Spain - An Adalusian Type
( Originally Published 1905 )
"' True,' quoth Sancho : ' but I have heard say there are more friars in heaven than knights-errant.' ' It may be so,' replied Don Quixote, ' because their number is much greater than that of knights-errant.' ' And yet,' quoth Sancho, ' there are abundance of the errant sort.' ' Abundance indeed,' answered Don Quixote, ' but few who deserve the name of knights.' " — CERVANTES : Don Quixote.
IT might have been in Seville, though it was not, that I met my most simpatico example of the Andalusian. He was of old Sierra stock, merry as the sunshine and gracious as the shadows. Huge of build and black as the blackest, he was as gentle as a great Newfoundland dog, until some flying spark of a word set the dark fires blazing in his eyes. This was no infrequent occurrence, for the travelling Englishman, as frank as he is patriotic, cannot comprehend the zest with which well-to-do Spaniards, even in time of war, escape military service by a money payment. Not the height and girth of our young giant, nor his cordial courtesy and winning playfulness, shielded him from the blunt question, " Why didn't you go over to Cuba, a great fellow like you, and fight for your flag ? " His usual rejoinder was the eloquent Southern shrug of the shoulder, twist of the eyebrow, and waving lift of the hand, with the not easily answerable words, " And to what good ? " But now and then the query came from such a source or was delivered with so keen a thrust that his guarded feeling outleaped reserve. The sarcasms and mockeries that then surged from him in a bitter torrent were directed chiefly against Spain, although the American eagle rarely went scot-free. " Ah, yes, it is a fine fowl, that ! He has the far-seeing eye ; he has the philanthropic beak and claw ! " But it was the golden lion of Spain against which his harshest gibes were hurled —" un animal domestico, that does not bite."
No one of the party was a tithe as outspoken as our Spaniard himself in condemning the errors of the Spanish campaign or censuring the methods of the Spanish Government. If he turned angrily toward a criticism from a foreigner, it was only, in the second instant, to catch it up like a ball and toss it himself from one hand to the other — like a ball that burns the fingers.
Such wrath can easily be the seamy side of love, and, in a way, the man's national pride was measured by his national shame ; but always over these outbursts there brooded that something hopelessly resigned, drearily fatalistic, which seems to vitiate the Spanish indignation for any purposes of practical reform. To suggestions of sympathy he responded with a pathetic weariness of manner, this handsome young Hercules, so radiant with the joy of life, who, in his normal mood, sprinkled mirth and mischief from him as a big dog shakes off water drops.
" What can one do ? I am a Spaniard. I say it to my-self a hundred times a day. I am a Spaniard, and I wish my country were worth the fighting for, worth the dying for. But is it ? Is it worth the toothache ? God knows the truth, and let it rest there. Oh, you need not tell me of its past. It was once the most glorious of nations. Spaniards were lords of the West. But— ah, I know, I know—Spain has never learned how to rule her colonies. He who sows brambles reaps thorns. The Church, too, has done much harm in Spain — not more harm than another. I am a Catholic, but as I see it, priests differ from other men only in this —in the cafe sit some bad men and many good, and in the choir kneel some good priests and many bad. The devil lurks behind the cross. But Spain will never give up her Church. It is burned in. You are a heretic, and like my figure, do you not ? It is burned in. There is no hope for Spain but to sink her deep under the earth, and build a new Spain on top. And why do I not work for that new Spain ? How may a man work ? There is talk enough in Spain as it is. Most Spaniards talk and do no more. They go to the cafes and, when they have emptied their cups, they draw figures on the tables and they talk. That is all. The new Spain will never come. What should it be ? Oh, I know better what it should not be. It should have no king. A republic—that is right. Perhaps not a republic precisely like America. It may be," and the melancholy sarcasm of the tone deepened, "there could be found something even better. But Spain will not find it. Spain will find nothing.
" What can one do ? I know Spain too well. Now, hear ! I am acquainted with a caballero. I have been his friend ten years and more. But he has had the luck, not I. For, first, when we were at the university, he had a fortune left to him. He became betrothed to a senorita whom he loved better than his eyelashes. He travelled for his pleasure to Monte Carlo, and played his fortune all away in one week. He came back to Madrid, and went to one of the Ministers, to whom his father had in former days done a great service. My friend said : ' I am to marry. The lady expects to share the fortune which I have lost. My position is not honorable. I must have an opening, a chance to redeem myself, or I shall stand disgraced before her.' The Minister sent him to one of the Cuban custom-houses, and in two years he returned with great wealth. On his wedding journey he spent a night at Monte Carlo and gambled it away to the last peseta. A stranger had to lend him money to get home with his bride. Was he not ashamed and troubled ? Ashamed ? I do not know. But troubled ? Yes, for he wanted to play longer. Every one is as God has made him, and very often worse. Again he went to the Minister, whose heart was softer than a ripe fig and who found him a post in the Philippines. This time he made a fortune much quicker than before, knowing better how to do unjustly, but a few weeks before the war he came home and lost it all again at Monte Carlo. And now he is horribly vexed, for it is an-other Minister, and, besides, there are no colonies to enrich him any more.
