Something with which Napoleon did not reckon
Par Aileen Hennes.
Pièce de théatre historique qui juxtapose deux guerres : la guerre civile d’Espagne et l’invasion de l’Espagne par Napoleon.
Illustrations par Ole Bendik Madsö
Act I : In which the narrator meets a ghost
During a period just after my return from exile, I didn’t sleep very well. I’d wake up in the cold grey light that comes before dawn and if I let myself drift off to sleep again, I’d suffer ghastly nightmares. Usually I’d get up and go for a walk. Nothing pleased my dog Randolph better than that. It was how we’d met; he out scavenging and I running away from my wretchedness. Life had in different ways made us both into cautious creatures, which is to say that our paths had to cross many times before we decided to pair up.
But that is ‘history’ now – as the young ones say.
They are right, of course, we are – all of us – making and becoming history every day. Even the curs in the street. History shapes itself around us like shadows.
Then there are those for whom personal history making comes to an abrupt end. Those who cast off their final long shadow at dawn in front of a firing squad. At one time, when a certain general and his history makers decided it was time to write another chapter for the war books, that looked almost certain to become my destiny. But fate would have it otherwise and I made it into exile.
Going there was easy, coming back was not. At least it was not how I had imagined it to be. Although the scenery on the familiar stage was more or less the same, the play that was being enacted there seemed to have no part left for me. I was history. Long forgotten history.
When I wandered listlessly around the town in the wan light of early dawn I felt more often than not like a ghost. No wonder then that other ghosts should get in touch with me!
It happened one morning when Randolph and I were strolling along on the ramparts of the old fortress… I had an eerie and persistent feeling of things going on around us, of us not being alone. The town was as shuttered and as fast asleep as on any other morning, but although I could see no one, I was hearing the sound of marching feet and men singing in unison.
Far below glittered the river, and on the ramparts were only the lizards out to absorb the first sun. The singing was getting louder and more distinct. Then all of a sudden it stopped and I heard a faint voice – that of an old woman – whisper in my ear: « Look across the landscape: endless as the sea; and as inhospitable. Few things will grow here but olive trees – our lifeblood – heavy with fruit even in the driest of years. Do you see them in the distance? »
From where I was standing between the battlements, the olive trees looked like rows of beads sewn on to the landscape by a neat hand. The old woman’s voice, now closer, but still a bit hoarse, continued:
“My remains are buried beneath one of those trees. But don’t let that frighten you. I have slept well in my grave and as things were in those days, I was fortunate to be buried at all…”
After a pause she went on:
“I am Yerba Buena. I want for nothing other than to pass a moment of my infinite time in your company. At first I thought you were someone I once knew and indeed there is something familiar about you although I can’t quite make out what it is. But one thing is for sure: that dog of yours has walked these streets before. The boy he travelled with then called him ‘Tadeo’.”
Here I interrupted the invisible spectre: « What about the singing soldiers? Had they anything to do with her? » I asked.
The reply took some time in reaching me. The ghost and I were slightly out of synch, like news broadcasters on telly when they interview someone in another country.
« The soldiers…? » she asked eventually. « If there are soldiers around, you must have called their spirits forth yourself; in which case it was probably Napoleon’s troops you heard. They were occupying this city at the time when I met those two wanderers. What dark days they were… The Franciscan sisters collected bodies at dawn and buried scores of dead every day. Just ordinary people who had been shot, either for breaking the curfew, or simply executed on the spot for some other misdemeanour.
If I remember rightly it would have been in the year of 1808… »
Act II : The ghost talks about the time she gave a four petaled clover for luck to a beggar who needed it badly
“I’ve known people who’ve hanged themselves that’s not been through half the hardships I’ve met with. What’s wrong with the miserable sods! Why won’t they listen to the birdsong! Smell the herbs on the roadside! Watch the tumble of the butterflies! Life is bloody beautiful, eh, my little swine! »
Yerba Buena, accompanied by her pig, is muttering as she meanders her way up the hill, stooped beneath a pile of faggots.
« Buen dia, senora. Would you like me to carry the wood to market for you? » – asks Lazarillo, while Tadeo sniffs at the pouches hanging from her belt.
« Shoo, mutt”, she swears at the dog and to Lazarillo she says: “Hijo, it’s a poor, old woman you have here; like an ill-used nag she’ll keep going until she drops. It’s not for the likes of me to expect anyone to do a service for nothing! »
« I wouldn’t do it for nothing, señora! »
« Pøh! Do you think there is blood to be got out of a stone?! » Yerba Buena readjusts her burden, and stomps off.
« Please, senora, don’t go! All I’m asking is a peseta or two to give to the soldiers at the gate. They won’t let me in until I pay. Last night I slept out here, on the ground. »
Yerba Buena grins a mirthless grin, snaps her mouth shut and asks: “Did you see any teeth?”
“My pockets are as empty as my mouth, you rascal! What d’you want to go in there for anyhow? What I’ve seen them do to beggars! The French don’t much like your sort, they’ll have you flogged. »
Lazarillo shrugs his shoulders.
« It wouldn’t be the first time… »
« I suppose not, our King wasn’t exactly one to spare the rod, but believe me, this is worse – » Yerba Buena puts up a tragic face.
« Why? » asks Lazarillo.
« Because of what has happened to the King!”
“What’s that then?”
“He’s abdicated”, Yerba Buena gets pleasure from using the word.
« What’s that? »
« It means that he has run away to France and has given Spain away to Napoleon », says Yerba Buena, secretly impressed that a single word can carry that much meaning.
« So? What’s it got to do with me? There are plenty of rich people left still! »
« To be sure, but they didn’t get rich from giving to beggars », Yerba Buena carries this bit of wisdom always in mind; without it who knows where she might be…
But Lazarillo retorts: « I didn’t start begging yesterday, senora! »
Yerba Buena is getting to like the lad and from the folds in her copious skirt she brings out a four petaled clover that she gives to Lazarillo: « This is for luck. Upon my word, you’ll need it! »
« I can’t give this to the soldiers! »
« Trust me, child, it’s all you’ll need… »
At the gate Yerba Buena turns around for a last look at the boy whom she’s left with that frail but unfailing, token of luck. – It’s already working, she thinks, when she sees the foreign painter struggling with his easel up the steep hill…
Act III : Behind enemy lines the country’s fate is being sealed
The old woman’s voice has barely trailed off when other spirits appears. Somehow, I find myself transported to inside the city’s fortifications where Napoleon’s troops are stationed. I wander around the cold stone corridors, through the dungeons, the storerooms, up the winding staircase to the soldier’s dormitories. Then I happen upon a very smart bedroom and realise that I am watching none other than Marshal Soult, having his morning shave…
« Plenty of wax on my moustache today, my good man – I am going to have my portrait painted! » the Marshal is saying to his barber.
