Some youths ran up to me.

"Señora, Señora," they cried, "you mustn't stay here. It is dangerous!"

"Why?" asked I.

"But don't you understand? The bull! He might get you."

"But," I answered, "he might get you too."

"Oh, but we can run."

[Illustration]

"Well, I can run also."

At this moment theory turned hurriedly into practice. The bull came
charging down upon us. Jan and I with a number of youths made a run for
the wall, clambered on to it, and clung there, hanging on its rickety
pailings, while the bull smelt our toes.

"Curse you! Curse you!" screamed out an old man who was dancing with
rage on the other side of the pailings. "Get down. Can't you see that in
a minute you'll bring the whole place down? Get off at once."

But the boys merely gave him retort for curse. The bull turned on to
another baiter and dashed away. This boy sprang into the branches of a
young tree. The bull, going full speed, hit the stern of the sapling
with his forehead, and the youth was shot off, describing a graceful
parabola, and landing with a thump on to the ground. Gradually the game
drifted to the other end of the plaza and we came down from the fence.

[Illustration]

"Señora," said an anxious voice, "I have here a balcony. It is quite
respectable, for my wife is there. Pray do not risk your life any
longer."

The speaker was the husband of one of the Vinegar girls, one of the
nicest men we met in Jijona. He was short and plump, and even as he
spoke to me he gazed anxiously towards the end of the plaza. While he
was still urging me, the bull made a movement in our direction, and he
bolted. This time we sought shelter in an open doorway, accompanied by
two priests. One lad tripped and the bull rolled him over with its
padded horns, but other lads ran up, one flapped a handkerchief before
the animal's nose, another hung on to its tail. Somehow we could not
help wondering what would have happened to the bull had twenty public
schoolboys been loosed in that plaza!

At last the light faded. First the bull, then the boys grew tired. The
animal, captured with ropes, was led away to become meat for future
Jijona dinners--eating a playmate, it seemed to me.

Further north in Spain they have a variant of this game. A young bull is
put into a wide circle formed of carts. The bull's horns are not padded,
and this game is quite dangerous. A Polish painter, a friend of ours,
once entered such a ring. He was chased by the bull and to escape sprang
for a cart. He was not quite quick enough. With the upward toss the bull
thrust a horn through the seat of his trousers, as the painter was in
mid-air. Luckily the trousers were an old pair, the seat came out
wholesale and the painter tumbled head first into the cart. He says that
for the rest of the day he went about with his hat clapped behind him.

The bull-baiting over, we called upon the doctor to whom we carried an
introduction from Luis. Then we scrambled up to our Torre, taking with
us provisions and candles. We made up our mattress on the floor and
slept the more soundly for our hard bed.

[Illustration]

We had one joy at Jijona--there were no mosquitoes, and the nights were
deliciously cool. Our windows were far enough from the ground to allow
the most timid of Spanish women to sleep secure from robbers. The sun
streaming in at our windows awoke us before six--we dressed and
breakfasted, looking down on the town, which still lay in the shadow.
Immediately beneath our windows were two hundred yards of stony
hillside; then began the houses, small and closely crowded as though
they feared the rough arid expanse of the towering hills of rock. We
looked down upon an almost Moorish succession of flat roofs, plunging
downhill into the valley. The surrounding country was like a rough sea
suddenly frozen, in front of us the mountains seemed almost to curl
over. A violet smoke was rising from Jijona chimneys, a smoke which
drifted a sweet scent to our nostrils, a scent of sage and of fir. From
the middle of the village the church tower covered with blue and white
tiles suddenly chimed the hour with discordant bells.

Mrs. Vinegar was to take me the round of the shops. She had previously
tried to impress me with the dreadful price of provisions in Jijona, and
this time she prevented me from buying eggs. The greengrocer's shop,
kept by a gay woman named Concha, was only an entrada filled with
baskets. Mrs. Vinegar had refused to change a note of 100 pesetas for
me, and we discovered later that notes of any magnitude greater than
twenty-five pesetas are difficult to change in villages. But Concha
changed the money cheerfully and earned my gratitude. Opposite Concha's
shop, frowning on the main street with grated windows, was the prison,
of which somebody said:

"Heavens! The Jijona men are so good that there hasn't been a soul in
the prison for the last five years. It is full of chickens and rabbits."

We bought a frying-pan, having to choose between one very small and one
very large. The latter was thick in rust, and must have been I don't
know how many years on the shelves of the shop. We chose it on condition
that the shop man could get it clean, and he at once put the whole of
his family to work on it, including a prospective daughter-in-law, a
French-African girl just arrived from Morocco. The customers were
whispering one to another, and at last one more bold than the others
addressed me:

"I saw you yesterday go down amongst the bulls. Were you not terribly
frightened? I thought that my heart was going to stop."

We went to buy drinking glasses. The china shop was deserted and we had
to shout loudly before we could get anybody to serve us. The woman did
not know the price of the glasses.

"But no matter," she said, "you can pay any time you like. And weren't
you terribly frightened yesterday, going down into the bulls? I couldn't
draw my breath when I saw you jump on to the wall."

There were children crowded at the shop door. As we came out I heard
murmurs, which gradually we made out as:

"La Valiente, La Valiente, La Valiente!"

I was known by this name during the whole of my stay in Jijona.

On Sunday we dined at the Vinegars' and in the afternoon the doctor took
us to the Casino. I believe there is gambling at these Casinos, but this
takes place upstairs, and on the ground floor they perform the function
of the local club. On Sunday afternoons and in the evenings the
aristocracy of the place collect here to sip ices while the local
pianist rattles off the latest music which has reached the town.

After supper we walked through the streets, feeling our way up and down
hill, for lights were few and the streets full of rocks and unexpected
steps. We heard the sound of guitars and at once climbed towards it. At
the top of a staircase we came to a shop in front of which a family was
sitting. A woman with a rough voice began to chaff us.

"Ah, yes," she exclaimed, "you are the English of the Torre de Blay. And
the lady is the valiant one who is not afraid of bulls. Ha ha! What? You
are going to see the dancing--well, let's all go."

The family heaved itself to its feet, surrounded and escorted us down a
narrow lane which ended at a platform which hung on the cliff's edge.
Three men were sitting on the doorstep of a house, two playing guitars,
one playing the bandurria. A crowd, young men in blouses and girls, with
light skirts and shawls, were standing about or dancing. Three couples
were dancing a Valencian jota. Some of the movements of the dance seemed
intricate, but they danced with a fine natural grace, and there was a
beautiful balance of body which echoed the movement of the music. A
woman standing behind me said:

"Now, Señora, I will teach you the jota one of these evenings. And you
will take my baby, because I have lots and they say you have none."

[Illustration]

Both on Saturday and on Sunday bull-baiting exhibitions had taken place,
but we had not gone to see them. One day had been quite sufficient. On
Monday morning we were awakened by the sounds of music. The local band
was parading the streets playing a queer semi-Oriental music. As the
morning advanced other bands came in until seven or eight bands were in
full blast, each playing a different tune and each trying to drown its
rivals with sound. Gradually Moors and Christians gathered. The Moors
came from the Near East and from the Far. The Chief and his immediate
suite were Bedouin Arabs, and there were Turks, Saracens, Hindus,
Chinamen, negroes and some of uncertain lineage. Girls accompanied each
group dressed in appropriate Houri costume, carrying bottles filled with
a liquor which would have pleased Omar rather than Mahomet. The
Christians included Roman soldiers, crusaders, cavaliers and smugglers
of 1800. The latter were the chief Christian and his retinue.
Vivandières attended the Christians with drink no less stimulating than
that supplied to their Moorish enemies. Moors and Christians carried
large blunderbusses of ancient mode, and all day long to the sounds of
indefatigable melody they paraded the town. It appeared to be the duty
of the Moors to be comic; they wore big goggles and many had huge
imitation beards with which, when the heat grew greater, they fanned
themselves. They pranced and postured through the streets while the
Christians marched along in solemn ranks. Nor did the fiesta end with
the going down of the sun. With discreet intervals for refreshment,
marching and music continued till 2 a.m., at which time sleep and a
blessed silence fell on Jijona.

Undeterred by but four hours' rest, punctually at six the cacophony of
brass began again. By midday crusaders and bandsmen, having exchanged
helmets and caps, were dancing jotas down the principal streets. But a
short siesta revived them for the principal work of the day: the entry
of the Moors. At about four in the afternoon the performers gathered at
the picturesque southern entrance of the village, thus symbolizing the
direction from which the Moors had come. Then group by group, with
blunderbusses banging off into the air, the Christians retreated slowly
up the street, going backwards. Last of all the Christians went the
Contrabandistas, and last of the Contrabandistas the Captain, dressed in
a wonderful ancient costume of velvet, embroidered with gold, silver
and silk, and a blanket striped in many colours. Facing him, advanced
with equal solemnity and noise the chief Moor. After some two hours of
deafening reports the whole troupe was in movement, some forwards,
others backwards, and had arrived at the wooden castle in the plaza. By
seven o'clock, at this funereal pace, the Moors were at last massed
before the castle.

"Now for the charge and for some fun," we thought. But mounting a
profusely decorated horse, the chief Moor began a speech. The
Contrabandista, evidently a man of deeds only, had hired a real actor,
dressed in the costume of a cavalier, to represent him. For almost an
hour exchange of dramatic verse continued, after which the Christians
quietly walked out of the castle, and the Moors walked in.

"Good heavens," thought we, "is that all?"

With ears deafened from the guns we went home; passing on the way a
booth of green branches in which Moors and Christians, overcome either
by the heat or by the assiduous ministrations of Houri or Vivandière,
were laid out on sacks.

Though officially the day was ended, practically it was not. Those who
had private stocks of powder continued the gunfire till midnight. The
bands, their music becoming more and more incoherent, played on till two
o'clock.

We decided that we had seen enough fiesta. We stayed in our castle and
went out sketching in the country to avoid the appalling din which rose
from the town to our windows. At night there was a modest display of
fireworks in the plaza, which we were quite content to enjoy from where
we were.

After all was over they said to us:

"Wasn't it a beautiful fiesta?"

Outwardly we were forced to agree with them, but inwardly we
recognized--perhaps with a sense of regret--that to enjoy these fiestas
as they ought to be enjoyed, that is, as a Spaniard enjoys them,
requires a sense of values and perhaps a nervous organism which we do
not possess.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 20: "Look! Jijona!"]

[Footnote 21: Luxury.]



CHAPTER XXII

JIJONA--TIA ROGER


Jijona lived on almond paste. All around us the grey, pallid or zebra
striped mountains were terraced, and wherever enough earth could be
gathered together for an almond tree to grow, there it was planted. The
turron of Jijona, which is made in perfection nowhere else, is a very
popular sweet meat all over Spain and even is widely appreciated in
South America. In Barcelona I have been greeted by turron-selling youths
who addressed me as La Valiente. On the French frontier in a little
village we found a turron-stall kept by a man in Jijona costume of black
blouse and pointed hat; but he was a fraud: he had never been near
Jijona, nor could he speak the Jijona dialect. But the whole life of
Jijona was dominated by turron marzipan, and the varieties of sweet
meats made from almonds. We arrived as the almonds were beginning to
ripen. Out on the mountains one heard the thrashing of the canes amongst
the branches as the peasants beat the nuts off the almond trees. From
the village rose up a sound like that of a gigantic typewriter as the
women of the village sat in the streets in circles and cracked the
almond shells. In our entrada old Père Chicot crouched most of the day
on his haunches, peeling, drying and cracking the almonds from El
Señor's garden.

In consequence of the turron work we found it very difficult to get a
woman to work for us. Life became difficult. The conditions in Jijona
were not the same as those in Verdolay. In the latter place we could buy
excellent charcoal, but to our surprise we found charcoal difficult to
get in Jijona. When we did get it, from the proprietor of the local
cinematograph theatre, it was so hard that it would not burn. Père
Chicot said gruffly, "What are almond shells for?" We then tried burning
almond shells; but they made a poor fire, and an accumulation of shells
soon put itself out. We wasted one and a half hours trying to fry
potatoes on an almond-shell fire. So as long as we could not get a
woman, we had to live on cold stuff that we could buy from the shops:
Dutch cheese, and sardines, principally.

At last I thought that I had found a woman. I was perched on the
watercourse which ran across the face of the precipice opposite the
entrance of the town. From this spot there was an excellent view of
Jijona in its most romantic, but also in its most plastic aspect. To me
came a woman walking along the edge of the watercourse, balancing on her
head a large washing-basket. She stopped to watch my work, and as was
the custom in those early days began to talk about the bull episode.

"Ah, that was a terrible thing to do," she said. "If I had gone down
into the plaza, my knees would have turned to water."

I then asked her how I could get somebody to work for me.

"Why," she answered, "I'll come myself, or send somebody else."

She then began to move along her way. The wall of the watercourse was
about a foot wide; but ten yards further along it ceased to curve around
the face of the precipice and sprang across a chasm over a narrow
bridge. The approach to this bridge was guarded by a large polished
boulder about three feet high, and to get on to the bridge one had to
clamber over this boulder. I had crossed it on hands and knees
cautiously, for there was a sheer drop of forty or fifty feet below. The
woman looked at this boulder and turning said to me:

"That is a nasty spot. I'll have to be careful there, or I'll drop my
washing."

With the basket on her head she walked to the boulder and began to walk
up its slippery side. Balancing herself and basket in what appeared a
dangerous manner, giving little cries of "Aie! Aie! I'm afraid I'll drop
my basket," she surmounted the obstacle and strode carelessly across the
bridge. My heart left my throat to regain its normal position and I
realized that there is even a fashion in "fear."

But the woman never came, and for a week we were servantless. The pretty
girl who had driven out with us in the lorry, and who we had imagined to
be the daughter of a fairly well-to-do farmer, was as a matter of fact
our nearest neighbour. She lived at the top house of the town. Her
father was the village dust-cart, and any day could be seen walking
about the streets bent almost double beneath the weight of a huge
pannier which he carried on his back, into which he flung any object
which had no permanent right on the high road. Her house was a small
affair of two rooms only. We put our difficulty to her as she was
friendly, and to our surprise she said that she would come and do it
herself. She did arrange that the goat with his milk should call upon
us; but the Vinegars enticed her into their turron factory, and again we
were in despair. However, the girl had an idea.

"Why, Mother will do it for you," she said.

