Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
In the Home Circle
By Fernán Caballero (Cecilia Böhl de Faber) (1796–1877)
From ‘La Gaviota’

A MONTH after the scenes we have described, Marisalada was more sensible, and did not show the least desire to return to her father’s. Stein was completely re-established; his good-natured character, his modest inclinations, his natural sympathies, attached him every day more to the peaceful habits of the simple and generous persons among whom he dwelt. He felt relieved from his former discouragements, and his mind was invigorated; he was cordially resigned to his present existence, and to the men with whom he associated.  1
  One afternoon, Stein, leaning against an angle of the convent which faced the sea, admired the grand spectacle which the opening of the winter season presented to his view. Above his head floated a triple bed of sombre clouds, forced along by the impetuous wind. Those lower down, black and heavy, seemed like the cupola of an ancient cathedral in ruins, threatening at each instant to sink down. When reduced to water they fell to the ground. There was visible the second bed, less sombre and lighter, defying the wind which chased them, and which separating at intervals sought other clouds, more coquettish and more vaporous, which they hurried into space, as if they feared to soil their white robes by coming in contact with their companions.  2
  “Are you a sponge, Don Frederico, so to like to receive all the water which falls from heaven?” demanded José, the shepherd of Stein. “Let us enter; the roofs are made expressly for such nights as these. My sheep would give much to shelter themselves under some tiles.”  3
  Stein and the shepherd entered, and found the family assembled around the hearth.  4
  At the left of the chimney, Dolores, seated on a low chair, held her infant; who, turning his back to his mother, supported himself on the arm which encircled him like the balustrade of a balcony; he moved about incessantly his little legs and his small bare arms, laughing and uttering joyous cries addressed to his brother Anis. This brother, gravely seated opposite the fire on the edge of an empty earthen pan, remained stiff and motionless, fearing that losing his equilibrium he would be tossed into the said earthen pan—an accident which his mother had predicted.  5
  Maria was sewing at the right side of the chimney; her granddaughters had for seats dry aloe leaves,—excellent seats, light, solid, and sure. Nearly under the drapery of the chimney-piece slept the hairy Palomo and a cat, the grave Morrongo,—tolerated from necessity, but remaining by common consent at a respectful distance from each other.  6
  In the middle of this group there was a little low table, on which burned a lamp of four jets; close to the table the Brother Gabriel was seated, making baskets of the palm-tree; Momo was engaged in repairing the harness of the good “Swallow” (the ass); and Manuel, cutting up tobacco. On the fire was conspicuous a stew-pan full of Malaga potatoes, white wine, honey, cinnamon, and cloves. The humble family waited with impatience till the perfumed stew should be sufficiently cooked.  7
  “Come on! Come on!” cried Maria, when she saw her guest and the shepherd enter. “What are you doing outside in weather like this? ’Tis said a hurricane has come to destroy the world. Don Frederico, here, here! come near the fire. Do you know that the invalid has supped like a princess, and that at present she sleeps like a queen! Her cure progresses well—is it not so, Don Frederico?”  8
  “Her recovery surpasses my hopes.”  9
  “My soups!” added Maria with pride.  10
  “And the ass’s milk,” said Brother Gabriel quietly.  11
  “There is no doubt,” replied Stein; “and she ought to continue to take it.”  12
  “I oppose it not,” said Maria, “because ass’s milk is like the turnip—if it does no good it does no harm.”  13
  “Ah! how pleasant it is here!” said Stein, caressing the children. “If one could only live in the enjoyment of the present, without thought of the future!”  14
  “Yes, yes, Don Frederico,” joyfully cried Manuel, “‘Media vida es la candela; pan y vino, la otra media.’” (Half of life is the candle; bread and wine are the other half.)  15
  “And what necessity have you to dream of the future?” asked Maria. “Will the morrow make us the more love to-day? Let us occupy ourselves with to-day, so as not to render painful the day to come.”  16
  “Man is a traveler,” replied Stein; “he must follow his route.”  17
  “Certainly,” replied Maria, “man is a traveler; but if he arrives in a quarter where he finds himself well off, he would say, ‘We are well here; put up our tents.’”  18
  “If you wish us to lose our evening by talking of traveling,” said Dolores, “we will believe that we have offended you, or that you are not pleased here.”  19
