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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Friendly Argument in the Café de la Marina
By Armando Palacio Valdés (1853–1938)
From ‘El Cuarto Poder’: Translation of William Henry Bishop

WHEN Don Melchior and his nephew entered the café, Gabino Maza, on his feet, was gesticulating actively in the midst of a little circle. He could not keep his seat two minutes at a time. His excitable temperament, and the eagerness with which he undertook to convince his audience, brought it about that he would continually spring from his seat and dash into the middle of the floor; and there he would shout and swing his arms about till he had to stop for very want of strength and breath. The subject of discussion was the opera company, which had announced its approaching departure on account of having lost money, in its subscription season of thirty performances. Maza was arguing that the company had met with no such losses, but that on the contrary the whole thing was a pretext and a trick.  1
  “I deny it, I deny it,” he vociferated. “Anybody who says they have lost a farthing is a liar.—How are you, Gonzalo?” to the younger man of the new arrivals: “how’s your health? I heard yesterday you were back. You’re looking first-rate.—He’s a liar,” he resumed, at the same pitch of violence. “I repeat it, and I wager none of them would have the face to come to me with that yarn.”  2
  “According to the figures the baritone showed me, they have lost thirty thousand reals [$1,500] in the thirty performances,” said his friend Don Mateo.  3
  Maza all but ground his teeth; indignation scarcely let him speak.  4
  “And you attach any credit to what that toper says, Don Mateo?” he managed to get out. “Come, see here now,”—with affected scorn,—“by dint of associating with actors, you’ll be forgetting your own occupation soon, like the smith they tell about in the story.”  5
  “Listen, you madcap: I have not said I believed him, have I? All I say is that that is the way it figures out, from what the baritone told me.”  6
  Maza, who had approached quite near, now sprang violently backward again, took up a position anew in the middle of the room, snatched off his hat, and holding it in both hands to gesticulate with, vociferated frantically:—  7
  “Stop there! stop there! don’t go a step further. Do they take us for a lot of simple fledgelings just out of the nest? Now listen to me. Just tell me what they have done with the twenty thousand and odd reals the subscription brought them, and the nearly equal amount they must have taken in at the box-office.”  8
  “Well, for one thing, they have to pay very high salaries.”  9
  “Don’t be a donkey, Álvaro; for the Holy Virgin’s sake, try and not be a donkey. I’ll tell you exactly what salaries they pay. The tenor”—checking off on his fingers—“six dollars a day; the soprano six more,—that makes twelve; the bass, four—sixteen; the contralto, three—nineteen; the baritone, four—”  10
  “The baritone, five,” corrected Peña.  11
  “The baritone, four,” insisted Maza with fury.  12
  “I am certain it is five.”  13
  “The baritone, four,” shouted Maza anew.  14
  Upon this, Álvaro Peña arose in his turn, raising his voice too, and, burning with a noble desire for victory, undertook to convince or shout down his opponent. There began a wild, deafening dispute, which lasted about an hour, in which all or nearly all the members of that illustrious band of the regular frequenters of the café took part. It bore a close resemblance to the famous discussions of the Greeks without the walls of Troy; there were the same sound and fury, the same primitive simplicity in the arguments, the same undisguised and barbaric directness in the statements and the epithets employed. Such choice examples as this, for instance:—  15
  “Could any man be more of an ass?”—“Shut up, shut up, you blockhead!”—“The ox opened his mouth, and what he said was, ‘moo-o.’”—“I tell you, you are not within a mile of the truth; or if you want to hear it plainer, you lie.”—“Great heavens, what a goose-hissing!”—“Any one would think you were a cackling old woman.”  16
  Such altercations were of frequent, almost daily, occurrence in that room of the café. As everybody taking part in them had a direct, entirely primitive way of treating questions, like to or identical with that of the heroes of Homer, the very positions laid down at the beginning of the dispute always continued unchanged to the end. Such or such a man would go through the entire hour reiterating without pause, “No one has any right to interfere in the private life of others;” another would cry, “That might happen in Germany, if you please, but here we are in Spain.” A third was yet more brief, and would vociferate whenever he got the least opening, and whether he got it or not, “Moonshine! moonshine! stuff and nonsense!” Thus he would cry till he dropped half lifeless on a divan.  17
  These arguments gained in intensity what they lost in breadth; the statements were each time repeated with greater and more devastating energy, and more strident voices, so that the day was rare that some of the speakers did not depart from there with his throat in such a state of hoarseness that he could scarcely be heard. It was generally Álvaro Peña and Don Feliciano who were found in that condition,—not because they really talked the most, but because they had the weakest vocal organs. If the Town Council had directed the planting of trees on the Riego Promenade—heated discussion in the café. If a trusted employee of the house of Gonzalez & Sons had decamped with fourteen thousand reals—discussion at the café. If the parish priest refused to give the pilot Velasco a certificate of good moral character—discussion at the café. Álvaro Peña took such a lively part in this one that he burst a small blood-vessel.  18
  No unpleasant feelings were ever left after them, nor was it on record that any of them had ever resulted in a fight or a duel. All seemed to have tacitly agreed to accept, as they bestowed, abusive epithets as above mentioned, and take no offense at them.  19

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