Part 2 out of 5
"Bah, that's all talk," argued Salome, who wished to thresh the matter
out impersonally. "You'd hardly like it just the same if folks were to
insult you wherever you went."
"Me? Much I care what folks say to me!" replied the cobbler's wife.
"Stuff and nonsense! If they call me a loose woman, and if I'm not,
why, you see: a floral wreath. And if I am,--it's all the same in the
Senor Ignacio, offended, shifted the conversation to the crime on
Panuelas Street; a jealous organ-grinder had slain his sweetheart for
a harsh word and the hearers were excited over the case, each offering
his opinion. The meal over, Senor Ignacio, Leandro, Vidal and Manuel
went out to the gallery to have a nap while the women remained inside
All the neighbours had brought their sleeping-mats out, and in their
undershirts, half naked, some seated, others stretched out, they were
dozing on the galleries.
"Hey, you," said Vidal to Manuel. "Let's be off."
"To the Pirates. We meet today. They must be waiting for us already."
"What do you mean,--pirates?"
"Bizco and the others."
"And why do they call 'em that?"
"Because they're like the old time pirates."
Manuel and Vidal stepped into the patio and leaving the house, walked
off down Embajadores lane.
"They call us the Pirates," explained Vidal, "from a certain battle of
stones we had. Some of the kids from the Paseo de las Acacias had got
some sticks and formed a company with a Spanish flag at the head; then
I, Bizco, and three or four others, began to throw stones at them and
made them retreat. The Corretor, a fellow who lives in our house, and
who saw us chasing after them, said to us: 'Say, are you pirates or
what? For, if you're pirates you ought to fly the black flag. Well,
next day I swiped a dark apron from my father and I tied it to a stick
and we got after the kids with the Spanish flag and came near making
them surrender it. That's why they call us the Pirates."
The two cousins came to a tiny, squalid district.
"This is the Casa del Cabrero," said Vidal. "And here are our chums."
So it proved; the entire pirate gang was here encamped. Manuel now
made the acquaintance of El Bizco, a cross-eyed species of chimpanzee,
square-shaped, husky, long-armed, with misshapen legs and huge red
"This is my cousin," added Vidal, introducing Manuel to the gang; and
then, to make him seem interesting, he told how Manuel had come to the
house with two immense lumps that he had received in a Homeric
struggle with a man.
Bizco stared closely at Manuel, and seeing that Manuel, on his side,
was observing him calmly, averted his gaze. Bizco's face possessed the
interest of a queer animal or of a pathological specimen. His narrow
forehead, his flat nose, his thick lips, his freckled skin and his
red, wiry hair lent him the appearance of a huge, red baboon.
As soon as Vidal had arrived, the gang mobilized and all the
ragamuffins went foraging through la Casa del Cabrero.
This was the name given to a group of low tenement hovels that bounded
a long, narrow patio. At this hot hour the men and women, stretched
out half naked on the ground, were sleeping in the shade as in a
trance. Some women, in shifts, huddled into a circle of four or five,
were smoking the same cigar, each taking a puff and passing it along
from hand to hand.
A swarm of naked brats infested the place; they were the colour of the
soil, most of them black, some fair, with blue eyes. As if already
they felt the degradation of their poverty, these urchins neither
shouted nor frolicked about the yard.
A few lasses of ten to fourteen were chatting in a group. Bizco, Vidal
and the rest of the gang gave chase to them around the patio. The
girls, half naked, dashed off, shrieking and shouting insults.
Bizco boasted that he had violated some of the girls.
"They're all _puchereras_ like the ones on Ceres Street," said
one of the Pirates.
"So they make pots, do they?" inquired Manuel.
"Yes. Fine pots, all right!"
"Then why do you call them _puchereras_?"
"Becau--" added the urchin, and he made a coarse gesture.
"Because they're a sly bunch," stammered Bizco. "You're awful simple."
Manuel contemplated Bizco scornfully, and asked his cousin:
"Do you mean to say that those little girls...?"
"They and their mothers," answered Vidal philosophically. "Almost all
of 'em that live here."
The Pirates left the Casa del Cabrero, descended an embarkment after
passing a high, black fence, and at the middle of Casa Blanca turned
into the Paseo de Yeserias.
They approached the morgue, a white structure near the river, situated
at the foot of the Dehesa del Canal. They circled around it, trying to
catch a glimpse of some corpse, but the windows were closed.
They continued along the banks of the Manzanares, amidst the twisted
pines of la Dehesa. The river ran very thin, consisting of a few
threads of murky water and pools above the mud.
At the end of the Dehesa de la Arganzuela, opposite a large, spacious
lot surrounded by a fence made of flattened oil cans nailed to posts,
the gang paused to inspect the place, whose wide area was taken up
with watering-carts, mechanical sweepers, ditch pumps, heaps of brooms
and other tools and appurtenances of municipal cleanliness.
In one corner of the lot arose a white edifice that, judging from its
two towers and the vacant belfries, had formerly been a church or a
The gang went nosing about the place and passed under an arch bearing
the inscription: "Stallion Stables." Behind the structure that looked
like a convent they came upon some shanties furnished with filthy,
grimy mats: African huts built upon a framework of rough sticks and
Bizco went into one of these hovels and returned with a piece of cod
in his hand.
Manuel was overcome by a horrible fear.
"I'm going," he said to Vidal.
"What do you mean!..." exclaimed one of the gang ironically. "Much
nerve you've got!"
All at once another of the urchins cried:
"Skip. Somebody's coming!"
The pirates started on a run down the Paseo del Canal.
Madrid, with its yellowish dwellings veiled in a cloud of dust, came
into view. The high window-panes were aglow with the reflection of the
setting sun. From the Paseo del Canal, crossing a stubble patch, they
reached the Plaza de las Penuelas, then, after going up another street
they climbed the Paseo de las Acacias.
They entered the Corralon. Manuel and Vidal, after having arranged to
meet the gang on the following Sunday, climbed the stairway to Senor
Ignacio's house and as they drew near to the cobbler's door they heard
"Father's giving the old lady a beating," murmured Vidal. "There
won't be much to eat today. I'm going off to sleep."
"And how do I get to the other house?" asked Manuel.
"All you have to do is walk along the Ronda until you reach the Aguila
street stairway. You can't miss it."
Manuel followed the directions. It was fearfully hot; the air was
thick with dust. A few men were playing cards in tavern doorways, and
in others they were dancing in embrace to the strains of a
When Manuel reached the Aguila Street stairway it was getting dark. He
sat down to rest a while in the Campillo de Gil Imon. From this
elevated point could be seen the yellowish country, growing darker and
darker with approaching night, and the chimneys and housetops sharply
outlined against the horizon. The sky, blue and green above, was
flushed with red nearer the earth; it darkened and assumed sinister
hues,--coppery reds, purplish reds.
Above the mudwalls jutted the turrets and the cypresses of San Isidro
cemetery; a round cupola stood out clearly in the atmosphere; at its
top rose an angel with wings outspread, as if about to take flight
against the flaming, blood-red background of evening.
Above the embanked clouds of the twilight shone a pale star in a green
border, and on the horizon, animated by the last breath of day, could
be discerned the hazy silhouettes of distant mountains.
The "Big Yard," or Uncle Rilo's House--Local Enmities.
When Salome finished her sewing and went off to Aguila Street to
sleep, Manuel definitively settled in the home of Uncle Rilo, of
Embajadores lane. Some called this La Corrala, others, El Corralon,
still others, La Piltra, and it boasted so many other names that it
seemed as if the neighbours spent hours and hours thinking up new
designations for it.
The Corralon (Big yard)--this was the best known name of Uncle Rilo's
lair,--fronted the Paseo de las Acacias, but it was not in the direct
line of this thoroughfare, as it set somewhat back. The facade of this
tenement, low, narrow, kalso-mined, indicated neither the depth nor
the size of the building; the front revealed a few ill-shaped windows
and holes unevenly arranged, while a doorless archway gave access to a
narrow passage paved with cobblestones; this, soon widening, formed a
patio surrounded by high, gloomy walls.
From the sides of the narrow entrance passage rose brick stairways
leading to open galleries that ran along the three stories of the
house and returned to the patio. At intervals, in the back of these
galleries, opened rows of doors painted blue with a black number on
the lintel of each.
Between the lime and the bricks of the walls stuck out, like exposed
bones, jamb-posts and crossbeams, surrounded by lean bass ropes. The
gallery columns, as well as the lintels and the beams that supported
them, must formerly have been painted green, but as the result of the
constant action of sun and rain only a stray patch of the original
The courtyard was always filthy; in one corner lay a heap of useless
scraps covered by a sheet of zinc; one could make out grimy cloths,
decayed planks, debris, bricks, tiles, baskets: an infernal jumble.
Every afternoon some of the women would do their washing in the patio,
and when they finished their work they would empty their tubs on to
the ground, and the big pools, on drying, would leave white stains and
indigo rills of bluing. The neighbours also had the habit of throwing
their rubbish anywhere at all, and when it rained--since the mouth of
the drain would always become clogged--an unbearable, pestilential
odour would rise from the black, stagnant stream that inundated the
patio, and on its surface floated cabbage leaves and greasy papers.
