Part 3 out of 5
And the old gymnast smiled; then he made a bitter grimace; his eyes
grew moist; he blinked so as to dry a tear that at last escaped and
coursed down his earth-coloured cheek.
"I'm an old fool; but I can't help it," Don Alonso murmured in
explanation of his weakness.
"And did you stay in New Orleans?" asked Roberto.
"Perez and I signed a contract there," replied Don Alonso, "with a big
circus syndicate of New York that had about twenty or thirty companies
touring all America. All of us gymnasts, ballet-dancers, ecuyeres,
acrobats, pantominists, clowns, contortionists, and strong men
travelled in a special train.... The majority were Italians and
"Were there good-looking women, eh?" asked Manuel.
"Uf! ... Like this ..." replied Don Alonso, bringing his fingers all
together. "Women with such muscles! ... There was no other life
anything like it," he added, reverting to his melancholy theme. "You
had all the money and women and clothes you wanted.... And above all,
And the gymnast went into a trance of enthusiasm, staring rigidly at a
Roberto and Manuel gazed at him in curiosity.
"And Rosita,--didn't you ever see her again?" asked Roberto.
"No. They told me that she had got a divorce from Napoleon so that she
could marry again, in Boston, some millionaire from the West. Ah,
women.... Who can trust them? ... But gentlemen, it's already eleven.
Pardon me; I'll have to be going. Thanks ever so much!" murmured Don
Alonso, seizing Roberto and Manuel by the hands and pressing them
effusively. "We'll meet again, won't we?"
"Oh, yes, we'll see each other," replied Roberto.
Don Alonso picked up his phonograph and wound in and out among the
tables, repeating his phrase: "Novelty! Something new!" Then, after
having saluted Roberto and Manuel once more, he disappeared.
"Nothing. I can't discover a thing," grumbled Roberto. "Good-bye. See
Manuel was left alone, and musing upon Don Alonso's tales and upon the
mystery surrounding Roberto, he returned to the Corralon and went to
The Kermesse on Pasion Street--"The Dude"--A Cafe Chantant.
Leandro eagerly awaited the kermesse that was to take place on Pasion
street. In former years he had accompanied Milagros to the nocturnal
fair of San Antonio and to those of the Prado; he had danced with her,
treated her to buns, presented her with a pot of sweet basil; but this
summer the proof-reader's family seemed very much determined upon
keeping Milagros away from Leandro. He had learned that his sweetheart
and her mother were thinking of going to the kermesse, so he procured
a pair of tickets and told Manuel that they two would attend.
So it happened. They went, on a terribly hot August night; a dense,
turbid vapour filled all the streets in the vicinity of the Rastro,
which were decorated and illuminated with Venetian lanterns.
The festival was celebrated upon a large vacant lot on Pasion street.
Leandro and Manuel entered as the band from the Orphan Asylum was
playing a _habanera_. The lot, aglare with arc-lights, was
bedecked with ribbons, gauze and artificial flowers that radiated from
a pole in the centre to the boundaries of the enclosure. Before the
entrance door there was a tiny wooden booth adorned with red and
yellow percale and a number of Spanish flags; this was the raffle
Leandro and Manuel took a seat in a corner and waited. The
proof-reader and his family did not arrive until after ten; Milagros
looked very pretty that night; she had on a light costume with blue
figuring, a kerchief of black crape and white slippers. She wore her
gown somewhat decollete, as far as the smooth, round beginnings of her
At this moment the band from the Orphan Asylum blared forth the
schottisch called _Los Cocineros_ (The Cooks). Leandro, stirred
by the strains, invited Milagros out for a dance, but the maiden made
a slight gesture of annoyance.
"You might soil my new costume," she murmured, and put her kerchief
around her waist.
"If you dance with another fellow he'll soil it, too," replied Leandro
in all humility.
Milagros did not heed his words; she danced with her skirt gathered in
one hand, answering him in peevish monosyllables.
The schottisch over, Leandro invited the family to refreshments. To
the right of the entrance there were two decorated staircases, which
led to another lot about six or seven metres above the grounds where
the dance was being held. On one of the stairways, which were both
aglow with Spanish flags, was a signpost reading "Refreshments:
Entrance" upon the other, "Refreshments: Exit."
They all went upstairs. The refreshment-parlour was a spacious place,
with trees and illumination of electric globes that hung from thick
cables. Seated at the tables was a motley crowd, speaking at the top
of their voices, clapping their hands and laughing.
They had to wait a long while before a waiter brought them their beer;
Milagros ordered an ice, and as there were none, she would have
She sat there thus, without opening her mouth, considering herself
grievously offended, until she met two girls from her shop and joined
them, whereupon her displeasure vanished in a trice. Leandro, at the
first opportunity, left the proof-reader and, rejoining Manuel, set
off in quest of his sweetheart. In the lot next to the entrance, where
the dancing was going on, couples resting between numbers strolled
around in leisurely fashion. Milagros and her two friends, arms
linked, came by in jovial mood, followed closely by three men. One of
them was a rough-looking youth, tall, with fair moustache; the other a
stupid fellow, of ordinary appearance, with dyed moustache,
shirt-front and fingers sparkling with diamonds; the third was a knave
with, cheek-whiskers, half gipsy and half cattle-dealer, with every
ear mark of the most dangerous mountebank.
Leandro, noticing the manoeuvres of the masculine trio, thrust himself
in between the maidens and their gallants, and turning to the men
The trio pretended not to understand and lagged behind.
"Who are they?" asked Manuel.
"One of them's Lechuguino (the dude)," answered Leandro in a loud
voice, so that his sweetheart should hear. "He's at least fifty, and
he comes around here trying to play the dashing young blade; that runt
with the dyed moustache is Pepe el Federal (the Federalist), and the
other is Eusebio el Carnicero (the Butcher), a fellow who owns quite a
number of questionable horses."
Leandro's blustering outburst appealed to one of the maidens, who
turned to look at the youth and smiled at him; but Milagros was not in
the least affected, and looking back, she repeatedly sought the group
of three men with her glance.
At this juncture there appeared the fellow whom Leandro had designated
with the sobriquet of Lechuguino, in company of the proof-reader and
his wife. The three girls approached them, and Lechuguino invited
Milagros to dance. Leandro glanced in anguish at his sweetheart; she,
however, whirled off heedlessly. The band was playing the _pas
double _from the _Drummer of the Grenadiers_. Lechuguino was
an expert dancer; he swept his partner along as if she were a feather
and as he spoke, brought his lips so close to hers that it seemed as
if he were kissing her.
Leandro was at an utter loss and suffered agonies; he could not make
up his mind to leave. The dance came to an end and Lechuguino
accompanied Milagros to the place where her mother was sitting.
"Come. Let's be going!" said Leandro to Manuel. "If we don't, I'm sure
to do something rash."
They escaped from the fair and entered a cafe chantant on Encomienda
Street. It was deserted. Two girls were dancing on a platform; one
dressed like a _maja_, the other, like a _manolo_.
Leandro, absorbed in his thoughts, said nothing; Manuel was very
"Let's get out of here," muttered Leandro after a short while. "This
is too gloomy."
They walked to the Plaza del Progreso, Leandro with head bowed, as
pensive as ever, and Manuel so sleepy that he could hardly stand.
"Over at the Marina cafe," suggested Leandro, "there must be a high
"It would be better to go home," answered Manuel.
Leandro, without listening to his companion, walked to the Puerta del
Sol, and the two very silently turned into Montera Street and around
the corner of Jardines. It was past one. As the pair walked on,
prostitutes in their gay attire accosted them from the doorways in
which they lurked, but looking into Leandro's grim countenance and
Manuel's poverty-stricken features the girls let them walk on,
following them with a gibe at their seriousness.
Midway up the narrow, gloomy street shone a red lamp, which
illuminated the squalid front of the Marina cafe.
Leandro shoved the door open and they went inside. At one end the
platform, with four or five mirrors, glittered dazzlingly; the floor
was so tightly jammed with rows of tables thrust against either wall
that only a narrow passage was left in the middle.
Leandro and Manuel found a seat. Manuel rested his forehead against
his palm and was soon asleep; Leandro beckoned to one of the two
singers, who were gaily dressed and were conversing with some fat
women, and the two singers sat down at his table.
"What'll you have?" asked Leandro.
"Canary-seed for me," answered one of them,--a slender, nervous type
with small eyes that were ringed with cosmetics.
"And what's your name?"
"Mine? Maria la Chivato,"
"And that girl's?"
Tarugo, who was a buxom, gipsy-like Malaguena, sat down beside
Leandro, and they started a conversation in hushed tones.
The waiter approached.
"Let's have four whiskies," ordered Chivato. "For this chap is going
to drink, too," she added, turning to Manuel and seizing his arm.
"Hey, you there, lad!"
"Eh!" exclaimed the boy, waking up without a notion of his
whereabouts. "What do you want?"
Chivato burst into laughter.
"Wake up, man, you'll lose your express! Did you come in this
afternoon on the mixed train?"
"I came on the ..." and Manuel let loose a stream of obscenity.
Then, in very ugly humour, he began to stare in every direction,
making all manner of efforts not to fall asleep.
At a table set aside a man who looked like a horse-dealer was
discussing the _flamenco_ song and dance with a cross-eyed fellow
bearing every appearance of an assassin.