Mother was an apt-looking spouse for the dust-cart, and was considered,
we heard, the dirtiest woman in the village. Her foggy blue eyes showed
white all round them, and she threw up her lips like a biting horse when
she spoke Castilian (which she did very badly). I don't know why she
made me think of the Red queen in Alice, but her silhouette was not
unlike, and she had a queer trick of being in the house one instant, and
in the next of having quite vanished--which was Red-queenlike. She was
called "Aunt Roger" in the village, because of her ruddy hair. Aunt
Roger cleared up the mystery of the Jijona fuel. She made bargains with
boys, who wandered out over the hills, and returned looking like walking
haycocks under a load of branches of mountain pine and other coniferous
shrub. From then on we cooked over large bonfires built on the square
hearth which was in our largest room.

Tia Roger was elusive in small matters, as she was in larger ones. She
had a hasty Spanish way of agreeing at once to save herself the trouble
of understanding my language, and we never knew whether she would come
or no. She drew our pay without demur, but if an occasion offered for
other employment she took it. We would return home at eleven o'clock
worn out with a hard day's painting, to find the place uncleaned, no
fire alight, no food either bought or prepared. This would entail on our
part a rush down the steep hill into the town, to search for food.
Probably on the way we would discover Tia Roger sitting amongst a circle
of gossiping and pleased women, industriously cracking almonds. She
would show no signs of conscious sin, but would grin and nod at us as we
passed. Then we had to scramble again up to our eyrie under the full
heat of the Mediterranean sun.

Tia Roger had many children. Her eldest daughter was married to a man
who for some time puzzled us. We first saw him wandering about the upper
streets of the old town during the fiesta. He carried an elaborate pair
of sandwich boards. On the front was the well-known picture, "St.
Veronica's Handkerchief," and on the back an oleograph representing two
conventional angels--golden hair, nightdress, and wings. Both pictures
were surrounded by flat wooden frames fretworked in the hideous
art-nouveau manner. He wandered about thus, enclosed, as it were a slab
of humanity between two slices of divinity; but we could not imagine
what his purpose was. We imagined that he filled a semi-religious post,
something connected with the priests, and their fiesta, and their
cinema, and bull chasings. But on the fourth day of the fiesta, this
wandering, apparently purposeless man tripped over a washing-basket.
His language at once put to flight all our ideas of his religious
functions, it issued straight from a nature by no means purged of old
Adam, despite its devotional enclosure. Later, he fell over me as I was
sketching, and he cursed me with gusto. I then saw he was blind. This
had not been apparent to us earlier, for he took the rough and
precipitous streets of Jijona at an extraordinary speed.

One day we saw him still wandering to and fro, but the pictures had
disappeared. A cage was on his back, and in the cage, balancing against
the joggle and movement of his walk, was an uncomfortable hen. We had
become more accustomed to the Jijona speech by this time, and the
tickets which the pictures had hidden were plainly visible in his hands.
He was running a private lottery at three chances "a little bitch." I
took thirty tickets for the hen, and gave fifteen of them to Tia Roger,
but we pulled blanks. His next venture was a bedroom looking-glass, the
stand of which stuck out from his back in an ungainly fashion. It must
have needed considerable ingenuity to keep his small village clientèle
sufficiently desirous to ensure for him any sort of a living.

His wife learned that I had put him into one of my sketches. She hurried
to the Torre de Blay, carrying her child, and accompanied by a horde of
women friends to see "The Portrait." Her disappointment was great to
find that he was but a minute figure in a street landscape. She told me
that her husband had lost his sight ten years before in a street
quarrel. His opponent had slashed a knife across his eyes. For this the
law exacted no penalty. But she had drawn no lesson from her husband's
misfortune. Her baby was in a bad condition, flies, dust and exposure to
the sun were working wickedly on the child's eyes, and even then early
blindness appeared to be threatening. But it seemed to us that many of
the more ignorant Spanish were careless of their children's eyesight.
Blindness is rampant, but blindness leads to beggary; and beggary
accompanied by blindness is a profitable pursuit. Possibly a woman may
say, "Little Juan seems to be going blind. Well, that's a comfort, he
will be settled in life anyhow."

Jijona had two other blind men. The one made a living by selling cigars
from a glass case strapped to his chest.

We were sitting in the entrada of the Vinegars' on the first day of the
fiesta. The curtain was pushed slowly aside and through the opening
crept a pathetic figure. It was that of an old man; his eyes were
sightless and suppurating, a straw hat with a torn brim shaded his heavy
face, in one hand he grasped an aged guitar, in the other a stick with
which he explored the entrada for a chair. Jan quickly got out of his
chair for fear that the blind man should sit down on his lap. The man
found the chair with his stick, and trembling with the pain of movement
took a seat. Adjusting the guitar, with stiff fingers he rasped the
strings which gave out a sound, thin as though withered by extreme age.
With exercise his fingers strengthened, until from the decrepit
instrument he plucked a melody from which one might imagine that the
blind in Maeterlinck's play were dancing to solace their loneliness. The
almost macabre dance came to an end, then striking out a new set of
chords he broke into a Spanish song. His voice was an instrument as worn
out as the guitar.

He ceased his heartrending performance, collected his meed of halfpence;
I spoke to him, and he broke into an hysterical laugh of joy.

"You have returned, you have returned," he cried.

"It is El Señor that he takes you for," explained one of the girls. "He
was very good to him. The old man recognizes the English accent."

We explained to him his mistake, and the delight faded from his poor old
face, and the blank expressionless look of the blind came back. Slowly
he turned to the entrance and his tapping, which led him away down the
street. Thus he pursued his trade, feeling his way from door to door,
entering any one that was open, seating himself upon the first
unoccupied chair which he could find: few could have been hard-hearted
enough to deny his unspoken pleading.

One evening we met him in the upper town.... An accident had happened,
and his guitar was opened out like an old boot; it still held together
at the handle, but at the front of the instrument the soundboard and
back had become detached from the sides. In a clumsy fashion the hurt
had been bound up with string. We asked him what had happened. He did
not reply, but cried out with a high-pitched, half-crazy laugh. Then
standing astraddle in the precipitous street he began to pluck at the
strings as though the guitar could answer for him. The thin voice of it
had now sunk to a mere ghost of a sound, the murmur of a summer freshet
might well have drowned its plaintive whisper. Then turning he made his
way downhill.



CHAPTER XXIII

JIJONA--A DAY'S WORK


It was a toss-up which would arrive first: the sun shooting its long
level rays over the mountain-top through our windows, or Tia Roger's
daughter hammering on the door with the milk, warm and frothy, in a jug.
Either the one or the other aroused us from our mattress on the
floor--for we had dispensed quite comfortably with the complications of
a bed. Possibly our night had been restless, for inadvertently I had
imported a host of fleas into the house. They had come from the garden,
from a small spot near an outhouse door, where there was a fascinating
view, and I had stood there one morning with bare legs and feet admiring
the scene. When I had returned to the house, I had noticed a strange
blackish discoloration on my ankles, and stooping had discovered to my
horror that hordes of hungry fleas were crawling up my legs. I had
jumped into a basin of water, but many had escaped. From that moment the
house was never clear of them, and our nights were sometimes disturbed.
We suspect that Père Chicot kept his rabbit skins in the outhouse.

We got out of bed either at the call of the sun or of the milk; and as
we were dressing we watched the purple and green mists of night clearing
off the valley and from the town below us. Breakfast was a simple
affair--tea and dry bread and grapes. Spanish coffee is expensive and
bad, cocoa we did not find, and butter and jam were unprocurable. For
the boiling water we could not go to the trouble of building a bonfire,
so in spite of the expense of spirit we used a methylated spirit stove.
This Jan had bought in Murcia. The shopman had ill understood Jan's
attempts to make his needs known. "Lampara para alcool"[22] had elicited
no response, but at last, driven by repeated requests with variations,
explanations, hand wavings, and so on, intelligence had brightened the
shopman's face.

"Ah, Señor," he had cried, "I understand you now. What you require is a
'little hell.'"

So the kettle sang daily over "little hell," but this morning, Tia Roger
having forgotten to purchase alcohol overnight, it looked as if we were
to breakfast on goat's milk alone. But an idea occurred to me. El Señor,
when he had transferred his major residence to Murcia, had left some
furniture and much litter in El Torre de Blay. Amongst the litter were
odd bottles which had contained toilet lotions, one was half full. Was
there not a chance then that it was alcoholic? I routed out the bottle.
The smell told me nothing. Practical experiment was the only thing.
Imagination was rewarded. "Little hell" worked as well on hair-wash as
with any other fuel.

We ate our simple breakfast at an ancient refectory table, the top hewn
from the width of a large tree, the legs curved and carved like those in
Viking pictures. Then we set to packing up paint and brushes, and the
preparing of sketch boxes. Leaving the things untidy for Tia Roger to
clear, we set off on our respective ways, I down into the old town, Jan
out across the mountains. Jijona was a maze of zigzag streets. In the
morning it was almost manless, but women went to and fro on their
household errands, and the children followed me in swarms. Standing
about in the streets were small coops, enclosing either a chicken or a
turkey, while the queer lean Egyptian cats, with rat-like tails, slunk
along the walls, vanishing like ghosts at any attempt to stroke them.
Even the kittens of a few days old spat at a proffered pat as though at
a dog. I was bound for the street near the monastery which, with its
blue-tiled roof, brought the eastern end of Jijona to a full stop.

As soon as I had settled down the questions began. They were the usual
Spanish questions such as one had heard in Verdolay, and many of the
answers I knew now by heart. But one woman behind me said something new.

"It is an English Señora. She is painting. All the English people paint,
for there have been other English here--El Señor, and his friends--and
they, too, painted. It is strange, indeed, that a whole nation should be
thus gifted. Also all the English are very rich, for they come here from
a long distance, and they paint pictures, and all that is very
expensive. Another thing that I can tell you about the English is that
they are all very tall. Every Englishman that I have seen (she had seen
four) is much taller than we Spanish are. It does not matter that I am
saying this out loud because La Doña does not understand Valenciano."

While I was working this morning there was a continual sound of
squealing pigs. Men's voices mingled with those of the pigs, urging them
to be quiet. The sound came from a high-walled enclosure to which the
entrance was an archway closed by a massive wooden door. Then along came
a goat herd leading his flock. But as soon as the herd came opposite to
this door it refused to pass it. With shouts, curses, and stones the man
urged the goats along. In little quick rushes, thus urged on, one by one
the goats dashed past the door and on down the road. But two refused the
passage perilous. They made sneezing noises of protestation, but nothing
would induce them to move. In despair the man at last had to bring all
his goats back and take them to the hills by some other route. Later I
realized that the door which these intelligent animals would not pass
was the slaughter-house.

Old men, dressed in the ancient Jijona costume of black blouse and black
velvet hat with turned-up brim and pointed crown--kept on to the head by
an elastic at the back--would address me in a patois impossible to
understand. As the sketch neared completion my audience became excited.

"Ha Pintado tod'! tod'! tod'!"[23] they exclaimed. They searched the
picture for the smaller details, the strings of red peppers hanging from
the balconies especially delighted them. Indeed, they gave my pictures
titles because of some minute detail.

"What is she doing?" a new-comer exclaimed. The answer was "The fig
tree." I was astonished, because I could see no fig tree in the whole
sketch. At last one of my audience pointed to one tiny branch of green
projecting over a wall.

Jan had four directions to choose from. North and south led him across a
flattish plain seamed with deep watercourses, east and west took him
into the mountains. To the east the mountains were grey bare stone,
almost uncultivated; to the west the mountains went steeper and steeper,
ending in a high ridge, at the foot of which was a queer leprous
country, the earth spotted all over with lichens and looking as though
mouldy. Wherever he went were the terraces and almond trees; and lonely
little farms were perched high up on the slopes. Terrible little places
those farms were for the doctor, for, if any one were ill in them, there
was often no means of approach other than miles of climbing on foot. But
all across the mountains, incongruous enough in that landscape of
primitive agriculture where the plough was but a stake with an iron
spike, and where no roads were, went standards carrying wires of
electricity. On the standards, deaths'-heads were painted to scare off
the inquisitive child.

Jan had not only to contend with sun and flies. Shadow was even more
difficult to find at Jijona than at Verdolay; the almond as a shade tree
is negligible. It was hot setting out, but it was hotter coming back.
One did not delay much after half-past ten, but, whether the sketch were
finished or no, one packed up one's things and set off homeward. As one
walked one could feel the heat of the ground through the soles of the
alpagatas. There were reputed to be scorpions in the mountains, and it
was as well to be careful when taking a seat or when picking up some
painting implement dropped to the ground. But Jan never saw one. The
peasants said that if he were stung the best thing to do was to plunge
the stung part--usually a finger--into a raw egg; when the yolk had
turned black, a fresh egg was to be substituted.

We were both back in good time on this day, because we were to lunch
with the doctor and his wife. They had promised us a truly Spanish meal.
Here is the menu:

1. Smoked uncooked ham.

2. Hors d'oeuvre, olives (cured in anis and mint), pink tomatoes (a
Jijona speciality), cucumber, and orange-coloured sausage.

3. Soup.

4. A stew of chicken, potatoes and garbanzos. (Garbanzos, or chick-peas,
look something like dried nasturtium seeds. They are cooked like haricot
beans, and taste like a blend of haricot bean and lentil. They are a
very favourite Spanish vegetable.)

5. Cold fish and mayonnaise. (The mayonnaise was made from almond oil,
lemon juice and hard-boiled egg, and was extremely delicate in flavour.)

6. Fried ham and grilled tomatoes.

7. Turron and almond paste sweets.

8. Yellow melon and muscatel grapes. Brandy.

9. Iced coffee (brought in by a boy from the Casino).

The doctor's wife asked me if it were true that English people did not
like questions. I said personally we did not mind questions, but that in
England direct intimate questions were generally avoided.

"But," said the doctor's wife in amazement, "if you wish to find out
something about anybody, how do you do so? And how do you carry on
conversations?"

The meal over, we toiled slowly up again to El Torre, taking the hill in
as leisurely a manner as we could. Tia Roger's daughter was sitting on
our doorstep eating grapes. As we passed she held the bunch out to us.

"Les Gusta?"[24] she said.

"Buen aproveche," we replied.

Before their gateway, the two aged men and the one old woman sat, as
they did from morning till night, plaiting an everlasting rope of
esparto grass.

We had acquired the siesta habit, so lay down until four o'clock. Then,
as the dinner had rather disorganized our desire to paint, Jan and I
went for a walk. We clambered down through the town, passed out by the
southern entrance, across the bridge, and clambered up the hill
opposite. At a long open washing-place, women were on their knees
beating and scrubbing clothes with the Spanish soap which will not
lather; amongst them, working as hard as the rest, was a child of five
years old.