Each neighbour could leave his tools and things in the section of the
gallery that bounded his dwelling; from the looks of this area one
might deduce the grade of poverty or relative comfort of each
family,--its predilections and its tastes.
This space usually revealed an attempt at cleanliness and a curious
aspect; here the wall was whitewashed, there hung a cage,--a few
flowers in earthenware pots; elsewhere a certain utilitarian instinct
found vent in the strings of garlic put out to dry or clusters of
grape suspended; beyond, a carpenter's bench and a tool-chest gave
evidence of the industrious fellow who worked during his free hours.
In general, however, one could see only dirty wash hung out on the
balustrades, curtains made of mats, quilts mended with patches of
ill-assorted colors, begrimed rags stretched over broomsticks or
suspended from ropes tied from one post to the other, that they might
get a trifle more light and air.
Every section of the gallery was a manifestation of a life apart
within this communism of hunger; this edifice contained every grade
and shade of poverty: from the heroic, garbed in clean, decent
tatters, to the most nauseating and repulsive.
In the majority of the rooms and holes of La Corrala one was struck
immediately by the resigned, indolent indigence combined with organic
and moral impoverishment.
In the space belonging to the cobbler's family, at the tip of a very
long pole attached to one of the pillars, waved a pair of
patch-covered trousers comically balancing itself.
Off from the large courtyard of El Corralon branched a causeway heaped
with ordure, leading to a smaller courtyard that in winter was
converted into a fetid swamp.
A lantern, surrounded with a wire netting to prevent the children from
breaking it with stones, hung from one of the black walls.
In the inner courtyard the rooms were much cheaper than those of the
large patio; most of them brought twenty-three reales, but there were
some for two or three pesetas per month: dismal dens with no
ventilation at all, built in the spaces under stairways and under the
In some moister climate La Corrala would have been a nest of
contagion: the wind and sun of Madrid, however,--that sun which brings
blisters to the skin,--saw to the disinfection of that pesthole.
As if to make sure that terror and tragedy should haunt the edifice,
one saw, on entering,--either at the main door or in the corridor,--a
drunken, delirious hag who begged alms and spat insults at everybody.
They called her Death. She must have been very old, or at least
appeared so. Her gaze was wandering, her look diffident, her face
purulent with scabs; one of her lower eyelids, drawn in as the result
of some ailment, exposed the bloody, turbid inside of her eyeball.
Death would stalk about in her tatters, in house slippers, with a
tin-box and an old basket into which she gathered her findings.
Through certain superstitious considerations none dared to throw her
into the street.
On his very first night in La Corrala Manuel verified, not without a
certain astonishment, the truth of what Vidal had told him. That
youngster, and almost all the gamins of his age, had sweethearts among
the little girls of the tenement, and it was not a rare occurrence, as
he passed by some nook, to come upon a couple that jumped up and ran
The little children amused themselves playing bull-fight, and among
the most-applauded feats was that of Don Tancredo. One tot would get
down on all fours, and another, not very heavy, would mount him and
fold his arms, thrust back his chest and place a three-cornered hat of
paper upon his erect, haughty head.
He who was playing the bull would approach, roar loudly, sniff Don
Tancredo and pass by without throwing him over; a couple of times he
would repeat this, and then dash off. Whereupon Don Tancredo would
dismount from his living pedestal to receive the plaudits of the
public. There were wily, waggish bulls who took it into their heads to
pull both statue and pedestal to the ground, and this would be
received amidst shouts and huzzahs of the spectators.
In the meantime the girls would be playing in a ring, the women would
shout from gallery to gallery and the men would chat in their
shirtsleeves; some fellow, squatting on the floor, would scrape away
monotonously at the strings of a guitar.
La Muerte, the old beggar, would also cheer the evening gatherings
with her long discourse.
La Corrala was a seething, feverish world in little, as busy as an
anthill. There people toiled, idled, guzzled, ate and died of hunger;
there furniture was made, antiques were counterfeited, old
embroideries were fashioned, buns cooked, broken porcelain mended,
robberies planned and women's favours traded.
La Corrala was a microcosm; it was said that if all the denizens were
placed in line they would reach from Embajadores lane to the Plaza del
Progreso; it harboured men who were everything and yet nothing: half
scholars, half smiths, half carpenters, half masons, half business
men, half thieves.
In general, everybody who lived here was disoriented, dwelling in that
unending abjection produced by everlasting, irremediable poverty; many
sloughed their occupations as a reptile its skin; others had none;
some carpenters' or masons' helpers, because of their lack of
initiative, understanding and skill, could never graduate from their
apprenticeship. There were also gypsies, mule and dog clippers, nor
was there a dearth of porters, itinerant barbers and mountebanks.
Almost all of them, if opportunity offered, stole what they could;
they all presented the same pauperized, emaciated look. And all
harboured a constant rage that vented itself in furious imprecations
They lived as if sunk in the shades of a deep slumber, unable to form
any clear notion of their lives, without aspirations, aims, projects
There were some whom a couple of glasses of wine made drunk for half a
week; others seemed already besotted, without having had a sip, and
their countenances constantly mirrored the most absolute debasement,
whence they escaped only in a fleeting moment of anger or indignation.
Money was to them, more often than not, a misfortune. Possessing an
instinctive understanding of their weakness and their frail wills,
they would resort to the tavern in quest of courage; there they would
cast off all restraint, shout, argue, forget the sorrows of the
moment, feel generous, and when, after having bragged to the top of
their bent they believed themselves ready for anything, they
discovered that they hadn't a centimo and that the illusory strength
imbibed with the alcohol was evaporating.
The women of the house, as a rule, worked harder than the men, and
were almost always disputing. For thirty years past they had all
shared the same character and represented almost the same type: foul,
unkempt, termagacious, they--shrieked and grew desperate upon the
From time to time, like a gentle sunbeam amidst the gloom, the souls
of these stultified, bestial men,--of these women embittered by harsh
lives that held neither solace nor illusion,--would be penetrated by a
romantic, disinterested feeling of tenderness that made them live like
human beings for a while; but when the gust of sentimentalism had
blown over, they would return to their moral inertia, as resigned and
passive as ever. The permanent neighbours of La Corrala were situated
in the floors surrounding the large courtyard. In the other courtyard
the majority were transients, and spent, at most, a couple of weeks in
the house. Then, as the saying was among them, they spread wing.
One day a mender would appear with his huge bag, his brace and his
pliers, shouting through the streets in a husky voice: "Jars and tubs
to mend ... pans, dishes and plates!" After a short stay he would be
off; the following week arrived a dealer in cloth bargains, crying at
the top of his lungs his silk handkerchiefs at ten and fifteen
centimos; another day came an itinerant hawker, his cases laden with
pins, combs and brooches, or some purchaser of gold and silver braid.
Certain seasons of the year brought a contingent of special types;
spring announced itself through the appearance of mule dealers,
tinkers, gypsies and bohemians; in autumn swarmed bands of rustics
with cheese from La Mancha and pots of honey, while winter brought the
walnut and chestnut vendors.
Of the permanent tenants in the first courtyard, those who were
intimate with Senor Ignacio included: a proof-corrector, nick-named El
Corretor; a certain Rebolledo, both barber and inventor, and four
blind men, who were known by the sobriquets El Calabazas, El Sapistas,
El Erigido and El Cuco and dwelt in harmony with their respective
wives playing the latest tangos, _tientos_ and _zarzuela_
ditties on the streets.
The proof-reader had a numerous family: his wife, his mother-in-law, a
daughter of twenty and a litter of tots; the pay he earned correcting
proof at a newspaper office was not enough for his needs and he used
to suffer dire straits. He was in the habit of wearing a threadbare
macfarland,--frayed at the edges,--a large, dirty handkerchief tied
around his throat, and a soft, yellow, grimy slouch hat.
His daughter, Milagros by name, a slender lass as sleek as a bird, had
relations with Leandro, Manual's cousin.
The sweethearts had plenty of love quarrels, now because of her
flirtations, now because of the evil life he led.
They could not get along, for Milagros was a bit haughty and a
climber, considering herself a social superior fallen upon evil days,
while Leandro, on the other hand, was abrupt and irascible.
The cobbler's other neighbour, Senor Zurro, a quaint, picturesque
type, had nothing to do with Senor Ignacio and felt for the
proof-reader a most cordial hatred. El Zurro went about forever
concealed behind a pair of blue spectacles, wearing a fur cap and
"His name is Zurro (fox)," the proof-reader would say, "but he's a fox
in his actions as well; one of those country foxes that are masters of
malice and trickery."
According to popular rumour, El Zurro knew what he was about; he had a
place at the lower end of the Rastro, a dark, pestilent hovel
cluttered with odds and ends, second-hand coats, remnants of old
cloth, tapestries, parts of chasubles, and in addition, empty bottles,
flasks full of brandy and cognac, seltzer water siphons, shattered
clocks, rusty muskets, keys, pistols, buttons, medals and other
Despite the fact that surely no more than a couple of persons entered
Senor Zurro's shop throughout the livelong day and spent no more than
a couple of reales, the second-hand dealer thrived.