" What use to care for Spain ? No, no, no, no, no ! Spain is a good country to leave — that is all. And you do well to travel in Spain. American ladies like change, and Spain is not America. Here you are not only in a different land, but in a different century. You can say, when you come out, that you have been journeying a hundred years ago."
On another occasion one of those pleasant individuals who would, as the Spaniards say, " talk of a rope in the house of
one who had been hanged," saw fit to entertain the dinner-table with anecdotes of Spanish cruelty.
" But Spaniards are not cruel," protested our young blackamoor in his softest voice an hour later, stroking with one great hand the head of a child who nestled against his knee. " What did that English fellow mean ? Why should any one think that Spaniards are cruel ? "
I ran over in mind a few of the frightful stories of Las Casas, that good Dominican friar who would not hold his peace when he saw the braining of Indian babies and roasting of Indian chiefs. I remembered how De Soto tossed his captives to the bloodhounds, and what atrocities were wrought in the tranquil realm of the Incas; I recalled the horrors of the Inquisition, but these things were of the past. So I answered, "Perhaps the bull-fights have done something to give foreigners that impression."
Unlike many educated Spaniards who would rather attend the bull-fights than defend them, he squared his shoulders for an oration.
"The bull-fights? But why? Bull-fights are not cruel — not more cruel than other sports in other countries. I have been told of prize-fights in America. I beg your pardon. I see by your look that you do not like them. And, in truth, I do not altogether like the bull-fights. The horses ! They are blindfolded, and it is short, but I have seen —al, yes ! You would not wish to hear what I have seen. I have been often sorry for the horses. Yet some pain is necessary in everything, is it not ? In nature, perhaps ? In society, perhaps ? Even, if you will pardon the illustration, in the deliverance of the Filipinos from Spanish tyranny ? "
I briefly suggested that there was no element of necessity in bullfights.
The waving hand apologized gently for dissent.
" But, yes ! The bulls are killed for food. That is what foreigners do not seem to understand. It may be ugly, but it is universal. To supply men with meat, to feed great cities with the flesh of beasts — it is not pleasant to think of that too closely. But how to help it ? Do you not have slaughter-houses in America? These also we have in Spain. I have visited one. It seemed to me much worse than the bull-ring. Faugh ! I did not like it. The cattle stood trembling, one behind another, waiting for the blow. I should not like to die like that. I would rather die in the wrath of battle like a toro bravo. Oh, it is not cruel. Do not think it. For these bulls feel no fear. It is fear that degrades. They may feel pain, but I doubt — I doubt. They feel the wildness of anger, and they charge and charge again until the estocada, the death stab. That is not so bad a way to die, is it ? Any man would choose it rather than to stand in terror, bound and helpless, hearing the others fall under the axe and seeing his turn draw near. Yes, yes ! The bull-ring rather than the slaughter-house for me ! "
This was a novel view of the case to the auditor, who ignominiously shifted her ground.
" But what country uses the slaughter-house as a spectacle and a sport ? It is one thing to take life for food, and another to make a holiday of the death struggle."
Again that deprecatory waving of the hands.
" I beg your pardon. I do not know how it is in America. Perhaps " [circumflex accent] " all is merciful and noble there.
But when I was in England I saw something of the chase and of the autumn shooting. I saw a poor little fox hunted to the death. It was not for food. The dogs tore him. I saw wounded birds left in the cover to die. It was too much trouble to gather them all up. And the deer ? Does not the stag suffer more in his flight than the bull in his struggle ? I believe it. To run and run and run, always growing weaker, while the chase comes nearer — that is. an agony. The rage of combat has no terror in it. I would not die like the deer, hunted down by packs of dogs and men — and ladies. I would die like the bull, hearing the cheers of the multitude."
The big fellow bent over the baby that was dropping to sleep against his knee, and slipped the drowsy little body, deftly and tenderly, to a sofa. Such sweetness flooded the soft black eyes, as they were lifted from the child, that it was hard to imagine them sparkling with savage delight over the bloody scenes of the corrida de toros. I asked impulsively how long it was since he had seen a bull-fight. Brows and hands and shoulders were swift to express their appreciation of the bearings of the question, and the voice became very music in courteous acquiescence.