There is a knock on the door.
« Enter! » barks the marshal.
A captain enters and salutes.
« I need to talk to you in private, sir. It is urgent! »
« Leave us alone, barber! » commands the Marshal.
« May I wipe the lather off His Excellency’s face? »
« No! » Impatient, the marshal brushes the barber away.
The captain waits until the door is shut behind him before he speaks: « The Constitution has arrived by secret messenger, sir ».
« Splendid! Have it put in the vault at the Town Hall. We will announce it tomorrow. Is the town under control? »
« Yes, sir! Everything is under control, sir! It will, of course, be arranged for all undesirable individuals to be removed from the city today, sir! »
The captain clicks his heels.
« Will that be all, sir? » he asks.
« Not quite, Captain! There’s just one small thing… I am going to the famous painter Llorens to have my portrait painted; he’s an exceptionally pleasant sort who is sure to welcome these good news. Will you see to it that he receives a token of our appreciation? A few cases of wine and some hams, maybe… »
« I understand, sir!
« Mind you – don’t give away the Bordeaux – nor the Bayonne hams: something local will do, I’m sure ».
« Of course, sir! » The Captain salutes and leaves.
As for the Marshal, he still has shaving lather on his chin, and shouts for his barber to return.
Act IV : How Lazarillo gets through the town gate
Am I dreaming, or what?
Marshal Soult and all his attendants have dissolved into the oblivion from where I have, apparently, called them forth. Once again I find myself back at the city gate. Yerba Buena is gone, but Lazarillo is still there. He’s just picking up the painter’s easel and canvas. The painter’s face flushes a lusty shade of vermillion when the soldiers extract their bribe. He mutters about the curfew that has kept him out all night: « Sleeping rough amongst thieves and wolves… And now, a bribe to boot! »
« Shut up! » a soldier tips his hat off with the point of his bayonet.
For a moment it looks as if the painter is going to be foolish enough to hit him. But Lazarillo is quick to smooth things over. He picks up the hat and brushes it off before he gives it back. The painter, however, is in such a foul mood that he doesn’t seem to appreciate the effort.
They even charged me for you, you cur! he says and flicks the hat at Tadeo before he puts it back on. Then they walk in silence, ignoring a stall where fresh churros are being made. By the park it looks as if the painter is dismissing Lazarillo…
Act V : How Lazarillo becomes the servant of an hidalgo
« Senores, have you something for a motherless hungry child… » Lazarillo begs plaintively from an elderly couple. The man ignores him. Lazarillo slips round to the side of the woman.
« Dona, have pity, I am starving…. »
The husbands stick is raised and Lazarillo sidesteps.
« Senores, please, I haven’t eaten for days… » he tries again from someone else.
But he is ignored, sworn at, threatened and no one reaches into their hearts, or their pockets, for him. After a while Lazarillo becomes aware of being seriously hungry and starts feeling as sorry for himself and as wretched as he looks. He sits down in the shade of a tree and gives a low whistle to Tadeo to join him. They will wait for a sign. Sometimes a glove or a handkerchief is dropped and if he’s there to pick it up, he’s bound to get a reward, even from these obstinate misers.
The day is warming up when a gaggle of orphan-girls is marched into the park. Two nuns line the girls up to sing and the changelings start chirping and trilling like sparrows at the top of their voices. They have attracted quite a crowd when a handsome nobleman appears on the scene. He sweeps off his feathered hat in salute to the singing orphans: « What beautiful song, senoritas! »
Some of the girls giggle; even though this earns them a rap from the nuns canes.
« With all respect to you good ladies and to the Virgin Mary! » says the hidalgo, offering the conducting nun a rose.
With a wink to one of the girls Lazarus imitates the hidalgo, behind his back. But when the hidalgo makes his departure, he trails him. He has not noticed the mended tear in the nobleman’s cape, nor the ragged cuffs on his shirt. Neither is he bothered by the disparaging comments dropped in the hidalgo’s wake:
« The old die-hard, Sanchez! »
« Wastes his powder in salutes, does Sanchez!”
« He’s between the sword and the wall now, is Sanchez! »
Just as the hidalgo leaves the park Lazarillo catches him up and touches his sleeve.
« Sir, please sir, do you need a boy in your service, sir? I’m an honest and experienced servant, sir! »
The hidalgo looks at Lazarillo the way he might look at a fly in the soup and continues on his way. Still, Lazarillo trots after him. When the hidalgo stops abruptly, Lazarillo hovers at a distance.
“Come here, my boy”, bids the nobleman. A curious smile has appeared on his face. He has obviously taken a decision that amuses him. Twirling his moustache, he says: « As it so happens – I could do with a servant! »
Act Vi : A servant is allowed no time to dream. Lazarillo is put to the test and Tadeo creates a diversion.
With Lazarillo in tow the hidalgo walks purposefully through the dark and narrow streets of the city.
Lazarillo is lagging behind. He’s hungry and when he’s hungry he daydreams about food. His first master, the blind beggar his mother sold him to, used to brag that he’d never tasted hunger – but Lazarillo did as never before in his employ. He can count the days in his life when he’s not gone hungry…
He’s hardly aware that the hidalgo is getting further and further ahead of him because he is imagining himself – and Tadeo – just about to enter one of the city’s finest houses: Inside, in the tiled courtyard, shaded by palms and cooled by a fountain there is a table laid for lunch. The smell of the bread! Ayeaye! After lunch I will work, I will clean and shine the palm leaves with olive oil, or… What is it servants really do?
Lazarillo starts and sees the hidalgo waiting impatiently before the entrance to the Town Hall.
« I am sorry, sir, I was just wondering…”
« I shouldn’t wonder too much if I were you, there is pressing business at hand right now! »
« What business, sir? »
« I want you to wait here until the bells ring noon, then you must come inside and join me. »
Lazarus is eyeing the two soldiers who are marching back and forth inside the arcade and making a clatter with their bayonets every time they turn.
« Who? Me? The soldiers won’t let me in there!! »
« If I didn’t think you were up to it I should never have employed you », says the hidalgo casually as he breezes into the forbidding building.
Lazarillo is left with these words ringing in his ears. He sighs and sits down heavily on the pavement under the arcade. There he relapses momentarily into his daydream: “In the cool and pleasant courtyard a table is laid..”.
An olive hits him on the head. Lazarillo scrabbles about his garments for it, when another lands in his lap. He looks up and sees a fat man leaning against a pillar, laughing at him. The man looks like a nutter, but he is holding a jar of olives. Lazarillo moves closer. But instead of handing out more olives, the olive-eater, pointing at the cathedral, asks a question: « Do you know what saint that is up there? »
« St. Anthony? » Lazarillo guesses.