We skirted the line between the mountains, and the flat and plain for
about two miles, then Jan took a path leading away from the mountains.
We came out into the most fantastic scenery of its kind I have ever
seen. In the winter the torrential rains burst on the mountains and the
water rushing down had scooped deep clefts in the earth of the plain.
The ground itself appeared to be in layers of various colours, and these
layers falling in one above the other had striped the sides of the deep
canyon purple, blue, white, orange and red. The water had cut out of the
clayey earth a hundred fantastic shapes--I have seen photographs of the
Grand Canyon of Colorado, this was like them on a small scale; at one
place the clay was harder and the water dripping down had carved the
cliff-side like great organ pipes or like the columns of an Egyptian
temple. In the deep bottoms of the canyon were vine terraces; and
further down flat, irrigated fields of tomatoes, of herbage or of
vegetables. Little farm-houses sheltered under the mud cliffs, and on
the circular threshing floors almonds and red peppers were spread out
to dry in the sun. In one place a man had scooped his dwelling out of
the cliff-side. These cave dwellings are common enough. At Verdolay was
a whole colony of them, and the cavemen were reputed to be thieves and
vagabonds, and the members were despised by the peasants proper. At the
end of the ravine or barranca we came to a many-arched bridge which
towered high above our heads, and clambering up by a zigzag track found
ourselves on the Alicante road.

In appearance this country is very deceptive. It appears arid, almost
desolate, but the mountains are covered with almond trees, which for all
their scanty foliage bear valuable crops, while the plain hides its
richness in ravines a hundred feet or more below the level of its
surface.

We arrived home to find a stranger dressed in black clothes, but with an
official cap on his head, sitting on a stone seat before our door. He
was reading a book, and as we came up he bowed and said that he hoped
his presence was not distasteful to us. We, of course, in the fashion of
Spanish courtesy, put our whole home at his disposal, and invited him
indoors. He demurred in the correct fashion, but on a second invitation
came in with us. In the long entrada Père Chicot was looking out through
the back door and shaking his head at the garden.

"There's another tree dying," he said. "All the trees are dying, and the
vines won't bear. You can't do anything without water."

"But is there no water at all?" we asked.

"Ay," replied Père Chicot, "there used to be the right to two hours of
water once a fortnight. But the owners sold it. They wanted money and it
was worth many hundreds of pesetas."

Our visitor was very interested in the house, for he confided in us
that there was a housing shortage in Jijona, like that in the rest of
the world. He was chief of the municipal officers, dust-cart,
water-supply, electric light and so on. He had just come from Toledo,
and the only place he could find in Jijona was not nearly large enough
for his family.

"This would just suit me," he said, peering into room after room, "seven
rooms; and they say that St. Sebastian used to live here. Did you know
that?"

His eye was attracted by the guitar of El Señor, which we had brought
with us.

"And you an afficionado of the guitar," he exclaimed. "I, too, have
played in my time."

We pressed him to play.

"No, no; indeed I would like to, but I may not. You see, my wife's
father died a week ago, and it would seem very wicked if I were to play,
or to sing."

Jan played him a farouka which he had learned from Blas.

"It seems a good guitar," said the man.

He picked it up, and fingered the chords. Then he went to the door and
peered round it to see if Père Chicot had gone home.

"I might sing you something if you won't tell any one," said the chief
of the municipal officers. "But I will sing it in a very low voice, so
that it will be less disrespectful to my wife's father."

He sang, in a hoarse unmusical whisper, a guajiras.

"I like the guajiras and also the tango," said he. "You see, I did my
military duty in Cuba, and I learned many over there."

Here are three of the songs he sang:

    "I will never marry,
    For as a bachelor I am gay,
    I have money to spend,
    I live like a general all day.
    And if I come to marry,
    Though I may be rich,
    I shall have to lower my crest,
    Like 'Barrabas' the cock,
    But the bachelor is
    Like God painted by Peter."

    "On a serene night
    The sad lament was heard
    Of a poor soldier, wounded
    And covered with blood and sand.
    For the ambulances were full,
    And the Red Cross doctors were busy.
    At the sight of his oozing blood
    The brave soldier prayed
    That death should overtake him,
    For no one could assist him."

    "At breakfast one morning
    A wise man said, sighing,
    That women in weeping
    Are false as are traitors.
    This has oft been ignored.
    But I've seen and I know
    That the tears of a woman,
    As down they are falling,
    Make naught but deception
    For the man who supports her."

As he went on he began to forget his father-in-law, and in a short while
he was bawling indecent tangos at the top of his voice. He showed no
signs of departure, so I began to prepare for supper. I lit the bonfire
which Tia Roger had laid in the wide hearth-place, placed over it a
three-legged trivet of iron and on the trivet our huge saucepan full to
the brim with olive oil. We then made use of a Spanish custom. We asked
him to supper with us. This he was forced by Spanish custom to refuse,
and as we did not repeat the invitation he had to make his
compliments--which he did with the greatest courtesy--and go home.

After supper, as our bread supply was short, we felt our way down the
hill in the dark and down the staircases of streets to the shop of
Manuel Garcia. Garcia and his wife sold bread at one fat dog cheaper
than the other shops. The bread was quite as good as any other, it had a
very white powdery kind of consistency, baked in flat loaves with a very
hard, anæmic crust. The Garcias had showed us one of the economical
devices which were in current use. We had for some days bought candles
at this shop, but Mrs. Garcia said:

"Why do you spend all this money on candles? Here is a thing much
better, and much cheaper. You first pour water into a cup or bowl until
half-way up, then fill to the top with olive oil. Float one of these on
the top of the oil, and set fire to it. There you have a light at half
the cost of candles."

The box she handed to us was full of pieces of cork through which a wick
had been thrust. On the top of the box was the name of the device
"little-lamps-little-boats" and a picture of the Virgin. We stepped back
in our illumination to the most ancient of methods--the old Roman
conquerors of Spain must have illuminated their villas in this way.
"Little-lamps-little-boats" had probably given light to the halls of the
Saracen castle which now was but a few crumbling masses of slowly
disintegrating cement. It was curious to think that one-half of Jijona
was lit by electric light, the other by this antique device, and that
there was practically nothing between. Mrs. Garcia had urged us to the
stewing of garbanzos.

The Garcias were go-ahead Spaniards. Starting from very small origins,
they had begun a small turron factory in a back room. Not content with
making turron alone, they had peddled it all over the Balearic Isles.
Gradually they had prospered, and the whole upper part of the house was
now factory, the entrance to the factory being higher up the hill in a
back street. Yet they remained simple people, sitting, in the evenings,
on their doorstep gossiping, while the flaxen-haired daughter, sixteen
years old, painted with a toothpick dipped in dye eyes and noses on
sugar pigs and cats.

"We had a hard time at first," said Mrs. Garcia. "In Majorca the people
were very jealous of us, and often very rude. They would tell us to go
back to our own district; they used to laugh at our speech, though God
knows they can't speak proper Spanish themselves."

This inter-district jealousy seems characteristic of Spain. The man from
Toledo laughed at the Jijona people; the people of Jijona called those
of Murcia "gipsies"; the people of Murcia say that the Jijona folk are
mere uncultivated mountaineers; Catalan and Castilian are in
semi-enmity. Each person that one spoke to lauded the beauties and the
food of his own district at the expense of other places. All about
Jijona they would have nothing but malegueñas and Valencian jotas. The
other varieties of Spanish music they were not interested in.

But the Garcias were progressive people. They had made a success of
their Balearic venture, and now had a stall in the market of Alicante.
This was kept by a sister-in-law. Garcia and his wife were making
preparations to go to the great fair at Albacete. The shop was full of
large bales done up in straw matting, boxes and crates of sweets and of
turron. They would go by road, for it was cheaper, and only about a
hundred miles away.

"That is a queer town," said Garcia. "There are gates to the walls, and
at a certain hour they shut the gates, and if you are outside you stay
outside till the morning."

Mrs. Garcia wanted me to paint her portrait. If she would have posed to
me in the ordinary, peasant, workaday dress I would have done it with
pleasure. But she had a fine fashionable modern silk dress of black and
she wanted to pose in this. I managed to put off the proposal until the
time of her departure was too close. She went away unsatisfied.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 22: Spirit lamp.]

[Footnote 23: "She has painted everything, everything, everything!"]

[Footnote 24: "Would you like them?"]



CHAPTER XXIV

JIJONA--THE GOATHERDS


Murcia could be counted as unmusical, in Verdolay one heard either a
gramophone of the little Señor, or the piano banged by the girls who
lived in the topmost house of the village. In Jijona, on the contrary,
almost every evening could be heard the sound of the guitar or of that
strange Eastern singing of Spain. Young men sat on the edge of the cliff
below the Saracen castle and thumped two or three chords from a guitar
for half the night long. It had a delight, analogous to that which the
tom-tom gives, a delight drawn from the hypnotism of inexorable rhythm.
But save for the commandant of the municipal officers, who was a
stranger, we had made the acquaintance of none of the musicians until
one afternoon the goatherds perched themselves in the shadow beneath our
walls.

We were taking a siesta when the sound of thrumming roused us from the
half sleep which the afternoon gives. Jan exclaimed:

"That music sounds quite near."

He jumped up and looked out of the window. On a narrow ledge of flat
rock at the foot of the wall three men were sitting in the shadow of the
house. Two had guitars, and all along the wall of the garden a number of
goats were lying down or were browsing on the small weeds which sprouted
between the rocks. On the hill-side the kids were engaging one another
in mock battle, rearing up in feint, with the most dainty of gestures,
or interlocking their infantile horns.

We slipped on our clothes, and crawling out by the garden door, the
opening of which was only about four feet high, we joined the goatherds
in their patch of shadow.

"Buenos dias," said Jan. "I, too, love the guitar."

"Si, Señor," answered one of the herds, "through the windows we have
heard you playing."

[Illustration]

One of the men was thin but wore an enormous pagoda-like sombrero of
straw, one was a boy of eighteen with a huge moustache, the third was an
old man with a large nose, the wrinkles on his face drawn more deeply
than any we have before seen. Their guitars were poor instruments and
the strings were broken and knotted together, in consequence of which
little bits of stick were tied across the arm of the instrument in order
to clamp the strings down to the fingerboard below the knotted parts. As
the strings break and are repaired, this stick is moved up the
fingerboard until the strings are too short to play upon. Jan crawled
through the small door and brought out the big white guitar. The thin
man handled it with reverence.

"I know the instrument," he said. "It is El Señor's. It is a good
instrument, but he has a better. A big brown one which is a marvel. He
must be very rich. They say he gave more than two hundred pesetas for
it."

He played on it for a moment, but soon handed it back to Jan.

"I'd rather play on my old one," he said. "I'm not afraid of it, and I
can knock it about as I like."

All three were dressed in cotton shirts and pants, tied at the ankle
with tape, over these they wore cotton coats and trousers; when the
weather was very hot they dispensed with the trousers. Their feet were
bare of stocking, but their shoes were heavy; woven by themselves out of
esparto grass, very Oriental in shape with turned-up, pointed toes. On
their backs were sacks containing esparto grass and half-fashioned
sandals. Each possessed a long, heavy, crook'd stick shod with an iron
point.

All too soon they said that they must be moving on. "But come down to
the street of the soap house, top side, this evening, and we'll have a
dance and singing."

I had sketched in this street. It was on the steepest part of the hill
and ran almost horizontally across, so that the front door of the upper
houses were on a level with the roofs of the lower ones. The roadway was
divided along the centre, one-half being some twenty feet above the
other; a low parapet protected the drop. It was lucky that the dwellers
in the upper part of the street were sober Spaniards.

[Illustration: GIRL SINGING A MALAGUEÑA

This type song is in 3/4-time, and is as a rule very melancholy. It is
very popular in the south of Spain.]

We found, as usual, the party seated on chairs in the middle of the
street, near a small electric light; some of the men were sitting along
the parapet. We were greeted by an old, but very large woman who groaned
all the evening with rheumatism. The girls were in their best dresses of
pale coloured skirt and embroidered paisley patterned shawls. A long
silence followed our arrival. We were waiting for a player who was the
best in the village. He could not come, but sent his brother instead,
who played well, but was left-handed. Three guitars and a guitarron
formed the orchestra.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, went the guitars, while across the deeper chords
the little guitarron, with its strange tuning, threaded a shrill pattern
of monotonous arpeggios. The music of Spain has something fundamental
about it. It has a hint of the heart-beat of the universe. The rich,
pulsating rhythm of it seems to set the air flowing in waves like those
in a disturbed pool. It seems to speak of something ideally simple, to
create an harmonious forgetfulness. A girl sitting amongst us threw back
her head and sang. Her voice carried the sad minor cadences of the
eternal East; it was pitched queerly in the throat and wailed across the
still night like the voice of a passionate soul.

    "When I am dead a hundred years,
    And when the worms have eaten me,
    The signs you find in my dead bones,
    Will show that I have worshipped thee.
    When I am dead a hundred years."

The song began with a long-drawn-out aie-e-e, which ran a gamut of
strange, almost creepy modulations, the guitars slowed down their tempo,
but when the last echo of the song had died amongst the hills, the
instruments took up once more the remorseless beat of the malagueña.

Again she sang:

      "New pain drives out old pain,
      New grief drives out old grief,
      One nail drives out another nail,
      But love to love gives no relief.
      New pain drives out old pain,
      Aie-e-e...."

Once more she sang:

      "Your eyes like double evils are,
      Black as is the dark of Hades,
      And you have to cover them
      The ebon thickets of your lashes.
      Your eyes like double evils are."

The guitars beat up the rhythm once more and then a man began to sing:

    "In your eyes there is a sky,
    Your mouth with heaven itself can vie,
    A garden blooms whene'er you smile,
    But in your breast's a crocodile.[25]
    In your eyes there is a sky."

Again he sang:

    "The only love which I discovered,
    Like black gunpowder reacted;
    Fire, explosion, light; then after ...
    Followed ashes, silence, darkness.
    The only love which I discovered."

By this time a large number of men and of girls had gathered.

"Vamos!" they cried. "Let's have a jota. Come on, Perico, play something
that we can dance to."

The guitar-players changed their tempo, the little guitarron beat out
with a more insistent though more flexible rhythm. The jota has a beat
which is partly the beat of the bar, partly that of the phrase. This is
common in Spanish music and has points of resemblance with early
European music generally.

Three girls and three of the youths lined up face to face, and soon the
dancers were swinging to and fro over the uneven roadway. There is an
agile grace in the jota. We watched it with delighted eyes. But the old
rheumatic woman did not look pleased.

[Illustration: THE VALENCIAN JOTA DANCED BY THREE COUPLES]

"That girl," she muttered to me, nodding her head at one of the dancers,
"she has no right to dance. She is apunto. You know," she went on,
noting my perplexed expression, "she is expecting a baby soon. It is
very wrong of her to dance."

