Commit 82eb877c authored by ana's avatar ana
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fragments of English language novels

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The sun had set. After the brief interval of twilight the night fell
calm and dark, and in its gloomy bosom the last sounds of a sleepy
world died gently away. The traveller went forward on his way,
hastening his step as night came on; the path he followed was narrow
and worn by the constant tread of men and beasts, and led gently up a
hill on whose verdant slopes grew picturesque clumps of wild cherry
trees, beeches and oaks.--The reader perceives that we are in the north
of Spain.
Our traveller was a man of middle age, strongly built, tall and
broad-shouldered; his movements were brisk and resolute, his step
firm, his manner somewhat rugged, his eye bold and bright; his pace
was nimble, considering that he was decidedly stout, and he was--the
reader may at once be told, though somewhat prematurely--as good a
soul as you may meet with anywhere. He was dressed, as a man in easy
circumstances should be dressed for a journey in spring weather, with
one of those round shady hats, which, from their ugly shape, have been
nicknamed mushrooms (_hongo_), a pair of field-glasses hanging to a
strap, and a knotted stick which, when he did not use it to support his
steps, served to push aside the brambles when they flung their thorny
branches across so as to catch his dress.
He presently stopped, and gazing round the dim horizon, he seemed vexed
and puzzled. He evidently was not sure of his way and was looking
round for some passing native of the district who might give him such
topographical information as might enable him to reach his destination.
"I cannot be mistaken," he said to himself. "They told me to cross the
river by the stepping-stones--and I did so--then to walk on, straight
on. And there, to my right, I do in fact, see that detestable town
which I should call _Villafangosa_ by reason of the enormous amount of
mud that chokes the streets.--Well then, I can but go 'on, straight
on'--I rather like the phrase, and if I bore arms, I would adopt it
for my motto--in order to find myself at last at the famous mines of
Socartes."
But before he had gone much farther, he added: "I have lost my way,
beyond a doubt I have lost my way.--This, Teodoro Golfin, is the
result of your 'on, straight on.' Bah! these blockheads do not know
the meaning of words; either they meant to laugh at you or else
they did not know the way to the mines of Socartes. A huge mining
establishment must be evident to the senses, with its buildings and
chimneys, its noise of hammers and snorting of furnaces, neighing of
horses and clattering of machinery--and I neither see, nor hear, nor
smell anything. I might be in a desert! How absolutely solitary! If I
believed in witches, I could fancy that Fate intended me this night to
have the honor of making acquaintance with some. Deuce take it! why is
there no one to be seen in these parts? And it will be half an hour
yet before the moon rises. Ah! treacherous Luna, it is you who are to
blame for my misadventure.--If only I could see what sort of place I
am in.--However, what could I expect?" and he shrugged his shoulders
with the air of a vigorous man who scorns danger. "What, Golfin, after
having wandered all round the world are you going to give in now? The
peasants were right after all: 'on, straight on.' The universal law of
locomotion cannot fail me here."
And he bravely set out to test the law, and went on about a kilometre
farther, following the paths which seemed to start from under his feet,
crossing each other and breaking off at a short distance, in a thousand
angles which puzzled and tired him. Stout as his resolution was, at
last he grew weary of his vain efforts. The paths, which had at first
all led upwards, began to slope downwards as they crossed each other,
and at last he came to so steep a slope that he could only hope to get
to the bottom by rolling down it.
"A pretty state of things!" he exclaimed, trying to console himself for
this provoking situation by his sense of the ridiculous. "Where have
you got to now my friend? This is a perfect abyss. Is anything to be
seen at the bottom. No, nothing, absolutely nothing--the hill-side has
disappeared, the earth has been dug away. There is nothing to be seen
but stones and barren soil tinged red with iron. I have reached the
mines, no doubt of that--and yet there is not a living soul to be seen,
no smoky chimneys; no noise, not a train in the distance, not even a
dog barking. What am I to do? Out there the path seems to slope up
again.--Shall I follow that? Shall I leave the beaten track? Shall I go
back again? Oh! this is absurd! Either I am not myself or I will reach
Socartes to-night, and be welcomed by my worthy brother! 'On, straight
on.'"
