« AnteriorContinuar »
lantly accoutred with a musket and a sombrero chambergo; he looked amazingly like a smuggler; there was a score of prints of all sizes, most of them torn from old books, and painted over in the same style, probably by the same amateur. On one side hung a chintz curtain, now curtailed of half of its dimensions, by which means the visitors might enjoy a tolerable view of a wretched alcove, whence peeped a miserable bed and a chaos of ragged wearing apparel, old shoes, dirty petticoats, an old hat, &c. &c. The apartment was illumed by the light of two smoky oilstinking candiles, which, together with the fumes of the cigars, created a very foggy, and no ways refreshing atmosphere. On the lame table cited above, there was an apology for conviviality, in the display of a large tureen of bunuelos, a jug, without a handle, of sour wine.
The description of the company is not easily to be accomplished. Such a set of uncouth, ruffian-looking, strange animals is seldom to be seen. There might be about twenty individuals of both sexes-some standing, others squatted on the floor, upon their folded capas. Two of the three chairs were monopolized by the musicians-a blind fiddling beggar, and a shrivelled diminution of a man with a preposterous protuberance, who strummed a tuneless vihuela, with uncommon assiduity; the other chair was occupied by the patriarch of the place, an old, hoary, villanous-looking rake, at whose having attained such a protracted age, without being hanged or shot, one might well wonder. On the lame arınchair sat with great stateliness the sultana of that empire, a diminutive manola, with large dark eyes, a grin in lieu of a smile, and a fierce expression of countenance-her hair was parted Madona-like, and was conspicuous for its jet blackness, and the gloss imparted by the mantequilla, with which it was profusely covered. She displayed great finery in her dress of maja, and was distinguished by the bulk of her mono and the ribands which composed it. But the principal point of attraction lay in the lower extremities - I mean, her foot and ancle; these were perfectly beautiful, and she took especial care not to defraud the spectators of the sight of such beauty. Accordingly not only was her dress calculated to shew off her feet and ankles, but even more than a reasonable share of her leg. The features of the manola were not displeasing, and she might altogether have been accounted pretty, but for her being pitted with the small pox, and the forbidding expression of her piercing looks. The arrival of the strangers had suspended the dance of the revellers, and at their entrance they found all eyes fixed upon them with an expression of suspicious alarm.
"Who bring you there, Pizpierno?" inquired in a gruff tone, the Methuselah of the manolos.
"Peace, tio Machuca," replied Pizpierno, "these are true caballeros, and I answer for their honour and generosity."
"This last word was accompanied by a very significant leer, which efficaciously removed the moroseness of the tio Machuca.
"Caballeros," said the old man, now addressing the strangers; "you are very welcome to this bayle, but you must not be surprised at our precaution."
"No apology, camarada," readily answered Verdeflor. "We know that a great enmity has subsisted time immemorial between the rascally
alguaciles and the honourable gentlemen assembled here. But we are not alguaciles, that you can tell by our looks-besides, I'll give a more convincing proof."
Saying this he threw a couple of dollars on the table, which proved exceedingly persuasive, and completely removed any remaining doubts. By this time a tall, terrible looking-figure issued from the alcove and took his post by the sultana. He was a determined villain as far as the laws of physiognomy may be credited His hair was shaggy, curly, thick but short-a large scar disfigured his narrow forehead, and black bushy whiskers almost covered his face, so that his two little shining eyes seemed buried in hair; his mouth was large, crooked, and ornamented with many small teeth of dazzling whiteness. His appearance somewhat startled Cortante, for he recognized in him the nocturnal rambler, who had so unwillingly bestowed a salutation at the Plaza de Priente. He dissembled however his surprise, and affected not to remember his person. El Zurdo now bestowed a hearty curse on alguaciles, and every member of the law who would interfere with their festivity. In which sincere form of prayer he was fervently joined by the whole community.
"You must know, Senor," cried tio Machuca, "that our comrade El Zurdo is now under the necessity of declining the visits of alguaciles, for he prefers remaining incognito; his arrival has not been yet circulated at Madrid."
""Siga el Bayle," said El Zurdo, very magisterially, at the same time giving his hand to Curra, the fair one of the frown.
"Tio Mogotes, keep your fiddle in time, and you, Seor Raton, endeavour to extract other sounds from that cursed vihuela than those of an old cracked sarten !"
""Sarten! Heaven defend us!" cried the offended Raton. "Do you know the price I gave for this vihuela ?”
"No, I don't," replied El Zurdo; "but I can swear it is not worth a maravedi. I wonder you dare come before honourable caballeros with so detestable an instrument."