« Nooo, he is much further up, you silly billy – 13th down 11th to the left – who’s that? » the olive-eater throws another olive to Lazarillo.
Lazarillo doesn’t know how to count, but doesn’t like to admit it, so he says: « Saint Mark ».
The olive-eater looks hard at him, and says: « That is another wrong guess ». Turning towards an invisible friend, he says conspiratorially: « That boy doesn’t know his saints! He is ignorant! » – and he erupts into wild laughter. Hitting his fat thighs with the palms of his hands, he roars as if he is laughing for two.
Just then the bells on the cathedral start ringing noon. Lazarillo jumps to his feet, but finds himself face to face with the soldiers. He sits down again, thinking about the parting words of the hidalgo: « If I didn’t think you were up to it…. »
The olive-eater’s laughter comes abruptly to an end just as the soldiers pass each other behind them. Pointing at Tadeo, he whispers: « Shhh!! Look! There goes a future man of science; until the world is ready for him he’s reincarnated as a dog. »
Lazarillo looks up and sees both soldiers staring at Tadeo. The dog is watching a small colony of ants. With great accuracy it puts an olive stone on the back of one of them. The ant tries to carry it, but collapses under the weight. This causes much agitation in the other ants who try to push the stone off, failing which they attempt to pull the ant out from underneath it. Wagging his stump of a tail Tadeo looks up at the olive-eater, who pats him on the head and says: “A fine experiment!” The soldiers exchange bewildered glances, but when Tadeo lifts the stone off the ant’s back and places it some distance behind it they are waiting to see what will happen next…
Act Vii : And Tadeo creates another useful diversion
Meanwhile Lazarillo has slipped unnoticed into the Town Hall. The light in there is dim…. There are echoes…. And with his first stealthy steps on the white marble floor…
My heart beats as fast as his!
Lazarillo sees a clerk coming in his direction and hides behind a pillar. The clerk, carrying a teetering pile of documents, is speeding along, when the hidalgo steps into his path. He seems to be demanding something of the public servant and at the same time he’s looking around.
– It’s me he’s looking for, thinks Lazarillo, and wonders how he’s going to make his presence known to his master. Just then he feels the cool touch of Tadeo’s nose pushing into the back of his knee.
« For you, I kill the bull, mummy! » – a little boy is charging Tadeo with a red shawl.
Tadeo grabs a corner of the shawl and pulls the boy along the marble floor. Faster and faster they go until they skid into the clerk. The documents scatter and the clerk tumbles into a group of ladies and gentlemen.
« Who let that goat in here? » a woman is screaming.
Lazarillo feels glum. His chance of permanent employment looks slim. Even lunch looks a far way off. Just as he’s about to make a run for the door he sees a silk purse on the floor. He grabs it and hides it quickly under his rags. The next moment there is a hand on his shoulder.
« Here! Take this! » the hidalgo thrusts a huge, rolled-up document into his hand, « Hide it and meet me in the marketplace as soon as you can ».
So saying, he melts into the crowd and Lazarillo is left, holding a document that is sealed and beribboned like a wealthy bride, and likely to attract as much attention. He gives a soft whistle for Tadeo. But the dog is still busy ripping up the shawl.
As far as Lazarillo can make out, there is only one exit and that is through the doors that he entered. The doorway, however, is darkened by the shadow of the soldiers. He slips stealthily from column to column, and in the darkest recess of the hall discovers the entrance to a staircase.
Act Viii : Lazarillo visits the library
A silent and suddenly remote place, Lazarillo finds himself in a library…
« What a dear little dog! Is he yours? »
Lazarillo jumps at hearing a voice coming from the opposite end of the room. He’s quick to hide the document behind his back, when he sees a monk in yellow robes bending down to stroke Tadeo.
« Aye, » he replies sullenly.
« Then why have you had his tail cut off? It’s such a cruel thing to do! » the monk sneers.
« Come now, Eugenio dear, beware of rash conclusions! There may very well be some other explanation, » wheezes a portly old man who’s listening through an ear trumpet and propped up on cushions in a high backed chair.
« There is! » says Lazarillo eagerly. « Back in Sorihuela I met a Frenchman who was trying out his guillotine on cats and dogs. Awful it was! Heads were rolling and the street ran with blood. When he got hold of Tadeo I had to pay with the shirt off my back to get him to try it on his tail and not his neck! »
« There you are, Eugenio! You see, it is a decent young man we have here! » says the wheezing old man. His hand is resting on a human skull he is using as a paper weight.
The monk is still scowling at Lazarillo when there is a hue and cry coming from the hall.
« THE CONSTITUTION IS STOLEN! THE CONSTITUTION IS STOLEN! CATCH THE THIEF! CATCH THE THIEF! »
« What’s that? » the old man has dropped his ear-trumpet and is cupping his ear.
« They say that Napoleon’s Constitution is stolen! » shouts the monk.
Both men fix their gaze on Lazarillo.
His empty stomach churns and he gets queasy at the thought of the guillotin’s blade rushing at his own neck. That’s what one gets for telling lies, he thinks, and: – if those two grab me now and hold me until the soldiers come, they can ask to have my skull for a souvenir!
« What is it you have there? » whispers the monk, pointing at the document drooping in Lazarillo’s hand.
Lazarillo’s face is burning and through the tears welling up in his eyes the room seems to dissolve. If only he’d known that someone, somewhere, would cry for him when he was dead.
« Are you working for Sanchez? Dear child, why didn’t you say so at once! » wheezes the old man excitedly.
« And to think you had me believe you were just a beggar! » the monk’s handsome face is rueful.
« There is a lesson to be learnt from this, » rasps the old man.
The din outside is coming closer.
« There really isn’t much time », whispers the monk urgently. He tugs at Lazarillo’s rags and pulls him over to a table on the landing: « There is a trapdoor, here, that takes you down into the cellar… Look! Under the table. »
Lazarillo is confused. But he does not let that prevent him from pulling at the iron ring of the hatch with all his might, and when it opens, he jumps without hesitation. Tadeo follows and the lid slams shut above them.
Act iX : A narrow escape
If there are one pair of eyes, there are a hundred, gazing steadfastly at the intruders in the murky basement. Tadeo growls, but a chorus of malignant caterwauling and boots stomping on the floorboards above puts a stop to his timid protest.
As Lazarillo gropes for the Constitution, which he lost when he jumped, his hand touches some half-dead creature; and suddenly it occurs to him that they too may be left down there to go mad and die. Maybe that is what they do, those two strange men in the library; just sit there like spiders between their dusty books and wait for victims…
But the tumult up above soon brings him back to his senses. He recognizes the wheezing voice of the portly old man: « Stop, stop, please gentlemen, stop! I tell you we’ve been sitting here, reading, all day and have seen nobody ».