"There's no more artists," the horse-dealer was saying. "Once upon a
time folks came here to see Pinto, Canito, the Feos, the
Macarronas.... Now what? Now, nothing. Pullets in vinegar."
"That's what," agreed the cross-eyed assassin, very seriously.
"That's the musician," said Chivato, pointing to the latter.
The two singers did not remain very long at the table with Leandro and
Manuel. The cross-eyed fellow was already on the platform; he began to
tune the guitar, and six women sat down around him in a row, beginning
to clap hands in time to the music; Tarugo rose from her seat and
started a side dance, and was soon wiggling her hips convulsively; the
singer commenced to gargarize softly; at intervals he would be silent
and then nothing would be heard save the snapping of Tarugo's fingers
and the clatter of her heels, which played the counterpoint.
After the Malaga singer had finished, a gipsy youth with a chocolate
complexion got up and executed a tango and a negro dance; he twisted
himself in and out, thrust his abdomen forward and his arms back. He
wound up with effeminate undulations of his hips and a most
complicated intertwining of arms and legs.
"That's what you call art!" commended! the horse-dealer.
"See here, I'm going," grumbled Manuel.
"Wait a minute; we'll have another drink."
"No. I'm going."
"All right; let's come. Too bad!"
At that moment a corpulent singer with a powerful neck, and the
cross-eyed guitarist with the assassin's face, came forward to the
public, and while the one strummed the guitar, suddenly muting the
strings by placing his hands over them, the other, his face flushed,
the veins of his neck standing out tensely, and his eyes bulging from
their sockets, poured forth a guttural wail that was doubtless of most
difficult execution, for it reddened him to the very forehead.
Leandro's Irresolution--In Blasa's Tavern--The Man With The Three
Cards--The Duel With Valencia.
Some nights Manuel would hear Leandro tossing about in his bed and
heaving sighs as deep as a bull's roar.
"Things are going rotten with him," thought Manuel.
The break between Milagros and Leandro was definitive. Lechuguino, on
the other hand, was gaining ground: he had won over the girl's mother,
would treat the proof-reader and wait for Milagros where she worked,
accompanying her home.
One day, toward dusk, Manuel saw the pair near the foot of Embajadores
Street; Lechuguino minced along with his cloak thrown back across his
shoulder; she was huddled in her mantle; he was talking to her and she
"What's Leandro going to do when he finds out?" Manuel asked himself.
"No, I'm not going to tell him. Some witch of the neighbourhood will
see to it that he learns soon enough."
And thus it came about; before a month had passed, everybody in the
house knew that Milagros and Lechuguino were keeping company, that he
had given up the gay life in the dives of the city and was considering
the continuation of his father's business,--the sale of construction
material; he was going to settle down and lead the life of a
respectable member of the community.
While Leandro would be away working in the shoeshop, Lechuguino would
visit the proof-reader's family; he now saw Milagros with the full
consent of her parents.
Leandro was, or pretended to be, the only person unaware of Milagros'
new beau. Some mornings as the boy passed Senor Zurro's apartment on
the way down to the patio, he would encounter Encarna, who, catching
sight of him, would ask maliciously after Milagros, or else sing him a
tango which began:
_Of all the crazy deeds a man commits in his life,
The craziest is taking to himself a wife.
(De las grandes locuras que el hombre hace,
No comete ninguna como casarse.)_
Whereupon she would specify the madness and entering into details,
would add at the top of her voice:
_He's off to his office bright and early,
While some neighbourhood swell stays at home with his girlie.
(Y por la manana el va a la oficina,
y ella queda en casa con algun vecino que es persona
Leandro's bitterness corroded the very depths of his soul, and however
much he tried to dominate his instincts, he could not succeed in
calming himself. One Saturday night, as they were walking homewards
along the Ronda, Leandro drew near to Manuel.
"Do you know whether Milagros talks to Lechuguino?"
"Haven't you heard that they were going to get married?"
"Yes; so folks say."
"What would you do in my case?"
"I ... I'd find out."
"And suppose it proved to be true?"
Manuel was silent. They walked along without a word. Soon Leandro
carne to an abrupt stop and placed his hand upon Manuel's shoulder.
"Do you believe," he asked, "that if a woman deceives a man, he has
the right to kill her?"
"I don't believe he has," answered Manuel, staring into Leandro's
"Well, if a man has the guts he does it whether he has a right to or
"But, the deuce! Has Milagros deceived you? Were you married to her?
You've had a quarrel; that's all."
"I'll wind up by doing something desperate. Take my word for it,"
Neither spoke. They entered La Corrala, climbed up the stairways and
walked into Leandro's house. They brought out supper, but Leandro
didn't eat; he drank three glasses of water in succession and went out
to the gallery.
Manuel was about to leave after supper, when he heard Leandro call him
"What do you want?"
"Come on, let's be going."
Manuel ran out to the balcony; Milagros and her mother, from their
door, were heaping insults upon Leandro.
"Outcast! Blackguard!" the proof-reader's wife was shouting. "If her
father were here you wouldn't talk like that."
"I would, too, even if her grandfather were here," exclaimed Leandro,
with a savage laugh. "Come on, let's be off," he added, turning to
Manuel. "I'm sick and tired of these whores."
They left the gallery and were soon out of El Corralon.
"What was the matter?'" asked Manuel.
"Nothing. It's all over now," answered Leandro. "I went in and said to
her, nice enough, 'Listen Milagros, is it true that you're going to
marry Lechuguino?' 'Yes, it is true. Is it any business of yours?' she
says. 'Yes, it is,' I said to her. 'You know that I like you. Is it
because he's richer than me?' 'Even if he were poorer than a
church-mouse I'd marry him.' 'Bah!' 'You don't believe me?' 'All
right.' Finally I got sore and I told her for all I cared she might
marry a dog, and that she was a cheap street-walker.... It's all over
now. Well, so much the better. Now we know just where we stand. Where
shall we go? To Las Injurias again?"
"To see if that Valencia continues to put on airs when I'm around."
They crossed the wired-off surrounding path. Leandro, taking long
strides, was very soon in Las Injurias. Manuel could hardly keep up
They entered Blasa's tavern; the same men as on the previous night
were playing cane near the stove. Of the women, only La Paloma and La
Muerte were in. The latter, dead drunk, was asleep on the table. The
light fell full upon her face which was swollen with erisypelas and
covered with scabs; saliva drooled through the thick lips of her
half-opened mouth; her tow-like hair,--grey, filthy, matted,--stuck
out in tufts beneath the faded, greenish kerchief that was soiled with
scurf; despite the shouts and the disputes of the gamblers she did not
so much as blink; only from time to time she would give a prolonged
snore, which, at the start was sibilant, but ended in a rasping snort.
At her side Paloma, huddled on the floor near Valencia, held a tot of
three or four in her arms,--a pale, delicate creature who blinked
incessantly,--to whom she was giving whisky from a glass.
A gaunt, weak fellow wearing a small cap with a gilded number and a
blue smock, passed moodily up and down before the counter; his arms
hung beside his body as if they did not belong to him, and his legs
were bent. Whenever it occurred to him, he took a sip from his glass;
he wiped his lips with the back of his hand and would resume his
languid pacing to and fro. He was the brother of the woman who owned
Leandro and Manuel took a seat at the same table where the gamblers
were playing. Leandro ordered wine, emptied a deep glass at a single
gulp and heaved a few sighs.
"Christ!" muttered Leandro half under his breath. "Never let yourself
go wild over a woman. The best of them is as poisonous as a toad."
Then he seemed to calm down. He gazed at the drawings scratched on the
top of the table: there were hearts pierced by arrows, the names of
women; he drew a knife from his pocket and began to cut letters into
When he wearied of this he invited one of the gamblers to drink with
"Thanks, friend," replied the gambler. "I'm playing."
"All right, leave the game. If you don't want to, nobody'll force you.
Doesn't anybody want to drink with me? My treat."
"I'll have one," said a tall, bent fellow with a sickly air, who was
called El Pastiri. He arose and came over to Leandro.
Leandro ordered more wine and amused himself by laughing loudly when
any one lost and in betting against Valencia.
Pastiri took advantage of the opportunity to empty one glass after the
other. He was a sot, a croney of Tabuenca's and likewise dedicated
himself to the deception of the unwary with ball-and-number tricks.
Manuel knew him from having seen him often on la Ribera de Curtidores.
He used to ply his trade in the suburbs, playing at three cards. He
would place three cards upon a little table; one of these he would
show, then slowly he would change the position of the other two,
without touching the card he had shown; he would then place a little
stick across the three cards and wager that nobody could pick out the
one he had let them see. And so well was the game prepared that the
card was never picked.
Pastiri had another trick on the same order, worked with three men
from a game of checkers; underneath one of the men he would place a
tiny ball of paper or a crumb of bread and then bet that nobody could
tell under which of the three ball or crumb was to be found. If, by
accident, any one chanced upon the right man, Pastiri would conceal
the crumb in his finger-nail as he turned the man up.
That night Pastiri was saturated with alcohol and had lost all power
Manuel, who had drunk a little too much, was beginning to feel sick
and considered how he might manage to make his escape; but by the time
he had made up his mind the tavern-keeper's brother was already
locking the door.