""Well, well," returned Raton, with a contented smile; "this vihuela belonged to Juanito, the barber of Ronda, and sure enough he knew what a vihuela was."
"The music now struck up a very lively zapateado, a sort of dance very much in favour amongst this kind of people—the blind beggar fiddled away desperately, making frightful grimaces, and Raton kept up with him very assiduously with his criticized vihuela-the noise was further augmented by one of the manolas present, who rattled her castanets with peculiar ease and effect, accompanying now and then her task with sundry gross allusions and jocuse sayings, highly relished by the company, though we feel some scruples about transferring them to these pages. The dance was very well performed, as far as many preposterous contortions, and some no very decent attitudes and gestures went. Indeed the performers danced away with unual alacrity, greatly animated by the music, the jests of the spectators, and the noise which some of them made as they kept up the time, beating the ground with their feet, and striking one hand on the palm of the other.'-vol. ii. pp. 45—60.
In much the same style we have a view of a Figon, a low eating
house in Madrid, whither Enriquez went to find Zurdo, when he was resolved on sending back the Count to that grave from which he had so unexpectedly and so inconveniently risen. The whole of this scene, the anxiety of the low-born paramour, the coolness and calculating spirit of the assassin in making his bargain, are powerfully delineated. By way, however, of a contrast to the graver matter which we have already given, we shall pass with the author to Aranjuez, and make acquaintance with the "School for Scandal" of that charming place.
The beatas of Aranjuez, despite of the numerous perfections and virtues which distinguished their persons, were yet wanting, as it has already been repeated, in the attractions bestowed by youth and beauty. This was certainly no fault of theirs: the first imperfections arose from a miscalculation in nature, in having made them two or three score years too soon; and with regard to the second, it is almost certain, that had they been consulted at all concerning the form in which they chose to appear in the world, they would certainly have hinted at the desirableness of being endowed with as many charms as fell to the share of Venus, or Helen, or any other celebrated beauty; though, by the by, I am here perhaps committing a gross mistake, for the good beatas, being orthodox Christians, would never have had any such profane thoughts and desires. However, I think I have ably enough advocated the cause of the beatas of Aranjuez, and I sincerely trust that no man or woman either, with a moderate share of sense, and two grains of generosity, will be tempted to mock and ridicule the very ugly grimaces now in the process of exhibiting by the devout dames.
'The congregation had assembled sooner than usual; the chocolatesipping hour had not yet chimed, nor indeed had the good Donna Tecla issued out any particular invitation for the pious coterie to assemble. From this circumstance the shrewd reader may easily suspect that some very momentous affair had occurred to call for this solicitude. Indeed the town of Aranjuez was by no means destitute in events to awaken the excitement of busy people, and without going further for causes to produce such effects, the beatitudinal circle itself was sufficient to bring forth matter for speculation and alarm. Donna Petrona, Donna Feliciana, and the rest of the dames, being kindly exempt in right of their character, from applying themselves to any business of their own, were most conveniently at leisure to attend to the affairs of every body else. They had certainly to count their beads, and mumble sundry orisons to those particular saints whom they patronized; but even allowing for the time spent in those pious exercises, and taking also into consideration that allowed to masses, confession, novenas, and religious gossip with reverend friars, they had still sufficient of the day upon their hands, to watch and regulate the business of their neighbours.
To this task, indeed, they applied themselves with wondrous alacrity and exemplary self-devotedness. It is really a matter of astonishment, how some good folks, especially of the female gender, will feel solicitous for the welfare of their fellow creatures. They evince perhaps more interest in the concerns of their acquaintance than in their own-and this highly commendable feeling cannot certainly be too much extolled. The
beatas of Aranjuez would in this respect vie with any other sister of their calling throughout Spain, and when we venture so rash a statement, we are aware of the enormous responsibility which is attached to it. The Spanish soil is indeed peculiarly favourable to the growth of such valuable plants, and I am sensible of the proper indignation that will be felt by the beatas of various other cities, towns, and villages, when they come to know the preference awarded to the sisterhood of Aranjuez. But every man has his partialities, and I own, that mine are strongly interested for the pious dames of this place. No one perhaps ever exhibited more research and extensive knowledge in learning the whole particulars of a sinner's fall and conversion, than Donna Petrona. No one was ever more ready to offer good counsel to parents, how to educate their children, than Donna Feliciana. These kind creatures, together with the rest of the set, went on daily prying into every secret, and putting their noses into every corner. No father could choose a trade for his son without the interposition of the devout counsellors, and there was no marriage celebrated in the place, in which they had not been excessively busy, either pro or con, though the latter was more often the case.