Lazarillo can hear chairs and tables and books knocked about, but the trapdoor goes unnoticed.
Getting accustomed to the dark he picks his way across the floor. He must get to the market! There is food waiting for him. He tugs at the bars in the window. One of the bars come easily away in his hands; the stone casing that’s held it for a hundred years or more, rushes away like sand.
Tadeo, jumping onto the crumbling sill, struggles to get a foothold. With a little push from behind, he’s out. He shakes himself vigorously and stick his head back through the hole in the wall and barks angrily. Lazarillo needs to find something to stand on. He finds an old barrel. Next to it the Constitution. Hesitantly, he picks it up. He sticks it into his trousers, using the ribbon to tie around his trouser leg.
Act X : Meeting with a beggar
The alleyway behind the Town Hall is deserted and filled with garbage.
There is a groan at his feet.
« You are standing on my shirt, » a muffled voice issues from the garbage and a bald head pushes unsteadily up into the fetid air.
When Lazarillo sees the bleary eyes squinting at the sun, his racing heart slows down to its regular beat. It’s just a drunk.
“Sorry”, he says and steps off the man’s shirt.
« Got a peseta? » asks the drunk.
« No ».
« Are you sure? » the man groans. He is the fattest beggar Lazarillo has ever laid eyes on.
« I AM a beggar! » says Lazarillo.
« And won’t a beggar give something to another beggar? »
« A fat lot of good that would do anyone! » says Lazarillo and turns his back on the man.
« Such a heartless young man », the beggar shouts after him before slumping back into the rubbish.
Act Xi : Yerba Buena thinks Lazarillo has run out of luck
I get up from the ramparts to stretch. Randolph is kicking his legs and growling in his sleep. Has he too entered the twilight zone, I wonder? Is he at this very moment chasing across the marketplace in pursuit of a chicken escaped two hundred years ago? And that high pitched yelp, is that the boot of a French soldier connecting with his ribcage? He wakes up, and yes, he’s licking his side and whimpering slightly. The sun has turned fierce so I find a bit of shade and lean my head back against a crumbling wall. As soon as I shut my eyes the voice of Yerba Buena reaches out to me through the cosmic grapevine…
« The boy Lazarillo had a careless look about him when he sauntered into the marketplace, a kind of mock confidence, and the dog at his heels seemed to be imitating his every move.
The market was overrun with Napoleon’s soldiers out to herd up undesirables and drive them out of town. Lazarillo was caught just in front of my stall of faggots and herbs, prodded at the point of a bayonet. I just managed to sprinkled some drops of mandrake water on him before they took him away. It looked as if he had already used up the lucky charm I had given him only hours before. Young men, I tell you, they are careless! They can wear out any amount of good luck charms in no time at all! But the mandrake plant is powerful! Rubia dug up the roots for me. She’s a gifted animal; her skills far exceeds the value of her bacon, I can tell you!” She pats her pig appreciatively before continuing: “The mandrake root can call forth the forces of both good and evil. And it works immediately. Only moments after I sprinkled Lazarillo his good luck was restored! None other than Don Sanchez, walked up to the soldier and demanded – in French, I tell you – to have his ‘servant’ back!”
Yerba Buena pauses. Her voice is gone for a long time, but just when I begin to think that she may be fading away, she continues in an intimate whisper: “However, I was not the only one who observed Don Sanchez take Lazarillo away. Primo Ramon, the mute dwarf butler of the Llorens household, was there; bristling at the sight of the disgraced nobleman. He always had to bristle at something. Much worse was the fact that standing beside me was Mercedes – senorita Llorens to you – once promised to Don Sanchez in marriage. Her cheeks were burning… She whispered something into Primo Ramon’s ear, whereupon he disappeared as fast as his bandy legs would take him…”
Act Xii : Rescued, to a dream not come true.
Seeing this, it was with a heavy heart my gaze followed Lazarillo, Tadeo and Don Sanchez out of the marketplace. Trouble was surely brewing.
« Where have you hidden it? » whispers Don Sanchez.
« What? » asks Lazarillo.
« You know what! » says the nobleman impatiently.
Lazarillo indicates his pants.
« Bendita Virgen! »
A moment later, when a couple of soldiers still on the prowl eye up Lazarillo, he diverts their attention by sweeping off his hat in a grandiose gesture.
« Frenchmen », he whispers when they have passed, « are always quick to imagine an insult – one must take precautions. »
Shortly after that they arrive at a house which brings Lazarillo in mind of the lunch he’s been dreaming of. He reaches out to touch an iron stud on the massive wooden door, as big as his own fist.
When Don Sanchez claps his hands an arthritic old man with a bunch of keys hobbles round the corner. He unlocks the door and with what seems like his last ounce of strength he puts his shoulder against it and pushes it open. The hidalgo and Lazarillo enter through a fine shower of plaster dust.
The hall is large, dank and very dark. Don Sanchez leads the way upstairs. Strips of dusty midday light enters through delapidated shutters. Don Sanchez slumps down on a bare wooden bench and indicates one opposite to Lazarillo.
« Is this your house? » asks Lazarillo.
« Indeed, this is where I was born and bred! And when the English come to liberate us from Napoleon and his thieving troops, it shall be restored to its former glory « , the hidalgo explains tiredly.
« Is that why you have stolen this document? »
« To take the Constitution is not a common act of stealing, it is despoliation », explains the hidalgo gravely.
« Oh », says Lazarillo. « What is a Constitution and what is… »
« You ask too many questions », interrupts the hidalgo, « I need my siesta ».
“Do you not want the document now?”
But the hidalgo, who has taken a small pillbox out of his waistcoat pocket and is pulling a hairnet out of it, is concentrating on putting it nimbly over his sleek hair.
“No, you may take care of it a little while longer”, he says, lying down on the hard bench.
Then the hidalgo is asleep.
Act Xiii : Lazarillo, the capital of Spain
Tadeo is also asleep. One moment he sprawls in a strip of sunlight on the floor, next he rolls over into cool shade. Only Lazarillo remains sitting bolt upright.
What has become of the family and all the servants that must have lived here; and what will become of him….? Whatever way he thinks about it he can see no good coming out of it. No food. No potted plants… What he will do is leave now when the hidalgo is asleep. Never mind if he’s driven out of this miserable city! He pulls the Constitution out of his trousers. Just then, a low growl from Tadeo startles him. Still lying on his side, the dog growls once more. And now Lazarillo is noticing a band of light spreading across the floor below. He feels the hairs on his neck stand up – just like those on Tadeo.
« Hullooo – is anybody here? » calls a voice.