He took a step, and his foot sank in the soft and crumbling soil.
"What next, ye ruling stars? Am I to be swallowed up alive? If only
that lazy moon would favor us with a little light we might see each
other's faces--and, upon my soul, I can hardly expect to find Paradise
at the bottom of this hole. It seems to be the crater of some extinct
volcano.... Nothing could be easier than a slide down this beautiful
precipice. What have we here?... A stone; capital--a good seat while I
smoke a cigar and wait for the moon to rise."
The philosophical Golfin seated himself as calmly as if it were a
bench by a promenade, and was preparing for his smoke, when he heard a
voice--yes, beyond a doubt, a human voice, at some little distance--a
plaintive air, or to speak more accurately, a melancholy chant of a
single phrase, of which the last cadence was prolonged into a "dying
fall," and which at last sank into the silence of the night, so softly
that the ear could not detect when it ceased.
"Come," said the listener, well pleased, "there are some human beings
about. That was a girl's voice; yes, certainly a girl's, and a lovely
voice too. I like the popular airs of this country-side. Now it has
stopped.... Hark! it will soon begin again.... Yes, I hear it once
more. What a beautiful voice, and what a pathetic air! You might
believe that it rose from the bowels of the earth, and that Señor
Golfin, the most matter-of-fact and least superstitious man in this
world, was going to make acquaintance with sylphs, nymphs, gnomes,
dryads, and all the rabble rout that obey the mysterious spirit of the
place.--But, if I am not mistaken, the voice is going farther away--the
fair singer is departing.... Hi, girl, child, stop--wait a minute!..."
The voice which had for a few minutes so charmed the lost wanderer with
its enchanting strains was dying away in the dark void, and at the
shouts of Golfin it was suddenly silent. Beyond a doubt the mysterious
gnome, who was solacing its underground loneliness by singing its
plaintive loves, had taken fright at this rough interruption by a human
being, and fled to the deepest caverns of the earth, where precious
gems lay hidden, jealous of their own splendor.
"This is a pleasant state of things--" muttered Golfin, thinking that
after all he could do no better than light his cigar.--"There seems no
reason why it should not go on for a hundred years. I can smoke and
wait. It was a clever idea of mine that I could walk up alone to the
mines of Socartes. My luggage will have got there before me--a signal
proof of the advantages of 'on, straight on.'"
A light breeze at this instant sprang up, and Golfin fancied he
heard the sound of footsteps at the bottom of the unknown--or
imaginary--abyss before him; he listened sharply, and in a minute felt
quite certain that some one was walking below. He stood up and shouted:
"Girl, man, or whoever you are, can I get to the mines of Socartes by
this road?"
He had not done speaking when he heard a dog barking wildly, and then a
manly voice saying: "Choto, Choto! come here!"
"Hi there!" cried the traveller. "My good friend--man, boy, demon, or
whatever you are, call back your dog, for I am a man of peace."
"Choto, Choto!..."
Golfin could make out the form of a large, black dog coming towards
him, but after sniffing round him it retired at its master's call;
and at that moment the traveller could distinguish a figure, a man,
standing as immovable as a stone image, at about ten paces below him,
on a slanting pathway which seemed to cut across the steep incline.
This path, and the human form standing there, became quite clear now to
Golfin, who, looking up to the sky, exclaimed:
"Thank God! here is the mad moon at last; now we can see where we are.
I had not the faintest notion that a path existed so close to me, why,
it is quite a road. Tell me, my friend, do you know whether the mines
of Socartes are hereabout?"
"Yes, Señor, these are the mines of Socartes; but we are at some
distance from the works."
The voice which spoke thus was youthful and pleasant, with the
attractive inflection that indicates a polite readiness to be of
service. The doctor was well pleased at detecting this, and still
better pleased at observing the soft light, which was spreading through
the darkness and bringing resurrection to earth and sky, as though
calling them forth from nothingness.