He lived with his daughter Encarna, a coarse specimen of some
twenty-five years, exceedingly vulgar and the personification of
insolence, who went walking with her father on Sundays, bedecked with
jewelry. Encarna's bosom was consumed with the fires of passion for
Leandro; but that ingrate, enamoured of Milagros, was unscathed by the
soul-flames of the second-hand dealer's daughter.
Wherefore Encarna mortally hated Milagros and the members of her
family; every hour of the day she branded them as vulgarians,
starvelings, and insulted them with such scoffing sobriquets as
Mendrugo, "Beggar's Crumb," which was applied by her to the
proof-reader, and "The Madwoman of the Vatican," which meant his
It was not at all rare for such hatreds, between persons forced almost
into living in common, to grow to violent rancour and malevolence;
thus, the members of one and the other family never looked at each
other without exchanging curses and wishes for the most disastrous
Roberto Hastings at the Shoemaker's--Procession of Beggars--Court
One morning toward the end of September Roberto appeared in the
doorway of _The Regeneration of Footwear_, and thrusting his head
into the shop exclaimed:
"Hello, Don Roberto!"
Manuel shrugged his shoulders, indicating that the job was not exactly
to his taste.
Roberto hesitated for a moment, but at last made up his mind and
entered the shop.
"Have a seat," invited Senor Ignacio, offering him a chair.
"Are you Manuel's uncle?"
"At your service."
Roberto sat down, offered a cigar to Senor Ignacio and another to
Leandro, and the three began to smoke.
"I know your nephew," said Roberto to the proprietor, "for I live in
the house where Petra works."
"And I wish you'd let him off today for a couple of hours."
"All right, senor. All afternoon, if you wish."
"Fine. Then I'll call for him after lunch."
Roberto watched them work for a while, then suddenly jumped up and
Manuel could not understand what Roberto wanted, and in the afternoon
waited for him with genuine impatience. Roberto carne, and the pair
turned out of Aguila Street down toward the Ronda de Segovia.
"Do you know where La Doctrina is?" Roberto asked Manuel.
"A place where herds of beggars meet every Friday."
"I don't know."
"Do you know where the San Isidro highway is?"
"Good. For that's where we're going. That's where La Doctrina is."
Manuel and Roberto walked down the Paseo de los Pontones and continued
in the direction of Toledo Bridge. The student was silent and Manuel
did not care to ask any questions.
It was a dry, dusty day. The stifling south wind whirled puffs of heat
and sand; a stray bolt of lightning illuminated the clouds; from the
distance came the rumble of thunder; the landscape lay yellow under a
blanket of dust.
Over the Toledo Bridge trudged a procession of beggars, both men and
women, each dirtier and more tattered than the next. Out of las
Cambroneras and las Injurias streamed recruits for this ragged army;
they came, too, from the Paseo Imperial and from Ocho Hilos, and by
this time forming solid ranks, they trooped on to the Toledo Bridge
and tramped up the San Isidro highway until they reached a red
edifice, before which they came to a halt.
"This must be La Doctrina," said Roberto to Manuel, pointing to a
building that had a patio with a statue of Christ in the centre.
The two friends drew near to the gate. This was a beggars' conclave, a
Court of Miracles assembly. The women took up almost the entire
courtyard; at one end, near a chapel, the men were huddled together;
one could see nothing but swollen, stupid faces, inflamed nostrils,
and twisted mouths; old women as fat and clumsy as melancholy whales;
little wizened, cadaverous hags with sunken mouths and noses like the
beak of a bird of prey; shamefaced female mendicants, their wrinkled
chins bristling with hair, their gaze half ironical and half shy;
young women, thin and emaciated, slatternly and filthy; and all, young
and old alike, clad in threadbare garments that had been mended,
patched and turned inside out until there wasn't a square inch that
had been left untouched. The green, olive-coloured cloaks and the drab
city garb jostled against the red and yellow short skirts of the
Roberto sauntered about, peering eagerly info the courtyard. Manuel
trailed after him indifferently.
A large number of the beggars was blind; there were cripples, minus
hand or foot, some hieratic, taciturn, solemn, others restless. Brown
long-sleeved loose coats mingled with frayed sack-coats and begrimed
smocks. Some of the men in tatters carried, slung over their
shoulders, black sacks and game-bags; others huge cudgels in their
hands; one burly negro, his face tattooed with deep stripes,--
doubtless a slave in former days,--leaned against the wall in
dignified indifference, clothed in rags; barefoot urchins and mangy
dogs scampered about amongst the men and women; the swarming,
agitated, palpitating throng of beggars seethed like an anthill.
"Let's go," said Roberto. "Neither of the women I'm looking for is
here.... Did you notice," he added, "how few human faces there are
among men! All you can read in the features of these wretches is
mistrust, abjection, malice, just as among the rich you find only
solemnity, gravity, pedantry. It's curious, isn't it? All cats have
the face of cats; all oxen look like oxen; while the majority of human
beings haven't a human semblance."
Roberto and Manuel left the patio. They sat down opposite La Doctrina,
on the other side of the road, amid some sandy clearings.
"These doings of mine," began Roberto, "may strike you as queer. But
they won't seem so strange when I tell you that I'm looking for two
women here; one of them a poor beggar who can make me rich; the other,
a rich lady, who perhaps would make me poor."
Manuel stared at Roberto in amazement. He had always harboured a
certain suspicion that there was something wrong with the student's
"No. Don't imagine this is silly talk. I'm on the trail of a
fortune,--a huge fortune. If you help me, I'll remember you."
"Sure. What do you want me to do?"
"I'll tell you when the right moment comes."
Manuel could not conceal an ironic smile.
"You don't believe it," muttered Roberto.
"That doesn't matter. When you'll see, you'll believe."
"If I should happen to need you, promise you'll help me."
"I'll help you as far as I am able," replied Manuel, with feigned
Several ragamuffins sprawled themselves out on the clearing near
Manuel and Roberto, and the student did not care to go on with his
"They've already begun to split up into divisions," said one of the
loafers who wore a coachman's hat, pointing with a stick to the women
inside the courtyard of La Doctrina.
And so it was; groups were clustering about the trees of the patio, on
each of which was hung a poster with a picture and a number in the
"There go the marchionesses," added he of the coachman's hat,
indicating several women garbed in black who had just appeared in the
The white faces stood out amidst the mourning clothes.
"They're all marchionesses," said one.
"Well, they're not all beauties," retorted Manuel, joining the
conversation. "What have they come here for?"
"They're the ones who teach religion," answered the fellow with the
hat. "From time to time they hand out sheets and underwear to the
women and the men. Now they're going to call the roll."
A bell began to clang; the gate closed; groups were formed, and a lady
entered the midst of each.
"Do you see that one there?" asked Roberto. "She's Don Telmo's niece."
"Yes. Wait for me here."
Roberto walked down the road toward the gate.
The reading of the religious lesson began; from the patio came the
slow, monotonous drone of prayer.
Manuel lay back on the ground. Yonder, flat beneath the grey horizon,
loomed Madrid out of the mist of the dust-laden atmosphere. The wide
bed of the Manzanares river, ochre-hued, seemed furrowed here and
there by a thread of dark water. The ridges of the Guadarrama range
rose hazily into the murky air.
Roberto passed by the patio. The humming of the praying mendicants
continued. An old lady, her head swathed in a red kerchief and her
shoulders covered with a black cloak that was fading to green, sat
down in the clearing.
"What's the matter, old lady? Wouldn't they open the gate for you?"
shouted the fellow with the coachman's hat.
"No.... The foul old witches!"
"Don't you care. They're not giving away anything today. The
distribution takes place this coming Friday. They'll give you at least
a sheet," added he of the hat mischievously.
"If they don't give me anything more than a sheet," shrilled the hag,
twisting her blobber-lip, "I'll tell them to keep it for themselves.
The foxy creatures! ..."
"Oh, they've found you out, granny!" exclaimed one of the loafers
lying on the ground. "You're a greedy one, you are."
The bystanders applauded these words, which came from a
_zarzuela_, and the chap in the coachman's hat continued
explaining to Manuel the workings of La Doctrina.
"There are some men and women who enrol in two and even three
divisions so as to get all the charity they can," he went on. "Why,
we--my father and I--once enrolled in four divisions under four
different names.... And what a rumpus was raised! What a row we had
with the marchionesses!"
"And what did you want with all those sheets," Manuel asked him.
"Why! Sell 'em, of course. They re sold here at the very gate at two
"I'm going to buy one," said a coachman from a nearby hackstand,
approaching the group. "I'll give it a coating of linseed oil, then
varnish it and make me a cowled waterproof."
"But the marchionesses,--don't they see that these people sell their
gifts right away?"
"Much they see!"
To these idlers the whole business was nothing more than a pious
recreation of the religious ladies, of whom they spoke with
The reading of the religious lesson did not last quite an hour.
A bell rang; the gate was swung open; the various groups dissolved and
merged; everybody arose and the women began to walk off, balancing
their chairs upon their heads, shouting, shoving one another
violently; two or three huckstresses peddled their wares as the
tattered crowd issued through the gate in a jam, shrieking as if in
escape from some imminent danger. A few old women ran clumsily down
the road; others huddled into a corner to urinate, and all of them
were howling at the top of their lungs, overcome by the necessity of
insulting the women of La Doctrina, as if instinctively they divined
the uselessness of a sham charity that remedied nothing. One heard
only protests and manifestation of scorn.