« Come on up! » answers the hidalgo through a yawn. Sitting upright, he carefully removes the hairnet and puts it back in the pillbox.
Tadeo, at the head of the stairs, is wagging his tail.
« Ah, the dear little dog – we’ve met before, haven’t we! » says the monk from the library. The portly old man is wheezing up the stairs behind him.
« I say, Sanchez, you really have found a clever assistant. He had me convinced that he was a common beggar who’d never know what a Constitution was, and much less have the audacity to steal one! » says the monk.
The old man walks straight up to Lazarillo and embraces him. « You are the capital of Spain, young man, and we are awfully proud of you! »
Act XiV : Betrayal. Saving a dog’s tail. Arrest.
« Is ‘it’ in safety? » Eugenio lowers his voice.
« In the best of hands », says the hidalgo with a smile and a throw of the head in the direction of Lazarillo.
Lazarillo notices that the Constitution has slipped off the bench and is lying on the floor…
Just then the door below creaks once again. Someone, panting hard, is coming up the stairs. Someone heavy.
« There are soldiers on the way! – My sister, Mercedes! – You’ve been betrayed! » Out of breath, a fat man sinks to his knees on the top step.
– I know that man, thinks Lazarillo.
But his thoughts are interrupted by the sound of horses charging into the street below. Shouts and cracking of whips are heard by the frightened group of people upstairs. Now it is every man, child – and dog – for himself. Lazarillo looks around the bare room; a big, empty cupboard is the only furniture. The young monk hides inside, but Lazarillo thinks it is a bad idea and climbs on top of it. The fat man pulls at his leg, he’s holding up Tadeo.
« Frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails, you know the French will eat anything », he pants.
« He hasn’t got much of a tail », mutters Lazarillo.
« All the more dangerous for him… »
Lazarillo grabs hold of Tadeo and puts him up on the beam before he pulls himself up there too. It’s really dark, he can hardly make out the dog. The fat man has realised what a good idea it is to be up there in the dark and has just managed to get onto the cupboard when the door below is kicked in. He doesn’t make it onto the beam, but flattens himself on top of the cupboard as the first soldier races up the stairs.
« Which one of you is Sanchez? » the soldiers demand of the two men below.
Don Sanchez points at the old man from the library and he in turn points at Don Sanchez. Consequently both are arrested and led downstairs at gun point. They are being bullied across the hall when Eugenio sneezes. One of the soldiers returns. He kicks the two benches over although nobody could possibly have hidden beneath them. Only the Constitution rolls out on the floor. The soldier kicks that too. Then he walks across the room and flings open the cupboard door. And there is Eugenio!
When finally the soldiers and their prisoners are gone the fat man on top of the cupboard exclaims: « Dear, oh dear! »
« You are the beggar and the olive eater too! » marvels Lazarillo.
Act XV : Another narrow escape. A dog of science and the demon of self-pity.
« Why are you being different people all the time? » asks Lazarillo.
« I am the 9th of November and ever since I saw you hitch up with Don Sanchez I’ve been keeping an eye on you, » says the nutter and the olive eater and the fat beggar.
« Did you mean what you said about Tadeo being a dog of science? »
« I never say anything I do not mean! I believe in transmigration and I think there is every possibility that Tadeo is destined for a future career as a scientist. I think the reason for his present life as a dog, knowing all there is to know about man and being totally misunderstood in return, is to teach him a lesson… «
« When will he transmigrate? » asks Lazarillo.
But the 9th of November is already thinking about something else.
« What a pity for the young Eugenio! There is no knowing how he’ll cope with prison. Such a delicate person and a gifted priest he would make too… » he muses.
« Will they kill him? » asks Lazarillo.
« Not physically perhaps, but there are many types of death, and the worst one is the death of the spirit », says the 9th of November gravely and adds: « We’ll have to get them out of there tonight! »
« Who will? »
« You and I… »
« Not me! I’ve had enough of all this. I am hungry. I am just a beggar. I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know you », Lazarillo starts to cry.
« Curse the demon of self-pity, child, or it will smother the flame in your heart and make you ugly! » The fat man leans close to Lazarillo and says: « Look into my eyes and tell me if you see a light in them.. »
« It’s dark up here », he says.
« All the better to see the light ».
Lazarillo leans closer and stares hard. « I think I can see sort of flickering flames », he says eventually.
« It is love of humanity », explains the 9th of November.
« I’m hungry », sniffs Lazarillo.
« That will be remedied very soon », promises the 9th of November.
Act XVi : Lazarillo meets a man with lofty ideals
Ready to leave Don Sanchez’ once magnificent mansion Lazarus picks up the Constitution. He straightens it out as well as he can before he hands it over to the 9th of November. The fat man redresses one of the benches that the soldiers kicked over and sits down to read the document in silence.
« Marvelous – what a thinker! »
« Who? »
« Napoleon, of course! »
Lazarillo looks more puzzled than ever.
« I thought he was our enemy!? » he bursts out.
« He is our enemy, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that an enemy has to be stupid », explains the 9th of November, his eyes still going back and forth along the lines on the parchment. Suddenly he looks up and says: « What a pity the Unmaker of Kings has made himself Emperor. That puts him into the category of just another tyrant. Now, he wants his brother Joseph to rule over Spain. Do you know the motto of the French revolution, Lazarillo? » Without waiting for an answer he says grandly: « Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood… »
Then after a pause a smile lights up his face and he adds: « I do believe, however, that by brotherhood Napoleon means to give a nation each to all his brothers – he, ha, ha! »
« What are you going to do with it? »
« Get rid of it, of course! »
« What d’ you mean? Just tear it up or something.. »
« I intend to learn it by heart first, but you know, it is a dangerous document to have around! Dangerous, not only as you know it to be, but because it promises a freedom that many people want for our nation – and among these I include myself. If this document is proclaimed, a lot of these people will be happy to join Napoleon. Spain will be split in two. There will be civil war. And believe me, that is crueller by far than being invaded by a foreign enemy. Do you see now why Spain has to have her own Constitution? »
« What is a Constitution? »
The 9th of November seems not to have heard the question, he is completely carried away by his vision: « We Spaniards of a liberal persuasion will make our own Constitution, in which it will be clearly stated that Spain is free and independent, and not ruled over by any family or individual! »
« That sounds rather like me, » interrupts Lazarillo.
« What’s that? – Oh yes – yes; rather like you! » agrees the 9th of November, « only not so hungry one hopes! »
Act XVii : Arrest that dog!
While they have been talking, the town has woken up from its siesta.
« We may as well go now, then we can hide in the crowd, » says 9th of November.