"_Fiat lux!_" he said, going forward down the slope. "I feel as if I
had just emerged into existence from primeval chaos.... Indeed, my good
friend, I am truly grateful to you for the information you have given
me, and for the farther information you no doubt will give me. I left
Villamojada as the sun was setting.--They told me to go on, straight
on...."
"Are you going to the works?" asked the strange youth, without stirring
from the spot or looking up towards the doctor, who was now quite near
him.
"Yes, Señor; but I have certainly lost my way."
"Well, this is not the entrance to the mines. The entrance is by the
steps at Rabagones, from which the road runs and the tram-way that
they are making. If you had gone that way you would have reached the
works in ten minutes. From here it is a long way, and a very bad road.
We are at the outer circle of the mining galleries, and shall have to
go through passages and tunnels, down ladders, through cuttings, up
slopes, and then down the inclined plane; in short, cross the mines
from this side to the other, where the workshops are and the furnaces,
the machines and the smelting-house."
"Well, I seem to have been uncommonly stupid," said Golfin, laughing.
"I will guide you with much pleasure, for I know every inch of the
place."
Golfin, whose feet sank in the loose earth, slipping here and tottering
there, had at last reached the solid ground of the path, and his first
idea was to look closely at the good-natured lad who addressed him.
For a minute or two he was speechless with surprise.
"You!" he said, in a low voice.
"I am blind, it is true, Señor," said the boy. "But I can run without
seeing from one end to the other of the mines of Socartes. This stick I
carry prevents my stumbling, and Choto is always with me, when I have
not got Nela with me, who is my guide. So, follow me, Señor, and allow
me to guide you."
Behind the pine grove the setting sun had left a zone of fire
against which the trunks of the pine trees stood out like bronze
columns. The path was rugged and uneven, giving evidence of the
ravages wrought by the winter rains; at intervals loose stones,
looking like teeth detached from the gum, rendered it still more
impracticable. The melancholy shades of twilight were beginning to
envelop the landscape; little by little the sunset glow faded away
and the moon, round and silvery, mounted in the heavens, where the
evening star was already shining. The dismal croaking of the frogs
fell sharply on the ear; a fresh breeze stirred the dry plants and
the dusty brambles that grew by the roadside; and the trunks of the
pine trees grew momentarily blacker, standing out like inky bars
against the pale green of the horizon.
A man was descending the path slowly, bent, apparently, on
enjoying the poetry and the peace of the scene and the hour. He
carried a stout walking-stick, and as far as one could judge in the
fading light, he was young and not ill-looking.
He paused frequently, casting glances to the right and to the
left as if in search of some familiar landmark. Finally he stood
still and looked around him. At his back was a hill crowned with
chestnut trees; on his left was the pine grove; on his right a small
church with a mean belfry; before him the outlying houses of the
town. He turned, walked back some ten steps, stopped, fronting the
portico of the church, examined its walls, and, satisfied at last
that he had found the right place, raised his hands to his mouth and
forming with them a sort of speaking trumpet, cried, in a clear
youthful voice:
"Echo, let us talk together!"
From the angle formed by the walls, there came back instantly
another voice, deeper and less distinct, strangely grave and
sonorous, which repeated with emphasis, linking the answer to the
question and dwelling upon the final syllable:
"Let us talk togethe-e-e-e-r!"
"Are you happy?"
"Happy-y-y-y!" responded the echo.
"Who am I?"
"I-I-I-I!"