"Damn it all! These women of God...."
"And they want a body to have faith in 'em."
"The old drunkards."
"Let them have faith, and the mother that bore 'em."
"Let 'em give blood-pudding to everybody."
After the women came the men,--blind, maimed, crippled,--in leisurely
fashion, and conversing solemnly.
"Huh! They don't want me to marry!" grumbled a blind fellow,
sarcastically, turning to a cripple.
"And what do you say," asked the latter.
"I? What the deuce! Let them get married if they have any one to marry
'em. They came here and bore us stiff with their prayers and sermons.
What we need isn't sermons, but hard cash and plenty of it."
"That's what, man ... the dough,--that's what we want."
"And all the rest is nothing but ... chatter and chin music....
Anybody can give advice. When it comes to bread, though, not a sign of
"So say I!"
The ladies came out, prayer-books in hand; the old beggar-women set
off in pursuit and harassed them with entreaties.
Manuel looked everywhere for the student; at last he caught sight of
him with Don Telmo's niece. The blonde turned around to look at him,
and then stepped into a coach. Roberto saluted her and the coach
Manuel and Roberto returned by the San Isidro highway.
The sky was still overcast; the air dry; the procession of beggars was
advancing in the direction of Madrid. Before they reached the Toledo
Bridge, at the intersection of the San Isidro highway and the
Extremadura cartroad, Roberto and Manuel entered a very large tavern.
Roberto ordered a bottle of beer.
"Do you live in the same house where the shoe shop is?" asked Roberto.
"No. I live over in the Paseo de las Acacias, in a house called El
"Good. I'll come to visit you there, and you already understand that
whenever you happen to go to any place where poor folk or criminals
gather, you're to let me know."
"I'll let you know. I was watching that blonde eye you. She's pretty."
"And she has a swell coach."
"I should say so."
"Well? Are you going to marry her?"
"What do I know? We'll see. Come, we can't stay here," said Roberto,
stepping up to the counter to pay.
In the tavern a large number of beggars, seated at the tables, were
gulping down slices of cod and scraps of meat; a piquant odour of
fried bird-tripe and oil came from the kitchen.
They left. The wind still blew in eddies of sand; dry leaves and stray
bits of newspaper danced madly through the air; the high houses near
the Segovia Bridge, their narrow windows and galleries hung with
tatters, seemed greyer and more sordid than ever when glimpsed through
an atmosphere murky with dust.
Suddenly Roberto halted, and placing his hand upon Manuel's shoulder
"Listen to what I say, for it is the truth. If you ever want to
accomplish anything in life, place no belief in the word 'impossible.'
There's nothing impossible to an energetic will. If you try to shoot
an arrow, aim very high,--as high as you can; the higher you aim, the
farther you'll go."
Manuel stared at Roberto with a puzzled look, and shrugged his
Life In the Cobbler's Shop--Manuel's Friends.
The months of September and October were very hot; it was impossible
to breathe in the shoe shop.
Every morning Manuel and Vidal, on their way to the shoemaker's, would
talk of a thousand different things and exchange impressions; money,
women, plans for the future formed everlasting themes of their chats.
To both it seemed a great sacrifice, something in the nature of a
crowning misfortune in their bad luck, to have to spend day after day
cooped up in a corner ripping off outworn soles.
The languorous afternoons invited to slumber. After lunch especially,
Manuel would be overcome by stupor and deep depression. Through the
doorway of the shop could be seen the fields of San Isidro bathed in
light; in the Campillo de Gil Imon the wash hung out to dry gleamed in
There came a medley of crowing cocks, far-off shouts of vendors, the
shrieking of locomotive whistles muffled by the distance. The dry,
burning, atmosphere vibrated. A few women of the neighbourhood came
out to comb their hair in the open, and the mattress-makers beat their
wool in the shade of the Campillo, while the hens scampered about and
scratched the soil.
Later, as evening fell, the air and the earth changed to a dusty grey.
In the distance, cutting the horizon, waved the outline of the arid
field,--a simple line, formed by the gentle undulation of the
hillocks,--a line like that of the landscapes drawn by children, with
isolated houses and smoking chimneys. Here and there a lone patch of
green grove splotched against the yellow field, which lay parched by
the sun beneath a pallid sky, whitish and murky in the hot vapours
rising from the earth. Not a cry, not the slightest sound rent the
At dusk the mist grew transparent and the horizon receded until, far
in the distance, loomed the vague silhouettes of mountains not to be
glimpsed by day, against the red background of the twilight.
When they left off working in the shop it was usually night. Senor
Ignacio, Leandro, Manuel and Vidal would turn down the road toward
The gas lights shone at intervals in the dusty air; lines of carts
rumbled slowly by, and across the road, in little groups, tramped the
workmen from the neighbouring factories.
And always, coming and going, the conversation between Manuel and
Vidal would turn upon the same topics: women and money.
Neither had a romantic notion, or anything like it, of women. To
Manuel, a woman was a magnificent animal with firm flesh and swelling
Vidal did not share this sexual enthusiasm; he experienced, with all
women, a confused feeling of scorn, curiosity and preoccupation.
As far as concerned money, they were both agreed that it was the
choicest, most admirable of all things; they spoke of money--
especially Vidal--with a fierce enthusiasm. To him, the thought that
there might be anything--good or evil--that could not be obtained with
hard cash, was the climax of absurdity. Manuel would like to have
money to travel all over the world and see cities and more cities and
sail in vessels. Vidal's dream was to live a life of ease in Madrid.
After two or three months in the Corralon, Manuel had become so
accustomed to the work and the life there that he wondered how he
could do anything else. Those wretched quarters no longer produced
upon him the impression of dark, sinister sadness that they cause in
one unaccustomed to live in them; on the contrary, they seemed to him
filled with attractions. He knew almost everybody in the district.
Vidal and he would escape from the house on any pretext at all, and on
Sundays they would meet Bizco at the Casa del Cabrero and go off into
the environs: to Las Injurias, Las Cambroneras, the restaurants of
Alarcon, the Campamento, and the inns on the Andalucia road, where
they would consort with thieves and rogues and play with them at
_cane_ and _rayuela_.
Manuel did not care for Bizco's company; Bizco sought only to hobnob
with thieves. He was forever taking Manuel and Vidal to haunts
frequented by bandits and low types, but since Vidal seemed to think
it all right, Manuel never objected.
Vidal was the link between Manuel and Bizco, Bizco hated Manuel, who
in turn, not only felt enmity and repugnance for Bizco, but showed
this repulsion plainly. Bizco was a brute,--an animal deserving of
extermination. As lascivious as a monkey, he had violated several of
the little girls of the Casa del Cabrero, beating them into
submission; he used to rob his father, a poverty-stricken cane-weaver,
so that he might have money enough to visit some low brothel of Las
Penuelas or on Chopa Street, where he found rouged dowagers with
cigarette-stubs in their lips, who looked like princesses to him. His
narrow skull, his powerful jaw, his blubber-lip, his stupid glance,
lent him a look of repellant brutality and animality.
A primitive man, he kept his dagger--bought in El Rastro--sharp,
guarding it as a sacred object. If he ever happened across a cat or
dog, he would enjoy torturing it to death with oft-repeated stabs. His
speech was obscene, abounding in barbarities and blasphemies.
Whether anybody induced Bizco to tattoo his arms, or the idea was
original with him, cannot be said; probably the tattooing he had seen
on one of the bandits that he ran after had suggested a similar
adornment for himself. Vidal imitated him, and for a time the pair
gave themselves up enthusiastically to self-tattooing. They pricked
their skins with a pin until a little blood came, then moistened the
wounds with ink.
Bizco painted crosses, stars and names upon his chest; Vidal, who
didn't like to prick himself, stippled his own name on one arm and his
sweetheart's on the other; Manuel didn't care to inscribe anything
upon his person, first because he was afraid of blood, and then
because the idea had been Bizco's.
Each harboured a mute hostility against the other.
Manuel, always with a chip on his shoulder, was disposed to show his
enemy challenge; Bizco, doubtless, noticed this scornful hatred in
Manuel's eyes, and this confused him.
To Manuel, a man's superiority consisted in his talent, and, above
all, in his cunning; to Bizco, courage and strength constituted the
sole enviable qualities; the greatest merit of all was to be a real
brute, as he would declare with enthusiasm.
Because of the great esteem in which he held craft and cunning, Manuel
felt deep admiration for the Rebolledos, father and son, who also
lived in the Corralon. The father, a dwarfed hunchback, a barber by
trade, used to shave his customers in the sunlight of the open, near
the Rastro. This dwarf had a very intelligent face, with deep eyes; he
wore moustache and side-whiskers, and long, bluish, unwashed hair. He
dressed always in mourning; in winter and summer alike he went around
in an overcoat, and, by some unsolved mystery of chemistry his
overcoat kept turning green while his trousers, which were also black,
kept quite as plainly turning red.
