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PEDRO ANTONIO DE ALARCÓN.
A distinguished Spanish novelist, poet, and politician; born in Guadix, March 10, 1833; died at Valdemoro, near Madrid, July 19, 1891. His critical contributions to papers, political and literary, his description of the Moroccan campaign, but especially his novels and short stories, are among the best of their kind, and present a picture of modern Spanish society as true to life as it is variegated. His clever essay "The Poet's Christmas" went through over one hundred editions. An imposing number of his stories appeared under the collective titles "Love and Friendship," "National Tales," "Improbable Stories." Among them "The Three-Cornered Hat " and "The Scandal" deserve special mention.
A WOMAN VIEWED FROM WITHOUT.
(From "The Three-Cornered Hat.")
THE last and perhaps the most powerful reason which the quality of the city clergy as well as laymen, beginning with the bishop and the corregidor had for visiting the mill so often in the afternoon, was to admire there at leisure one of the most beautiful, graceful, and admirable works that ever left the hands of the Creator: called Seña [Mrs.] Frasquita. Let us begin by assuring you that Seña Frasquita was the lawful spouse of Uncle Luke, and an honest woman; of which fact all the illustrious visitors of the mill were well aware. Indeed, none of them ever seemed to gaze on her with sinful eyes or doubtful purpose. They all admired her, indeed, and sometimes paid her compliments, the friars as well as the cavaliers, the prebendaries as well as the magistrate, as a prodigy of beauty, an honor to her Creator, and as a coquettish and mischievous sprite, who innocently enlivened the most melancholy of spirits. "She is a handsome creature," the most virtuous prelate used to say. "She looks like an ancient Greek statue," remarked a learned advocate, who was an Academician and corresponding member on history. "She is the very image of Eve," broke forth the
prior of the Franciscans. "She is a fine woman," exclaimed the colonel of militia. "She is a serpent, a witch, a siren, an imp,' added the corregidor. "But she is a good woman, an angel, a lovely creature, and as innocent as a child four years old," all agreed in saying on leaving the mill, crammed with grapes or nuts, on their way to their dull and methodical homes.
This four-year-old child, that is to say, Frasquita, was nearly thirty years old, and almost six feet high, strongly built in proportion, and even a little stouter than exactly corresponded to her majestic figure. She looked like a gigantic Niobe, though she never had any children; she seemed like a female Hercules, or like a Roman matron, the sort of whom there are still copies to be seen in the Tioni Trastevere. But the most striking feature was her mobility, her agility, her animation, and the grace of her rather large person.
For resemblance to a statue, to which the Academician compared her, she lacked statuesque repose. She bent her body like a reed, or spun around like a weather-vane, or danced like a top. Her features possessed even greater mobility, and in consequence were even less statuesque. They were lighted up beautifully by five dimples two on one cheek, one on the other, another very small one near the left side of her roguish lips, and the last and a very big one in the cleft of her rounded chin. Add to these charms her sly or roguish glances, her pretty pouts, and the various attitudes of her head, with which she emphasized her talk, and you will have some idea of that face full of vivacity and beauty, and always radiant with health and happiness.
Neither Uncle Luke nor Seña Frasquita was Andalusian by birth she came from Navarre, and he from Murcia. He went to the city of when he was but fifteen years old, as half page half servant of the bishop, the predecessor of the present incumbent of that diocese. He was brought up for the Church by his patron, who, perhaps on that account, so that he might not lack competent maintenance, bequeathed him the mill in his will. But Uncle Luke, who had received only the lesser orders when the bishop died, cast off his ecclesiastical garb at once and enlisted as a soldier; for he felt more anxious to see the world and to lead a life of adventure than to say mass or grind corn. He went through the campaign of the Western Provinces in 1793, as the orderly of the brave General Ventura Caro; he was present at the siege of the Castle of Piñon, and remained a long time in the Northern Provinces, when he finally quitted the serv
ice. In Estella he became acquainted with Seña Frasquita, who was then simply called Frasquita; made love to her, married her, and carried her to Andalusia to take possession of the mill, where they were to live so peaceful and happy during the rest of their pilgrimage through this vale of tears.
When Frasquita was taken from Navarre to that lonely place she had not yet acquired any Andalusian ways, and was very different from the country women in that vicinity. She dressed with greater simplicity, greater freedom, grace, and elegance than they did. She bathed herself oftener; and allowed the sun and air to caress her bare arms and uncovered neck. To a certain extent she wore the style of dress worn by the gentlewomen. of that period; like that of the women in Goya's pictures, and somewhat of the fashion worn by Queen Maria Louise: if not exactly so scant, yet so short that it showed her small feet, and the commencement of her superb limbs; her bodice was low, and round in the neck, according to the style in Madrid, where she spent two months with her Luke on their way from Navarre to Andalusia. She dressed her hair high on the top of her head, displaying thus both the graceful curve of her snowy neck and the shape of her pretty head. She wore earrings in her small ears, and the taper fingers of her rough but clean hands were covered with rings. Lastly, Frasquita's voice was as sweet as a flute, and her laugh was so merry and so silvery it seemed like the ringing of bells on Saturday of Glory or Easter Eve.