The dancers moved with flexible rhythm, snapping their fingers with the
music, and their shadows, flung on the wall by the dim electric light,
caricatured their movements. The guitars beat on, creating an atmosphere
of careless joy which seemed to bring us into more sensitive contact
with the Spaniards than ever we had been before. We wonder if
civilization has anything to give to these people. They live simple,
straightforward and pleasant lives, tempered, it is true, by sickness
and pain and sometimes by privation; but it would be a rash man who
would promise to give them greater store of valuable things than they
already have. The fact that most cannot read does not hamper them very
much. They have wisdom stored up in a thousand witty proverbs, and for
their leisure they have the guitar and their songs.

What a wonderful instrument the guitar is! The simplest of all
instruments for the learner, a few days' practice makes him so that he
can play as do the generality of these herdsmen. Then one can hypnotize
oneself with the sonorous rhythm of repeated chords. But if one wishes
to go further, the range and variety of the guitar is inexhaustible. It
has as many moods as nature and is as difficult to conquer. Sarasate,
they say, gave up the guitar because it was so difficult. But the guitar
in the hands of the master is the finest of all instruments. Of single
portable instruments it alone is complete; it alone is fully satisfying.
We English do not know the guitar. Outside of Spain it has never been
played. And the Spanish music made for the guitar ... like life itself
with its interwoven themes of sadness and of joy; with mournful melody
accompanied by strange gay accompaniment, the words often in strange
contrast with the melodic theme. There is no native music in Europe
which has the range, the variety, and the depth of feeling possessed by
that of Spain.

We tore ourselves away while yet they were dancing; for we remembered
that 5.30 was our rising time. The thin goatherd, who wore the enormous
hat in the daytime, took us into his house and gave us a drink. The baby
was in its cradle, its face carefully tucked under the sheet. The
aguadiente which he poured out for us was strong and harsh to the taste;
and one was grateful for the glass of water which it is customary to
drink afterwards.

As we were getting ready for bed, we could still hear the sounds of the
guitars and the cries of the dancers on the calm air of the night.

The goatherds used to come almost every afternoon to the foot of our
castle, and we gave up the siesta habit in their favour.

I made the acquaintance of one other goatherd in Jijona. I was painting
in a street near the Garcias' shop. When the picture was nearly
complete, I wished for a figure and asked an old man to pose for me. He
was nearing eighty, and his face was a map of wrinkles, with a mountain
of nose and chin and a valley of toothless mouth. His clothes were a
patchwork of different materials. The study which I made of him
delighted him so much that he begged for it. He would pay me, he said.

"The price does not matter," he exclaimed, "if only La Doña will put in
a goat also." For he owned the flock which he led every day into the
mountains.

I made him a copy of it, and all the other goatherds trooped up to the
castle to see Tio Pepe's portrait.

"Ay, there's Pepe," they cried, slapping their thighs; "there he is with
his patches, and his crook'd stick, and his sandals and his old nose and
all. Tod', Tod'."

It was near the time of our departure from Jijona. Tio Pepe in vain
tried to press on me a few pesetas for the portrait. He searched his old
mind for a means of showing his gratitude; and just as we were leaving
he found a solution. At five o'clock in the morning, as our trunk was
leaving the house on the shoulders of Tia Roger's strong young son, up
ran Uncle Pepe with a large can of goat's milk, all of which we had to
drink on the spot; or he would never have forgiven us.

The night before our departure we had packed, for we had to start early
to catch the motor-bus. Then we had gone to bed. We had just snuggled
down beneath the blankets, for the nights were getting quite fresh, when
I heard the sounds of a guitar. The sounds drew closer. They were coming
up the hill. A suspicion grew to a certainty.

"Jan," I cried, "those goatherds are giving us a farewell serenade."

We hurried into our clothes. The goatherds had sat themselves down on
the stone bench at the front door and were singing lustily at the moon.
I don't know what the Spanish etiquette in such matters is, but we went
out and took part in our own serenade. It was a lengthy affair. The time
crept on, and we, shivering somewhat, for the night grew quite cold, sat
ungratefully thinking of the sleep we were missing, and wondering how we
were to awaken ourselves at four o'clock. At two o'clock they went away,
and we rushed back to bed to seize the two hours of sleep which remained
for us.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 25: Crocodile is Spanish slang for a false lover.]



CHAPTER XXV

MURCIA--AUTUMN IN THE PASEO DE CORVERAS


We came back to Murcia, to our headquarters in the Paseo de Corveras, at
the beginning of October. Though the town was so far south, the cold
weather had well begun. In the daytime the sun seemed as fierce as ever,
but the dust that had lain inches deep during the summer was now an
equal depth of semi-liquid mud, and the house, without fireplaces or any
means of creating artificial warmth, had in it a faint though insidious
chill. Save in the hottest weather, stone or cement floors are
comfortless to live with. Marciana, the woman whose services we had
shared with Antonio during Rosa's smallpox, returned to us. She was a
woman of sixty years, bulky in figure, dressed in black of an eternal
mourning, and was mother of the most talented sculptor of Murcia. She
was an illustration of the inter-provincial jealousy of the Spaniard.
She came from Don Quixote's country, La Mancha, and was never weary of
chanting its praises.

"Ah, Señora," she exclaimed, "that is a wonderful land. Corn, oil and
wine in abundance. Dancing and singing in the villages all night long.
And what a wonderful people are those of mi pueblo.[26] My two sisters,
they each weigh at least twice as much as do I. And then we are a
civilized folk there, I can assure you. You saw how they treated it here
when Rosa had the smallpox. No precautions, even though one died of it a
few doors down the street. Now in mi pueblo they stretch sheets in front
of the doors of warning; the necessaries of life are put on to the
doorstep, and the money to pay for them is dropped by the hands of those
who are in the house, and who are not allowed beyond the sheet, into
pans of vinegar, so that they may be purified of the disease. Now that
is real cleanliness."

"But, thanks to God, Señora, Rosa is much better. The spots are
disappearing, she will not be marked, and she has given birth to a son.
It was a most divine birth. Of course it was fear for the son that made
everybody so anxious."

Marciana was a dilatory servant. Nothing was ever ready up to date, and
she invariably drowned all my commissions for the market with a flood of
words. She would wait all the morning in the queue which gathered at the
Government Olive Oil depot, to buy olive oil for me at a few centimos
cheaper than she could buy it from the grocers; and no explanation that
she wasted more of our pay than she gained in cheapness convinced her.

Antonio greeted us with delight, as did Emilio, the guitar maker, whom
we went to visit on the first day of our return. Each, however, was in a
different mood. Antonio, in spite of the joy caused by his new son, who
he said had been born "most preciously," was in a rage. He was in
trouble with the local authorities about his taxes. It appears that
there is a factory tax which does not depend upon the size of the
business, but the mere fact that there is a business. Thus Antonio, with
his three or four girl helpers, was condemned to pay the same sum as a
factory employing a thousand hands.

"It is impossible!" shouted Antonio. "We are thus crushed out of
existence. I may be able to arrange it, but, if I cannot, then it is no
use my going on. All the profits are swallowed up in one gulp. I shall
shut down, and sell up everything."

Emilio, on the other hand, was flushed with unsullied delight. A pompous
man was sitting in his shop with a guitar across his knees. Now and
then he drew from it a flourish of arpeggios, very technical, but rather
meaningless. Emilio stood over him, his eyes sparkling at the guitar,
which appeared to be exquisite in tone and strong in volume.

"Aha! my friends, congratulate me," cried he. "I have surpassed myself.
Permit me, Señor." He took the guitar from the pompous man, and handed
it reverently to Jan. "Try it, only touch it and see what a quality it
has. See how the bass note rings out, and how well-balanced to it is the
treble. I had no more than set the strings out on to it when Don Feliz,
the little maestro whom you know, came in. He played upon it, and so
full was my heart with the perfect tone of it, and with the thought that
I, Emilio Peralta, had made it, that the tears came running down my
face. I wept, Señor, to hear it. All night long I could not sleep for
fear that the tone might alter, as sometimes it does. Sometimes, indeed,
a guitar newly made sounds of no value, but in a few days or weeks even
it may become first rate. But this was good from the beginning, and it
has remained so."

The pompous man took a stately leave of us. Emilio was so excited by his
new achievement that he went on talking:

"One does not come to make guitars like this easily. How many are there
alive in Spain to-day who could do it? Only one, and I am he. Arias is
dead, Raminez also, though I have not seen a Raminez to equal this one.
For I will warrant that there are few better guitars than this in Spain.
Unluckily, it was sold before it was completed, or I would scarcely have
let it go. It was ordered by a colonel in the Army. Play on it, Señor,
but do not play Flamenco, for you must not tap upon the soundboard, or
you will injure the varnish. This is built for Classical."

Jan played, and it gave out a sonorous arid clear melody.

"From whom did I learn, Señor? I learned from nobody. My father was a
guitar-maker, but a poor one. He taught me nothing. Indeed, I was
married before the desire came to me to make fine instruments. Then how
I worked, Señor! I had an idea of the perfect guitar in my head; but
between idea and accomplishment what a gap! I could not cross it. Of two
guitars, made equally alike, one would be good, the other useless. When
this happened I would take them to pieces to search for the reason. For
years I have lived in poverty, spoiling good wood which cost me all my
earnings. I have not studied the guitars of others. Always in my head I
carried the idea of the perfect instrument. Slowly I have struggled
towards it. Now I know. But at what a cost have I acquired knowledge!"

Jan touched a chord on the instrument in his hands, and as it throbbed
out its deep responsive note he remembered the saying of Chopin:
"Nothing is more beautiful than a good guitar; save perhaps two."

Emilio promised to send Professor Feliz to us as soon as he came in; and
we walked back to the house through the Murcian mud, which, soaking
through our shoes, made us modify our previous eulogy of the alpagata.
On barrows in the street they were selling the first culled clusters of
dates of the season; we bought both pale and dark varieties, but they
were hard and tasteless. With the dates on the barrows were the orange
fruit of the persimon.

While we had been away at Jijona a cat had taken possession of our house
for the purpose of kittening. How she had got in was a mystery, for the
windows and doors all had been tightly sealed up, but we had discovered
her with her family at the bottom of the packing-cases which had formed
our bed at Verdolay. We had heard strange faint sounds as though of mice
on the evening of our return. The noises, however, did not cease for all
our presence. We had gone to explore; suddenly, a noise like a boxful of
exploding matches had burst up from under our noses, and something black
dashed across the dimly lit room and out through the window. There were
two kittens at the bottom of the narrowest of the packing-cases. We had
moved them to a large box near to the window. That night there had been
a fearful noise of yowling and squeaking. In the morning we found the
kittens back in the box from which we had moved them. The cat was quite
unapproachable. She burst out into a fury of spitting whenever we came
near. Then with one final explosion hurried from the room. These wild
cats were the pest of Murcia. One could leave no window open but they
poured into the house. All food had to be securely shut up, the marks of
their dusty paws were everywhere.

When we returned from Emilio's we found that our presence in the house
had been too much for the cat's nerves. She had disappeared from her box
and the kittens were gone with her.

Don Feliz, the half-blind guitar teacher, came in the evening. He again
said he was an honest man, and that his terms were five pesetas a month.
He was delighted to hear that we both were to be his pupils. Part of his
delight came from the money he would earn; but some of his delight was
due to the fact that he had ousted Blas as Jan's teacher. I do not think
we have met anybody more inappropriately named than Don Feliz. If Mr.
Shandy's theories have any foundation he was cursed from his
christening. He was not a Murciano, but a Castilian, and, in
consequence, depreciated the people he lived amongst and was in turn not
appreciated by them. He lived constantly torn by jealousy of the other
guitar-players in the town.

"Tell me," he exclaimed, "what do you think of the playing of Don
Ambrosio?"

Don Ambrosio was the pompous man we had met in Emilio's shop.

"Technically, excellent, but rather frigid," we said.

"Yes," exclaimed Don Feliz, "that is it. Frigid, yes, frigid! Nor is Don
Timoteo a good player, and as for that Blasito, that gipsy--pah! You
see, he has never learned music. So that, if he does get a good melody
from somebody else, he cannot harmonize it. And his Flamenco is of the
taverns. It is low, common music. Now I play Classical. Have you heard
my piece which represents a battle? How I imitate the mitrailleuse on
the base string? Now that is quite different from anything which that
fellow Blas can play. Of course I regret that you wish to learn
Flamenco. But that which I will teach you will be a classicized
Flamenco. I have made it into music. You see, I have been in a
conservatoire in my youth. That puts me on a different level from all
these other players. So I have made of my Flamenco something more
refined. It is no longer your tavern monstrosity that Blas plays."

Personally we preferred Blas as a player, and the music of Blas as
music. But Don Feliz was somewhat better as a teacher. His conservatoire
had taught him at least the names of the notes. But he was very
irritable. Poor fellow, at twopence a lesson, he had to give a round of
thirty lessons per day to make a bare subsistence. Sometimes he said
that his pupils were so dense that he could teach them but three or four
consecutive notes per day. Once we heard him debating with a possible
client whether it was worth while or no to walk two miles in order to
get three lessons in the same house. Our consciences--concerning
sweating--pricked us and we paid him double fees. In consequence of his
gratitude he came to our house last of all and gave us lessons of four
times the duration of any one else.

After he had gone, we were still playing, when Marciana came in with
some parcels.

"Aha!" she cried. "That is a jota. It is the music of mi pueblo. La
jota, La jota."

She put down the parcels; spread out her arms and with a balance and
elegance extraordinary in one so bulky began to dance. After twenty
bars, however, she stopped.

"Ei," she sighed, "how sad it is that one grows old. How sad that youth
passes all too quickly!"

That night a terrific thunderstorm broke over the valley. The thunder
crashed, the lightning flared and the rain came down as though pouring
from a gigantic hose. In the middle of all the noise we heard a strange
sound.

"Wah! wah! wah! Squeak! Squeak!"

The cat had come back; but with only one kitten. The next morning we
stayed in the house. From the windows we could mark the change which
autumn had brought over the Paseo de Corveras. The dust was no longer
blown along the road, which was now a still river of liquid mud. The
town dust-cart, a donkey with panniers, no longer promenaded the street;
no longer did we hear the cheerful blasphemy of the dust-boy who,
stooping to gather up some refuse, found that his dust-cart had
impatiently trotted on. In its place were the exhortations of the
pig-drivers, who urged hordes of monstrous black pigs through the mud.
Some of the porkers were, however, so heavy on their feet that they had
to be brought in carts. The squealing of them filled the morning air.
The fruit merchants, also with panniered donkeys, no longer called out
"Melacotones, peras!" but "Uvas! Uvas!"[27] and a man wandered about
with a huge basket of snails. The maize fields in front of the house
were cut and stacked, and in the fields queens of Sheba were dragging
the primitive ploughs, while men behind them beat to powder the lumps of
baked earth which were turned up. Instead of the almost dead silence
which greeted the strengthening sun, people moved about all day;
parasols had given place to flirting fans. The country girls wore
bunches of flowers in their hair, some even put one tall blossom
sticking upright from the _coiffure_, where it nodded and bowed with the
movements of the wearer. In the fruit garden the lemons had quite
fallen, but the oranges were beginning to become a livid yellow on one
side of the bush, while the dates had passed from a pale to a deep
golden hue.