Every morning Rebolledo would leave the Corralon carrying a little
bench and a wooden wall-bracket, from which hung a brass basin and a
poster. Reaching a certain spot along the Americas fence he would
attach the bracket and put up, beside it, a humorous sign the point of
which, probably, he was the only one to see. It ran thus:
MODERNIST TONSORIAL PARLOUR
Walk in Gents. Shaving by Rebolledo.
The Rebolledos were very skilful; they made toys of wire and of
pasteboard, which they afterward sold to the street-vendors; their
home, a dingy little room of the front patio, had been converted into
a workshop, and they had there a vise, a carpenter's bench and an
array of broken gew-gaws that were apparently of no further use.
The neighbours of the Corralon had a saying that indicated their
conception of Rebolledo's acute genius.
"That dwarf," they said, "has a regular Noah's ark in his head."
The father had made for his own use a set of false teeth. He had taken
a bone napkin-ring, cut it into two unequal parts, and, by filing it
on either side, had fitted the larger to his mouth. Then with a tiny
saw he made the teeth, and to simulate the gums he covered a part of
the former napkin-ring with sealing-wax. Rebolledo could remove and
insert the false set with remarkable ease, and he could eat with them
perfectly, provided, as he said, there was anything to eat.
Perico, the son of the dwarf, promised even to outstrip his father in
cleverness. Between the hunger that he often suffered, and the
persistent tertian fevers, he was very thin and his complexion was
citreous. He was not, like his father, deformed, but slender,
delicate, with sparkling eyes and rapid, jerky motions. He looked, as
the saying is, like a rat under a bowl.
One of the proofs of his inventive genius was a mechanical snuffler
that he had made of a shoe-polish tin.
Perico cherished a particular enthusiasm for white walls, and wherever
he discovered one he would sketch, with a piece of coal, processions
of men, women and horses, houses puffing smoke, soldiers, vessels at
sea, weaklings engaging in struggle with burly giants, and other
equally diverting scenes.
Perico's masterpiece was the Don Tancredo triptych, done in coal on
the walls of the narrow entrance lane to La Corrala. This work
overwhelmed the neighbours with admiration and astonishment.
The first part of the triptych showed the valiant hypnotizer of bulls
on his way to the bull-ring, in the midst of a great troop of
horsemen; the legend read: "Don Tancredo on his _weigh_ to the
bulls." The second part represented the "king of bravery" in his
three-cornered hat, with his arms folded defiantly before the wild
beast; underneath, the rubric "Don Tancredo upon his pedestal." Under
the third part one read: "The bull takes to flight." The depiction of
this final scene was noteworthy; the bull was seen fleeing as one
possessed of the devil amidst the toreros, whose noses were visible in
profile while their mouths and both eyes were drawn in front view.
Despite his triumphs, Perico Rebolledo did not grow vain, nor did he
consider himself superior to the men of his generation; his greatest
pleasure was to sit down at his father's side in the patio of La
Corrala, amidst the works of old clocks, bunches of keys and other
grimy, damaged articles, and ponder over the possible utilization of
an eye-glass crystal, for example, or a truss, or the rubber bulb of a
syringe, or some similar broken, out-of-order contrivance.
Father and son spent their lives dreaming of mechanical contraptions;
they considered nothing useless; the key that could open no door, the
old-style coffee-pot, as queer as some laboratory instrument, the oil
lamp with machine attachment,--all these articles were treasured up,
taken apart and put to some use. Rebolledo, father and son, wasted
more ingenuity in living wretchedly than is employed by a couple of
dozen comic authors, journalists and state ministers dwelling in
Among the friends of Perico Rebolledo were the Aristas, who became
intimate with Manuel.
The Aristas, two brothers, sons of an ironing-woman, were apprentices
in a foundry of the near-by Ronda. The younger passed his days in a
continuous capering, indulging in death-defying leaps, climbing trees,
walking on his hands and performing acrobatic stunts from all the door
The elder brother, a long-legged stutterer whom they called Ariston in
jest, was the most funereal fellow on the planet; he suffered from
acute necromania; anything connected with coffins, corpses, wakes and
candles roused his enthusiasm. He would like to have been a
gravedigger, the priest of a religious confraternity, a cemetery
warden; but his great dream,--what most enchanted him,--was a funeral;
he would imagine, as a wonderful ideal, the conversations that the
proprietor of a funeral establishment must have with the father or the
inconsolable widow as he offered wreaths of immortelles, or as he went
to take the measure of a corpse or strolled amidst the coffins. What a
splendid existence, this manufacturing of last resting-places for men,
women and children, and afterward accompanying them to the
burial-ground. For Ariston, details relating to death were the most
important matter in life.
Through that irony of fate which almost always exchanges the proper
labels of things and persons, Ariston was a supernumerary in one of
the vaudeville theatres, through the influence of his father, who was
a scene-shifter, and the job disgusted him, for in such a playhouse
nobody ever died upon the stage, nobody ever came out in mourning and
there was no weeping. And while Ariston kept thinking of nothing but
funereal scenes, his brother dreamed of circuses, trapezes and
acrobats, hoping that some day fate would send him the means to
cultivate his gymnastic talents.
La Blasa's Tavern.
The frequent quarrels between Leandro and his sweetheart, the
Corrector's daughter, very often gave the neighbours of the Corrala
food for gossip. Leandro was an ill-tempered, quarrelsome sort; his
brutal instincts were quickly awakened; despite his habit of going
every Saturday night to the taverns and restaurants, ready for a
rumpus with the bullies and the ruffians, he had thus far managed to
steer clear of any disagreeable accident. His sweetheart was somewhat
pleased with this display of valour; her mother, however, regarded it
with genuine indignation, and was forever advising her daughter to
dismiss her Leandro for good.
The girl would dismiss her lover; but afterwards, when he returned in
humility, ready to accede to any conditions, she relented.
This confidence in her power turned the girl despotic, whimsical,
voluble; she would amuse herself by rousing Leandro's jealousy; she
had arrived at a particular state, a blend of affection and hatred, in
which the affection remained within and the hatred outside, revealing
itself in a ferocious cruelty, in the satisfaction of mortifying her
"What you ought to do some fine day," Senor Ignacio would say to
Leandro, incensed by the cruel coquetry of the maiden, "is to get her
into a corner and take all you want.... And then give her a beating
and leave her soft as mush. The next day she'd be following you around
like a dog."
Leandro, as brave as any bully, was as meek as a charity-pupil in the
presence of his sweetheart. At times he recalled his father's counsel,
but he would never have summoned the courage to carry it through.
One Saturday afternoon, after a bitter dispute with Milagros, Leandro
invited Manuel to make the rounds that night together with him.
"Where'll we go?" asked Manuel.
"To the Naranjeros cafe, or to the Engrima restaurant."
"Wherever you please."
"We'll make the rounds of those dives and then we'll wind up at La
"Do the hard guys go there?"
"I should say. As tough as you make 'em."
"Then I'll let Roberto know,--that fellow who came for me to take him
to la Doctrina."
After work Manuel went off to the boardingrhouse and took counsel with
"Be at the San Millan cafe about nine in the evening," said Roberto,
"I'll be there with a cousin of mine."
"Are you going to take her there?" Manuel asked in astonishment.
"Yes. She's a queer one, a painter."
"And is this painter good-looking?" asked Leandro.
"I can't say. I don't know her."
"Damn my sweet---- ... ! I'd give anything to have this woman come
They both went to the San Millan cafe, sat down and waited
impatiently. At the hour indicated Roberto appeared in company of his
cousin whom he called Fanny. She was a woman between thirty and forty,
very slender, with a sallow complexion,--a distinguished, masculine
type; there was about her something of the graceless beauty of a
racehorse; her nose was curved, her jaw big, her cheeks sunken and her
eyes grey and cold. She wore a jacket of dark green taffeta, a black
skirt and a small hat.
Leandro and Manuel greeted her with exceeding timidity and
awkwardness; they shook hands with Roberto and conversed.
"My cousin," said Roberto, "would like to see something of slum life
"Whenever you wish," answered Leandro. "But I warn you beforehand that
there are some pretty tough specimens in this vicinity."
"Oh, I'm prepared," said the lady, with a slight foreign accent,
showing a revolver of small calibre.
Roberto paid, despite Leandro's protests, and they left the cafe.
Coming out on the Plaza del Rastro, they walked down the Ribera de
Curtidores as far as the Ronda de Toledo.
"If the lady wishes to see the house we live in, this is the one,"
They went into the Corralon; a crowd of gamins and old women, amazed
to see such a strange woman there at such an hour, surrounded them,
showering Manuel and Leandro with questions. Leandro was eager for
Milagros to learn that he had been there with a woman, so he
accompanied Fanny through the place, pointing out all the holes of the
"Poverty's the only thing you can see here," said Leandro.
"Yes, yes indeed," answered the woman.
"Now if you wish, we'll go to La Blasa's tavern."
They left the Corralon for Embajadores lane and walked along the black
fence of a laundry. It was a dark night and a drizzle had begun to
fall. They stumbled along the surrounding path.
"Look-out," said Leandro. "There's a wire here."