"Ah, it is four years. Of course, I was much younger then. Yes, yes ! It might not please me now. Quien sabe ? And yet — I beg your pardon — I think I shall go next Sunday in Madrid, on my way to Paris. It is so weary in London on the Sundays. It was always colder Sunday, and there was not even a cafe. There was nowhere to go. There was nothing to do. Why is that good ? At the bull-fight one feels the joy of life. Is it more religious to sit dull and dismal by the fire ? I had no use for the churches. Walking is not amusing, unless the sun shines and there is some-thing gay to see. I do not like tea, and I do not care for reading. Spaniards like to laugh and be merry, and when there is nothing to laugh for, life is a heaviness. There is no laughter in a London Sunday. I hope Paris will be better, though I believe there are no bullfights there as yet. You are not pleased with me, but let me tell you why I love the corrida. It is not for the horses, you remember. I have sometimes looked away. But why should I pity the bulls, when they are mad with battle ? They do not pity them-selves. They are glad in their fury, and I am glad in seeing it. But I am more glad in the activity and daring of the men. When they run risks, that is what makes me cheer. It is not that I would have them hurt. I am proud to find men brave. And I am excited and eager to see if they escape. Do you not understand? If you would go yourself—just once—no? Is it always no? Then let me tell you what is the best of all. It is to stand near the entrance and watch the people pass in, all dressed in their holiday clothes, and all with holiday faces. It is good and beautiful to see them — especially the ladies."
The most attractive qualities of our young Spaniard were his mirth and courtesy. His merriment was so spontaneous and so buoyant that his grace of manner, always tempered to time and place and person, became the more apparent. His humor dwelt, nevertheless, in the borderlands of irony, and it was conceivable that the rubs of later life might enrich its pungency at the cost of its kindliness. He was excellent at games (not sports), especially the game of courtliness (not helpfulness). The letter was not posted, the message slipped his memory, the errand was done amiss, but his apologies were poetry. He made a pretty play of the slightest social intercourse. We would open our Baedeker at the map which we had already, in crossing Spain, unfolded some hundred times. He would spring as lightly to his feet as if his mighty bulk were made of feathers, and stand, half bowing, arching his eyebrows in appeal, spreading out his hands in offer of assistance, but not venturing to approach them toward the book until it was definitely tendered him. Then he would receive it with elaborate delicacy of touch, unfold the creased sheet with a score of varied little flourishes, and restore the volume with a whole fresh series of gesticulatory airs and graces. The next instant he would peep up from under his black lashes to detect the alloy of amusement in our gratitude, and drop his face flat upon the table in a boyish bubble of laughter, saying : —
" Ah ! But you think we Spaniards make much of little things. It is true. We are best at what is least useful."
Light-hearted Andalusian though he was, he had full share of the energy and enterprise of young manhood. Like the dons of long ago, he was equipping himself for the great Western adventure. Despite his Spanish wrath against America, she had for him a persistent fascination. All his ambitions were bent on a business career in New York, the El Dorado of his imagination. But it was no longer, at the end of the nineteenth century, a case of leaping aboard a galleon and waving a Toledo blade in air. The commercial career demands, so he fancied, that its knight go forth armed cap-a-pie in the commercial tongues. Thus he had spent four years of his youth and half of his patrimony in London and Berlin, and now, after this hasty visit home, purposed to go to Paris, for a year or two of French. This unsettled life was little to his liking, but beyond gleamed the vision of a Wall Street fortune.
Yet even now, at the outset of his task, a frequent lethargy would steal over his young vigor. It was curious to see, when the March wind blew chill or the French verbs waxed crabbed, how all his bearing lost its beauty. There was a central dignity that did not lapse, but the brightness and effectiveness were gone. His big body drooped and looked lumpish. His comely face was clouded by an animal sluggishness of expression. Foreign grimaces twisted across it, and something very like a grunt issued from beneath his cherished first mustache. His sarcasm became a little savage. He would sit for hours in a brooding fit, and, when an inexorable call to action came, obey it with a look of dreary patience older than his years. It was as if something inherent in his nature, independent of his will, weighed upon him and dragged him down. The Spain at which he gibed and from which he would have cut himself away was yet a millstone about his neck. He was in the heyday of his youth, progressive and determined, but the torpid blood of an aged people clogged his veins. Spain will never lose her hold on him, despite his strongest efforts. His children may be citizens of the great Republic, but he must be a foreigner to the end. He must wander a stranger in strange cities, puzzling his Spanish wits over alien phrases and fashions and ideals, unless, indeed, his spirit loses edge, and he drifts into chill apathy of disappointment on finding that his golden castles in America are wrought of that same old dream-stuff which used to be the monopoly of castles in Spain.
But it is best to leave ill-boding to the gypsies. Good luck may take a liking to him, if only for the music of his laugh. For even if blithe heart and courtly bearing bring no high cash value in the modern business market, they may smooth the road to simple happiness. Moreover, a Spaniard dearly loves a game of chance, and at the worst, our fortune-seeker will have thrown his dice. His may seem to the Yankee onlooker but a losing play, and yet—who knows ? "He who sings frightens away his ills." God's blessing sails in summer clouds as lightly as in costly pleasure yachts. Out of a shaft of sunshine, a cup of chocolate, and a cigarette, this Andalusian immigrant, though stranded in an East Side tenement, may get more luxury than can be purchased by a multi-millionaire.