Before he had quite done so there came in, through the space that was
still left open, an under-grown fellow, shaved, dressed in black, with
a visored woollen cap, curly hair and the repellant appearance of a
hermaphrodite. He greeted Leandro affectionately. He was a lacemaker
from Uncle Rilo's house, of dubious repute and called Besugito
(sea-bream) because his face suggested a fish; by way of more cruel
sobriquet they had christened him the "Barrack hack."
The lacemaker took a sip from a glass, standing, and began to talk in
a thick voice; yet it was a feminine voice, unctuous, disagreeable,
and he emphasized his words with mimicked wonder, fright, and other
Nobody was bothered by his loquacity. Some fine day when they least
expected, he informed them, the entire district of Las Injurias was
going to be buried beneath the ruins of the Gas House.
"As far as I'm concerned," he went on, "this entire hollow ought to be
filled in with earth. Of course, I'd feel sorry, for I have some good
friends in this section."
"Ay! Pass!" said one of the gamblers.
"Yes, I'd be sorry," continued Besuguito, heedless of the
interruption. "But the truth is that it would be a small loss, for, as
Angelillo, the district watchman says, nobody lives here except
outcasts, pickpockets and prostitutes."
"Shut up, you 'fairy!' You barrack hack!" shouted the proprietress.
"This district is as good as yours."
"You're right, there," replied Besuguito, "for you ought to see the
Portillo de Embajadores and las Penuelas. I tell you. Why, the
watchman can't get them to shut their doors at night. He closes them
and the neighbours open them again. Because they're almost all
denizens of the underworld. And they do give me such frights...."
An uproar greeted the frights of Besuguito, who continued unabashed
his meaningless, repetitious chatter, which was adorned with all
manner of notions and involutions. Manuel rested an arm upon the
table, and with his cheek upon it, he fell asleep.
"Hey you! Why aren't you drinking, Pastiri?" asked Leandro. "Do you
mean to offend me? Me?"
"No, friend, I simply can't get any more down," answered the
card-sharper in his insolent voice, raising his open hand to his
throat. Then, in a voice that seemed to come from a broken organ, he
"Who's calling that woman?" demanded Valencia immediately, glaring at
the group of gamblers.
"I," answered El Pastiri. "I want Paloma over here."
"Ah!... You? Well, there's nothing doing," declared Valencia.
"I said I want Paloma over here," repeated Pastiri, without looking at
The latter pretended not to have heard. The card-sharper, provoked by
this discourtesy, got up and, slapping Valencia's sleeve with the back
of his hand, he repeated his words, dwelling upon every syllable:
"I said that I wanted Paloma, and that these friends of mine want to
talk with the lady."
"And I tell you that there's nothing doing," answered the other.
"Those gentlemen want to talk with her."
"All right.... Then let them ask my permission."
Pastiri thrust his face into the bully's, and looking him straight in
the eye, croaked:
"Do you realize, Valencia, that you're getting altogether too damned
high and mighty?"
"You don't say!" sneered Valencia, calmly continuing his game.
"Do you know that I'm going to let you have a couple with my fist?"
"You don't say!"
Pastiri drew back with drunken awkwardness and began to hunt in the
inside pocket of his coat for his knife, amidst the derisive laughter
of the bystanders. Then all at once, with a sudden resolve, Leandro
jumped to his feet, his face as red as flame; he seized Valencia by
the lapel of his coat, gave him a rude tug and sent him smashing
against the wall.
The gamblers rushed into the fray; the table was overturned and there
was a pandemonium of cries and curses. Manuel awoke with a frightened
start. He found himself in the midst of an awful row; most of the
gamblers, with the tavern-owner's brother at their head, wanted to
throw Leandro out, but the raging youth, backed against the counter,
was kicking off anybody that approached him.
"Leave us alone!" shouted Valencia, his lips slavering as he tried to
work himself free of the men who were holding him.
"Yes, leave them alone," said one of the gamblers.
"I'll kill the first guy that touches me," warned El Valencia,
displaying a long knife with black blades.
"That's the stuff," commented Leandro mockingly. "Let's see who are
the red-blooded men."
"Ole!" shouted Pastiri enthusiastically, in his husky voice.
Leandro drew from the inside pocket of his sack-coat a long, narrow
knife; the onlookers retreated to the walls so as to leave plenty of
room for the duellists. Paloma began to bawl:
"You'll get killed! You'll get killed, I'm telling you!"
"Take that woman away," yelled Valencia in a tragic voice: "Ea!" he
added, cleaving the air with his knife. "Now let's see who are the men
The two rivals advanced to the centre of the tavern, glaring furiously
at each other. The spectators were enthralled by mingled interest and
Valencia was the first to attack; he bent forward as if to seek out
where to strike his opponent; he crouched, aimed at the groin and
lunged forward upon Leandro; but seeing that Leandro awaited him
calmly without retreating, he rapidly recoiled. Then he resumed his
false attacks, trying to surprise his adversary with these feints,
threatening his stomach yet all the while aiming to stab him in the
face; but before the rigid arm of Leandro, who seemed to be sparing
every motion until he should strike a sure blow, the bully grew
disconcerted and once again drew back. Then Leandro advanced. The
youth came on with such sangfroid that he struck terror into his
opponent's heart; his face bespoke his determination to transfix
Valencia. An oppressive silence weighed upon the tavern; only the
sounds of Paloma's convulsive sobs were heard from the adjoining room.
Valencia, divining Leandro's resolve, grew so pale that his face
turned a sickly blue, his eyes distended and his teeth began to
chatter. At Leandro's first lunge he retreated, but remained on guard;
then his fear overcame him and abandoning all thought of attack he
took to flight, knocking over the chairs. Leandro, blind, smiling
cruelly, gave implacable pursuit.
It was a sad, painful sight; all the partizans of the bully began to
eye him with scorn.
"Now, you yellow-liver, you show the white feather!" shouted Pastiri.
"You're flitting about like a grasshopper. Off with you, my boy!
You're in for it! If you don't get out right away you'll be feeling a
palm's length of steel in your ribs!"
One of Leandro's thrusts ripped the bully's jacket.
The thug, now possessed of the wildest panic, dashed behind the
counter; his popping eyes reflected mad terror.
Leandro, insolently scornful, stood rigidly in the middle of the
tavern; pulling the springs of his knife, he closed it. A murmur of
admiration arose from the spectators.
Valencia uttered a cry of pain, as if he had been wounded; his honour,
his repute as a bold man, had suffered a downfall. Desperately he made
his way to the door of the back room, and looked at the panting
proprietress. She must have understood him, for she passed him a key
and Valencia sneaked out. But soon the door of the back room opened
and the bully stood there anew; brandishing his long knife by the
point he threw it furiously at Leandro's face. The weapon whizzed
through the air like a terrible arrow and pierced the wall, where it
At once Leandro sprang up, but Valencia had disappeared. Then, having
recovered from the surprise, the youth calmly dislodged the knife,
closed it and handed it to the tavern-keeper.
"When a fellow don't know how to use these things," he said,
petulantly, "he ought to keep away from them. Tell that gentleman so
when you next see him."
The proprietress answered with a grunt, and Leandro sat down to
receive general congratulations upon his courage and his coolness;
everybody wanted to treat him.
"This Valencia was beginning to make too much trouble, anyway," said
one of them. "Did as he pleased every night and he got away with it
because it was Valencia; but he was getting too darned fresh."
"That's what," replied another of the players, a grim old jailbird who
had escaped from the Ceuta penitentiary and who looked just like a
fox. "When a guy has the nerve, he rakes in all the dough," and he
made a gesture of scooping up all the coins on the table in his
fingers--"and he skips."
"But this Valencia is a coward," said Pastiri in his thick voice. "A
big mouth with a bark worse than his bite and not worth a slap."
"He was on his guard right away. In case of accident!" replied
Besuguito in his queer voice, imitating the posture of one who is
about to attack with a knife.
"I tell you," exclaimed El Pastiri, "he's a booby, and he's scared so
stiff he can't stand."
"Yes, but he answered every thrust, just the same," added the
"Yah! Did you see him?"
"Bah, you must be soused to the gills!"
"You only wish you were as sober as I. Bah!"
"What? You're so full you can't talk!"
"Go on; shut up. You're so drunk you can't stand; I tell you, if you
run afoul of this guy"--and Besuguito pointed to Leandro--"you're in
for a bad time."
"That's my opinion, anyhow."
"You don't have any opinion here, or anything like it," exclaimed
Leandro. "You're going to clear out and shut up. Valencia's liver is
whiter than paper; it's as Pastiri says. Brave enough when it comes to
exploiting boobs like you and the other tramps and low lives,... but
when he bucks up against a chap that's all there, hey? Bah! He's a
white-livered wretch, that's what."
"True," assented all.
"And maybe we won't let him hear a few things," said the escaped
convict, "if he has the nerve to return here for his share of the
"I should say!" exclaimed Pastiri.
"Very well, gentlemen, it's my treat now," said Leandro, "for I've got
the money and I happen to feel like it." He fished out a couple of
coins from his pocket and slapped them down on the table. "Lady, let's
have something to drink."
"Manuel! Manuel!" shouted Leandro several times. "Where in thunder has
that kid disappeared?"
Manuel, following the example of the bully, had made his escape by the
An Unlikely Tale--Manuel's Sisters--Life's Baffling Problems.