To these interrogations, framed so that the answer should make
sense with them, succeeded phrases uttered without any other object
than that of hearing them reverberated with strange intensity by the
wall. "It is a lovely night."--"The moon is shining."--"The sun has
set."--"Do you hear me, echo?"--"Have you dreams, echo, of glory,
ambition, love?" The traveler, enchanted with his occupation,
continued the conversation, varying the words, combining them into
sentences, and, in the short intervals of silence, he listened to the
faint murmur of the pines stirred by the evening breeze, and to the
melancholy concert of the frogs. The crimson and rose-colored clouds
had become ashen and had begun to invade the broad region of the
firmament over which the unclouded moon shed her silvery light. The
honeysuckles and elder-flowers on the outskirts of the pine grove
embalmed the air with subtle and intoxicating fragrance. And the
interlocutor of the echo, yielding to the poetic influences of the
scene, ceased his questions and exclamations and began to recite, in
a slow, chanting voice, verses of Becquer, paying no heed now to the
voice from the wall, which, in its haste to repeat his words,
returned them to him broken and confused.
Absorbed in his occupation, pleased with the harmonious sounds of
the verse, he did not notice the approach of three men of odd and
grotesque appearance, wearing enormous broad-brimmed felt hats. One
of the men was leading a mule laden with a leathern sack filled,
doubtless, with the juice of the grape; and as they walked slowly,
and the soft clayey soil deadened the noise of their footsteps, they
passed close by the young man, unperceived by him. They exchanged
some whispered words with one another. "Who is he,
man?"--"Segundo."--"The lawyer's son?"--"The same."--"What is he
doing? Is he talking to himself?"--"No, he is talking to the wall of
Santa Margarita."--"Well, we have as good a right to do that as he
has."--"Begin you ----"--"One--two--here goes----"
And from those profane lips fell a shower of vile words and
coarse and vulgar phrases, interrupting the _Oscuras Golondrinas_
which the young man was reciting with a great deal of expression, and
producing, in the peaceful and harmonious nocturnal silence, the
effect of the clatter of brass pans and kettles in a piece of German
music. The most refined expressions were in the following style:
"D---- (here an oath). Hurrah for the wine of the Border! Hurrah for
the red wine that gives courage to man! D----" (the reader's
imagination may supply what followed, it being premised that the
disturbers of the Becquerian dreamer were three lawless muleteers who
were carrying with them an abundant provision of the blood of the
grape).
The nymph who dwelt in the wall opposed no resistance to the
profanation and repeated the round oaths as faithfully as she had
repeated the poet's verses. Hearing the vociferations and bursts of
laughter which the wall sent back to him mockingly, Segundo, the
lawyer's son, aware that the barbarians were turning his sentimental
amusement into ridicule, became enraged. Mortified and ashamed, he
tightened his grasp on his stick, strongly tempted to break it on the
ribs of some one of them; and, muttering between his teeth, "Kaffirs!
brutes! beasts!" and other offensive epithets, he turned to the left,
plunged into the pine grove and walked toward the town, avoiding the
path in order to escape meeting the profane trio.
The town was but a step away. The walls of its nearest houses
shone white in the moonlight, and the stones of some buildings in
course of erection, garden walls, orchards, and vegetable beds,
filled up the space between the town and the pine grove. The path
grew gradually broader, until it reached the highroad, on either side
of which leafy chestnut trees cast broad patches of shade. The town
was already asleep, seemingly, for not a light was to be seen, nor
were any of those noises to be heard which reveal the proximity of
those human beehives called cities. Vilamorta is in reality a very
small beehive, a modest town, the capital of a district. Bathed in
the splendor of the romantic satellite, however, it was not without a
certain air of importance imparted to it by the new buildings, of a
style of architecture peculiar to prison cells, which an
_Americanized_ Galician, recently returned to his native land with a
plentiful supply of cash, was erecting with all possible expedition.
Segundo turned into an out-of-the-way street--if there be any
such in towns like Vilamorta. Only the sidewalks were paved; the
gutter was a gutter in reality; it was full of muddy pools and heaps
of kitchen garbage, thrown there without scruple by the inhabitants.