HOW THE ORPHAN MANUEL GAINED HIS SOBRIQUET.
(From "The Child of the Ball.")
The unfortunate boy seemed to have turned to ice from the cruel and unexpected blows of fate; he contracted a death-like pallor, which he never again lost. No one paid any attention to the unhappy child in the first moments of his anguish, or noticed that he neither groaned, sighed, nor wept. When at last they went to him they found him convulsed and rigid, like a petrifaction of grief; although he walked about, heard and saw, and covered his wounded and dying father with kisses. But he shed. not a single tear, either during the death agony of that beloved being, when he kissed the cold face after it was dead, or when he saw them carry the body away forever; nor when he left the house in which he had been born, and found himself sheltered
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by charity in the house of a stranger. Some praised his courage, others criticised his callousness. Mothers pitied him profoundly, instinctively divining the cruel tragedy that was being enacted in the orphan's heart for want of some tender and compassionate being to make him weep by weeping with him.
Nor did Manuel utter a single word from the moment he saw his beloved father brought in dying. He made no answer to the affectionate questions asked him by Don Trinidad after the latter had taken him home; and the sound of his voice was never heard during the first three years which he spent in the holy company of the priest. Everybody thought by this time that he would remain dumb forever, when one day, in the church of which his protector was the priest, the sacristan observed him standing before a beautiful image of the "Child of the Ball," and heard him saying in melancholy accents:
"Child Jesus, why do you not speak either?”
Manuel was saved. The drowning boy had raised his head above the engulfing waters of his grief. His life was no longer in danger. So at least it was believed in the parish.
Toward strangers - from whom, whenever they came in contact with him, he always received demonstrations of pity and kindness the orphan continued to maintain the same glacial reserve as before, rebuffing them with the phrase, stereotyped on his disdainful lips, "Let me alone, now;" having said which, in tones of moving entreaty, he would go on his way, not without awakening superstitious feelings in the minds of the persons whom he thus shunned.
Still less did he lay aside, at this saving crisis, the profound sadness and precocious austerity of his character, or the obstinate persistence with which he clung to certain habits. These were limited, thus far, to accompanying the priest to the church; gathering flowers or aromatic herbs to adorn the image of the "Child of the Ball," before which he would spend hour after hour, plunged in a species of ecstasy; and climbing the neighboring mountain in search of those herbs and flowers, when, owing to the severity of the heat or cold, they were not to be found in the fields.
This adoration, while in consonance with the religious principles instilled into him from the cradle by his father, greatly exceeded what is usual even in the most devout. It was a fraternal and submissive love, like that which he had entertained for his father; it was a confused mixture of familiarity, protec
tion, and idolatry, very similar to the feeling which the mothers of men of genius entertain for their illustrious sons; it was the respectful and protecting tenderness which the strong warrior bestows on the youthful prince; it was an identification of himself with the image; it was pride; it was elation as for a personal good. It seemed as if this image symbolized for him his tragic fate, his noble origin, his early orphanhood, his poverty, his cares, the injustice of men, his solitary state in the world, and perhaps too some presentiment of his future sufferings.
Probably nothing of all this was clear at the time to the mind. of the hapless boy, but something resembling it must have been the tumult of confused thoughts that palpitated in the depths of that childlike, unwavering, absolute, and exclusive devotion. For him there was neither God nor the Virgin, neither saints nor angels; there was only the "Child of the Ball," not with relation to any profound mystery, but in himself, in his present form, with his artistic figure, his dress of gold tissue, his crown of false stones, his blonde head, his charming countenance, and the blue-painted globe which he held in his hand, and which was surmounted by a little silver-gilt cross, in sign of the redemption of the world.
And this was the cause and reason why the acolytes of Santa María de la Cabéza first, all the boys of the town afterward, and finally the more respectable and sedate persons, bestowed on Manuel the extraordinary name of "The Child of the Ball": we know not whether by way of applause of such vehement idolatry, and to commit him, as it were, to the protection of the ChristChild himself; or as a sarcastic antiphrasis, seeing that this appellation is sometimes used in the place as a term of comparison for the happiness of the very fortunate; or as a prophecy of the valor for which the son of Venegas was to be one day celebrated, and the terror he was to inspire, since the most hyperbolical expression that can be employed in that district, to extol the bravery and power of any one, is to say that "he does not fear even the Child of the Ball.'"