He stepped upon the wire to hold it down. They all crossed the path
and passed a group of white houses, coming to Las Injurias.
They approached a low cottage with a dark socle; a door with clouded
broken panes stuffed with bundles of paper, through which shone a
pallid light, gave entrance to the dwelling. In the opaque
transparency of the glass appeared from time to time the shadow of a
Leandro opened the door and they all went in. A stuffy, smoky wave of
atmosphere struck them in the face. A kerosene lamp, hanging from the
ceiling and covered with a white shade, provided light for the tiny,
As the four entered, the customers greeted them with an expression of
stupefaction; for a while the habituees whispered among themselves,
then some, resumed their playing as others looked on.
Fanny, Roberto, Leandro and Manuel took seats to the right of the
"What'll you have?" asked the woman at the counter.
"Four fifteen-centimo glasses of wine."
The woman brought the glasses in a filthy tray, and set them upon the
table. Leandro pulled out sixty centimos.
"They're ten apiece," corrected the woman in ill-humoured tones.
"Because this is outside the limits."
"All right; take whatever it comes to."
The woman left twenty centimos on the table and returned to the
counter. She was broad, large-breasted, with a head that set deep in
between her shoulders and a neck composed of some five or six
layers of fat; from time to time she would serve a drink, always getting
the price in advance; she spoke very little, with evident displeasure
and with an invariable gesture of ill-humour.
This human hippopotamus had at her right a tin tank with a spigot, for
brandy, and at her left a flask of strong wine and a chipped jar
covered with a black funnel, into which she poured whatever was left
in the glasses by her customers.
Roberto's cousin fished out a phial of smelling salts, hid it in her
clamped hand and took a sniff from time to time.
Opposite the place where Roberto, Fanny, Leandro and Manuel were
seated, a crowd of some twenty men were packed around a table playing
Near them, huddled on the floor next the stove, reclining against the
wall, could be seen a number of ugly, scraggly-haired hags, dressed in
corsages and ragged skirts that were tied around their waists by
"Who are those women?" asked the painter.
"They're old tramps," explained Leandro. "The kind that go to the
Botanical Garden and the clearings outside the city."
Two or three of the unfortunates held in their arms children belonging
to other women who had come there to spend the night; some were dozing
with their cigarettes sticking from the corner of their mouths. Amid
the old women were a few little girls of thirteen or fourteen,
monstrously deformed, with bleary eyes; one of them had her nose
completely eaten away, with nothing but a hole like a wound left in
its place; another was hydro-cephalous, with so thin a neck that it
seemed the slightest movement would snap it and send her head rolling
from her shoulders.
"Have you seen the large jars they have here?" Leandro asked Manuel.
"Come on and take a look."
The two rose and approached the group of gamblers. One of these
interrupted his game.
"Please make way?" Leandro said to him, with marked impertinence.
The man drew in his chair sourly. There was nothing remarkable about
the jars; they were large, embedded in the wall, painted with
red-lead; each of them bore a sign denoting the class of wine inside,
and had a spigot.
"What's so wonderful about this, I'd like to know?" asked Manuel.
Leandro smiled; they returned as they had come, disturbing the player
once more and resuming their seats at the table.
Roberto and Fanny conversed in English.
"That fellow we made get up," said Leandro, "is the bully of this
"What's his name?" asked Fanny.
The man they were speaking about, hearing his sobriquet mentioned,
turned around and eyed Leandro; for a moment their glances crossed
defiantly; Valencia turned his eyes away and continued playing. He was
a strong man, about forty, with high cheek bones, reddish skin and a
disagreeably sarcastic expression. Every once in a while he would cast
a severe look at the group formed by Fanny, Roberto and the other two.
"And that Valencia,--who is he?" asked the lady in a low voice.
"He's a mat maker by trade," answered Leandro, raising his voice. "A
tramp that wheedles money out of low-lives; before he used to belong
to the _pote_,--the kind that visit houses on Sundays, knock, and
when they see nobody's home, stick their jimmy into the lock and
zip!... But he hasn't the courage even for this, 'cause his liver is
whiter than paper."
"It would be curious to investigate," said Roberto, "just how far
poverty has served as centre of gravity for the degradation of these
"And how about that white-bearded old fellow at his side?" asked
"He's one of those apostles that cure with water. They say he's a wise
old fellow.... He has a cross on his tongue. But I believe he painted
it there himself."
"And that other woman there?"
"That's La Paloma, Valencia's mistress."
"Prostitute?" asked the lady.
"For at least forty years," answered Leandro with a laugh.
They all looked closely at Paloma; she had a huge, soft face, with
pouches of violet skin, and a timid look as of a humble beast; she
represented at least forty years of prostitution and all its
concomitant ills; forty years of nights spent in the open, lurking
about barracks, sleeping in suburban shanties and the most repulsive
Among the women there was also a gypsy who, from time to time, would
get up and walk across the tavern with a saucy strut.
Leandro ordered some glasses of whiskey; but it was so bad that nobody
could drink it.
"Hey, you," called Leandro to the gipsy, offering her the glass. "Want
The gypsy placed her hands upon the table,--a pair of stubby, wrinkled
hands incrusted with dirt.
"Who are these gumps?" she asked Leandro.
"Friends of mine. Will you drink or not?" and he offered her the glass
Then in a shrill voice, he shouted:
"Apostle, will you have a drink?"
The Apostle rose from his place amongst the gamblers. He was dead
drunk and could hardly move; his eyes were viscous, like those of an
angered animal; he staggered over to Leandro and took the glass, which
trembled in his grasp; he brought it to his lips and gulped it down.
"Want more?" asked the gypsy.
"Sure, sure," he drooled.
Then he began to babble, showing the stumps of his yellow teeth, but
nobody could understand a word; he drained the other glasses, rested
his forehead against his hand and slowly made his way to a corner,
into which he squatted, and then stretched himself out on the floor.
"Do you want me to tell your fortune, princess?" asked the gipsy of
Fanny, seizing her hand.
"No," replied the lady drily.
"Won't you give me a few coins for the _churumbeles_?"
"Wicked woman! Why won't you give me a few coins for the
"What does _churumbeles_ mean?" asked the lady.
"Her children," answered Leandro, laughing.
"Have you children?" Fanny asked the gipsy.
"Two. Here they are."
And the gipsy fetched a blond little fellow and a girl of about five
The lady petted the little boy; then she took a duro from her purse
and gave it to the gipsy.
The gipsy, parting her lips in amazement and bursting forth into
profuse flattery, exhibited the duro to everybody in the place.
"We'd better be going," advised Leandro. "To pull one of those big
coins out in a dive like this is dangerous."
The four left the tavern.
"Would you like to make the rounds of this quarter?" asked Leandro.
"Yes. Let's," said the lady.
Together they wound in and out of the narrow lanes of Las Injurias.
"Watch out, the drain runs in the middle of the street," cautioned
The rain kept falling; the quartet of slummers entered narrow patios
where their feet sank into the pestiferous slime. Along the entire
extension of the ravine black with mud, shone but a single oil lamp,
attached to the side of some half crumbled wall.
"Shall we go back?" asked Roberto.
"Yes," answered the lady.
They set out for Embajadores lane and walked up the Paseo de las
Acacias. The rain came down harder; here and there a faint light shone
in the distance; against the intense darkness of the sky loomed the
vague silhouette of a high chimney....
Leandro and Manuel accompanied Fanny and Roberto as far as the Plaza
del Rastro, and there they parted, exchanging handshakes.
"What a woman!" exclaimed Leandro.
"Nice, eh?" asked Manuel.
"You bet. I'd give anything to have a try at her."
Roberto In Quest of a Woman--El Tabuenca and his Inventions--Don
Alonso or the Snake-Man.
A few months later Roberto appeared in the Corrala at the hour when
Manuel and the shoe-shop employes were returning from their day's
"Do you know Senor Zurro?" Roberto asked Manuel.
"Yes. He lives here on this side."
"I know that. I'd like to have a talk with him.
"Then knock at his door. He must be in."
"Come along with me."
Manuel knocked and Encarna opened; they went inside. Senor Zurro was
in his room, reading a newspaper by the light of a large candle; the
place was a regular storehouse, cluttered with old secretaries,
dilapidated chests, mantlepieces, clocks and sundry other items. It
was close enough to stifle a person; it was impossible to breathe or
to take a step without stumbling against something.
"Are you Senor Zurro?" asked Roberto.
"I have come at the suggestion of Don Telmo."
"Don Telmo!" repeated the old man, rising and offering the student a
chair. "Have a seat. How is the good gentleman?"
"He's an excellent friend of mine," continued Zurro. "I should say so.
Well, young man, let me know what you wish. It's enough for me that
you come from Don Telmo; that assures you my best services."
"I should like to learn the whereabouts of a certain girl acrobat who
lived about five or six years ago in a lodging-house of this vicinity,
or in Cuco's hostelry."
"And do you know this girl's name?"
"And you say that she used to live in Cuco's hostelry?"
"I know somebody who lives there," murmured the second-hand dealer.
"Yes, that's so," said Encarna.
"That man with the monkeys. Didn't he live there?" asked Senor Zurro.
"No; he lived in la Quinta de Goya," answered his daughter.
