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F. Hopkinson Smith - A Veranda In The Alcazaria

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


THIS picturesque little sketch is from Well-worn Roads of Spain, Holland, and Italy. Besides being a painter and a traveler, Hopkinson Smith was successful as a story-writer. Other of his interesting travel books are A White Umbrella in Mexico, and A Day at Laguerre's: among his good novels are Colonel Carter of Cartersville, Oliver Horn, and Kennedy Square.

To really understand and appreciate Spanish life you must live in the streets. Not lounge through them, but sit down somewhere and keep still long enough for the ants to crawl over you, and so contemplate the people at your leisure. If you are a painter you will have every facility given you. The balconies over your head will be full of señoritas fanning lazily and peering at you through the iron gratings; the barber across the way will lay aside his half-moon basin and cross over to your side of the street and chat with you about the bull-fight of yesterday and the fiesta to-morrow, and give you all the scandal of the neighborhood before noon. The sombrerero, whose awnings are hung with great strings of black hats of all shapes and sizes, will leave his shop and watch you by the hour; and the fat, good-natured priest will stand quietly at your elbow and encourage you with such appreciative criticisms as "Muy bien." "Bonita, senor." "Bonisima."

If you keep your eyes about you, you will catch Figaro casting furtive glances at a shaded window above you, and later on a scrap of paper will come fluttering down at your feet, which the quick-witted barber covers with his foot, slyly picks up, and afterwards reads and kisses behind the half-closed curtains of his shop. So much of this sort of thing will go on during the day that you wonder what the night may bring forth.

The Alcazaria in Seville, upon the broad flags of which I spent the greater part of three days, is just such a street. It is a narrow, winding, crooked thoroughfare, shaded by great awnings stretched between the overhanging roofs, and filled with balconies holding great tropical plants, strings of black hats, festoons of gay colored stuffs, sly peeping señoritas, fruit sellers, aguadores, donkeys, beggars, and the thousand and one things that make up Spanish life.

Before I finished my picture I had become quite an old settler, and knew what time the doctor came in, and who was sick over the way, and the name of the boy with the crutch, and the picador who lived in the rear and who strutted about on the flagging in his buckskin leggings, padded with steel springs, on the day of the bull-fight, and the story about the sad-faced girl in the window over the wine shop, whose lover was in prison.

But of course one cannot know a street at one sitting. The Alcazaria, on the morning of the first day, was to me only a Spanish street; on the morning of the second day I began to realize that it contained a window over my shoulder opening on a small veranda half hidden in flowers and palms; and on the morning of the third day I knew just the hour at which its occupant returned from mass, the shape of her head and mantilla, and could recognize her duenna at sight.

This charming Spanish beauty greatly interested me. If I accidentally caught her eye through the leaves and flowers, she would drop her lashes so quickly, and with such a half frightened, timid look, that I immediately looked the other way for full five minutes in lieu of an apology; and I must confess that after studying her movements for three days I should as soon have thought of kissing my hand to the Mother Superior of the convent as to this modest little maiden. I must also confess that no other senorita led me to any such conclusion in any of the other balconies about me.

On the afternoon of the third day I began final preparations for my departure, and as everybody wanted to see the picture, it was displayed in the shop of the barber because he had a good light. Then I sent his small boy for my big umbrella and for a large, unused canvas which I had stored in the wine shop at the corner, and which, with my smaller traps, he agreed to take to my lodgings; and then there was a general hand-shaking and some slight waving of white hands and handkerchiefs from the balconies over the way, in which my timid senorita did not join; and so, lighting my cigarette, I made my adios and strolled down the street to the church.

It was the hour for vespers, and the streets were filling rapidly with penitents on their way to prayers. With no definite object in view except to see the people and watch their movements, and with that sense of relief which comes over one after his day's work is done, I mingled in the throng and passed between the great swinging doors and into the wide incense laden interior, and sat down near the door to watch the service. The dim light sifted in through the stained-glass windows and rested on the clouds of incense swung from the censers. Every now and then I heard the tinkling of the altar-bell, and the deep tones of the organ. Around me were the bowed heads of the penitents, silently telling their beads, and next me the upturned face and streaming eyes of a grief-stricken woman, whispering her sorrow to the Virgin. To the left of where I kneeled was a small chapel, and, dividing me from this, an iron grating of delicate workmanship, behind which were grouped a number of people praying before a picture of the Christ. Suddenly another figure came in, kneeled, and prayed silently. It was my timid senorita, and before I was through wondering how she could come so quickly, a young priest entered and knelt immediately behind her. He was the same I had seen in the Alcazaria glancing at her window as he passed.

Fearing that I should frighten her, as I had often done before, I moved a few steps away; but she was so lovely and Madonna-like with her mantilla shading her eyes and her fan fluttering slowly like a butterfly, — now poising, now balancing, then waving and settling, — that I instinctively sought for my sketch-book to catch an outline of her pose, feeling assured that I should not be discovered. Before I had half finished she arose, slowly passed the priest, half covered him with her mantilla, and quick as thought slipped a white envelope under his prayer-book!

It was done so neatly and quickly and with such self-possession that it was some time before l recovered my equilibrium. Had I made any mistake? Could it possibly be the same demure, modest, shy señorita of the veranda, or was it not some one resembling her? All these Spanish beauties have black eyes, I thought, carry the colors of their favorite matador on their fans, and look alike. Perhaps, after all, I was mistaken.

I determined to find out.

Before she had reached the outer step of the church I had overtaken her, but her mantilla was too closely drawn for me to see her face. The duenna, however, was unmistakable, for she wore great silver hoops in her ears and an enormously high comb, and once seen was not easily forgotten; but to be quite sure, I followed along until she entered the Alcazaria, and so on to the step of her house. If she touched the old Moorish knocker and rapped, it would end it.

She lingered for a few minutes at the iron gate, chatted with her duenna, watched me across the street, kept her eyes upon me with her old saintly look, patted her attendant on the back, gently closed the gate upon the good woman, leaving her on the inside, then bent her own pretty head, pushed back her mantilla, showing her white throat, and flashing upon me from the corner of her eye the most coquettish, daring, and mischievous of glances, touched her finger-tips to her lips, and vanished!

I had made no mistake except in human nature. Surely Murillo must have gone to Italy for his Madonnas. They were not in Seville, if the times have not changed.

I crossed over and had a parting chat with the barber. What about the señorita opposite who had just entered her gate? "Ah, senor! She is most lovely. She is called The Pious; but you need not look that way. She is the betrothed of the olive merchant who lives at San Juan, and who visits her every Sunday. The wedding takes place next month."

Figaro believed it. I could see it in his face. So, perhaps, did the olive merchant.

I did not.

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