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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Above-Stairs in a Royal Palace
By Benito Pérez Galdós (1843–1920)
 
From ‘La de Bringas’: Translation of William Henry Bishop

WELL, this is about the way it was. We threw ourselves bravely into the interminable corridor, a veritable street, or alley at least, paved with red tiles, feebly lighted with gas jets, and full of doublings and twistings. Now and then it spread out into broad openings like little plazas, inundated with sunlight which entered through large openings from the main court-yard. This illumination penetrated lengthwise along the white walls of the narrow passageways, alleys, or tunnels, or whatever they may be called, growing ever feebler and more uncertain as it went, till finally it fainted away entirely at sight of the fan-shaped yellow gas flames, smoking little circlets upon their protecting metal disks. There were uncounted paneled doors with numbers on them, some newly painted and others moldering and weather-stained, but not one displaying the figure we were seeking. At this one you would see a rich silken bell cord, some happy find in the royal upholstery shop, while the next had nothing more than a poor frayed rope’s-end; and these were an indication of what was likely to be found within, as to order and neatness or disarray and squalor. So, too, the mats or bits of carpet laid before the doors threw a useful light upon the character of the lodgings. We came upon vacant apartments with cobwebs spun across the openings, and the door gratings thick with dust, and through broken transoms, drew chill drafts that conveyed the breath of silence and desolation. Even whole precincts were abandoned, and the vaultings, of unequal height, returned the sound of our footsteps hollowly to our ears. We passed up one stairway, then down another, and then, as likely as not, we would ascend again…. The labyrinthine maze led us on and ever onward….  1
  “It is useless to come here,” at length said Pez, decidedly losing patience, “without charts and a mariner’s compass. I suppose we are now in the south wing of the palace. The roofs down there must be those of the Hall of Columns and the outer stairway, are they not? What a huge mass of a place!” The roofs of which he spoke were great pyramidal shapes protected with lead, and they covered in the ceilings on which Bayeu’s frescoed cherubs cut their lively pigeon-wings and pirouettes.  2
  Still going on and on and onward without pause, we found ourselves shut up in a place without exit, a considerable inclosure lighted from the top, and we had to turn round and beat a retreat by the way we had entered. Any one who knows the palace and its symmetrical grandeur only from without could never divine all these irregularities that constitute a veritable small town in its upper regions. In truth, for an entire century there has been but one continual modifying of the original plan, a stopping up here and an opening there, a condemning of staircases, a widening of some rooms at the expense of others, a changing of corridors into living-rooms and of living-rooms into corridors, and a cutting through of partitions and a shutting up of windows. You fall in with stairways that begin but never arrive anywhere, and with balconies that are but the made-over roof coverings of dwelling-places below. These dove-cotes were once stately drawing-rooms, and on the other hand, these fine salons have been made out of the inclosing space of a grand staircase. Then again winding stairs are frequent; but if you should take them, Heaven knows what would become of you; and frequent, too, are glazed doors permanently closed, with naught behind them but silence, dust, and darkness….  3
  “We are looking for the apartment of Don Francisco Bringas.”  4
  “Bringas? yes, yes,” said an old woman; “you’re close to it. All you have got to do is, go down the first circular stairway you come to, and then make a half-turn. Bringas? yes to be sure; he’s sacristan of the chapel.”  5
  “Sacristan,—he? What is the matter with you? He is head clerk of the Administrative Department.”  6
  “Oh, then he must be lower down, just off the terrace. I suppose you know your way to the fountain?”  7
  “No, not we.”  8
  “You know the stairs called the Cáceres Staircase?”  9
  “No, not that either.”  10
  “At any rate, you know where the Oratory is?”  11
  “We know nothing about it.”  12
  “But the choir of the Oratory? but the dove-cotes?”—  13
  Sum total, we had not the slightest acquaintance with any of that congeries of winding turns, sudden tricks, and baffling surprises. The architectural arrangement was a mad caprice, a mocking jest at all plan and symmetry. Nevertheless, despite our notable lack of experience we stuck to our quest, and even carried our infatuation so far as to reject the services of a boy who offered himself as our guide.  14
  “We are now in the wing facing on the Plaza de Oriente,” said Pez; “that is to say, at exactly the opposite extreme from the wing in which our friend resides.” His geographical notions were delivered with the gravity and conviction of some character in Jules Verne. “Hence, the problem now demanding our attention is by what route to get from here to the western wing. In the first place, the cupola of the chapel and the grand stairway roof-covering furnish us with a certain basis; we should take our bearings from them. I assume that, having once arrived in the western wing, we shall be numskulls indeed if we do not strike Bringas’s abode. All the same, I for one will never return to these outlandish regions without a pocket compass, and what is more, without a good supply of provender too, against such emergencies as this.”  15
  Before striking out on the new stage of our explorations, as thus projected, we paused to look down from the window. The Plaza de Oriente lay below us in a beautiful panorama, and beyond it a portion of Madrid crested with at least fifty cupolas, steeples, and bell towers. The equestrian Philip IV. appeared a mere toy, and the Royal Theatre a paltry shed…. The doves had their nests far below where we stood, and we saw them, by pairs or larger groups, plunge headlong downward into the dizzy abyss, and then presently come whirling upward again, with swift and graceful motion, and settle on the carved capitals and moldings. It is credibly stated that all the political revolutions do not matter a jot to these doves, and there is nothing either in the ancient pile they inhabit or in the free realms of air around it, to limit their sway. They remain undisputed masters of the place.  16
  Away we go once more. Pez begins to put the geographical notions he has acquired from the books of Jules Verne yet further into practice. At every step he stops to say to me, “Now we are making our way northward.—We shall undoubtedly soon find a road or trail on our right, leading to the west.—There is no cause to be alarmed in descending this winding stairway to the second story.—Good, it is done! Well, bless me! where are we now? I don’t see the main dome any longer, not so much as a lightning-rod of it.—We are in the realms of the feebly flickering gas once more.—Suppose we ascend again by this other stairway luckily just at hand. What now? Well, here we are back again in the eastward wing and nothing else, just where we were before. Are we? no, yes; see, down there in the court the big dome is still on our right. There’s a regular grove of chimney stacks. You may believe it or not, but this sort of thing begins to make my head swim; it seems as if the whole place gave a lurch now and then, like a ship at sea.—The fountain must be over that way, do you see? for the maids are coming and going from there with their pitchers.—Oh well, I for one give the whole thing up. We want a guide, and an expert, or we’ll never get out of this. I can’t take another step; we’ve walked miles and I can’t stand on my legs.—Hey, there, halloo! send us a guide!—Oh for a guide! Get me out of this infernal tangle quickly!”…  17
  We came at last to Bringas’s apartment. When we got there, we understood how we must have passed it, earlier, without knowing it, for its number was quite rubbed out and invisible.  18
 
 
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