  “Who speaks of traveling in the middle of December?” demanded Manuel. “Goodness of heaven! Do you not see what disasters there are every day on the sea?—hear the singing of the wind! Will you embark in this weather, as you were embarked in the war of Navarre? for as then, you would come out mortified and ruined.”  20
  “Besides,” added Maria, “the invalid is not yet entirely cured.”  21
  “Ah! there,” said Dolores, besieged by the children, “if you will not call off these creatures, the potatoes will not be cooked until the Last Judgment.”  22
  The grandmother rolled the spinning-wheel to the corner, and called the little infants to her.  23
  “We will not go,” they replied with one voice, “if you will not tell us a story.”  24
  “Come, I will tell you one,” said the good old woman. The children approached. Anis took up his position on the empty earthen pot, and the grandma commenced a story to amuse the little children.  25
  She had hardly finished the relation of this story when a great noise was heard. The dog rose up, pointed his ears, and put himself on the defensive. The cat bristled her hair and prepared to fly. But the succeeding laugh very soon was frightful: it was Anis, who fell asleep during the recital of his grandmother. It happened that the prophecy of his mother was fulfilled as to his falling into the earthen pan, where all his little person disappeared except his legs, which stuck out like plants of a new species. His mother, rendered impatient, seized with one hand the collar of his vest, raised him out of this depth, and despite his resistance held him suspended in the air for some time—in the style represented in those card dancing-jacks, which move arms and legs when you pull the thread which holds them.  26
  As his mother scolded him, and everybody laughed at him, Anis, who had a brave spirit,—a thing natural in an infant,—burst out into a groan which had nothing of timidity in it.  27
  “Don’t weep, Anis,” said Paca, “and I will give you two chestnuts that I have in my pocket.”  28
  “True?” demanded Anis.  29
  Paca took out the two chestnuts, and gave them to him. Instead of tears, they saw promptly shine with joy the two rows of white teeth of the young boy.  30
  “Brother Gabriel,” said Maria, “did you not speak to me of a pain in your eyes? Why do you work this evening?”  31
  “I said truly,” answered brother Gabriel; “but Don Frederico gave me a remedy which cured me.”  32
  “Don Frederico must know many remedies, but he does not know that one which never misses its effect,” said the shepherd.  33
  “If you know it, have the kindness to tell me,” replied Stein.  34
  “I am unable to tell you,” replied the shepherd. “I know that it exists, and that is all.”  35
  “Who knows it then?” demanded Stein.  36
  “The swallows,” said José.  37
  “The swallows?”  38
  “Yes, sir. It is an herb which is called ‘pito-real,’ which nobody sees or knows except the swallows: when their little ones lose their sight the parents rub their eyes with the pito-real, and cure them. This herb has also the virtue to cut iron—everything it touches.”  39
  “What absurdities this José swallows without chewing, like a real shark!” interrupted Manuel, laughing. “Don Frederico, do you comprehend what he said and believes as an article of faith? He believes and says that snakes never die.”  40
  “No, they never die,” replied the shepherd. “When they see death coming they escape from their skin, and run away. With age they become serpents; little by little they are covered with scales and wings: they become dragons, and return to the desert. But you, Manuel, you do not wish to believe anything. Do you deny also that the lizard is the enemy of the woman, and the friend of man? If you do not believe it, ask then of Miguel.”  41
  “He knows it?”  42
  “Without doubt, by experience.”  43
  “Whence did he learn it?” demanded Stein.  44
  “He was sleeping in the field,” replied José. “A snake glided near him. A lizard, which was in the furrow, saw it coming, and presented himself to defend Miguel. The lizard, which was of large form, fought with the snake. But Miguel not awaking, the lizard pressed his tail against the nose of the sleeper, and ran off as if his paws were on fire. The lizard is a good little beast, who has good desires; he never sleeps in the sun without descending the wall to kiss the earth.”  45
  When the conversation commenced on the subject of swallows, Paca said to Anis, who was seated among his sisters, with his legs crossed like a Grand Turk in miniature, “Anis, do you know what the swallows say?”  46
  “I? No. They have never spoken to me.”  47
  “Attend then: they say—” the little girl imitated the chirping of swallows, and began to sing with volubility:—
        “To eat and to drink!