'Besides this, it was a duty which the dames had gratuitously imposed upon themselves, to watch the conduct of every unmarried woman, from the age of fourteen upwards, and the watch was doubly active, if she happened to be pretty. Then they kindly took upon themselves to sermonize, scold, and pull little children by the ears, besides teaching them prayers, and affording them very luminous ideas concerning the devil, and the terrible tricks the mischievous fiend was continually practising to entrap the unwary and carry them below. On the things passing in the Tartarian regions, they possessed most extensive, and no doubt correct information. They could tell, one by one, all the torments which were inflicted on the poor wretches who chanced to go there; and would have been able, if required, to make a just computation of the quantity of oil, pitch and brimstone daily consumed in the frying, roasting, and various other operations carried on in that great manufactory of torments. Their knowledge in the natural history of the place was also wonderful; they were perfectly acquainted with the innumerable classes of serpents, gorgons, and other monsters employed there, as well as the nature of their functions. They could describe most minutely their loathsome and frightful appearance, quite as correctly as if they had seen them.
With such a stock of learning, it is not to be wondered at if the female sages now and then rather imperiously arrogated to themselves the right of dictating and threatening impenitent people in their own houses. stubborn folks there existed, even at Aranjuez, who sometimes refuse to pay a just deference to the zeal and wisdom of the dames; and indeed their insolence was often carried so far, that they followed quite a different course from the one point out of the volunteer advisers. The beatas could not in conscience endure to see things going wrong. It was then their duty to interpose-they knew better than parents what was good for their children; they also knew what a patient should do in his illness, and to what saint he should address himself in such and such a disease-for the beatas were thoroughly acquainted with the particular holy medicines that presided over each variety of sickness. But the most usual source of con
tention arose from the culpable negligence of farmers and other ignorant people, in their remittances towards defraying the expences of pious works. 'Money affairs have been time out of date the cause of much mischief and misunderstanding in the world, and strange to say, even in the more pious portion of the community. Those worthy personages, whose thoughts are elevated from sublunary things to more unearthly speculations, have now and then felt the disagreeable debates arising therefrom. Donna Petrona would sometimes explain to a sensual man, upon a fortunate windfall, the propriety of putting aside part of this unexpected wealth for souls in purgatory-and if the sensual man happened not to be convinced by the strong arguments of the monitor, much scandal would of necessity follow; his barbarity towards the helpless being would be severely reprobated, and of course a great stir and clamour made against him.
Then Donna Feliciana was very assiduous in another branch of their vocation, that of procuring new suits of clothes for their favourite saints upon their festivals, as well as wax candles to burn for their honour. Now and then sad altercation ensued between the pious agent and those who were rather backward in contributing to the toilet and illumination of the saint. Donna Nicolasa would feel sorely annoyed if such and such a sermon had not been committed to their favourite preacher, or if a luckless man chanced upon his death to leave more masses for the friars of some distant convent than to those of their own town; but it would be a tedious, indeed an interminable task, to describe the various pursuits of the beatas, and the different troubles and disappointments encountered in their fulfilment. Suffice it to say, that the avocations of a beata are of the most multitudinous description, and only to be satisfactorily discharged by beings, who, as we have already stated, added to an uncommon zeal and assiduity, the quality of abstracting their thoughts from their own concerns to manage those of their neighbours.
'In fact they had the surveillance of the place; they were the instructors, monitors, and spiritual sentinels of Aranjuez. They were, besides, the collectors of pious donations, whether in specie, wax, &c., id est, the minor tax-gatherers of convents, churches and chapels; they were, moreover, a sort of select police set to watch over the imperfections and sins of the frail sex, and the castigators of unruly and naughty children; they constituted too a select committee, who could most appropriately discuss things concerning their eternal welfare and the various merits of chocolate. Then they were the volunteer inspectors of their friends' houses, and would gratuitously bestow their notions on every thing contained therein, from the regulating of the inmates' souls to that of their kitchen.—vol. iii. pp. 154-163.
The merits of the Incognito' are thus, it may be perceived, not confined to one uniform style. They are various and striking,— comedy relieves tragedy, and the narrative is pleasantly interrupted, at due intervals, by conversational and descriptive matter. withstanding the imperfections which we have pointed out, and some few apochryphal idioms, which in a foreigner, may well be excused, we have not, during the present season at least, met with a more engaging novel than that which we have just introduced to the reader.