"Well, then.... Just wait a moment, young man. Wait a moment."
"Isn't it Tabuenca that lives there, father?" interrupted Encarna.
"That's the fellow. That's it. El Tabuenca. You go and see him. And
tell him," added Senor Zurro, turning to Roberto, "that I sent you.
He's a grouchy old fellow, as testy as they make 'em."
Roberto took leave of the second-hand man and his daughter, and in
company of Manuel walked out to the gallery of the house.
"And where's this Cuco's hostelry?" he asked.
"Over there near Las Yeserias," answered Manuel.
"Come along with me, then; we'll have supper together," suggested
They both went on to the hostelry, which was situated upon a
thoroughfare that was deserted at this hour. It was a large building,
with an entrance-vestibule in country style and a patio crowded with
carts. They questioned a boy. El Tabuenca had just come, he told them.
They walked into the vestibule, which was illuminated by a lantern.
There was a man inside.
"Does anybody live here by the name of Tabuenca?" asked Roberto.
"Yes. What is it?" asked the man.
"I'd like to have a talk with him."
"Well, talk away, then, for I'm Tabuenca."
As the speaker turned, the light of the oil lantern hanging upon the
wall struck him full in the face; Roberto and Manuel stared at him in
amazement. He was a yellow, shrivelled specimen; he had an absurd
nose, as if it had been wrenched from its roots and replaced by a
round little ball of meat. It seemed that he looked at the same time
with his eyes and with the two little nasal orifices. He was
clean-shaven, dressed pretty decently, and wore a round woollen cap
with a green visor.
He listened grumpily to what Roberto had to say; then he lighted a
cigar and flung the match far away. Doubtless because of the exiguity
of his organ, he found it necessary to stop the windows of his nose
with his fingers in order to smoke.
Roberto thought at first that the man had not understood his question,
and he repeated it twice. Tabuenca gave no heed; but all at once,
seized with the utmost indignation, he snatched the cigar furiously
from his mouth and began to blaspheme in a whining, gull-like voice,
shrieking that he couldn't make out why folks pestered him with
matters that didn't concern him a particle.
"Don't shout so," said Roberto, provoked by this rumpus. "They'll
imagine that we've come here to assassinate you, at the very least."
"I shout because I please to."
"All right, man; shout away to your heart's content."
"Don't you talk to me like that or I'll push in your face," yelled
"_You'll_ push in _my_ face?" retorted Roberto, laughing;
then, turning to Manuel, he added, "These noseless fellows get on my
nerves and I'm going to let this flat-nose have it."
Tabuenca, his mind made up, withdrew and returned in a short while
with a rapier-cane, which he unsheathed; Roberto looked in every
direction for something with which he might defend himself, and found
a carter's stick; Tabuenca aimed a thrust at Roberto, who parried it
with the stick; then another thrust, and Roberto, as again he parried
it, smashed the lantern at the entrance, leaving the scene in
darkness. Roberto began to strike out right and left and he must have
landed once upon some delicate part of Tabuenca's anatomy, for the man
began to shout in horrible tones:
At this, several persons came running into the zaguan, among them a
stout mule-driver with an oil-lamp in his hand.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
"These murderers are after my life," bellowed Tabuenca.
"Not a bit of it," replied Roberto in a calm voice. "The fact is, we
came here to ask this fellow a civil question, and without any reason
at all he began to yell and insult me."
"I'll smash your face for you!" interjected Tabuenca.
"Well suppose you try it, and don't stand there talking all day about
it!" Roberto taunted,
"It's you who are the coward. You've got as little guts as you have
Tabuenca spat out a series of insults and blasphemies, and turning
around, left the place.
"And who's going to pay me for this broken lantern?" asked the
"How much is it worth?" asked Roberto.
"Here they are."
"That Tabuenca is a loud-mouthed imbecile," said the mule-driver as he
took the money. "And what was it you gentlemen wished?"
"I wanted to ask about a woman that lived here some years ago; she was
"Perhaps Don Alonso, Titiri, would know. If you'll be so kind, tell me
where you're going, and I'll have Titiri look you up."
"All right. You tell him that we'll be waiting for him at the San
Millan cafe at nine o'clock," said Roberto.
"And how are we going to recognize this fellow?" asked Manuel.
"That's so," said Roberto. "How are we going to know him?"
"Easy. He goes around nights through the cafes with one of those
apparatuses that sings songs."
"You mean a phonograph?"
At this juncture an old woman appeared in the entrance, shouting:
"Who was the dirty son of a bitch that broke the lantern?"
"Shut up, shut up," answered the mule-driver. "It's all paid for."
"Come along!" said Manuel to Roberto.
They left the inn and strode off at a fast clip. They entered the San
Millan cafe. Roberto ordered supper. Manuel knew Tabuenca from having
seen him in the street, and as they ate he explained to Roberto just
what sort of fellow he was.
Tabuenca made his living through a number of inventions that he
himself constructed. When he saw that the public was tiring of one
thing, he would put another on the market, and so he managed to get
along. One of these contraptions was a wafer-mold wheel that revolved
around a circle of nails among which numbers were inscribed and
colours painted. This wheel the owner carried about in a pasteboard
box with two covers, which were divided into tiny squares with numbers
and colours corresponding to those placed around the nails, and here
the bets were laid. Tabuenca would carry the closed box in one hand
and a field table in the other. He would set up his outfit at some
street corner, give the wheel a turn and begin to mutter in his
"'Round goes the wheel. Place your bets, gentlemen.... Place your
bets. Number or colour ... number or colour.... Place your bets."
When enough bets were placed,--and this happened fairly
often,--Tabuenca would set the wheel spinning, at the same time
repeating his slogan: "'Round goes the wheel!" The marble would bounce
amidst the nails and even before it came to a stop the operator knew
the winning number and colour, crying: "Red seven...." or "the blue
five," and always he guessed right.
As Manuel spoke on, Roberto became pensive.
"Do you see?" he said, all at once, "these delays are what provoke a
fellow. You have a capital of will in bank-notes, gold-pieces, in
large denominations, and you need energy in centimos, in small change.
It's the same with the intelligence; that's why so many intelligent
and energetic men of ambition do not succeed. They lack fractions, and
in general they also lack the talent to conceal their efforts. To be
able to be stupid on some occasions would probably be more useful than
the ability to be discreet on just as many other occasions."
Manuel, who did not understand the reason for this shower of words,
stared open-mouthed at Roberto, who sank again into his meditations.
For a long time both remained silent, when there came into the cafe a
tall, thin man with greyish hair and grey moustache.
"Can that be Titiri, Don Alonso?" asked Roberto.
The gaunt fellow went from table to table, exhibiting a box and
announcing: "Here's a novelty. Here's somethin' new."
He was about to leave when Roberto called him.
"Do you live at Cuco's hostelry?" he asked.
"Are you Don Alonso?"
"At your service."
"Well, we've been waiting for you. Take a seat; you'll have coffee
The man took a seat. His appearance was decidedly comical,--a blend of
humility, bragodoccio and sad arrogance. He gazed at the place that
Roberto had just abandoned, in which remained a scrap of roast meat.
"Pardon me," he said to Roberto. "You're not intending to finish that
scrap? No? Then.... with your permission--" and he took the plate, the
knife and the fork.
"I'll order another beefsteak for you," said Roberto.
"No, no. It's one of my whims. I imagine that this meat must be good.
Would you kindly let me have a slice of bread?" he added, turning to
Manuel. "Thanks, young man. Many thanks."
The man bolted the meat and bread in a trice.
"What? Is there a little wine left?" he asked, smiling.
"Yes," replied Manuel, emptying the bottle into the man's glass.
"All right," answered the man in ill-pronounced English as he gulped
it down. "Gentlemen! At your service. I believe you wished to ask me
"At your service, then. My name is Alonso de Guzman Calderon y Tellez.
This same fellow that's talking to you now has been director of a
circus in America; I've travelled through all the countries and sailed
over every sea in the world; at present I'm adrift in a violent
tempest; at night I go from cafe to cafe with this phonograph, and the
next morning I carry around one of these betting apparatuses that
consists of an _Infiel_ Tower with a spiral. Underneath the
tower there's a space with a spring that shoots a little bone ball up
the spiral, and then the bone falls upon a board perforated with holes
and painted in different colours. That is my livelihood. I! Director
of an equestrian circus! This is what I've descended to; an assistant
to Tabuenca. What things come to pass in this world!"
[Footnote 1: i.e. Faithless. A pun on Eiffel.]
"I should like to ask you," interrupted Roberto, "if during your
residence in Cuco's hostelry you ever made the acquaintance of a
certain Rosita Buenavida, a circus acrobat."
"Rosita Buenavida! You say that her name was Rosita Buenavida?... No,
I don't recall.... I did have a Rosita in my company; but her name
wasn't Buenavida (i. e., Goodlife); she'd have been better named
Evil-life and evil habits, too."
"Perhaps she changed her name," said Roberto impatiently. "What age
was the Rosita that you knew?"