I went about with Luis exploring balconies for views, and finally
decided upon a view of Murcia from the tall campanile of the Cathedral.
When I got back I found that the cat once more had decamped, taking the
kitten with her. The second kitten had been lost. In the afternoon Luis
came in. He brought an invitation from some friends for me to play the
piano at their house on Saturday evening. That evening Don Feliz
exclaimed:

"I have an old guitar. It is a unique instrument, none other like it has
ever been seen in Spain. I bought it, at a bargain, for thirty pesetas;
but I would sell it to a friend for the same money. Now you, Señor, have
no guitar of your own. This is a veritable instrument for a museum. Come
and see it on Sunday morning. I will show you the way."

We dined at Elias', as was our custom, and trudged back through the mud.
On the darkened stairs of our house we heard a wailing and almost
tumbled over the spitting cat, which had brought back the kitten once
more. We gathered up the kitten and, followed at some distance by the
suspicious cat, put it back into the packing-case.

All this while we were rather short of electric lights in our house.
Antonio had borrowed most of the light-bulbs to decorate a shrine which
he had erected in one of the churches. The candle which the righteous
once offered up to God is going out of fashion. Nowadays, instead of
burning so many feet of bees-wax, one turns on so many volts. Lamb has
drawn a picture of two priests disputing as to which should offer up a
blessing, with a final compromise that neither should do so; and the
disappointment of the defrauded God. To-day he could go further, he
could depict the deity being forced to go to the factory chimney for the
scent of his burnt sacrifice. A Spanish writer, Pio Baroja, in a novel
proposes a society called the "Extra-Rapid to Heaven Assurance
Society." The insurer pays in a sum, and on his death hundreds of
gramophones are turned on chanting prayers for his speedy deliverance
from purgatory. "God," says the author, "is so far away, that he will
not notice the substitution." This is, of course, a satire on the modern
habit of replacing candles by electric lights, but the satire is no more
absurd than the actuality.

Alongside of the bridge was a tall shrine built into the side of the
house and lit up thus at night with electric light. The image was
covered with a large sheet of plate glass, and I said that it was a
sculptured figure. Jan, on the other hand, insisted that it was a
painting. We had an argument about it and on the next day returned to
verify together. It was, in fact, a painting. But at night, returning
from Elias', we looked up at the shrine by chance, and stopped,
astonished. If it was a painting it was most realistic. We looked more
closely. The more we examined it, the more did it seem sculptured. Then
the explanation dawned on us. It was sculptured, but during the daytime
a painted curtain was drawn down in front of it.

At luncheon next day we were disturbed by a hullabaloo from the attic.
The wretched cat had taken her kitten up there, to look for peace from
those meddlesome humans. That night we were awakened again by terrible
noises from under our bed. The cat was still wandering like a lost soul
looking for peace. Daily the kitten appeared and disappeared with
exasperating irregularity. At last, however, we managed to tame the cat
so that we were able to stroke her. Then the animal burst out into the
strangest of noises, like a small badly oiled circular saw. It was
purring. From that moment it took possession of the house. All its
shyness vanished. It tucked up its sleeves and turned out of the house
any other feline intruder.

One afternoon we were awakened from our siesta by a furious cat fight
underneath the bed. The black cat and a ginger-coloured female were
locked in combat, and making a noise like a hundred siphons. The battle
continued across the sitting-room, the ginger cat giving ground. Finally
she retreated to the balcony, where there was for a while armed
neutrality, both singing war songs quite Spanish in their intervals.
Then the black cat sprang. Ginger backed to avoid the rush, but backed
too far. She toppled over into the street, fell with a thud on to the
mud pavement, gathered herself together and with a scream of
disappointed fury dashed through the nearest open door. To our amazement
all the occupants of the house, a young man, an old woman, a girl of
seventeen and one of six hurried into the street, their eyes wide open
with terror.

"What is the matter?" we shouted to them.

"A cat with rabies has just rushed into our house," they cried in
answer.

The fear of rabies is very prevalent, and with reason. One does not pat
stray dogs in Spain, nor does one make advances to unknown cats. Any
animal which can bite is under suspicion. It is lucky, indeed, that
fleas can't get rabies.

One Saturday I began sketching in the Cathedral campanile. The ascent of
the tower was not by means of steps but by sloping lanes which travelled
all round the inner walls. I had chosen my view from the belfry. On each
side of me were small bells, and as each in turn clanged out the half or
quarter hour according to size I stopped my ears. Suddenly there was a
deafening crash. Before I realized what had happened I had fallen from
my seat, the easel had gone spinning ... almost fainting from the shock,
I looked about me. Over my head an enormous clapper was swinging.
Unconsciously, I had seated myself almost inside one of the biggest
bells in the south of Spain, and it had rung. The clapper again swung
itself with force against the side of the bell, and in spite of my
protecting hands the sound burst through my head. For ten minutes
afterwards my hand was shaking too violently to allow me to paint.

The view from the tower was exquisite. Immediately below me were the
blue glazed cupolas and the arabesques of the cathedral facade on which
little stone saints gazed out over the town. Then came a large square
centred on a circular garden of flowers--edged on one side by the pink
front of the Archbishop's palace, many windowed. From the end of the
square narrow sunless streets led into the town, which gradually became
a patchwork of flat roofs on which smaller buildings were erected. The
huge square block of red brick of the Reina Victoria Hotel stood out
over the sinuous river, on the banks of which stood the red pepper mills
and beyond which showed the huertas stretching out to the mountains.
Red, ochre, yellow and green were the chief colour notes, while blue and
purple shadows gave relief and solidity to the whole.

In the evening I played the piano at the house of Luis' friends. Here
was a typical Spanish bourgeois interior. Every resting-place was
crowded with cheap bric-à-brac. The chairs were draped with velvet and
silk hangings and antimacassars; the walls hung with enormous
photographic enlargements, from the decorating of which Flores made some
of his living. Card-racks covering the interspaces of the walls were
filled with coloured picture postcards.

"We have brought you here," said Flores, "because it is just opposite to
the Circulo des Varios Artes.[28] The pianist of the Arts Club is very
conceited. We want to take him down, by showing him that a Señora can
play better than he does."

[Illustration]

I was rather annoyed; but could not draw back. So I put my best into the
music. Grieg (pronounced by them Hriech) seems to suit the Spanish
temperament: so I played The Wedding March, Papillion and the Carnival.
There was a pause. Then faintly as a retort, from the Circulo des
Varios Artes, came the easiest of Grieg's "lyrical pieces" played
carefully by the maestro. As if he would say, "I too can play Grieg."

On Sunday morning we set off with Don Feliz to see the old guitar.

"It is in the house of my novia,[29] whom I shall be delighted to
introduce to you."

We were amazed. Until that moment we had imagined Don Feliz to be quite
an old man, but looking closely at him one could see that he might be
within the limit of thirty to forty years. On this second visit to
Murcia the people were not so strongly affected by my appearance in the
streets. For my part I no longer wore a hat, but carried a parasol; I
had exchanged my ordinary dress for an ex-munition overall, which people
said was _muy elegante_. But we penetrated into a new part of the town,
then was some staring and some pointing. I mentioned this casually to
Don Feliz.

"Do not fear," he exclaimed, "you are safe with me. I have a terrible
reputation in these parts. I am known as a bad man. If I get into a
rage, my anger is terrible to see ... terrible. The children slink away
in the street at my coming."

This was not the estimate we had formed of him, from his encounter with
Blas in Emilio's shop. Poor Don Feliz, like so many others he had formed
a dream self which contained most of the qualities in which he was
lacking. I fear that only his illusive self was terrible, and that none
but dream children ever shrank at his passing. The house of his novia
bore on its weather-beaten front the arms of some bygone hidalgo; now it
was an apartment house. We clambered up staircases of black wood, into
one of the few dark-coloured interiors we have seen in Spain. The guitar
was of a strange form and with a scrolled head, the curve of its shape
having some of the beauty to be found in negro sculpture. Jan seized the
bargain, and carried it home.

No sooner had he the guitar in the house than he tuned it, and crashing
his finger-nails across it, struck out a rasped chord. He quickly
followed it with a shout of dismay. From out of one of the big holes had
crept a startled bug.

After my experience with the church bell I could sympathize with the
insect, weeping perhaps "walrus tears" upon its death-bed. But the
problem of how one could disinfect a guitar was worrying. The case had
no cracks for vermin-harbouring, so we shut up the instrument; and after
some indecision Jan decided to trust to luck and leave it alone.

On Sunday night we gave a party to Emilio, his wife, the little
Professor and other afficianados of the guitar. We played to them
selections of genuine classical music, Bach, Beethoven, Handel on the
gramophone. Don Feliz sat by himself in a corner, his head in the air,
tapping his foot to the metre.

"All that, all that I have heard before," he said.

Emilio listened with delight on his rugged face. Every few minutes he
whispered to his wife:

"Shut up talking. This is worth listening to."

Then we tried an experiment. We had just received from El Señor a plate
of Stravinsky's "Oiseau du Feu." We put it on to the machine. The
audience kept an intense silence.

"But that is marvellous!" they exclaimed as soon as the record was over.
"Play it once more, Señor."

"Señor," said one of Emilio's friends, "what can I do for you? Have you
any milk--no?"

He ran downstairs and out of the house. In ten minutes he came back,
thrust a milk-can into Jan's hands.

"There!" he exclaimed. "And if you want any more cow's milk, come to me.
I keep a milk-shop, you know." Then he went on more seriously: "But you
are indeed lucky to have bought that old guitar of Don Feliz. He would
never sell it to me. I have offered a hundred pesetas for it; and there
are others who have offered more."

This left us with a problem in psychology to work out for the next few
days. Why had Don Feliz sold Jan the guitar?

We put the question to Luis.

"Oh," he answered, "probably Don Feliz found the Señor Juan
sympathetic."

But this did not satisfy us. Don Feliz had made much of the fact that we
were leaving the country: that we were going far away. At last we worked
it out thus.

Don Feliz had bought his novia a laud. He was short of money to pay for
it. This, however, would not have been enough reason in itself, but he
was also jealous of the other players in the town, and by selling the
guitar definitely to Jan he would first allay the temptation that he
might sell it locally. He put the price low, because he knew we were
badly off; but some of the wrench of parting with the instrument--of
which he was very proud--was eased by knowing that it was going to be
taken to the grand cities of London and Paris, where its uniqueness
would be valued. But we think he would have died of starvation rather
than allow one of his local rivals to possess his old guitar.

When I was not sketching in the campanile, Jan and I went to the cafés
and drew the people sitting about us. This gave delight to the waiters.
One morning while we were at one of the café's facing the river Blas
came up. He passed over the fact that we had quarrelled, and that Jan
had dropped him for Don Feliz.

"Draw me!" said Blas.

The result was that one by one all the richest gipsies of the town came
and posed to me at the café tables. This was, in fact, the gipsies'
café. They were on the whole a handsome set of men, very intelligent and
shrewd in expression and of prosperous appearance. Most of these carried
the indefinable touch which makes an internationalism amongst those who
are interested in beasts of burden. They are reputed to be expert cattle
and horse thieves, and are still to some extent despised by the
Spaniard. But our first impressions were not unfavourable.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

The autumn seemed to be a period of fiesta. We had luckily just missed
the great fiesta of Murcia which culminates with a huge procession out
to Fuen Santa in the mountains. But often we were awakened at three in
the morning by a series of alarming reports and explosions in the
street outside. There was a large church at the end of the Paseo de
Corveras, and it seemed as though guns were going off all around the
walls. The first time we heard this we sprang to our windows, for we
had heard something of the quarrelsome nature of the Murcians.
But the explosions were up in the air. Rocket after rocket soared up
into the air and exploded with a loud crash, then large zigzag crackers
were thrown down into the street. Grumbling at the noise, we went back
to bed. Next day we found out that it was a fiesta, the rockets sent up
by the priests; and often after that we were awakened in the dead of
night by these almost Chinese religious ceremonies.

We had heard much of the quarrelsome nature of the huertanos. Luis and
Flores had both told us tales of quarrels amongst the cultivators. Both
at Verdolay and in Murcia we had seen small bands of young men wandering
about at eventide with guitars and songs. They were hunting for trouble,
and if they should meet another band, then a fight ensued, ending with
broken instruments and possibly a stab or two.

One afternoon Jan was walking homewards from Emilio's, where he had been
buying guitar-strings. He was close to the Paseo de Corveras, when a
young man rushed round a corner and cannoned hard into him. Jan stumbled
and to save himself clutched the man by the coat. It was a corner around
which youths were accustomed to lark, and Jan, believing this to be a
piece of horse-play, decided, while yet stumbling and clutching, that
the horse-play was too rough. So dragging at the blouse of the man, who
struggled to escape, Jan exhorted him to come back and to explain
himself. While he was still holding on to the man, a crowd burst around
the corner and flung itself on to the presumed joker. Jan's head was in
a whirl. One man leapt fiercely on to the joker's back, wrenched his
arms behind him and grasped him. The struggling crowd swayed to and fro
and suddenly lurched sideways through the door of a tobacconist's shop.
Two women in the shop began to shriek at the upper pitch of their
voices.

The turmoil quietened. A furious talk began in the shop. The young man
who had pinioned the joker, trying to explain, loosened his grip to use
his hands conversationally. At once the joker leapt for freedom. He ran,
panting like a dog, out of the shop, the crowd bellowing, amid
screaming, at his heels. The man was chased into an ironmonger's, where
he took refuge behind the counter. The crowd blocked up the doorway.
Jan, who had joined the crowd in dismayed curiosity, then began to pick
up detached words: "Asesino, Asesino ... asesinato."

"Good Lord!" said Jan to himself. "I don't want to get mixed up in a
murder trial."

As he turned away, two gendarmes, with the ridiculous schoolgirl hats on
their heads, led the murderer away.

During this time I had been at home. A sudden outburst of noise dragged
me to the window. Down the street, a man was running. He went in a queer
way, holding himself between the legs with his hands, and sometimes
stumbling, sometimes leaping as one does in dreams of pursuit. Carts
were driven furiously after him. He was shouting out in a voice, full of
surprise and of anger. After a moment I made out the words:

"Catch the man who has murdered me! Catch the villain who has killed
me!"