It was already the beginning of autumn; Leandro, on the advice of
Senor Ignacio, was living with his aunt on Aguila street; Milagros
continued keeping company with Lechuguino. Manuel gave up going with
Vidal and Bizco on their skirmishes and joined the company of
Rebolledo and the two Aristas.
The elder, Ariston, entertained him and frightened him out of his wits
with lugubrious tales of cemeteries and ghosts; the little Aristas
continued his gymnastic exercises; he had constructed a springboard by
placing a plank upon a heap of sand and there he practised his
One day Alonso, Tabuenca's aid, appeared in the Corralon accompanied
by a woman and a little girl.
The woman seemed old and weary; the tot was long and thin and pale.
Don Alonso found them a place in a dingy corner of the small patio.
They brought with them a small bundle of clothes, a dirty poodle with
a very intelligent look, and a monkey tied to a chain; in a short
while they had to sell the monkey to some gipsies that lived in the
Quinta de Goya.
Don Alonso called Manuel and said to him:
"Run off and hunt up Don Roberto, and tell him that there's a woman
here named Rosa, and that she is or has been a circus acrobat; she
must be the one he's looking for."
At once Manuel went off to the house; Roberto had left the place and
Manuel did not know his whereabouts.
Don Alonso carne frequently to the Corralon and conversed with the
mother and the girl. On the window-sill of their tiny home the mother
and the daughter had a little box with a sprig of mint planted in it;
although they watered it every morning, it scarcely grew, for there
was no sun. One day the woman and child disappeared together with
their pretty poodle; they left nothing in their quarters except a
worn-out, broken tambourine.
Don Alonso got into the habit of visiting the Corralon; he would
exchange a few words with Rebolledo, he of the modernist barber-shop
who chattered away, and would witness the gymnastic prowess of
Aristas. One afternoon the boy's mother asked the former Snake-Man
whether the child showed any real aptitude.
Don Alonso grew serious and subjected the boy's performance to a
searching examination, so that he could form an estimate of the
youngster's abilities and give him a little useful advice.
It was really curious to see the former circus-player give his orders;
he went through them with august seriousness.
"One, two, three.... Hop-la!... Once more, now. At position. The knees
near the head ... nails down ... One, two ... one, two.... Hop-la!"
Don Alonso was not at all displeased with little Aristas' showing, but
he emphasized the unavoidable necessity of continual hard practise.
"Whoever wants something has to pay the price, my little fellow," he
said. "And the profession of gymnast isn't within everybody's reach."
To the mother he confided that her son might some day be a fine circus
Then Don Alonso, finding himself before a numerous public, would begin
to talk volubly of the United States, of Mexico, and the South
"Why don't you tell us stories of the countries you've been to?" asked
"No, not now; I have to go out with the _Infiel_ Tower."
"Ah! Go on, tell us," they would all implore.
Don Alonso pretended to be importuned by the request; but when he got
going, he spun one yarn after the other in such numbers that they
almost had to beg him to stop.
"And didn't you ever see in those countries men who had been killed by
lions?" asked Ariston.
"Then there aren't any lions?"
"Lions in cages ... yes, a lot."
"But I mean at liberty, in the fields."
"In the fields? No."
Don Alonso seemed rather provoked to make these confessions.
"No other wild beasts, either?"
"There are no longer any wild beasts in the civilized countries," said
"Why, see here, there certainly are wild beasts over there," and Don
Alonso, wrinkling his features into a jesting grimace, winked slily at
Rebolledo. "Once a terrible thing happened to me; we were sailing by
an island when we heard cannon shots. It was the garrison firing off a
"But what are you laughing at?" asked Ariston.
"Nervousness.... Well, as I was saying, I went up to the captain of
the ship and asked his permission to let me land on the island. 'Very
well,' he said to me, 'take the Golondrina, if you wish,'--Golondrina
was the name of the canoe; 'but you must be back within a couple of
"I set off in my boat and hala! hala! ... I reached the island, which
was thickly planted with plane-trees and cocoanut-trees, and I
disembarked on the beach into which the Golondrina had thrust its
Here Don Alonso's features were convulsed with the impossibility of
restraining his laughter; he shot a glance at the barber, accompanied
by a confidential wink.
"I land," he continued, "then I start running, and soon, paf! ... in
the face; a huge mosquito, and then, paf! ... another mosquito, until
I was surrounded by a swarm of the animals, each one as large as a
bat. With a scarred face I begin to run for the beach so as to escape
in my canoe, when I catch sight of a lobster right next to the
Golondrina; but what a lobster I He must have been as big as a bear;
he was black, and shiny, and went chug, chug, chug, like an
automobile. No sooner did the creature set eyes on me than he began to
rush upon me with loud outcries; I ran for a cocoanut tree, and one,
two, three, I shinnied right up the trunk to the top. The lobster
approaches the tree, stops meditatively, and decides to shinny up
after me,--which he did."
"An awful situation," commented the barber.
"Just imagine," replied Don Alonso, blinking. "I only had a little
stick in my hands, and I defended myself against the lobster by
hitting him in the knuckles; but he, roaring with rage, and eyes
shining, continued climbing. I couldn't get any farther, and I was
thinking of coming down; but as I made a movement, biff!... The son of
a sea-cook grabs me with one of his many legs by the coat and remains
there hanging from me. The cussed critter was as heavy as lead; he was
already reaching up after me with another claw when I remembered that
I had in my vest pocket a toothpick that I had bought in Chicago, and
that it had a knife attachment; I opened this, and in a moment slashed
off the tail of my coat, and cataplun! ... down from a height of at
least forty metres the lobster fell to the ground. I can't understand
how he wasn't killed. There he began to cry and howl, and go round and
round the cocoanut tree in which I was, glaring at me with his
terrible eyes. Whereupon I--for being a gymnast had to come in handy
to a fellow,--began to leap from one cocoanut tree to the next and
from one plane-tree to the other, while the lobster kept following me,
howling away with the tail of my coat in his teeth.
"Reaching near the beach I find that the tide has gone out and that
the Golondrina is more than fifty metres above the waves. 'I'll wait,'
I said to myself. But at this moment I see, thrusting its head out
from the tree-top that I was then on, a serpent; I seize a branch,
swing up and back for a while so that I can land as far as possible
from the lobster, when the damned branch breaks on me and I lose my
"And what did you do then?" asked the barber.
"I took two somersaults in the air at a hazard."
"That was a useful precaution."
"Certainly I thought I was lost. On the contrary, I was saved."
"But how?" asked El Ariston.
"Very simple. For as I fell, with the branch in my hand, I landed
plump on the lobster, and as I came down with such a high velocity, I
pierced him right through with the branch and left him nailed to the
beach. The animal roared like a bull; I jumped into the Golondrina and
made my escape. But my vessel had sailed away. I began to row, but
there wasn't a sail in sight. 'I'm lost,' says I to myself. But thanks
to the lobster, I was rescued...."
"The lobster?" asked everybody in amazement.
"Yes sirree; a steamboat that was on its course many miles off, on
hearing the lobster's wails thought that this might be the signal of
some shipwrecked crew; it drew near the island, picked me up, and in a
few days I was back with my company."
As he finished his tale Don Alonso made a most expressive grimace, and
left with his _Infiel_ Tower for the street. Aristas, Rebolledo
and Manuel applauded the old circus man's stories, and the apprentice
gymnast felt more determined than ever to continue practicing upon the
trapeze and the springboard, so that some day he might behold those
distant lands of which Don Alonso spoke.
A few weeks later there occurred one of the events that left upon
Manuel the deepest impression of his entire career. It was Sunday; the
boy went to his mother's place, and helped her, as usual, to wash the
dishes. Then came Petra's daughters, and they spent the whole
afternoon quarrelling over a skirt or a petticoat that the younger had
bought with the elder sister's money.
Manuel, bored by the chatter, invented some excuse and left the house.
The rain was coming down in bucketfuls; Manuel reached the Puerta del
Sol, entered the cafe de Levante and sat down near the window. The
people outside, dressed in their Sunday clothes, scampered by to
places of refuge in the wide doorways of the big square; the coaches
rumbled hurriedly on amidst the downpour; umbrellas came and went and
their black tops, glistening with rain, collided and intertwined like
a shoal of tortoises. Presently it cleared up and Manuel left the
cafe; it was still too early to return to the house; he crossed the
Plaza de Oriente and stopped on the Viaduct, watching from that point
the people strolling along Segovia street.
In the sky, which was becoming serene, floated a few dark clouds with
silver linings, resembling mountains capped with snow; blown by the
wind, they scurried along with outspread wings; the bright sun
illumined the fields with its golden rays; resplendent in the clouds,
it reddened them like live coals; a few cloudlets scudded through
space, white flakes of foam. The hillocks and dales of the Madrilenian
suburbs were not yet mottled with green grass; the trees of the Campo
del Moro stood out reddish, skeleton-like, amidst the foliage of the
evergreens; dark rolls of vapour rose along the ground, soon to be
swept away by the wind. As the clouds passed by overhead, the plain
changed hue; successively it graded from purple into leaden-grey,
yellow, copper; the Extremadura cart-road, with the rows of grey,
dirty houses on each side, traced a broken line. This severe,
melancholy landscape of the Madrilenian suburbs, with their bleak,
cold gloominess, penetrated into Manuel's soul.