Segundo avoided two things--stepping into the gutter and walking in
the moonlight. A man passed so close by him as almost to touch him,
enveloped, notwithstanding the heat, in an ample cloak, and holding
open above his head an enormous umbrella, although there was no sign
of rain; doubtless he was some convalescent, some visitor to the
springs, who was breathing the pleasant night air with hygienic
precautions. Segundo, when he saw him, walked closer to the houses,
turning his face aside as if afraid of being recognized. With no less
caution he crossed the Plaza del Consistorio, the pride of Vilamorta,
and then, instead of joining one of the groups who were enjoying the
fresh air, seated on the stone benches round the public fountain, he
slipped into a narrow side street, and crossing a retired little
square shaded by a gigantic poplar turned his steps in the direction
of a small house half hidden in the shadow of the tree. Between the
house and Segundo there stood a lumbering bulk--the body of a
stage-coach, a large box on wheels, its shafts raised in air,
waiting, lance in rest, as it were, to renew the attack. Segundo
skirted the obstacle, and as he turned the corner of the square,
absorbed in his meditations, two immense hogs, monstrously fat,
rushed out of the half-open gate of a neighboring yard, and at a
short trot that made their enormous sides shake like jelly, made
straight for the admirer of Becquer, entangling themselves stupidly
and blindly between his legs. By a special interposition of
Providence the young man did not measure his length upon the ground,
but, his patience now exhausted, he gave each of the swine a couple
of angry kicks, which drew from them sharp and ferocious grunts, as
he ejaculated almost audibly: "What a town is this, good Heavens!
Even the hogs must run against one in the streets. Ah, what a
miserable place! Hell itself could not be worse!"
By the time he had reached the door of the house, he had, to some
extent, regained his composure. The house was small and pretty and
had a cheerful air. There was no railing outside the windows, only
the stone ledges, which were covered with plants in pots and boxes;
through the windows shaded by muslin curtains a light could be seen
burning, and in the silent façade there was something peaceful and
attractive that invited one to enter. Segundo pushed open the door
and almost at the same instant there was heard in the dark hall the
rustling of skirts, a woman's arms were opened and the admirer of
Becquer, throwing himself into them, allowed himself to be led,
dragged, carried bodily, almost, up the stairs, and into the little
parlor where, on a table covered with a white crochet cover, burned a
carefully trimmed lamp. There, on the sofa, the lover and the lady
seated themselves.
Truth before all things. The lady was not far from thirty-six or
thirty-seven, and what is worse, could never have been pretty, or
even passably good-looking. The smallpox had pitted and hardened her
coarse skin, giving it the appearance of the leather bottom of a
sieve. Her small black eyes, hard and bright like two fleas, matched
well her nose, which was thick and ill-shaped, like the noses of the
figures of lay monks stamped on chocolate. True, the mouth was
fresh-colored, the teeth white and sound like those of a dog; but
everything else pertaining to her--dress, manner, accent, the want of
grace of the whole--was calculated rather to put tender thoughts to
flight than to awaken them. With the lamp shining as brightly as it
does, it is preferable to contemplate the lover. The latter is of
medium height, has a graceful, well-proportioned figure, and in the
turn of his head and in his youthful features there is something that
irresistibly attracts and holds the gaze. His forehead, which is high
and straight, is shaded and set off by luxuriant hair, worn somewhat
longer than is allowed by our present severe fashion. His face, thin
and delicately outlined, casts a shadow on the walls which is made up
of acute angles. A mustache, curling with the grace which is peculiar
to a first mustache, and to the wavy locks of a young girl, shades
but does not cover his upper lip. The beard has not yet attained its
full growth; the muscles of the throat have not yet become prominent;
the Adam's apple does not yet force itself on the attention. The
complexion is dark, pale, and of a slightly bilious hue.
Seeing this handsome youth leaning his head on the shoulder of
this woman of mature age and undisguised ugliness, it would have been
natural to take them for mother and son, but anyone coming to this
conclusion, after a single moment's observation, would have shown
scant penetration, for in the manifestations of maternal affection,
however passionate and tender they may be, there is always a
something of dignity and repose which is wanting in those of every
other affection.