They make for the walled garden at the back of the house, where there is a fountain exactly like the one in Lazarillo’s daydream. But Lazarillo doesn’t even notice. His daydream is a thing of the past and was dreamt up by a more innocent boy than he is now. He opens the garden gate, but shuts it again at once.
« The whole of Napoleon’s army is out there! » he whispers.
« Doing what? »
« Look for yourself: through this hole… What do we do? »
« Let me think! »
A roll of drums silences the crowd, whereupon the officer in command raises his sword and bellows: « THE FRENCH ARMY ADDRESSES ALL CITIZENS OF TOLEDO WITH THE FOLLOWING ANNOUNCEMENT: AS YOU ALL KNOW, YOUR KING HAS ABDICATED IN FAVOUR OF THE EMPEROR NAPOLEON BONAPARTE. THEREFORE ; WE, THE FRENCH ARMY, ARE HERE NOT AS AN INVADING FORCE, BUT AS A LEGAL SPANISH INSTITUTION. ANY CRIMINAL ACT AGAINST OUR PERSONS, OR OUR PROPERTY, IS AN ACT OF TREASON, AND AS SUCH PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. SUCH AN ACT WAS COMMITTED TODAY WHEN THE EMPEROR’S CONSTITUTION FOR ALL SPAIN WAS STOLEN FROM THE TOWN HALL. THERE HAVE ALREADY BEEN SOME ARRESTS IN CONNECTION WITH THE CRIME, BUT THE DOCUMENT IS STILL MISSING. IT IS THE DUTY OF ANY CITIZEN WHO HARBOURS INFORMATION ABOUT ITS WHEREABOUTS TO COME FORWARD AND DISCLOSE IT. ANY FAILURE TO DO SO IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. »
The drums roll once more.
« What a load of bollocks! » exclaims the 9th of November.
“I have an idea”, says Lazarillo.
« Oh yes? » The 9th of November is rubbing his bald head with the palm of his hand.
To Lazarillo it looks as if he is polishing a halo.
“Spit it out! My brain refuses to come up with one.”
“If I make Tadeo sprint across the square; and if I run after him and you run after me, shouting at me… »
“Thatís a brilliant idea!”
“Tadeo does anything I ask him to”, adds Lazarillo proudly.
« Well, ask him then, and run after him yourself, as if you want to catch him. Ready? »
Lazarillo nods, and when the 9th of November pushes open the gate, he gives a sharp order to Tadeo, who streaks off along the row of parading horses. The commanding officer’s own horse rears. Bright red in the face, the officer screams at the top of his voice: « ARREST THAT DOG! »
Despite the glum mood that has descended on the people in the square, a titter runs through the crowd when Lazarillo come chasing after Tadeo, and many start to laugh out loud when, huffing and puffing, follows the 9th of November. He stops briefly in front of the commanding officer.
« No arrest, captain – please, no arrest, » he pleads in french, « it is my favourite hunting dog that foolish servant of mine has let out! » – and he continues the chase, lashing out after Lazarillo with the Constitution, until they are safely on the other
Act XViii : Food at last. A pig with talent. A plan takes shape.
« Imagine my surprise when I saw Lazarillo and Tadeo being ushered into the kitchen by young Llorens », says Yerba Buena.
She has warmed to her story by this time so we’re totally in synch when she continues: « Whenever there was a big occasion in the Llorens household I would be asked to help with the cooking. That day the occasion was Marshal Soult who was sitting for a portrait. I had no wish to cook for the enemy, but I had my reasons.
I asked her what her reasons were.
“Haven’t I told you?” she asks, sounding as casual as if she were sitting next to me on the battlements.
“Nooo”, I reply.
“I had my husband in jail”, she says.
“A political prisoner?”
“How did you know?”
“Oh, I’ve been there, done that!”
“As I thought”, she says with a dry, little laughter. “However, as I was saying, the vagabonds had arrived and I was sitting by the fire in the kitchen plucking pheasants in preparation for the dinner party. Normally I would have left Rubia in a shed outside, but with all the soldiers around I kept her right beside me. If the only use of her had been to become someone’s dinner, I would have eaten her myself, but that sow was a remarkable creature – I tell you – she had a talent for smells! “Aye”, she sighs, and then again: “Aye, aye!”
“Master Llorens – or the 9th of November as his father called him – brought the two ragamuffins over and asked me to feed them. – This young chap here, he said, meaning Lazarillo, is a lot smarter than he looks! But then I knew that already. Needless to say I enjoyed putting on a spread. Lazarillo gulped down his meal and Tadeo growled at Rubia while he ate.
Fortunately the bristling butler was occupied elsewhere. Quite apart from Primo Ramon’s loyal adoration of his masters, he was given to fawn on anyone he considered to be his superiors, whatever shape and form they came in; and that particular day lent him ample opportunity to dirty his underbelly…
Meanwhile master Llorens sat down by the fireside, where he proceeded to read a document, while taking copious notes. I had my suspicions as to what document it was, and when he eventually put it on the fire, I was sure that what I was watching go up in flames was nothing other than Napoleon’s Constitution.
I felt a little hurt by the fact that he had not let me read it. He had taught me to read himself and should have known that I was every bit as concerned with the fate of our nation and with politics in general as him, but the sad truth was that at the time even a nice man like master Llorens would not recognise the fact. So, I swallowed my disappointment and got on with the business of plucking pheasants ».
« Where is my sister? » asked master Llorens when he eventually looked up from the flames.
« In her room, weeping, » said the housemaid Dolores, « I’ve just been up to see her. »
« Betraying Sanchez was a final and desperate act of love », said I.
« How do you know it was her? » snapped Dolores.
« I know! »
« I didn’t reach his house in time. They were all arrested », said young Llorens, his voice lowered. Continuing, he indicated the boy with a sweep of his hand: « Lazarillo has agreed to a plan for getting them out ».
« Huh », mumbled Lazarillo on hearing his name, but fell asleep again at once in the warm inglenook.
« May I rely on you two as well? »
I thought of my husband and said: “I will help on condition that El Empecinado is got out along with the others”.
« Agreed! » said master Llorens and gave me his hand. Then he whispered the plan into my ear…
Act XiX : Indigo night with just an edge of ultramarine : The dinner party
Yerba Buena’s voice has faded slightly and I have the sensation once again of being immersed, of having entered yet another sphere. Night has descended like a curtain fall and I’m in a perfumed garden where music is being played. A long table decked with lace, silver, china and crystal is bathed in candlelight. Primo Ramon is showing the guests to their seats….
« Ultramarine »; mutters Senor Llorens, « definitely an edge of ultramarine to the shadows… »
He wonders who is the most brilliantly garbed of his guests. – The military? Or the clergy? – If only I might go and fetch my paints now when there really is something to paint, instead of having to do those fiddling portraits….
