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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
How the Orphan Manuel Gained his Sobriquet
By Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (1833–1891)
 
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 by charity in the house of a stranger. Some praised his courage, others criticized 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.  1
  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:—  2
  “Child Jesus, why do you not speak either?”  3
  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….  4
  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.  5
  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.  6
  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, protection, 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.  7
  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.  8
  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 Christ-Child 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 “she does not fear even the ‘Child of the Ball.’”  9
 
 
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