He left the Viaduct balcony, sauntered through several narrow lanes,
until he reached Toledo Street, walked down the Ronda and turned in
toward his house. He was getting near the Paseo de las Acacias when he
overheard two old women talking about a crime that had just been
committed at the corner of Amparo Street.
"And just as they were about to catch him, he killed himself," one of
them was saying.
Out of curiosity Manuel hastened his step, and approached a group that
was discussing the event at the entrance to the Corralon.
"Where did this fellow come from that killed himself?" asked Manuel of
"Why! It was Leandro!"
"Yes, Leandro, who killed Milagros and then killed himself."
"But ... is this really so?"
"Yes, man. Just a moment ago,"
"Here? In the house?"
"On this very spot."
Manuel, quaking with fear, ran up the stairs to the gallery. The floor
was still stained with the pool of blood. Senor Zurro, the only
witness to the drama, was telling the story to a group of neighbours.
"I was here, reading the paper," said the old-clothes man, "and
Milagros and her mother were talking to Lechuguino. The engaged couple
were enjoying themselves, when up comes Leandro to the gallery; he was
about to open the door to his rooms when, before he went in, he
suddenly turned to Milagros. 'Is that your sweetheart?' he said to
her. It seemed to me that he was as pale as a corpse. 'Yes,' she
answered. 'All right. Then I've come here to end things once and for
all,' he shouted. 'Which of the two do you prefer, him or me?' 'Him,'
shrieks Milagros. 'Then it's all up,' cried Leandro in a hoarse voice.
'I'm going to kill you.' After that I can't recall anything clearly;
it was all as swift as a thunderbolt; when I ran over to them, the
girl was gushing blood from her mouth; the proof-reader's wife was
screaming and Leandro was chasing Lechuguino with his knife opened."
"I saw him leave the house," added an old woman. "He was waving his
blood-stained knife in the air; my husband tried to stop him; but he
backed like a bull, lunged for him and came near killing him."
"And where are my uncle and aunt?" asked Manuel.
"Over at the Emergency Hospital. They followed the stretcher."
Manuel went down into the patio.
"Where are you going?" asked Ariston.
"To the Emergency Hospital."
"I'll go along with you."
The two boys were joined by a machine shop apprentice who lived in the
"I saw him kill himself," said the apprentice. "We were all running
after him, hollering, 'Catch him! Stop him!' when two guards appeared
on Amparo Street, drew their swords and blocked his way. Then Leandro
bounded back, made his way through the people and landed here again;
he was going to escape through the Paseo de las Acacias when he
stumbled against La Muerte, who began to call him names. Leandro
stopped, looked in every direction; nobody dared to get near him; his
eyes were blazing. Suddenly he jabbed the knife into his left side I
don't know how many times. When one of the guards seized him by the
arm he collapsed like an empty sack."
The commentary of Ariston and the apprentice proved endless; the boys
arrived at the Emergency Hospital and were told that the corpses,
those of Milagros and Leandro, had been taken to the Morgue. The three
gamins walked down to the Canal, to the little house near the river's
edge, which Manuel and the urchins of his gang had so often visited,
trying to peep into the windows. A knot of people had gathered about
"Let's have a look," said Ariston.
There was a window, wide open, and they peered in. Stretched upon a
marble slab lay Leandro; his face was the color of wax, and his
features bore an expression of proud defiance. At his side Senora
Leandro stood wailing and vociferating; Senor Ignacio, with his son's
hand clasped in his own, was weeping silently. At another table a
group surrounded Milagros' corpse. The man in charge of the morgue
ordered them all out. As the proofreader and Senor Ignacio met at the
entrance they exchanged looks and then averted their glance; the two
mothers, on the other hand, glared at each other in terrible hatred.
Senor Ignacio arranged that they should not sleep at the Corralon but
in Aguila Street. In that place, at the home of Senora Jacoba, there
was a horrible confusion of weeping and cursing. The three women
blamed Milagros for everything; she was a common strumpet, an evil
woman, a selfish, wretched ingrate.
One of the neighbours of the Corrala indicated a strange detail: when
the public doctor came to examine Milagros and remove her corset so
that he might determine the wound, he found a tiny medallion
containing a portrait of Leandro.
"Whose picture is this?" he is reported to have asked.
"The fellow who killed her," they answered. This was exceedingly
strange, and it fascinated Manuel; many a time he had thought that
Milagros really loved Leandro; this fairly confirmed his conjectures.
During all that night Senor Ignacio, seated on a chair, wept without
cease; Vidal was scared through and through, as was Manuel. The
presence of death, seen so near, had terrorized the two boys.
And while inside the house everybody was crying, in the streets the
little girls were dancing around in a ring. And this contrast of
anguish and serenity, of grief and calm, imparted to Manuel a confused
sense of life. It must, he thought, be something exceedingly sad, and
something weirdly inscrutable.
Uncle Patas' Domestic Drama--The Bakery--Karl the Baker--The
Society of the Three.
The death of his son made such a deep impression upon Senor Ignacio
that he fell ill. He gave up working in the shop and as he showed no
improvement after two or three weeks, Leandra said to Manuel:
"See here: better be off to your mother's place, for I can't keep you
Manuel returned to the lodging-house and Petra, through the
intercession of the landlady, procured her son a job as errand-boy at
a bread and vegetable stand situated upon the Plaza del Carmen.
Manuel was here more oppressed than at Senor Ignacio's. Uncle Patas,
the proprietor, a heavy, burly Galician, instructed the youth in his
He was to get up at daybreak, open the store, untie the bundles of
greens that were brought by a boy from the Plaza de la Cebada and
receive the bread that was left by the delivery-men. Then he was to
sweep the place and wait for Uncle Patas, his wife or sister-in-law to
awake. As soon as one of these came in Manuel would leave his place
behind the counter and, balancing a little basket upon his head, would
start off on his route delivering bread to the customers of the
vicinity. This going and returning would take all the morning. In the
afternoon the work was harder: Manuel would have to stand quietly
behind the counter in utter boredom, under the surveillance of the
proprietor's wife and his sister-in-law.
Accustomed to his daily strolls through the Rondas, Manuel was
rendered desperate by this immobility.
Uncle Patas' store, a tiny, ill-smelling hole, was papered in yellow
with green borders; the paper was coming off from sheer old age. A
wooden counter, a few dirty shelves, an oil lamp hanging from the
ceiling and two benches comprised the fixtures.
The back room, which was reached by a door at the rear, was a
compartment with no more light than could filter in through a transom
that opened upon the vestibule. This was the dining-room and led to
the kitchen, which in turn gave access to a narrow, very filthy patio
with a fountain. At the other side of the patio were the bedrooms of
Uncle Patas, his wife and his sister-in-law.
Manuel's sleeping quarters were a straw-bed and a couple of old cloaks
behind the counter. Here, especially at night, it reeked of rotten
cabbage: but what bothered Manuel even more was the getting up at
dawn, when the watchman struck two or three blows with his pike upon
the door of the store.
They sold something in the shop,--enough to live on and no more. In
this hovel Uncle Patas had saved up a fortune centimo by centimo.
Uncle Patas' history was really interesting. Manuel had learned it
from the gossip of the men who delivered the bread and from the boys
in the other stores.
Uncle Patas had come to Madrid from a hamlet of Lugo, at the age of
fifteen, in search of a living. Within twenty years, by dint of
unbelievable economies, he had hoarded up from his wages in a bakery
some three or four thousand pesetas, and with this capital he
established a little grocery. His wife stood behind the counter while
he continued to work in the bakery and hoard his earnings. When his
son grew up he assigned to the boy the running of a tavern and then of
a pawnbroker-shop. It was during this prosperous epoch that Uncle
Patas' wife died, and the man, now a widower, wishing to taste the
sweets of life, which had thus far proved so fruitless, married again
despite his fifty-odd years; the bride, a lass that came from his own
province, was only twenty and her sole object in marrying was to
change from servant to mistress. All of Uncle Patas' friends tried to
convince him that it was a monstrosity for a man of his years to wed,
and such a young girl at that; but he persisted in his notions and
Within two months after the marriage the son had come to an
understanding with his step-mother, and shortly after this the elderly
husband made the discovery. One day he played the spy and saw his son
and his wife leave an assignation house in Santa Margarita Street.
Perhaps the man intended to take harsh steps, to speak a few
unvarnished words to the couple; but as he was soft and peaceful by
nature, and did not wish to disturb his business, he let the time go
by and grew little by little accustomed to his position. Somewhat
later, Uncle Patas' wife brought from her town a sister of hers, and
when she arrived, between the wife and the son she was forced upon the
old man, who concluded by taking up with his sister-in-law. Since that
time the four had lived in unbroken harmony. They understood one
another most admirably.
Manuel was not in the least astonished by this state of affairs; he
was cured of fear, for at La Corrala there was more than one
matrimonial combination of the sort. What did make him indignant was
the stinginess of Uncle Patas and his people.
All the scrupulousness which Uncle Patas' wife did not feel in other
matters she reserved, no doubt, for the accounts. Herself accustomed
to pilfer, she knew to the least detail every trick of the servants,
and not a centimo escaped her; she always thought she was being
robbed. Such was her spirit of economy that at home they ate stale
bread, thus confirming the popular saying, "in the house of the smith,
a wooden knife."