      And to loan when you may;
      But ’tis madness to think
      This loan to repay.
Flee, flee, pretty swallow, the season demands,
Fly swift on the wing, and reach other lands.”
  “Is it for that they are sold?”  49
  “For that,” affirmed his sister.  50
  During this time Dolores, carrying her infant in one hand, with the other spread the table, served the potatoes, and distributed to each one his part. The children ate from her plate, and Stein remarked that she did not even touch the dish she had prepared with so much care.  51
  “You do not eat, Dolores?” he said to her.  52
  “Do you not know the saying,” she replied laughing, “‘He who has children at his side will never die of indigestion,’ Don Frederico? What they eat nourishes me.”  53
  Momo, who found himself beside this group, drew away his plate, so that his brothers would not have the temptation to ask him for its contents. His father, who remarked it, said to him:—  54
  “Don’t be avaricious; it is a shameful vice: be not avaricious; avarice is an abject vice. Know that one day an avaricious man fell into the river. A peasant who saw it, ran to pull him out; he stretched out his arm, and cried to him, ‘Give me your hand!’ What had he to give? A miser—give! Before giving him anything he allowed himself to be swept down by the current. By chance he floated near to a fisherman: ‘Take my hand!’ he said to him. As it was a question of taking, our man was willing, and he escaped danger.”  55
  “It is not such wit you should relate to your son, Manuel,” said Maria. “You ought to set before him, for example, the bad rich man, who would give to the unfortunate neither a morsel of bread nor a glass of water. ‘God grant,’ answered the beggar to him, ‘that all that you touch changes to this silver which you so hold to.’ The wish of the beggar was realized. All that the miser had in his house was changed into metals as hard as his heart. Tormented by hunger and thirst, he went into the country, and having perceived a fountain of pure water, clear as crystal, he approached with longing to taste it; but the moment his lips touched it the water was turned to silver. He would take an orange and the orange was changed to gold. He thus died in a frenzy of rage and fury, cursing what he had desired.”  56
  Manuel, the strongest minded man in the assembly, bowed down his head.  57
  “Manuel,” his mother said to him, “you imagine that we ought not to believe but what is a fundamental article, and that credulity is common only to the imbecile. You are mistaken: men of good sense are credulous.”  58
  “But, my mother, between belief and doubt there is a medium.”  59
  “And why,” replied the good old woman, “laugh at faith, which is the first of all virtues? How will it appear to you if I say to you, ‘I have given birth to you, I have educated you, I have guided your earliest steps—I have fulfilled my obligations!’ Is the love of a mother nothing but an obligation? What say you?”  60
  “I would reply that you are not a good mother.”  61
  “Well, my son, apply that to what we were speaking of: he who does not believe except from obligation, and only for that, cannot cease to believe without being a renegade, a bad Christian; as I would be a bad mother if I loved you only from obligation.”  62
  “Brother Gabriel,” interrupted Dolores, “why will you not taste my potatoes?”  63
  “It is a fast-day,” replied Brother Gabriel.  64
  “Nonsense! There is no longer convent, nor rules, nor fasts,” cavalierly said Manuel, to induce the poor old man to participate in the general repast. “Besides, you have accomplished sixty years: put away these scruples, and you will not be damned for having eaten our potatoes.”  65
  “Pardon me,” replied Brother Gabriel, “but I ought to fast as formerly, inasmuch as the Father Prior has not given me a dispensation.”  66
  “Well done, Brother Gabriel!” added Maria; “Manuel shall not be the demon tempter with his rebellious spirit, to incite you to gormandize.”  67
  Upon this, the good old woman rose up and locked up in a closet the plate which Dolores had served to the monk.  68
  “I will keep it here for you until to-morrow morning, Brother Gabriel.”  69
  Supper finished, the men, whose habit was always to keep their hats on in the house, uncovered, and Maria said grace.  70

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