He stumbled once more and fell. Men jumped from the carts, lifted him
into one, and drove him away.

I ran downstairs. Antonio's gaunt mother-in-law was standing in the
doorway.

"It is an assassination," she said. "I doubt that the poor man will
live. He was stabbed in a ticklish part."

"I wonder where Jan is," I said to myself; and at that moment saw him
coming along the sidewalk. I ran to him. "Jan," I cried, "a man has been
murdered."

"I know," he answered; "I unwittingly caught the murderer."

The Paseo de Corveras must have more than its fair percentage of fat old
women. They all stood on their doorsteps talking in awed tones of the
tragedy. Then with a ludicrous unanimity each pushed her skirts between
her legs with a dramatic hand and holding herself so that she plainly
illustrated her meaning exclaimed,

"Ei! el pobre! Y en un sitio tan delicado."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 26: My village.]

[Footnote 27: "Peaches, Pears!" but "Grapes! Grapes!"]

[Footnote 28: The Arts Club of Murcia.]

[Footnote 29: Betrothed.]



CHAPTER XXVI

LORCA


We still had money for another three weeks, although we had been four
months in Spain. The weather in Murcia was very cold; damp, chilling
winds blew down the valley. We decided to go westwards, to explore
Lorca, which we had heard was both fine pictorially and also which was
called "the City of the Sun." On suggesting the idea to some of our
Murcian friends, they advised us not to go. "It is a town of bad
people," they said; "they are all gipsies." We had heard before of these
towns of bad people. One lay on the far side of the Murcian valley; a
village which clustered round the foot of the peak of rock on the top of
which was a ruined castle. These people had the reputation of chasing
out intruding strangers with sticks and stones. Antonio, fishing in the
vicinity of this village, had once been maltreated. The villagers were
proud of this brutality.

"Yes," they would say, "we _are_ brutes. We _are_ uncultivated. We are
the biggest brutes for fifty miles around, and we mean to remain so."

Other people had said that Lorca was charming. So we decided to find out
for ourselves. We hoped to find rooms in a posada, and we reduced our
luggage to moderate dimensions; most of it we put in the van, leaving
ourselves only the guitar and the laud to look after.

The train left early in the morning, and stopped at the first station,
where we had to change. We rushed across the line, having to clamber
under a long train of waggons which blocked the way, and won corner
seats. A lanky boy of eighteen, dressed in a long white travelling
ulster, with a _béret_ on his head, took most of the other seats in the
carriage, filling them with packages. The young man seemed very familiar
with railway travelling: he called all the porters by name, and
exchanged smokes with the engine-driver.

But the train did not move. Presently the youth came back and said:

"The engine is a bad one. It won't start. They are sending to Murcia for
another."

He went away once more. A luggage train rumbled into the station. This
brought our boy back with a rush.

"Here," he cried, "spread out, spread out as much as you can. It's an
agricultural train, and we shall be swamped with labourers."

He pushed his boxes and packages more widely over the seats. His
prediction was justified. A horde of unshaven men, carrying sacks and
implements clambered up the side of the train and peered with round eyes
into the windows.

"No room here, no room here," cried the youth.

"But there is nobody in the carriage," protested one of the
agriculturists.

"They are in the fonda," said the youth.

In spite of the energies of officials accommodation could not be found.
Soon the agriculturists were wailing their protests, wandering forlornly
up and down. At last the heart of our youth was softened.

"Here," he cried. "Room for two. Got to let some in," he added to us in
an undertone, "or they'll push the lot in on us."

The two who accepted the invitation were very subservient, almost
cringing, and we stowed their sacks and other luggage between our legs.
They talked together in hoarse whispers. In time most of the peasants
were placed, but one man who carried an enormous sack of potatoes
seemed to be unplaceable, for he refused to be parted from his sack. The
officials said the sack was too big for carriage traffic: it ought to go
in the van. But no protestation moved the owner. He was determined that,
come what might, he and his sack would never part. Eventually, as
usually happens in Spain, he was allowed to do as he liked. He and his
sack were crushed into another carriage.

Then ensued another dreary wait, and at last, three hours late, the
train drew out of Alcantarilla.

As soon as we were well under way, the youth said: "I'm off to a
second-class carriage."

He opened the carriage door, got down on to the running board and
clambered off. After half an hour he returned.

"They collect tickets round about here," he said.

Sure enough within ten minutes came the ticket collector.

The train stopped at a station. The youth got out on to the platform
with a carriage whip and a square parcel, which he handed to a waiting
man, for which service he received money. This he did at other stations,
and gradually we realized what was his occupation. In one part of Murcia
we had noted shops which called themselves Agencies. They had large
notices saying, "Commissions for Lorca, for Barcelona, for Zaragoza,
etc., etc."

We had not understood their purport, but by some jump of intuition
connected the youth with these shops. He was the only Spanish substitute
for the parcels post.

At Totana two gipsy women came into the carriage, very friendly and
talkative. At the next station the two workmen left us. In the carriage
they had appeared good-humoured, inadequate morsels of humanity. But
they descended into the bosoms of their family. Wives and daughters
crowded round them and seized and shouldered their bags, packs, sacks
and implements. The men seemed to swell out like a dry thing cast into
water, blooming like a dead sea lily as they stood receiving the
caresses of their womenfolk. The last we saw of the more insignificant
of the two was a picture of him striding like a king along the dusty
road to the village with his family in humble though happy procession
behind. Well does the Spanish proverb say, "It is better to be the head
of a mouse than the tail of a lion."

[Illustration]

Two gendarmes--greenish khaki in uniform, with the schoolgirlish
helmets--armed with rifles took the place of the peasants. The younger
gipsy woman addressed them. One of the gendarmes grunted, the other
glared his eye round and said nothing. Again she made a remark, and
again there was no reply. Then she said:

"But it _was_ you who arrested José."

"Well," answered the gendarme with a beard, "what of it?

"But why did you arrest him?" said the gipsy. "He was innocent. He did
not murder Ramon."

"So you say."

"But it is true. He is a cousin of Conchita here. He was at her house
that evening. There is no evidence."

"There was enough to get him arrested."

"But that was all made up. You see, Esteban hates him, and Esteban got
up that false evidence. You look up what Esteban was doing. I don't say
that he was the murderer, but he knows something about it."

"Yes, he knew that José did it."

"But I tell you José was with Conchita here."

"Well, tell that to the Judge. It is nothing to do with me. I was told
to arrest José and I arrested him. Hum"--he looked at Conchita--"I
suppose she is going to see him now?"

"Yes, we are going to see José. Poor fellow, and him innocent."

"Well, if his defence is all right, he'll get off. If it isn't, he
won't--that's all."

We did not think that José's neck was in any danger. We had gained an
impression that the average sentence for casual murder in Spain is about
two or three years' imprisonment. This conversation went on for some
time. The gipsies talked round the subject, over it, under it, twisted
it inside out and outside in. With all these variations it lasted till
we arrived at Lorca, when we all, gipsies, gendarmes, agency boy and
ourselves, got down from the train.

We put our luggage into the luggage-room and set out to look for the
town, which we had learned by experience would be found at some distance
from the station. A boy who carried a rope over his shoulder accosted
us, but we declined his services. We strode out into a dusty road, and
there stood undecided, for there were two paths to choose from. The boy
with the rope, who now had a huge box on his shoulders, came up, and
saying, "Follow me, Señores," walked on. We looked at him and realized
that here again we had touched the East. Here was a cord porter straight
out of _The Arabian Nights_. The rope was round the box and he held it
to his shoulders. With his rope he earned his living. We followed him,
asking him for some place where we could eat. He named the dearest hotel
at once. We declined, explaining that we wanted the cheapest possible,
that is, as long as the cooking was fit to eat.

"I understand," he said. "Follow me."

The long avenue of lime trees came to an end--and our first view of
Lorca was opened out. The town was almost like a mathematical line,
length without breadth. It skirted the foot of a hill for three miles,
almost one long street, which we were looking at end on. Spires towered
into the air, and on the top of the cliff the walls of a great Saracen
ruin overlooked the town. The whole hill-side, between town and castle,
was covered with the grotesque foliage of the prickly pear. The cord
porter took us down to the river, which was crossed by a plank, then up
into the town. He led us through small streets which fringed the great
main street, put down his box at a corner, led us up another street and
stopped at a high barricaded gate. Two filthy children were playing on
the step. The cord porter rapped with his knuckles. There was no answer.
He rapped again loudly. A hoarse voice cried out in questioning reply.

"It's Paco," shouted the porter. "I've got two customers here."

A quarrel ensued through the keyhole.

There was a sound of a rusty lock and the door swung open. A woman
heated with cooking and with annoyance began to curse the cord porter.

"Why couldn't you bring them to the proper entrance?" she cried.

But she let us in, took us through a yard in which huge stew-pots and
frying-pans were cooking over a wood fire, and ushered us upstairs, past
rooms filled with workmen diners, into a long chamber lit by a window at
one end, with bullfight posters on the walls. She brought us a plate of
stew and wine. We asked for bread.

"Why didn't you bring your own?" she said.

"We did not know," we answered.

"Oh, all right. I'll give you bread this time. But, next time, bring
your own bread with you."

We thought, "Lorca is a rough place." There was a sound of loud
chaffing, and in walked our agency boy of the train.

"Hullo," he exclaimed to us. "Are you here?"

"Yes," we answered. "And, now we see you here, we are sure this is the
best place."

He grinned, chucked the waitress under the chin, and ordered a complex
meal. As soon as the staff perceived our acquaintance with the agency
boy, their manners changed. They became charming, inquiring after our
need with a lively solicitude. We asked the diners about a posada. A
bluff man, with a walrus moustache, seated at the same table, said the
posada at which he was staying was comfortable.

"When you have finished your meal," he said, "I will lead you there and
introduce you to the proprietor, an excellent fellow. But you come
unluckily. To-day is market day. There are many farmers in from the
country, and it is possible that you will find difficulties."

As we went out the waitress came running after us. "You have left your
bread behind," she cried.

With our new friend we went off. But the posada was full for the night.

"There is another one, we will look at that," said our guide. "If the
other is full also, you shall have my room, and I will find a bed
somewhere until a room is free. Tomorrow the place will be emptier."

On the way to the second posada, we fell in once more with the cord
porter.

"You are looking for rooms," he cried. "Why didn't you tell me before? I
know of a splendid place. I will lead you there."

[Illustration]

"Perhaps that will be better," said the man. "I do not think the other
posada would really suit you. They say it is the meeting-place of loose
women. You understand?"

The cord porter took us to a house outside of which were about ten
hen-coops. In the midst of the coops an old woman was sitting on a low
chair. She was an extraordinary shape; like a Chinese lucky image,
Hotei. Her knees were perched on the rung of the chair, and so large was
her stomach that it rose in front of her like a balloon, coming in its
highest part well to the level of her chin. She looked dingy and
unwashed, but we could not well draw back, for the cord porter had told
her our needs. The obese woman stood up, balancing her fantastic stomach
by a backward bend of the spine.

She had two rooms, one with a single bed, one with a couple. The single
bed was small, the ceiling looked as if it were not innocent of vermin.
We chose the double-bedded room after the conventional bargaining.

"You will indeed be better there," said our friend. "Two beds are better
than one."

The cord porter was commissioned to fetch our luggage and we went off
with the other man. We had invited him to take coffee with us. He
preceded us to a small _buvette_, and the waiter showed us into a room
partitioned into private boxes by means of canvas screens.

"Here one is at one's ease," said our acquaintance. We told him that we
were painters.

"I am a zapatero,"[30] he said. "I have been here some weeks looking for
work. My proper town is Aguilas, though I was born here. But Aguilas is
not large. There was another zapatero in the town. The people all took
their work to him. They said, 'He is a fool, but you are clever.
Therefore he can make a living only where he is known, and where folks
sympathize with him; while you can easily make good elsewhere.' So I had
to come away. But times are bad. They say that there are too many
zapateros in Lorca already.

"Times are so bad in Lorca," he went on, "that I don't expect you will
do the business here that you hope. Now, if you are the painters you
ought to be, I have a proposal to make. You come with me to some towns I
know of down the coast. You will put up your easel in the main street,
and will paint, and I will sell lottery tickets at three goes for the
real. We will do a splendid business. I can assure you that."

Had the offer come at another moment we would have jumped at the chance
of the fun. But we had a London Exhibition hanging over our heads. We
dared not waste the time. This we explained to the zapatero, adding also
our regrets and how well the idea would have gone in the book we were
projecting. His expression altered at once.

"Books?" said he. "You are book people?"

"Yes."

"But," he persisted, "you don't mean to say that you are that kind of
persons? Not with _those_ books that Englishmen come selling. You are
book people"--his voice rose with indignation--"you have to do with
those Bibles!"

Shades of Borrow! we roared with laughter. Somewhat reassured the
zapatero resumed his seat. We explained.

"Ah," he said, "I did not think that you could be that sort of persons
and yet ... You are English. I," he added proudly, "am an Atheist! Of
course I let my little boy read _that_ book, one has to learn to read
somehow. But I say to him, 'Don't believe it. Use it if you like, but
don't be taken in by it.'"

We went back to the house to find that our luggage had arrived. A button
was coming loose from my boot, so the zapatero borrowed needle and
cotton and sewed it on professionally. Then, as he said he liked the
guitar, we took out our instruments and began to play. The female Hotei
ran into the entrada waving her hands.

"Oh, oh," she cried, "you mustn't play here! You mustn't play here! The
owner of this house died three days ago, so we cannot allow any music
here. It would show the greatest disrespect."

We said au revoir to the zapatero, and went out to examine Lorca. The
houses on one side of the long street had swelled up the hill towards
the Saracen castle. Through this we went clambering upwards. In
appearance it was the oldest town we had seen. The houses were of all
shapes, but of a uniform colour, like yellow rust, and the earth was of
the same tint. The houses piled themselves up in fine shapes, but Lorca
suffered from the same drawback as Murcia, a drawback we had feared: it
was too big. Had we attempted to sketch in the streets we should have
been swamped by people as I had been in the market-place. The streets
were full of men sitting in groups making alpagatas. They called out
after us as we passed. The songs were different from those of Murcia or
Jijona. Here is one, a guajiras which a woman was singing:

    "Love is an insect
    Which enters the body,
    And no rest is left there
    When it takes possession.
    It gnaws like a wood-louse
    The tree where it burrows;
    And in time it devours
    Volition and strength,
    Leaving only desires
    For the one who is worshipped."