The sister-in-law, an uncouth peasant with a stubby nose, carroty
cheeks, abundant breasts and hips, could give lessons in avarice to
her sister, while in the matter of immodesty and undignified
comportment she outdistanced her. She would go about the store with
her bosom exposed and there wasn't a delivery-man who missed a chance
to pinch her.
"What a fatty you are! Oh!" they would all exclaim.
And it was as if all this frequently fingered fat didn't belong to
her, for she raised no protest. Should any one, however, try to get
the best of her on the price of a roll, she would turn into a wild
On Sunday afternoons Uncle Patas, his wife and his sister-in-law were
in the habit of playing _mus_ on a little table in the middle of
the road; they never dared to leave the store alone.
After Manuel had been here for three months, Petra carne to see Uncle
Patas and asked him to give her boy a regular wage. Uncle Patas burst
into laughter; the request struck him as the very height of absurdity
and he answered No, that it was impossible, that the boy didn't even
earn the bread he ate.
Then Petra sought out another place for Manuel and brought him to a
bakery on Horno de la Mata Street where he was to learn the trade.
As the beginning of his apprenticeship he was assigned to the furnace
as assistant to the man who removed the loaves from the oven. The work
was beyond his strength. He had to get up at eleven in the night and
commence by scraping the iron pans in which the smaller loaves were
baked; after they were cleaned he would go over them with a brush
dipped in melted butter; this accomplished he would help his superior
remove the live coals from the oven with an iron instrument; then,
while the baker baked the bread he would lift very heavy boards laden
with rolls and carry them to the kneading-trough at the mouth of the
furnace; when the baker placed the rolls inside Manuel would take the
board back to the kneading-trough. As the bread came out of the oven
he would moisten it with a brush dipped in water so as to make the
crust shiny. At eleven in the morning the work was over, and during
the intervals of idleness Manuel and the workmen would sleep.
This life was horribly hard.
The bakery occupied a dark cellar, as gloomy as it was dirty. It was
below the level of the street and had two windows the panes of which
were so covered with dust and spiders' webs that only a murky,
yellowish light filtered through. They worked at all hours by gas.
The bakery was entered by a door that opened upon an ample patio, in
which was a shed of pierced zinc; this protected from the rain, or
tried to protect, at least, the loads of furze branch and the piles of
wood that were heaped up there.
From this patio a low door gave access to a long, but narrow and damp,
corridor that was everywhere black; only at the extreme end there was
a square of light that entered through a high window with a few
cracked, filthy panes,--a gloomy illumination.
When the eyes grew accustomed to the surrounding gloom they could make
out on the wall some delivery-baskets, bakers' peels, smocks, caps and
shoes hanging from nails, and on the ceiling thick, silvery cobwebs
covered with dust.
Half way along the corridor were a couple of doors opposite each
other; one led to the furnace, the other to the kneading room.
The furnace room was spacious, and the walls filmed with soot, so that
the place was as black as a camera obscura; a gas-jet burned in that
cavern, illuminating almost nothing. Before the mouth of the furnace,
against an iron shed, were placed the shovels; above, on the ceiling,
could be made out some large pipes that crossed each other.
The kneading room, less dark than the furnace room, was even more
somber. A pallid light shone in through the two windows that looked
into the patio, their panes encrusted with flour dust. There were
always some ten or twelve men in shirt-sleeves, brandishing their arms
desperately over the troughs, and in the back of the room a she-mule
slowly turned the kneading machine.
Life in the bakery was disagreeable and hard; the work was enervating
and the pay small: seven reales per day. Manuel, unaccustomed to the
heat of the furnace, turned dizzy; besides, when he moistened the
loaves fresh from the oven he would burn his fingers and it disgusted
him to see his hands begrimed with grease and soot.
He was also unlucky enough to have his bed placed in the kneaders'
room, beside that of an old workman of the shop who suffered from
chronic catarrh, as a result of having breathed so much flour into his
lungs; this fellow kept hawking away at all hours.
From sheer disgust Manuel found it impossible to sleep here, so he
went to the furnace kitchen and threw himself down upon the floor. He
was forever weary; but despite this, he worked automatically.
Then nobody paid any attention to him; the other bakers, a gang of
pretty rough Galicians, treated him as if he were a mule; none of them
even took the trouble to learn his name, and some addressed him, "Hey,
you, Choto!" while others cried "Hello, Barriga!" When they spoke of
him they referred to him as "the ragamuffin from Madrid" or simply,
"ragamuffin." He answered to whatever names and sobriquets they gave
At first the most hateful of all these men, to Manuel, was the head
baker, who ordered him about in a despotic manner and grew angry if
things weren't done in a trice. This baker was a German named Karl
Schneider who had come to Spain as a vagrant, in evasion of military
service. He was about twenty-four or twenty-five, with limpid eyes,
and hair and moustache that were so fair as almost to be white.
A timid, phlegmatic fellow, he was frightened by everything and found
all things difficult. His strong impressions were manifested neither
in his motions nor his words, but in a sudden flush, which coloured
his cheeks and his forehead, and which would soon disappear and leave
an intense pallor.
Karl expressed himself very well in Spanish, but in a rare manner; he
knew a string of proverbs and phrases which he entangled inextricably;
this lent a quaint character to his conversation.
Manuel soon discovered that the German, despite his abruptness, was a
fine fellow, very innocent, very sentimental and of paradisiacal
After a month's work in the bakery Manuel had come to consider Karl as
his only friend; they treated each other as boon companions and
addressed each other in familiar terms; and if the baker often helped
his assistant in any task that required strength, he would in his
turn, on occasion, ask the boy's opinion and consult him regarding
sentimental complications and punctilios, which fascinated the German
and which Manuel settled with his natural perspicacity and the
instincts of a wandering child who has been convinced that all life's
motives are egotistical and base. This equality between master and
apprentice disappeared the moment Karl took up his position at the
mouth of the furnace. At such times Manuel had to obey the German
without cavil or delay.
Karl's one vice was drunkenness; he was forever thirsty; whenever he
slaked this thirst with wine and beer everything went well; he led a
methodical life and would spend his free hours on the Pinza, de
Oriente or in the Moncloa, reading the two volumes that comprised his
library: one, _Lost Illusions_, by Balzac and the other, a
collection of German poems.
These two books, constantly read, commented upon and annotated by him,
filled his head with fancies and dreams. Between the bitter,
despairing, yet fundamentally romantic ratiocinations of Balzac, and
the idealities of Goethe and Heine, the poor baker dwelt in the most
unreal of worlds. Often Karl would explain to Manuel the conflicts
between the persons of his favourite novel, and would ask how he would
act under similar circumstances. Manuel would usually hit upon so
logical, so natural, so little romantic a solution that the German
would stand perplexed and fascinated before the boy's clearness of
judgment; but soon, considering the selfsame theme anew, he would see
that such a solution would prove valueless to his sublimated
personages, for the very conflict of the novel would never have come
about amidst folk of common thoughts.
There came stretches of ten or twelve days when the German needed more
powerful stimulants than wine and literature, and he would get drunk
on whisky, drinking down half a flask as if it were so much water.
According to what he told Manuel, he was overwhelmed by an avalanche
of sadness; everything looked black and repulsive to his eyes, he felt
feverish and the one remedy for this melancholy was alcohol.
When he entered the tavern his heart was heavy and his head dull with
a surfeit of ugly notions, but as he drank he felt his heart grow
lighter and his breath come easier, while his head began to dance with
merry thoughts. When he left the tavern, however hard he tried, it was
impossible for him to preserve his dignity; laughter would flicker
upon his lips. Then songs of his native land would throng to his
memory and he would sing them aloud, beating time to them as he walked
on. As long as he went through the central thoroughfares he would walk
straight; no sooner did he reach the back streets, the deserted
avenues, than he would abandon himself to the pleasure of stumbling
along and staggering, with a bump here and a thump there. During these
moods everything seemed great and beautiful and superb to the German;
the sentimentalism of his race would overflow and he would begin to
recite verses and weep, and of whatever acquaintances he met on the
street he would beg forgiveness for his imaginary offence, asking
anxiously whether he still continued to enjoy their estimation and
offering his friendship.
However drunk he might be, he never forgot his duty and when the hour
for starting the night's baking arrived he would stagger off to the
bakery; the moment he took up his position before the mouth of the
furnace his intoxication evaporated and he set to work as soberly as
ever, himself laughing at his extravagances.
The German possessed remarkable organic powers and unheard-of
resistance; Manuel had to sleep during all his free time, and even at
that never rose from his bed completely rested. For the two months
that he spent in the bakery Manuel lived like an automaton. Work at
the furnace had so shifted about his hours of sleep that the days
seemed to him nights and the nights, days.
One day Manuel fell ill and all the strength that had been sustaining
him abandoned him suddenly; he gave up his job, took his two-week's
pay and without knowing how, fairly dragging himself thither, made his
way to the lodging-house.
Petra, finding him in this condition, made him go to bed, and Manuel
lay for nearly two weeks in the delirium of a very high fever. On
getting out it seemed that he had grown; he was much emaciated, and
felt in his whole body a great lassitude and languor and such a keen
sensitivity that any word the least mite too harsh would affect him to
the point of tears.