Suddenly he becomes aware that all eyes are upon him. His guests are standing by their chairs waiting for the host to bid them sit down. He catches his breath a little nervously, and says: « Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated ».
Primo Ramon and Dolores are pouring wine for a toast. Senor Llorens likes to say about Primo Ramon that he’s a gargoyle chipped off from under the eve of the Cathedral and that he, Senor Llorens, has blown life into him – just a little life – just sufficient for a servant. Dolores, with a white gardenia in her raven black hair, is as beautiful as Primo Ramon is ugly.
Senor Llorens gets a poke in the ribs from his wife. It launches his speech: « Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to our house – and welcome Marshal Soult, to my studio in particular. Hmm.Uh. The physiognomy of greatness has always interested me – » he pauses uncomfortably, » – however, the main reason for you being invited here this evening – where Senora Llorens and I, and all our household, wish to regale you with the pleasures of the Spanish table – is for quite a different matter: namely to celebrate Spains new Constitution, which is to be proclaimed tomorrow! May I propose a toast to its success, and to a peaceful and prosperous union between two great nations! »
Senor Llorens lifts his glass, but to his consternation nobody is joining in the toast.
Marshal Soult says coldly: « The Constitution has been stolen, I thought everybody was aware of the fact ».
The painter sits down wearily.
He looks at his wife, but she is hiding behind her fan.
“Why didn’t you tell me”, he whispers into her ear.
« You fool! » hisses Senora Llorens back.
A little saddened by his wife’s lack of support, he strokes her thigh reassuringly under the table and whispers back: « Don’t worry, dear, I’ll think of something else to toast about. »
He gets up again and is about to announce his intention to speak when the Captain at his side beats him to it: “I propose a toast to the execution of the thieves!” he proclaims.
Upon which Mercedes bursts out crying and leaves the table.
« Oh dear! What is it I don’t know this time », thinks the painter and sits down again wearily.
The soup is brought in from the kitchen by Yerba Buena and is served by Primo Ramon and Dolores.
« Delicious soup, » says the archbishop, and a sigh of relief is shared by all. For a few moments only the polite scraping of spoons on fine china and the occasional careless slurp is to be heard. Somewhere in the shadows a guitarist plucks at his strings and eventually the conversation picks up into a low hum.
Marshal Soult enquire conversationally about the curious ‘naming’ of the 9th of November and Senor Llorens indulges his passion for astrology: « Scorpio’s have a talent for deception – hmm – they are rarely what they appear… » he is saying. But when he notices that the Marshal is nodding off he throws a nervous glance at his wife who has warned him never to bore people with any of the weird things that interests him. Strangely enough she seems not to have noticed his indiscretion. In fact, she seems also to be tired. As her husband looks on with fascination she slips off her chair with a yawn. Senor Llorens is at a loss for what to do, so he eats his soup. And by the time the bowl is empty he too is falling asleep.
Only 9th of November gets up from the table and that is because he has poured his soup into a flowerpot…
Act XX : Time to polish the palms? 9th November takes leave of his parents and Primo Ramon swears revenge
Yerba Buena chuckles at something she’s just remembered:
“The first thing Lazarillo asked of me when I woke him up was: « Is it time to polish the palms? »
« Shhh, child, we’ve got to go!”
I led him into the garden. On seeing all the dignitaries there – faces grotesquely squashed against the table, or sleeping soundly under it, with the attending soldiers slumped in heaps – he trembled violently.
And no wonder, there was a creepy hush over the scene, a lull before a storm, so to speak.
Only Primo Ramon was still awake and he was squirming around in a pantomime of soundless grief.
« Are they dead? » asked Lazarillo.
« No, only asleep », the 9th of November assured him.
Dolores was frisking the officer’s pockets.
« Here they are! » she exclaimed triumphantly. « The keys to the dungeons! »
We were ready to leave.
« Is Mercedes coming along? » asked Dolores.
« I took a bowl of soup up to her room and even if she hasn’t drunk it she will have cried herself to sleep by now – it is her destiny to be left out…. »
“Destiny indeed!” Dolores exclaimed, and whispered aside to 9th November: « What has that twisted old witch got against your sister? »
But the son of the house was not listening; he was stroking his mother and father on their sleeping heads.
« Goodbye parents, » he mumbled.
He was straightening up, making the final effort to tear himself away, when a stone hit him on the forehead. A trickle of blood ran down his face. Then more stones were hurled from the balcony where Primo Ramon; his deathly white skull luminous against the black shadow under the eaves looked like an evil omen.
Act XXi : The rescue operation
The full moon casts a metallic light over the city when the unlikely bunch of warriors enter the night. The two women, the sow, the dog, the beggar and the man they called the 9th of November would go down in history like countless others, simply as the guerilla, which is another word for “people power”. They walked in single file, keeping to the shadows, because the curfew was on and they were liable to be shot without any questions asked. They made silent haste – one of them still wearing an incandescent white gardenia in her raven black hair – heading for the river where the city walls were in ruins…
« Reaching the outskirts of the city there was no longer any shadow to hide in”, said Yerba Buena, “The river below reflected the moonlight, glinting silvery like an army with swords drawn. Dolores was the first one to run down the hillside. Like a hunted animal she zigzagged down the slope. The rest of us followed. I for one had a mouth as dry as the dust we stirred up and I ripped myself to blood on the spines of cactii. Dolores was waiting and led the way into a labyrinth of ruins. Her man, the foreign painter who Lazarillo had already met, had his studio there. Underneath the ruin where he lived was a secret passage that led straight into the dungeons ».
« Through here, » Dolores called out. Her voice almost drowned in the roar from the dark water that surged below. We had to stoop to get through the entrance. Great crumbling slabs of stone formed steps that led into, what to me at least, appeared to be a maw. We lit our torches and descended. It was treacherous going. At one point we had to crawl along a narrow ledge that precipitated into the turbulent river. I was amazed at Lazarillo. All the rest of us had very good reasons for going down here, he had none, but was still risking his life. I wondered why?
We submerged further, to where the only sounds were of dripping water, scurrying rats and our own fumbling footsteps. The cold gnawed at our bones. 9th of November was marking the way with chalk. – Thinking of that night’s struggle almost makes me remember what it is like to have a body », said Yerba Buena, and her voice sounded weary.