We scrambled up to the castle and from thence found a view of the
surrounding country. On the south there was a passage not unlike that of
Murcia, a flat cultivated valley; but to the north it looked as though
giants had been at mining operations. The hills looked not like the
result of nature but of artifice, they appeared to be huge mine dumps
and slag heaps. It was fantastic and unpaintable. The town itself was
too much like the conventionally picturesque mud coloured compositions
of Southern Europe that every painter brings back from his travels, and
we decided that Lorca was not a painting ground for us; and that we
would go back to Murcia on the following day, looking for some suitable
spot at which to paint on the homeward route to Barcelona.

We came down by a different path, passing a cluster of seven white
hermitages built on a square plateau. They were small box-like
structures, and once, we believe, hermits did live in them, but now they
are deserted. We reached Mrs. Hotei's house both tired and hungry. A
crowd of women in black had just returned from the landlord's funeral.
They consented to boil us some eggs for supper, which we ate under Mrs.
Hotei's piercing eyes. From the ceiling of the supper-room hung clusters
of quinces, and on the mantelpieces were some interesting specimens of
antique Spanish pottery.

We went to bed early, and to our dismay found that one of the beds had
been taken away. There was no washing apparatus in the room, and the
window looking on to the road was curtained by an old dirty sack.

"Well," said we, "we are in for it. Pray Heaven that there are no bugs."

As we were about to undress we heard scuffling and giggling which drew
our attention to another drawback, one to which we would not submit.
There was a second door to our room, half glazed, and the glass was
covered by a hanging drapery. But this drapery, which was outside the
glass, had been pulled aside, and a row of faces of curious children
were staring in on us. We rang the bell. The daughter of Mrs. Hotei was
half surprised at our objection to publicity and that we were so
squeamish about undressing as a popular spectacle. But we persuaded her
to pin up a pink shawl on our side of the door, and we then went to bed.

To bed, but not to sleep.

The bed was distressingly narrow. We could remain in it by clinging
together, but if we loosened our grip, one or the other began to roll
out. After some while Jan had ideas of getting out and of sleeping on
the floor, but the floor was of stone and the only mat in the room was
small and circular. Our determination to leave Lorca strengthened as the
night wore on. At last we found a partial solution, we lashed ourselves
together with the blankets. When sheer weariness was making us doze
off, a man upstairs began to take off his boots. The floors were thin,
and he seemed to be a centipede. Boot after boot he hurled into a
corner, but even his feet were not inexhaustible, and at last we slept
fitfully.

We awoke very early, grateful at least that no bugs had disturbed us. In
spite of the many warnings we had had of the verminous condition of
Spain, it has not been our experience to encounter in the provinces of
Murcia and Alicante even as much insect life as one might easily find in
Chelsea. Fleas, of course, there are, but in a hot dusty country fleas
are to be expected.

Washing things were brought on demand, though I think they had expected
us to wash at the public sink in the outhouse. Then we breakfasted on
bread, coffee and grapes, while Mrs. Hotei sat by resting her stomach on
the edge of the table and chanting in a hollow voice a pæan of her own
virtues. It ran somewhat thus:

    "I am la gorda,
    The fat one of Lorca.
    My stomach is ill.
    Of an illness which makes it
    Swell up like a football.
    But my heart has no illness;
    It is sound, it is loving,
    And makes no distinctions
    Between different peoples.

    "I am la gorda,
    The fat one of Lorca.
    My home is well known
    Because of its cheapness
    And the love of a mother,
    Which I shed o'er my lodgers.
    Nowhere else will you
    Find meals of such richness
    Or cooking so luscious
    For people whose purses
    Are small in dimensions.

    "I am la gorda,
    The fat one of Lorca.
    My house is so loved by
    The folk of the district
    That _my_ bedrooms never
    One moment are empty.
    I'll give you an instance:
    Last night, for example,
    Each bed carried double
    And would have contained more
    Could one but compress folks
    To smaller dimensions.

    "I am la gorda,
    The fat one of Lorca.
    Those who once come here
    Come back again, always.
    My card I will give you
    That you may remember
    That Lorca possesses
    A kind-hearted mother,
    Or, anyhow, one who
    Will fill that position
    As long as you settle
    The bill she presents you."

In this plain song she explained both the disappearance of our second
bed and the centipedal man upstairs. When she had finished we broke to
her the news of our imminent departure. We lunched once again at the
eating-house, which this day was full of peasants. Three women in black
who might have stepped out of the pages of the Bible faced us. They were
not friendly in manner. A small soldier, half tipsy, came in and, soon
after him, the agency youth. The latter began to tease the tipsy
soldier, and in a short while both had pulled out knives and were
threatening each other in mock earnestness. But one could see that it
needed little--an accidental word, a sentence misunderstood--to swing
the drunken soldier over from joking to earnest. We took coffee at a
café in the central street. La gorda rolled up the street, came to our
table, and accepted a glass of anis dulce for the illness of her
stomach.

We set off to the station followed by a small boy wheeling our luggage
on a barrow. As I went people shouted after me: "Sombrero, Sombrero."
The train was, of necessity, late. We sat down in the station hall, and
the gipsy woman who had come from Totana joined us. A blind woman led by
a child took up her position at the booking-office exit, cunningly
begging from the folk as they were handling their small change. The
small child had one bad eye and was wiping both eyes with the same
handkerchief. One could see that she, too, was threatened with
blindness. The zapatero came, having dined at a friend's house.

A good deal of farm produce was being prepared for the train. There were
crates of chickens, which were thrown about from hand to hand; but some
unfortunate turkeys were not even as lucky as the hens. About twenty of
them were packed loosely into a large net bag. The porter picked up each
bag and, the turkeys squeaking loudly, pitched it up to a man who was
standing in the truck. The bags were packed one on the top of another
with a total lack of consideration for the turkeys' feelings. There is
no S.P.C.A. in Spain.

Jan told the zapatero that if he were coming to Murcia he could give him
an address which might be useful. He then wrote Antonio's name and
direction, which the zapatero accepted almost with reverence. Jan went
off to the ticket-office, while I, aided by the zapatero, found a
carriage in the train, which had just arrived. The gipsy woman came with
us; and an old man also got into the carriage. Up and down the platform
a hawker was walking with a broad basket over his arm. He was selling
thin circular cakes. I bought five, one for each person in the carriage.
The old man accepted the cake which I offered him, took a large bite,
ruminated for a moment over it and remarked:

"These cakes value nothing."

The zapatero and the gipsy woman each took a bite. Opinion seemed
unanimous. I then bit in my turn. The cake had a queer taste: it was
something like a thin cold muffin flavoured with cayenne pepper. The
gipsy woman collected the cakes, each with a bite out of it (like the
mad hatter's saucer), and put them into her basket, saying, "Oh, the
children won't grumble at them." But I was determined that Jan should
have the experience.

As he came out of the ticket-office he was intercepted by the
cake-sellers, who said to him:

"Señor, you have a wife, who is a remarkable woman." The old man turned
to the zapatero.

"Who are these people?" he demanded.

The zapatero began to give an account of us.

"They are painters," he said; "they travel about the country making
pictures with paint and brushes, not with a machine. Not content with
that they are amateur musicians, and can play. There are their
instruments. But better than all this they can read and write; and what
is more I can prove it."

With an air of pride he drew from his bosom the card on which Jan had
written Antonio's address.

The old man took it. He perched a pair of horn spectacles on his nose
and read the address through from end to end.

Then he handed the treasure back solemnly to the zapatero.

"And very well done too," he said.

We said good-bye to the zapatero, and the train drew out of the station
some two hours late. Gradually the night darkened. There was a long wait
at Alcantarilla, and we arrived at Murcia within the four hours' limit
which one must place on the Spanish time-table. We left our van luggage
to be collected in the morning, and carrying our instruments in our
hands walked back to the Paseo de Corveras.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 30: Bootmaker.]



CHAPTER XXVII

MURCIA--LAST DAYS


Next morning we sent Marciana to tell Jesus, the water-carrier, to bring
our registered luggage from the station. After a long delay she came
back saying that no luggage with a number corresponding to that of the
receipt was to be found. We set off through the mud to the station, and
after having suffered from some lack of courtesy on the part of one or
two of the clerks we were able to convince ourselves that Jesus had
spoken the truth. Our luggage, consisting of a suit-case, a rucksack and
a hold-all, containing all our warm clothes, our painting materials, all
our drawings of the past five months, was missing. We were assured that
we had nothing to be anxious about. The next train from Lorca would
arrive about six-thirty, and the things which _must_ have been left
behind at Lorca would come on by it. But the Spanish reassurances had no
foundation, the baggage did not come, and the baggage officials
confessed themselves astounded. "Such a thing," they said, "has never
happened before." The station-master, a short, portly, grumpy fellow, at
first refused to listen to our complaints. When at last we compelled him
to do so, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "It is a fatality." After
some pressing, however, he consented to telegraph to Lorca, and to
telephone to Alcantarilla, the junction.

The next day no news was forthcoming of our luggage, and the
station-master was hostile. He saw in us persons who were troubling the
peaceful round of his easy duties. The other station officials said
plainly the baggage had gone to Madrid by mistake, or perhaps to
Carthagena. But neither Lorca, Alcantarilla, Madrid nor Carthagena would
confess knowledge of our errant luggage. We were indeed in rather an
awkward situation. We had reserved just enough money with which to
travel homewards, but were now faced with the prospect of a long stay in
Murcia waiting till our luggage was found and, if it continued missing,
with the purchase of many necessary articles which we now lacked. For
instance, we had no boots, having made the journey in alpagatas.

By this time, of course, Antonio, and indeed, through the agency of
Marciana and of Jesus, the whole quarter had learned of our misfortune.
Antonio arranged for a meeting with a clerk of some commercial firm.
This clerk's chief occupation seemed to be the pestering of the Spanish
railways for lost objects, and he entered with gusto into our affair. He
made us work out a list of our losses and added on a thousand pesetas to
our total, which he said was ridiculously underestimated. Then we went,
backed by Antonio, to the railway station.

"What do you want?" snarled the station-master, as he saw us appear once
more.

"These Señores have come to make a claim," said Antonio.

"Ha ha!" said the station-master, grinning. "They won't be able to do
so. They are foreigners, and will not be able to write it out properly."

"Pardon me," answered the clerk. "I am here to write it properly in
their names, and they will sign it. This will be sufficient."

After a short argument the station-master gave way. He took us into an
office and spread out before us a large book. It seemed that the railway
companies had made ample provision for recording losses.

The clerk opened it, tucked up his sleeves, squared his elbows, and in
careful orthography began to shape on the page a complex document, full
of Spanish equivalents for "whereas" and "wherefore." When the signing
was completed we went home.

"I have given them a week in which to find the luggage," said the clerk.
"After that delay is over, they will have to pay you. Even if the
luggage is recovered the day after the week is up, you may refuse it,
and demand the cash in its place."

We went home to count up our diminishing resources: "Here is a week,"
said we, "here are two pairs of boots." We had heard rumours of boats
which travelled round the coast, and understanding these to be cheaper
than the railways we made inquiries; but Murcia was just too far from
the sea to be interested in shipping, and we had to give up the idea of
reaching France by this means.

Murcia was bitterly cold during those days of waiting. Our warmer
underclothes were lost with the luggage, and our friend's house,
wonderfully cool on the hottest day of summer, was frigid in the damp,
rainy autumn. We had nothing to do, for all our materials were missing,
and one could not make excursions on foot, because the roads were deep
in mud. So we waited, shivering, until we could escape from a country
which had no suitable appliances for warming its chilled inhabitants.

We at last came to the end of the week's grace, and the luggage had not
appeared. So, finding that the process of extracting payment from the
railways was going to be a long one, we decided to give Antonio a power
of attorney to manage the affair for us. We were assured that payment
would certainly be made eventually, though with a little delay. Antonio
took charge of arrangements to draw up the necessary papers, while we
set to packing what remained to us of luggage, including the large
Sevillian basin given to us by La Merchora. At last everything was
ready; on the following day we were to sign the papers in the presence
of a lawyer, and the next day we were to set out for Alicante by the
morning train.

On the morning of the last day, while we were sewing La Merchora's
Sevillian basin into a huge rush basket which was to protect it from
damage on the journey, we looked out of the window and saw, somewhat to
our dismay, a fat, familiar figure strolling along the pavement. The
bootmaker had arrived from Lorca hunting for work.

In spite of a feeling of gratitude which we entertained towards him for
the help he had given us at Lorca, we could not but wish that he had
come at some other time. Our day would be as full as we could well
manage. The complications which might be added by having to dance
attendance on the zapatero filled us with dismay. To our relief the
bootmaker sauntered on towards the town. Selfishly we hoped that he
would leave us alone. We had told Antonio about him, and both Luis and
Flores had promised to help him to find work when he arrived.

Commissions called us into the town, and we slunk along the streets,
spying for a portly form. But upon our return we met it, coming out of
Antonio's house. Our Fate could not be avoided, so we asked him in to a
simple lunch, at which we put before him, amongst other things, a large
dish of especially selected olives which we had bought to take back with
us to England. The zapatero approved so much of our taste in olives
that, to our dismay, he almost finished up our store; and in consequence
we had to waste more of our precious time in buying a new supply. We
might indeed have saved ourselves the trouble: we were fated to reach
England without olives, for the bottle holding them was afterwards
forgotten and left in a railway waiting-room. After lunch we dismissed
the zapatero, hinting to him as broadly as we could that we now had a
lot to do, but that we would be delighted to see him at about seven
o'clock, by which time our business would be over.

However, when at three o'clock we called at Antonio's house to bring him
to the lawyer's office at which the power of attorney was to be signed,
the zapatero was sitting comfortably in one of the rocking-chairs
awaiting our arrival. We suggested to him that we had business to attend
to. He replied that he would accompany us into the town.

So Antonio, the clerk, the zapatero, Jan and I set out for the lawyer's
office. We had expected the bootmaker to leave us on the threshold, but
he stalked gravely in our rear, and introduced himself to the lawyer's
clerks as a friend of the family. The lawyer's office was a large
apartment with a black and white tiled floor, at one end of which was
the clerk's table and at the other that of the lawyer. He was a
thick-set man covered with a huge golfing cap in loud checks. Over his
head was suspended from the ceiling, with outstretched wings, a stuffed
and dilapidated eagle from which generations of moth had stolen all hint
of beauty. We discovered that this eagle, in some form or another, is
the recognized trademark of the lawyer. One is tempted to wonder if this
bird of prey hovers thus emblematically over the head of the man of law
as a sort of symbolic warning to the simple-minded peasants.

The legal preliminaries were brought to a stop by the discovery that Jan
had forgotten the passports; so, while he set off in a hurry to get
them, we sat around in an uncomfortable circle. Meanwhile the chill from
the tiled floor crept upwards through my feet. To break the silence the
lawyer began to pay me the usual compliments on my Castilian.
Immediately in came the zapatero.