When he was able to go out into the street again, he bought, at
Petra's suggestion, a gold-plated brooch which he presented to Dona
Casiana; she was so pleased with the gift that she told her servant
the boy might remain in the house until he was completely recovered.
Those days were among the most pleasant that Manuel ever spent in his
whole life; the one thing that bothered him was hunger.
The weather was superb and in the mornings Manuel would go strolling
along the Retiro. The journalist whom they called Superman employed
Manuel in copying his notes and articles, and as compensation, no
doubt, let him take novels by Paul de Kock and Pigault-Lebrun, some of
them highly spiced, as for example _Nuns and Corsairs_ and
_That Rascal Gustave_.
The love theories of these two writers convinced Manuel so well that
he tried to put them into practise with the landlady's niece. During
the previous two years she had developed so fully that she was already
One night, during the early hour after supper, either through the
influence of the spring season or in obedience to the theories of the
author of _Nuns and Corsairs_, Manuel persuaded the landlady's
girl of the advantages of a very private consultation, and a neighbour
saw the two of them depart together upstairs and enter the garret.
As they were about to shut themselves in, the neighbour surprised them
and brought them, deeply contrite, into the presence of Dona Casiana.
The thrashing that the landlady administered to her niece deprived the
girl of all desire for new adventures and the aunt of any strength to
administer another to Manuel.
"Out into the street with you!" she bawled at him, seizing him by the
arm and sinking her nails into his flesh. "And make sure that I never
see you here again, for I'll brain you!"
Manuel, stricken with shame and confusion, wished nothing better at
that moment than a chance to escape, and he dashed into the street as
fast as he could get there, like a beaten cur. The night was cool and
inviting. As he didn't have a centimo, he soon wearied of sauntering
about; he called at the bakery, asked for Karl the baker, they opened
the place to him and he stretched himself out on one of the beds. At
dawn he was awakened by the voice of one of the bakers, who was
"Hey, you! Loafer! Clear out!"
Manuel got up and went out into the street. He strolled along toward
the Viaduct, to his favourite spot, to survey the landscape and
It was a glorious spring morning. In the grove near the Campo del Moro
some soldiers were drilling to the sound of bugle and drums; from a
stone chimney on the Ronda de Segovia puffs of dark smoke issued forth
to stain the clear, diaphanous sky; in the laundries on the banks of
the Manzanares the clothes hung out to dry shone with a white
Manuel slowly crossed the Viaduct, reached Las Vistillas and watched
some rag-dealers sorting out their materials after emptying the
contents of their sacks upon the ground. He sat down for a while in
the sun. With his eyes narrowed to a slit he could make out the arches
of the Almudena church just above a wall; beyond rose the Royal
Palace, a glittering white, the sandy clearings of the Principe Pio
with its long red barracks, and the row of houses on the Paseo de
Rosales, their panes aglow with the sunlight.
Toward the Casa de Campo several brown, bare knolls stood out, topped
by two or three pines that looked as if they had been cut out and
pasted upon the blue atmosphere.
From Las Vistillas Manuel walked down to the Ronda de Segovia. As he
sauntered along Aguila Street he noticed that Senor Ignacio's place
was still closed. Manuel went into the house and asked in the patio
"She must be at work in the house," they told him.
He climbed up the stairway and knocked at the door; from within came
the hum of a sewing-machine.
Salome opened the door and Manuel entered. The seamstress was as
pretty as ever, and, as ever, working. Her two boys had not yet
entered colegio. Salome told Manuel that Senor Ignacio had been in
hospital and that he was now looking around for some money with which
to pay off his debts and continue his business. Leandra at that moment
was down by the river, Senor Jacoba at her post, and Vidal loafing
around with no desire to work. He simply couldn't be kept away from
the company of a certain cross-eyed wretch who was worse than disease
itself, and had become a tramp. The two of them were always seen with
bad women in the stands and lunch-rooms of the Andalucia road.
Manuel told her of his experiences as a baker and how he had fallen
ill; what he did not relate however, was the tale of his dismissal
from the house where his mother was employed.
"That's no kind of job for you. You ought to learn some trade that
requires less strength," was Salome's advice.
Manuel spent the whole morning chatting with the seamstress; she
invited him to a bite and he accepted with pleasure.
In the afternoon Manuel left Salome's house with the thought that if
he were a few years older and had a decent, paying position, he would
marry her, even if he found himself compelled to get the tough who
went with her out of the way with a knife.
Once again upon the Ronda, the first thought that came to Manuel was
that he ought not to go to the Toledo Bridge, nor be in any greater
hurry to reach the Andalucia road, for it was very easy to happen upon
Vidal or Bizco there. He pondered the thought deeply, and yet, despite
this, he took the direction of the bridge, glanced into the sands, and
failing to find his friends there continued along the Canal, crossed
the Manzanares by one of the laundry bridges and came out on Andalucia
road. In a lunch-room that sheltered a few tables beneath its roof
were Vidal and Bizco in company of a group of idlers playing cane.
"Hey, you, Vidal!" shouted Manuel.
"The deuce! Is it you?" exclaimed his cousin.
"As you see...."
"And what are you doing?"
"Nothing. And you?"
"Whatever comes our way."
Manuel watched them play cane. After they had finished a hand, Vidal
"What do you say to a walk?"
"Are you coming, Bizco?"
The three set out along the Andalucia road.
Vidal and Bizco led a thieves' existence, stealing here a horse
blanket, there the electric bulbs of a staircase or telephone wires;
whatever turned up. They did not venture to operate in the heart of
Madrid as they were not yet, in their opinion, sufficiently expert.
Only a few days before, told Vidal, they had, between them, robbed a
fellow of a she-goat, on the banks of the Manzanares near the Toledo
bridge. Vidal had entertained the chap at the game of tossing coins
while Bizco had seized the goat and pulled her up the slope of the
pines to Las Yeserias, afterward taking her to Las Injurias. Then
Vidal, indicating the opposite direction to their dupe, had shouted:
"Run, run, there goes your goat." And as the youth trotted off in the
direction indicated, Vidal escaped to Las Injurias, joining Bizco and
his sweetheart. They were still dining on the goat's meat.
"That's what you ought to do," suggested Vidal. "Come with us. This is
the life of a lord! Why, listen here. The other day Juan el Burra and
El Arenero came upon a dead hog on the road to Las Yeserias. A
swineherd was on his way with a herd of them to the slaughter-house,
when they found out that the animal had died; the fellow left it
there, and Juan el Burra and El Arenero dragged it to their house,
quartered it, and we friends of his have been eating hog for more than
a week. I tell you, it's a lord's life!"
According to what Vidal said, all the thieves knew each other, even to
the most distant sections of the city. Their life was outside the pale
of society and an admirable one, indeed; today they were to meet at
the Four Roads, in three or four days at the Vallecas Bridge or at La
Guindelara; they helped each other.
Their radius of activities was a zone bounded by the extreme of the
Casa del Campo, where the inn of Agapito and the Alcorcon restaurants
were, as far as Los Carabancheles; from here, the banks of the
Abronigal, La Elipa, El Este, Las Ventas and La Conception as far as
La Prosperidad; then Tetuan as far as the Puerta de Hierro. In summer
they slept in yards and sheds of the suburbs.
The thieves of the city's centre were a better-dressed, more
aristocratic lot; each of these had his woman, whose earnings he
managed and who took good care of him. The outcasts of the heart of
the city were a distinct class with other gradations.
There were times when Bizco and Vidal had gone through intense want,
existing upon cats and rats and seeking shelter in the caves upon San
Blas hill, of Madrid Moderno, and in the Eastern Cemetery. But by this
time the pair knew their business.
"And work? Nothing?" asked Manuel.
"Work! ... Let the cat work," scoffed Vidal.
They didn't work, stuttered Bizco; who was going to get fresh with him
while he had his trusty steel in his hand?
Into the brain of this wild beast there had not penetrated, even
vaguely, any idea of rights or duties. No duties, no rights or
anything at all. To him, might was right; the world was a hunting
wood. Only humble wretches could obey the law of labour. That's what
he said: Let fools work, if they hadn't the nerve to live like men.
As the three thus conversed a man and a woman with a child in her arms
passed by. They looked dejected, like famished, persecuted folk, their
glance timid and awed.
"There's the workers for you," exclaimed Vidal. "That's how they are."
"The devil take them," muttered Bizco.
"Where are they bound for?" asked Manuel, eyeing them sympathetically.
"To the tile-works," answered Vidal. "To sell saffron, as we say
"And why do they say that?"
"Because saffron is so dear...."
The three came to a halt and lay down upon the sod. For more than an
hour they remained there, discussing women and ways and means of
"Got any money about you?" asked Vidal of Manuel and Bizco.
"Two reales," replied the latter.
"Well, then, invite us to something," suggested Vidal. "Let's have a
Bizco assented, grumblingly, so they arose and took their way toward
Madrid. A procession of whitish mules filed past them; a young,
swarthy gipsy, with a long stick under his arm, mounted upon the last
mule of the procession, kept shouting at every step: "Corone, corone!"
"So long, swell!" shouted Vidal to him.
"God be with all good folk," answered the gipsy in a hoarse voice.
They reached a road tavern beside a ragpicker's hut, stopped, and
Vidal ordered the bottle of wine.
"What's this factory?" asked Manuel, pointing to a structure at the
left of the Andalucia road on the way back to Madrid.