Doubtless Segundo felt a longing to see the moon again, for he
rose almost immediately from his seat on the sofa and crossed over to
the window, his companion following him. He threw open the sash, and
they sat down side by side in two low chairs whose seats were on a
level with the flower-pots. A fine carnation regaled the sense with
its intoxicating perfume; the moon lighted up with her silvery rays
the foliage of the poplar that cast broad shadow over the little
square. Segundo opened the conversation this wise:
"Have you made any cigars for me?"
"Here are some," she answered, putting her hand into her pocket
and drawing from it a bundle of cigars. "I was able to make only a
dozen and a half for you. I will complete the two dozen to-night
before I go to bed."
There was a moment's silence, broken by the sharp sound made by
the striking of the match and then, in a voice muffled by the first
puff of smoke, Segundo went on:
"Why, has anything new happened?"
"New? No. The children--putting the house in order--and
then--Minguitos. He made my head ache with his complaining--he
complained the whole blessed evening. He said his bones ached. And
you? Very busy, killing yourself reading, studying, writing, eh? Of
course!"
"No, I have been taking a delightful walk. I went to Peñas-albas
and returned by way of Santa Margarita. I have seldom spent a
pleasanter evening."
"I warrant you were making verses."
"No, my dear. The verses I made I made last night after leaving
you."
"Ah! And you weren't going to repeat them to me. Come, for the
love of the saints, come, recite them for me, you must know them by
heart. Come, darling."
To this vehement entreaty succeeded a passionate kiss, pressed on
the hair and forehead of the poet. The latter raised his eyes, drew
back a little and, holding his cigar between his fingers after
knocking off the ashes with his nail, proceeded to recite.
The offspring of his muse was a poem in imitation of Becquer. His
auditor, who listened to it with religious attention, thought it
superior to anything inspired by the muse of the great Gustave. And
she asked for another and then another, and then a bit of Espronceda
and then a fragment or two of Zorrilla. By this time the cigar had
gone out; the poet threw away the stump and lighted a fresh one. Then
they resumed their conversation.
"Shall we have supper soon?"
"Directly. What do you think I have for you?"
"I haven't the least idea."
"Think of what you like best. What you like best, better than
anything else."
"Bah! You know that so far as I am concerned, provided you don't
give me anything smoked or greasy----"
"A French omelet! You couldn't guess, eh? Let me tell you--I
found the receipt in a book. As I had heard that it was something
good I wanted to try it. I had always made omelets as they make them
here, so stiff, that you might throw one against the wall without
breaking it. But this--I think it will be to your taste. As for me, I
don't like it much, I prefer the old style. I showed Flores how to
make it. What was in the one you ate at the inn at Orense? Chopped
parsley, eh?"
"No, ham. But what difference does it make what was in it?"
"I'll run and take it out of the pantry! I thought--the book says
parsley! Wait, wait."
She overturned her chair in her haste. An instant later the
jingling of her keys and the opening and closing of a couple of doors
were heard in the distance. A husky voice muttered some
unintelligible words in the kitchen. In two minutes she was back
again.
"Tell me, and those verses, are you not going to publish them? Am
I not going to see them in print?"
"Yes," responded the poet, slowly turning his head to one side
and sending a puff of smoke through his lips. "I am going to send
them to Vigo, to Roberto Blanquez, to insert them in the _Amanecer_."
"I am delighted! You will become famous, sweetheart! How many
periodicals have spoken of you?"
Segundo laughed ironically and shrugged his shoulders.
"Not many." And with a somewhat preoccupied air he let his gaze
wander over the plants and far away over the top of the poplar whose
leaves rustled gently in the breeze. The poet pressed his companion's
hand mechanically, and the latter returned the pressure with
passionate ardor.
"Of course. How do you expect them to speak of you when you don't
put your name to your verses?" she said. "They don't know whose they
are. They are wondering, likely----"
"What difference does the name make? They could say the same
things of the pseudonym I have adopted as of Segundo García. The few
people who will trouble themselves to read my verses will call me the
Swan of Vilamorta."
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