"She is a talented lady," he exclaimed. "Not only does she speak English
in addition to our language, but she can paint pictures, and play on
musical instruments. These I have seen and heard myself. Furthermore,
she has other talents: she can read and write, and so can her husband.
In case you do not believe this latter statement I can prove it."

[Illustration]

Whereupon he pulled from his pocket the address which Jan had written
for him at Lorca and, unfolding it with some solemnity, placed it on the
lawyer's desk. The latter, perceiving nothing humorous in the zapatero's
action, read the writing gravely and handed it back with expressions of
approval.

But the arrival of Jan with the passports by no means seemed to satisfy
the lawyer. He turned the papers over and over and said that with these
nothing could be done. After much difficulty we discovered that no
justice could be claimed in Spain unless one were registered at the
municipal offices. The tax for registration depended upon one's station
and possessions. There was just time, with luck, to get ourselves
registered before the offices were shut; so, fearful that we should miss
another day, we hurried through the narrow Murcian streets, led by
Antonio and followed by the bootmaker. On the way a sudden doubt
attacked Jan. His passport name is Godfrey Jervis, but he generally
signs himself by his pen-name of "Jan." Thoughtlessly he had signed the
claim in the station book "Jan" and was afraid that if this name was not
entered in the other papers a legal flaw might be entailed. The
municipal registry office was a long, dark passage pierced with small,
square, deep-set pigeon-holes and about large enough to admit the
passage of a head. Through one of these holes we made our claim, asking
for tramps' certificates--the cheapest of all. My municipal paper was
filled in easily enough, but we had a tough struggle to induce the
official to alter "Godfrey Jervis" to "Jan."

At first, as is official habit, he was hidebound, but in Spain by
persistence one can achieve anything. In turn Jan, myself, Antonio and
the zapatero, thrust a head through the hole adding urging to
expostulation. Luckily the passport name was not very clearly written,
and at last the official admitted a compromise: he put "Godfrey Jan,"
and our spirits rose once more.

Back we went to the lawyer's office, where, with some delays, and the
expenditure of eighteen pesetas, we turned Antonio into our
representative against the railway companies. We may add that one year
and six months have passed since then; we have since paid twenty-two
pesetas more for another document; and a few months ago we were informed
that possibly our case would come up for settlement next year.[31]

Before the night was over we also learned to our satisfaction that Luis
had found a job for the zapatero, and that Antonio had got him a bedroom
at the small confectioner's in a street close by.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 31: At the time of going to press we have just received a
message from Spain. The Spanish authorities announce a _happy_ ending to
the trouble. Our luggage has been discovered at Alcantarilla, four miles
from Murcia, where it has been all the while.]



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE ROAD HOME


We set out on our journey home next morning. The bootmaker, who arrived
at the house almost before we were dressed, came with us to the station,
where he presented us with a large packet of angels-hair cakes as
sustenance for the journey. This favourite Murcian delicacy, made from
the inside of a gourd, has a stringy consistency and a sickly flavour.
The zapatero had secured them "on tick" from the confectioner's where he
was lodging. As we take leave of him, we may summarize his subsequent
history as we drew it by hints and half-made revelations from Antonio
and his companions. I am afraid that the zapatero's account of his
departure from his village may have been invention. In Murcia he
revealed himself as a man who was work-shy. He borrowed money to get his
tools, he got advances on his wages, he arrived late to work, he ran up
a large bill at the confectioner's; and then, one fine morning,
decamped. This much we gathered. Antonio would never tell us, but I
believe that he himself paid the confectioner's bill after the
zapatero's disappearance; but to what extent our friends had suffered we
could never learn.

As we had just finished breakfast we put the angels-hair cakes into our
haversack. But under the strain of travel the flimsy paper bag in which
they were packed went to pieces, the angels-hair spread itself in
fibrous stickiness all over the contents of the haversack. We felt no
gratitude to the zapatero for his parting gift.

Our resources, despite an extra hundred pesetas borrowed from Antonio,
were at a low ebb, and, after some tedious searching of a Spanish
railway guide, we had decided to make our way home up the east coast of
Spain to Barcelona and thence to Paris. This route was cheaper than that
through Madrid. In addition, we could travel by night, spending our days
in the towns, and thus dodge the expenses of hotels. We travelled, of
course, third class because of cheapness, and because of the interest
which was always to be found amongst one's fellow passengers. The
journey was cold on account of our thin clothes, and in spite of our
hopes the carriages were so full and the interchanges of passengers so
frequent that we could get no sleep. After two days and nights we
reached Barcelona worn out, having passed through Alicante, Valencia and
Tarragona, but too weary to get interest or amusement from any of these
towns.

We arrived at Barcelona on a chill morning and set out from the station
to look for the British Consul, whom we wished to consult about our lost
luggage. Barcelona is large, and we waited for a tram. A passer-by told
us that our waiting was vain. There was a traffic strike in progress and
neither tram, omnibus nor cab was to be had. We would have to walk. Bad
luck seemed to have reserved her efforts for the last few days.

We do not think that England realized the great interest excited all
over the world by the sufferings of the late Mayor of Cork. While his
fate hung in the balance people would stop us in the streets of Murcia,
or even in the outlying villages, to ask us if we believed that there
was a chance of his recovery. He had died shortly before our homeward
journey began. The Northern parts of Spain see a parallel between their
position and that of Ireland. Indeed, the parallel is not exact; rather
one might compare them to the position to which Ulster fears to be
relegated. The fact remains that Catalonia and the Basque countries, the
hard-working, commercial parts of Spain, object to the domination,
laxity and misrule of the Government of Madrid. I believe that the party
which wishes independence, the Spanish Sinn Fein, is very small; but it
has become mixed with socialistic propaganda, communism, and so forth.
At any rate, Barcelona, combining as it does the excitable nature of the
Spaniard with the organization of a working community, provides the
field for a series of extremely unpleasant strikes, riots and
demonstrations. The transport strike was an illustration of this. During
the two days we were in Barcelona, three employers were shot in the
streets by employés.

To return to the Mayor of Cork. His death was the signal for a typical
demonstration in Barcelona, in favour of the Sinn Fein and of the Irish
Republic. England was far enough away to remain undisturbed. The English
Consul was at hand. When we reached his house we found that all his
window-glass had been smashed in sympathy for Irish freedom.

At a first glance Barcelona does not seem to be a Spanish town. There is
something Germanic about it. Sitting in the main square and watching the
people pass by, one could well imagine oneself in some town on the
German border of Alsace.

We remained in Barcelona two days, recovering from the fatigues of the
journey. On our last afternoon, as we were strolling through a narrow
back street, our attention was caught by a window full of small figures,
baked in clay, highly coloured and gilt. The figures were all those of
saints and biblical characters, not depicted in the formal manner of
religious moments, but in a familiar and homelike way. We went into the
small shop and asked their purpose, and were told that these figures
were for Christmas decorations. We bought two--one of the Blessed Virgin
hanging on a line a chemise which she had just washed, the other an
incognita lady saint with a distaff and a cat.

We had taken up our quarters at a small, disreputable lodging-house
opposite the station, where they charged us the exorbitant fee of two
pesetas a night each. (We suspect that the real price was one peseta).
The night-watchman got us out of bed at three o'clock, as our train left
at half-past four in the morning, and the preliminaries to Spanish
travelling are complicated.

To our surprise we found but a small queue of people waiting at the
ticket-office. Our immediate neighbour was a shabby man in a bowler hat
from beneath which showed the curly black hair of an Italian. He was
accompanied by a middle-aged bustling bourgeois. The bourgeois took a
ticket, which he handed to the Italian. We then demanded tickets to the
French frontier at Cerbere.

"We cannot book you to Cerbere," said the clerk; "the railway bridge
between Figueras and Port Bou has been damaged. It will not be passable
for three days."

We thought drearily of having to return to the lodging-house, of three
days more in this large, transportless town of Barcelona, of again
getting up at three a.m.

At this moment the Italian came to our aid.

"From Figueras," he said, "there are motor-cars which will carry the
passengers over the frontier. You can get along that way easily."

So we booked to Figueras.

The Italian accompanied us and revealed his history. He was wandering
about, looking for work. He had crossed the frontier on foot from
France. His papers were in a queer condition, and some of them he had
had to leave in the custody of the frontier officials as a guarantee.
But there was no work in Barcelona, so he was going back once more. The
bourgeois was an employé of the Italian Consulate, who had come to the
station to pay his fare and to see that he really left the town.

The train rolled along through that rich Catalan scenery depicted in the
landscapes of José Pujo, and at about ten o'clock we reached Figueras.
With some difficulty we found a boy and a hand-cart, by means of which
we could transport our luggage to the diligence office. The road was
uphill and deep in a clayey mud. The poor boy tugged and pushed, and Jan
had to go into the slime to help him. Through a long, narrow,
old-fashioned street, Figueras opened out into a plaza planted with tall
lime trees, the fallen leaves of which made a sodden carpet on the
ground. The dead leaves seemed to give the dominant note of Figueras, a
note of exhausted melancholy.

Misfortune, as has so often been said, is sometimes good luck in
disguise. More "get on or get out" passengers had forestalled us with
the car, notably a fussy man who, dragging with him two or three musical
instrument cases, was loudly informing everybody that he had a concert
engagement somewhere in France and that his career would be blasted if
he did not fulfil it. There was no seat left for us. We turned to the
boy and asked him to find us some sleeping place for the night.

"There is the Grand Hotel," he said.

"Do not talk to us of grand hotels," we answered. "Grand hotels are
institutions which level humanity to a dead datum of boredom and mulct
it of expensive fees in the process."

"Claro," responded the boy.

"Take us to some local pub," we continued, "where the stranger rarely
intrudes."

The boy, forcing his cart uphill, led us down a side street to a small
wine-shop, the woodwork of whose windows had recently been painted a gay
violet hue. We pushed our way inside. A man with beady eyes, who might
well be called "black-complexioned," curtly demanded our business. On
our request for a bed he scanned us from head to foot. We were indeed
somewhat respectable, having travelled in our best clothes for fear of
another accident to our luggage, wishing, if such occurred, to save the
best we had. The dark man turned to a woman who had a kind of hard,
crystalline beauty, and consulted with her. At last the woman said in a
coarse voice:

"They can have a room if they will take their meals here."

To which we consented.

The Italian had been following us, vainly begging us to walk over the
frontier with him, but as we had still a trunk, two rucksacks, and the
large Sevillian dish in its basket, his suggestion did not seem
feasible. So we finally said good-bye to one another, he setting off
again on foot for France.

We were sitting over our coffee after lunch, when the black-eyed host
came near, drew a chair close up to us, stared at us with perplexed
brows for a moment, then said, suddenly:

"I know why you have come here."

"We have come because the bridge is broken," we said.

He waved this aside.

"You need not mince matters with me," he answered. "I can see, I have
two eyes. I have plenty of opium upstairs."

"Opium?"

"Yes, you can smuggle it over to France quite easily from here."

"But we are not smugglers."

"I'll let you have it cheap," answered the host, closing one eye.

We again protested the entire innocence of our trafficking, but
obviously did not convince him. He knew that people in our condition did
not come to his shanty for nothing. He renewed his attack after supper.

"Why have you come to my dram shop?" he asked.

"Because big hotels are dull," we answered.

He shook his head.

"You have some reason for wanting to get to France secretly," he
persisted. "Your papers, for instance, are not in order."

We protested that they were.

"You need not be afraid of me," went on our host. "I am quite
trustworthy."

We replied that in spite of the high opinion he had of us we had done
nothing to deserve it.

"Let me see your passports," said the landlord.

"I knew it," he went on, as soon as he had examined them. "You have not
been viséd at Barcelona. You will not be able to get over the frontier.
They will turn you back."

We had understood that no visé was necessary to get back into France. He
said that we were mistaken.

"This is where I can aid you," said the host. "I can get you over the
frontier, so that you need not pass the customs or the passport office
at all. I have a special route by which I pass French deserters to and
fro. Of course, as you are not really dangerous, I would only charge you
a small sum--say forty or fifty pesetas apiece. For the deserters the
charge is considerably higher, as the risk if caught is considerable;
while if you were caught you would only be sent back again into Spain.
One of my men would drive you up at night, and then at about four
o'clock in the morning you would dash over the frontier. I have sent
hundreds to and fro."

We must confess that the adventure attracted us. We had just enough
money left to pay for the passage, but one thing deterred us. We had
with us all the pictures which we had painted in Spain. If we were
captured these would possibly be confiscated, and this was a risk we
could not cheerfully face. We told our host that we would take a day to
think it over. The next day we decided that if the bridge were repaired
within two days we would go to Cerbere and try the normal course, but
that if the delay were longer we would take the deserters' route. That
day at Figueras was so tedious that we mutually shortened our probation
by a day. On the morrow, however, we heard by chance that the bridge had
been reopened and that a special train would pass through Figueras at
eleven o'clock. It was then half-past ten. Jan rushed to pack, while I
hurried to our host to find some means of transport. I found him giving
his small child a ride-a-cock-horse on his foot. To my news he answered
that it was impossible, that we could not reach the train, that it was a
train-de-luxe and terribly expensive, and so on.

After a long and aggravating demur he suddenly turned to me.

"All right," he exclaimed. "If you _will_ do it, it shall be done."

He hurried me round a series of back streets, routed out an old man and
a donkey-cart, and in a few minutes the luggage was packed and we were
off to the station. It was a close race. Jan ran on to get the tickets.
I remained with the old man and the donkey. We had been told to pay the
man a peseta; but he expostulated at the wage, demanding three. We held
firm, however, and at last, with sighs and groans of despair, the old
fellow was going off, apparently as heartbroken as though a near and
dear friend had died. We called him back and added twopence-halfpenny to
his shilling. He immediately broke into wreathed smiles and patted us
cheerfully on the back, wishing us a good journey.

At Cerbere our passports were refused. We had to go back to Port Bou,
where the French Vice-Consul stamped them and, with the loss of another
day, we were once more on our way to Paris. The night journey from
Cerbere to Paris was terrible. Owing to the loss at Lorca we were in
thin summer clothes, the temperature was three degrees below freezing
point, owing to some defect in the apparatus the carriages were not
heated, and a bulky market woman thrust her hand through the glass of
the window; so that for twenty-three hours a freezing draught searched
every cranny of the carriage.

Amongst our lost luggage had been our winter hats, and we landed in
Paris, much to the amusement of the Parisians, wearing Panama hats in
the middle of November.


    THE END



  THE SPANISH SERIES

  Edited by ALBERT F. CALVERT.

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