"Well, I'll tell you; I was in Paris in '68; had a contract with the
Empress Circus. At that time I was a contortionist and they called me
the Snake-Man; then I became an equilibrist and adopted the name of
Don Alonso. Alonso is my name. After four months of that Perez and
I--Perez was the greatest gymnast in the world--went to America, and
two or three years later we met Rosita, who must have been about
twenty-five or thirty at that time."
"So that the Rosita you're talking about should be sixty-odd years old
today," computed Roberto. "The one I'm looking for can't be more than
thirty at most."
"Then she's not the one. Caramba, how sorry I am!" murmured Don
Alonso, seizing the glass of coffee and milk and raising it to his
lips as if he feared it were going to be wrested from him. "And what a
sweet little girl she was! She had eyes as green as a cat's. Oh, she
was a pretty chit, a peach."
Roberto had sunk into meditation; Don Alonso continued his chatter,
turning to Manuel:
"There's no life like a circus artist's," he exclaimed. "I don't know
what your profession is, and I don't want to disparage it; but if
you're looking for art.... Ah, Paris, the Empress Circus,--I'll never
forget them! Of course, Perez and I had luck; we created a furore
there, and I needn't mention what that means. Oh, that was the
life.... Nights, after our performance, we'd get a note: 'Will be
waiting for you at such and such a cafe.' We'd go there and find one
of your high-life women, a whimsical creature who'd invite a fellow to
supper... and to all the rest. But other gymnasts came to the Empress
Circus; the novelty of our act wore off, and the impresario, a Yankee
who owned several companies, asked Perez and me if we wanted to go to
Cuba. 'Right ahead,' said I. 'All right.'"
"Have you been in Cuba?" asked Roberto, roused from his abstraction.
"I've been in so many places!" replied the Snake-Man. "We embarked at
Havre," continued Don Alonso, "on a vessel called the Navarre, and we
were in Havana for about eight months; while we were performing there
we struck it big, Perez and I, and won twenty thousand gold pesos in
"Twenty thousand duros!" exclaimed Manuel.
"Right-o! The next week we had lost it all, and Perez and I were left
without a centavo. A few days we lived on guava-fruit and yam, until
we fell in with some gymnasts on the Havana wharf who were down on
their uppers. We joined them. They weren't at all bad performers;
among them were acrobats, clowns, pantominists, bar artists, and a
French ecuyere; we formed a company and made a tour through the island
towns; and some magnificent tour that was. How they did welcome us and
treat us in that country! 'Come right in, friend, and have a glass.'
'Many thanks.' 'The gentleman mustn't displease me; let's have a drink
in that cantine, eh? ...' And the drink flowed to your heart's
content. As I was the only one in the troupe that knew how to
figure--for I've had an education," interposed Don Alonso, "and my
father was a soldier--they named me director. In one of the towns I
reinforced the company with a ballerina and a strong man. The dancer's
name was Rosita Montanes; she's the one I thought of when you
mentioned the Rosita you were looking for. This Montanes was Spanish
and had married the strong man, an Italian whose real name was
Napoleon Pitti. The couple had with them as secretary a
Galician,--very intelligent chap, but as an artist, detestable. And
between Rosita and him they deceived Hercules. This wasn't very hard,
for Napoleon was one of the ugliest men I've ever laid eyes on. As for
strength, there was never his match; he had a back as solid as a front
wall; his ears were flattened from blows got in prize-fighting; he was
a barbarian for fair, and you know what they say: 'Tell a man by his
talk and a bullock by his horn.' And believe me, this little Galician
chap led Hercules by the horn, all right. The cursed smarty fooled me,
too, though not as he did Hercules, for I've always been a bachelor,
thank the Lord, partly through fear and partly through design. Nor
have I ever lacked women," added Don Alonso, boastfully.
"What was I saying, now? Oh, yes. I didn't know any English; the
damned lingo isn't very hard, but I simply couldn't get it into my
head. So I needed an interpreter, and I appointed the Galician as
secretary of the company and ticket-seller. We had been together for
almost a year when we reached an English island near Jamaica. The
governor of the island, the queerest Englishman there ever was, with a
pair of side-whiskers that looked like flames leaping from his cheeks,
summoned me as soon as we landed. As there was no site for our
performances, he made alterations in the municipal school, which was a
regular palace; he ordered all the partitions removed and the ring and
tiers of seats installed. Only the negroes of the town went to that
school, and what need had those creatures of learning to read and
"We stayed there a month, and despite the fact that we had rent free
and that we played to full houses every afternoon, and that we had
practically no expenses, we didn't make any profit. 'How can it be?' I
kept asking myself.--A mystery."
"And what was the reason?" asked Manuel.
"I'm coming to that. First I must explain that the governor with the
flaming side-whiskers had fallen in love with Rosita, and without
beating around the bush he had taken her off to his palace. Poor
Hercules roared and crushed the dishes with his fingers, drowning his
grief and his rage by committing all sorts of barbarities.
"The governor, a generous sort, invited the Galician and me to his
residence, and there, in a garden of cedars and palms, we would draw
up the program of the performances, and amuse ourselves at target-
practice while we smoked the finest tobacco and drank glass after
glass of rum. We paid court to Rosita and she'd laugh like a madwoman,
and dance the tango, the _cachucha_ and the _vito_, and she'd fail the
Englishman an awful number of times. One day the governor, who treated
me as a friend, said to me: 'That secretary of yours is robbing you.'
'I think he is,' I answered. 'Tonight you'll have the proof.'
"We finished the performance; I went off home, had supper and was
about to go to bed when a little negro servant comes in and tells me
to follow him; all right; I follow; we both leave; we draw near the
circus house, and in a nearby saloon I see the governor and the town
chief of police. It was a very beautiful moonlit night, and there was
no light in the saloon; we wait and wait, and soon a figure appears,
and steals in through a window of the schoolhouse. '_Forwer_'
whispered the governor. That means Forward," interpreted Don Alonso.
"The three of us followed and entered noiselessly through the same
window; on tiptoe we reached the entrance to the former school, which
served as the circus vestibule and contained the ticket-office. We see
the secretary with a lantern in his hand going through the money-box.
'Surrender in the name of the authorities!' shouted the governor, and
with the revolver that he held in his hand he fired a shot into the
air. The secretary was paralyzed at the sight of us; then the governor
aimed the gun at the fellow's chest and fired again point blank; and
the man wavered, turned convulsively in the air and fell dead.
"The governor was jealous and the truth is that Rosita was in love
with the secretary. I never in my life saw grief as great as that
woman's when she found her lover dead. She wept and dragged along
after him, uttering wails that simply tore your soul in two. Napoleon,
"We buried the secretary and four or five days later the chief of
police of the island informed us that the school could no longer serve
as a circus and that we'd have to clear out. We obeyed the order, for
there was no way out of it, and for another couple of years we
wandered from town to town through Central America, Yucatan, Mexico,
until we struck Tampico, where the company disbanded. As there was no
outlook for us there, Perez and I took a vessel for New Orleans."
"Beautiful town, eh?" said Roberto.
"Beautiful. Have you been there?"
"Man, how happy I am to hear it!"
"What a river, eh?"
"An ocean! Well, to continue my story. The first time we performed in
that city, gentlemen, what a success! The circus was higher than a
church; I said to the carpenter; 'Place our trapeze as high as
possible,' and after giving him these orders I went off for a bite.
"During our absence the impresario happened along and asked: 'Are
those Spanish gymnasts going to perform at such a height?' 'That's
what they said,' answered the carpenter. 'Let them know, then, that I
don't want to be responsible for such barbarity.'
"Perez and I were in the hotel, when we received a message calling us
to the circus at once."
"'What can it be?' my companion asked me. 'You'll see,' I told him.
'They're going to demand that we lower the trapeze.'
"And so it was. Perez and I go to the circus and we see the
impresario. That was what he requested.
"'Nothing doing,' I told him. 'Not even if the President of the
Republic of the United States himself comes here, together with his
esteemed mother. I won't lower the trapeze an inch.' 'Then you'll be
compelled to.' 'We'll see.' The impresario summoned a policeman; I
showed the fellow my contract, and he sided with me; he told me that
my companion and I had a perfect right to break our necks...."
"What a country!" murmured Roberto, ironically.
"You're right," agreed Don Alonso in all seriousness. "What a country.
That's what you call progress!
"That night, in the circus, before we went on, Perez and I listened to
the comments of the public. 'What? Are these Spaniards going to
perform at such an altitude?' the people were asking each other.
'They'll kill themselves.' And we listened calmly, all the time
"We were about to enter the ring, when along comes a fellow with
sailor's chinwhiskers wearing a flat-brimmed high hat and a carrick,
and in a twanging voice he tells us that we're in danger of having a
terrible accident performing 'way up there, and that, if we wish, we
can take out life insurance. All we'd have to do is to sign a few
papers that he had in his hand. Lord! I nearly died. I felt like
choking the fellow.
"Trembling and screwing up our courage, Perez and I entered the ring.
We had to put on a little rouge. We wore a blue costume decorated with
silver stars,--a reference to the United States flag; we saluted and
then, up the rope.
"At first I thought that I was going to slip; my head was going
'round, my ears were humming; but with the first applause I forgot
everything, and Perez and I performed the most difficult feats with
most admirable precision. The public applauded wildly. What days those
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