"They make money out of blood," answered Vidal solemnly.
Manuel stared at him in fright.
"Yes. They make glue out of the blood that's left over in the
slaughter-house," added his cousin, laughing.
Vidal poured the wine into the glasses and the three gulped it down.
Yonder, above the avenue of trees on the Canal, could be made out
Madrid, with its long, level cluster of houses. The windows, lit up by
the flush of the setting sun, glowed like live coals; in the
foreground, just below San Francisco el Grande, bulked the red tanks
of the gas factory with their high steel beams, amidst the obscure
rubbish-heaps; from the centre of the city rose tiny towers and low
chimneys which belched forth black puffs of smoke that seemed to rest
motionless in the tranquil atmosphere. At one side, upon a hill,
towered the Observatory, whose windows sparkled with the sun; at the
other, the Guadarama range, blue with crests of white, was outlined
against the clear, transparent heavens furrowed by red clouds.
"Bah," added Vidal, after a moment's silence, turning to Manuel.
"You've got to come with us; we'll make a gang."
"That's the talk," stammered Bizco.
"All right. I'll see," responded Manuel unwillingly.
"What do you mean, you'll see? The gang's already formed. We'll call
it the gang of The Three."
"Fine!" shouted Bizco.
"And we'll help each other?" inquired Manuel.
"Of course we will," assured his cousin. "And if any one of us should
prove a traitor...."
"If any one proves a traitor," interrupted Bizco, "his guts'll be
ripped out." And to lend force to his declaration he drew out his dirk
and plunged it viciously into the table.
At nightfall the three returned by the road to the Toledo bridge and
separated at that point, after arranging to meet on the morrow.
Manuel wondered just what he was committed to by the promise made to
be a member of The Three. The life led by Bizco and Vidal frightened
him. He must resolve to turn over a new leaf; but what was he to do?
That was what puzzled him.
For some time Manuel did not dare to put in an appearance at the
lodging-house; he would meet his mother in the street and he slept in
the entry of the house where one of his sisters was employed. Later it
came to pass that the landlady's niece was found in the bedroom of a
neighbouring student, and this served to rehabilitate Manuel somewhat
in the boarding-house.
One of the Many Disagreeable Ways of Dying in Madrid--The
Orphan--El Cojo and His Cave--Night in the Observatory.
One day Manuel was not a little surprised to learn that his mother had
not been able to get up and that she was ill. For some time she had
been coughing up blood, but had considered this of no importance.
Manuel presented himself humbly at the house and the landlady, instead
of greeting him with recriminations, asked him in to see his mother.
The only thing Petra complained of was a terrible bruised feeling all
over the body and a pain in her back.
For days and days she had gone on thus, now better, now worse, until
she began to run a high fever and was compelled to call in the doctor.
The landlady said that they'd have to take the sick woman to the
hospital; but as she was a kind-hearted soul she did not insist.
Petra had already confessed several times to the priest of the house.
Manuel's sisters came from time to time, but neither brought the money
necessary to the purchase of the medicines and the food that were
prescribed by the doctor.
One Sunday, toward night, Petra took a turn for the worse; during the
afternoon she had been conversing spiritedly with her daughters; but
this animation had subsided until she was overwhelmed by a mortal
That Sunday night Dona Casiana's lodgers had an unusually succulent
supper, and after the supper several ronquillas for dessert, watered
by the purest concoction of the Prussian distilleries.
The spree was still in progress at ten o'clock. Petra said to Manuel:
"Call Don Jacinto and tell him that I'm worse."
Manuel went to the dining-room. He could barely make out the congested
faces through the thick tobacco smoke that filled the atmosphere. As
Manuel entered, one of the merrymakers said:
"A little less noise; there's somebody sick."
Manuel delivered the message to the priest.
"Your mother's scared, that's all. I'll come a little later," replied
Manuel returned to the room.
"Isn't he coming?" asked the sick woman.
"He'll be here right away. He says you're only scared."
"Yes. A fine scare," she murmured sadly. "Stay here."
Manuel sat down upon a trunk; he was so sleepy, he could hardly see.
He was just dozing off when his mother called to him.
"Listen," she said. "Go into the room and fetch the picture of the
Virgin of Sorrows."
Manuel took down the picture,--a cheap cromograph,--and brought it to
"Place it at the foot of the bed so that I can see it."
The boy did as he was requested and returned to his seat. From the
dining-room came a din of songs, hand-clapping and castanets.
Suddenly Manuel, who was half asleep, heard a loud, rasping sound
issue from his mother's chest, and at the same time he noticed that
her face had become paler than ever and was twitching strangely.
"What's the matter?"
The sufferer made no reply. Then Manuel ran to notify the priest
again. Grumblingly he left the dining-room, looked at the sick woman
and said to the boy:
"Your mother's dying. Stay here, and I'll be back at once with the
The priest ordered the merrymakers in the dining-room to cease their
racket and the whole house became silent.
Nothing could be heard now save cautious footfalls, the opening and
closing of doors, followed by the stertorous breathing of the dying
woman and the tick-tock of the corridor clock.
The priest arrived with another who wore a stole and administered all
the rites of the extreme unction. After the vicar and the sacristan
had gone, Manuel looked at his mother and saw her livid features, her
drooping jaw. She was dead.
The youngster was left alone in the room, which was dimly lighted by
the oil lamp; there he sat on the trunk, trembling with cold and fear.
He spent the whole night thus; from time to time the landlady would
enter in her underclothes and ask Manuel something or offer some bit
of advice which, for the most part, he did not understand.
That night Manuel thought and suffered as perhaps he never thought and
suffered at any other time; he meditated upon the usefulness of life
and upon death with a perspicacity that he had never possessed.
However hard he might try, he could not stem the flood of thoughts
that merged one with the other.
At four in the morning the whole house was in silence, when there was
heard the rattle of a latchkey in the stairway door, followed by
footsteps in the corridor and then the querulous tinkling of the
music-box upon the vestibule-table, playing the Mandolinata.
Manuel awoke with a start, as from a dream; he could not make out
where the music was coming from; he even imagined that he had lost his
head. The little organ, after several hitches and asthmatic sobs,
abandoned the Mandolinata and began to roll off in double time the
duet between Bettina and Pippo from _La Mascotte_:
_Will you forget me, gentle swain,
Dressed in this lordly finery?_
Manuel left the bedroom and asked, through the darkness:
"Who is it?"
At the same moment voices were heard from every room. The music-box
cut short the duet from _La Mascotte_ and launched spiritedly
into the strains of Garibaldi's hymn. Suddenly the music stopped and a
hoarse voice shouted:
The landlady got up and asked who was making all that racket; one of
the men who had just entered the house explained in a whisky-soaked
voice that they were students who boarded on the third floor, and had
just come from the ball in search of Paco, one of the salesmen. The
landlady told them that some one had died in the house and one of the
drunkards, who was a student of medicine, said he would like to view
the corpse. He was persuaded to change his mind and everybody went
back to his place. The next day Manuel's sisters were notified and
Petra was buried....
On the day after the interment Manuel left the boarding-house and said
farewell to Dona Casiana.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'll see."
"I can't keep you here, but I don't want you to starve. Come here from
time to time."
After walking about town all the morning, Manuel found himself at noon
on the Ronda de Toledo, leaning against the wall of Las Americas, at a
loss to know what to do with himself. To one side, likewise seated
upon the turf, was a loathsome, terribly ugly, flat-nosed gamin, with
a clouded eye, bare feet, and a tattered jacket through whose rents
could be glimpsed his dark skin, which had been tanned by the sun and
wind. Hanging from his neck was a canister into which he threw the
cigarette ends that he gathered.
"Where do you live?" Manuel asked him.
"I haven't any father or mother," answered the urchin, evasively.
"What's your name?"
"And why do they call you that?"
"Why! Because I'm a foundling."
"And didn't you ever have a home?"
"And where do you sleep?"
"Well, in the summer I sleep in the caves, or in yards, and in winter,
in the asphalt caldrons."
"And when they're not doing any asphalting?"
"In some shelter or other."
"All right, then. But what do you eat?"
"Whatever I'm given."
"And do you manage to do well?"
Either the foundling did not understand the question or it appeared
quite silly to him, for he merely shrugged his shoulders. Manuel
continued his curious interrogatory.
"Aren't your feet cold?"
"And don't you do anything?"
"Psch! ... whatever turns up. I pick up stubs, I sell sand, and when I
can't earn anything I go to the Maria Cristina barracks."
"What for? For a meal, of course."
"And where's this barracks?"
"Near the Atocha station. Why? Would you like to go there, too?"
"Yes, I would."
"Well, let's come along then, or we'll miss mess time."
The two got up and started on their journey. The Orphan begged at the
stores on the road and was given two slices of bread and a small coin.
"Will you have some, _ninchi?_" he asked, offering Manuel one of
"Hand it over."
By the Ronda de Atocha they reached the Estacion de Mediodia.
"Do you know the time?" asked the Orphan.
"Yes. It's eleven."
"Well then, it's too early to go to the barracks."
Opposite the station a lady, from the seat of a coach, was making a
speech proclaiming the wonders of a salve for wounds and a specific
for curing the toothache.
The Orphan, biting away at his slice of bread, interrupted the speech
of the lady in the coach, shouting ironically:
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