« When the chalk marks showed us that we had walked in a circle, not once, but twice, we were ready to give up. We had come to a dead end, or so we thought until Lazarillo discovered that there was a part of the wall that had been bricked up. We managed to remove some of the mortar between the bricks and heard voices! Not talking, but groaning voices. But how would we get through the wall? The brickwork was new, not old and crumbly. We searched around for tools, sharp stones, or whatever. And at last Lazarillo found ‘whatever’ in the shape of an iron bedstead! This was used as a pick. We worked for at least an hour, picking, scraping and pushing. The groans on the other side of the wall continued unabated. Eventually we also heard whispering and became aware that someone was scraping from the other side. A stone gave way and we were through. There was a hole in the wall the size of a head and immediately one poked through. It pulled back at once and instead there appeared hands, or dirty claws more like it, which tugged desperately at the edges of the hole we had made. Soon it was big enough for a body to squeeze through and all we could do was to stand back and watch as the wild eyed inhabitants of the dungeons fled like bats from a cave. Some of them managed only a few flaps before they collapsed, too weak or confused, to go on. But quite a few must have gained their freedom that night, rightly or wrongly. From inside the other cells we still heard groans and someone calling. We’d come far and worked hard, but crossing that final barrier needed real courage.
« Hm », 9th November turned to Lazarillo. « Not quite my dimension, how about you? »
« Me? » Lazarillo fell silent. For a moment I thought he would turn around and run, but eventually he muttered: « Give me the keys then. »
Dolores handed him the keys and I held his torch while he slipped through the hole. I gave him back his torch and he was soon lost from sight. Only occasionally did we see a flicker of light, but what we heard told us what was going on. The prisoners we were looking for were fettered to the walls with chains and Lazarillo took his time finding the right keys for the locks. But eventually Don Sanchez, Eugenio and the old man from the library came clambering out of the hole in the wall. They were bruised and bloodied, but still capable of walking. I asked if they knew where my José was kept. It was Eugenio who told me he was lying on the floor in one of the cells and that he was very, very sick indeed ».
« Would you like me to give him his last sacrament before we go? » he asked.
« No », I answered, « he’s coming along! »
Act XXii : In the hour of the wolf Eugenio makes a sacrifice
There was no protest to my decision. Don Sanchez, Eugenio and Lazarillo went back into the dungeons and fetched my husband out. We struggled up the way we had come down. JosÈ was fortunately not a big man, but even so, we made slow progress. Don Sanchez did most of the carrying, with assistance from Lazarillo and Dolores. We’d just reached the narrow shelf when we thought we heard steps on our trail. We stopped and listened. We had not been mistaken, someone was following us.
« Who will go back and waylay them? » whispered 9th November. Quick glances were exchanged in the flickering torchlight, before all eyes settled on Lazarillo.
« No, » said the 9th November, « not this time! »
« I’ll go, » said Eugenio.
« Don’t! » pleaded the old man from the library.
But Eugenio, dark and drawn as he’d become overnight, was already gone.
The rest of us continued on our painfully slow ascent. Only one of the torches was still burning. That is when I noticed the faint light of dawn above. It was the hour of the wolf, when humans are haunted by the thought of mortality; when we feel death snapping at our heels…
Act XXiii : In the foreign painter’s studio
The sun was rising as we entered the ruin that was the foreign painter’s studio. In a matter of hours we had become outlaws. From that day, none of us could hope for an easy life. Even the painter who welcomed us was compromised. There was, however, no time to reflect upon our condition, we had to plan our next move at once. JosÈ was laid down on the painter’s bed. He’d been beaten and tortured and was delerious with fever. His breath came in painful gasps. I made him as comfortable as I could; wiping the worst of the blood and dirt off him and dabbing his cracked lips and parched mouth with water. Behind me I heard the others talk in hushed, urgent voices. They were wondering what had happened to Eugenio. The old man from the library was pacing the floor, making involuntary little noises of distress. Only Lazarillo seemed not to be gripped by the fear we others were feeling. He was contemplating a huge painting that was suspended from the rafters and not yet finished ».
« What does it mean? » asked the ever curious Lazarillo.
« It is an allegory of Spain, struggling with itself, » explained the painter.
« I think I should like to become a painter », ventured Lazarillo. He was touching the pigments with his fingertips.
« Will you teach me to paint? » he asked.
« Maybe, if there is time… »
« There is always time, » said Lazarillo, with surprising conviction.
« It is expensive too… The pigments alone… It will be hard for me to start again when I leave all this behind. » The painter struck out with his arms indicating the stacks of pictures against the walls. He looked as if his heart would break.
Lazarillo’s face lit up. He rummaged inside his rags and pulled out the silken purse he’d picked up off the floor in the town hall. He tipped the contents onto a dry palette.
« And where did you get that? » Sanchez, who had been contemplating the inglorious state of his own clothes, leapt up.
« Why, sir, in the town hall – it just threw itself at me! »
« You stole it! »
« And you stole the Constitution! » countered Lazarillo.
« Now, watch your tongue, young man! » The old man from the library interjected. « There is a difference between stealing someone’s property and the despoliation of a dangerous document ».
« What? » Lazarillo was perplexed.
« Come, come, » said the 9th November calmly. « I don’t think this is a time for any of us to be riding on our high horses ».
« I will never lower my standards! » shouted the old man from the library fervently, « and if the only choice I have is to live among thieves, I’ll go back to the library at once and die there if I must. »
Just then a moan escaped from my husband. A beam of sunlight coming from between the rafters bathed his face and he opened his eyes.
« JosÈ, » I said. He looked at me with eyes that wavered out of focus, but tried to smile. Almost at once his head became relaxed in my lap and he fell into a deep sleep.
At that very moment Eugenio entered the studio. He held his hands out before him as if they were strange objects, and stared at them. Stared in horror…
« Eugenio, dearest…. » the portly old man whispered as he made to take the monk’s hands in his.
But Eugenio turned and ran.
« Eugenio, come back! Come back, please! » the old man from the library shouted as he ran after the monk.
Act XXiV : Primo Ramon’s revenge
Yerba Buena’s voice is choked when she continues:
« JosÈ died not long after Eugenio had left, just before the sun reached its zenith. His death was peaceful. He simply stopped breathing and became heavy in my arms. Don Sanchez helped me to dig a shallow grave which we covered with rocks. On the largest stone I painted his nickname: “El Empecinado”. The terrible marks the torturers had left on him showed that he had been stubborn to the end.
The others had left, alone or in pairs, so as to draw the least possible attention to themselves. The plan was to head south for the old quarry in the Toledo mountains. It is such a bleak and barren place that we thought we would be safe there… »
There followed a long pause.
“But you never got as far”, I said to prompt her.
“You’re right. Don Sanchez and I laboured until sunset. There was a skiff waiting for us on the river. When we eventually pushed off from the shore, the bats were leaving their caves, they formed a cloud as black as night. Good, I thought, now nobody can see us. Just then the cloud lifted and I caught sight of Primo Ramon. He was not alone. There were soldiers with him and they were heading for the painter’s ruin. Don Sanchez had seen them too and pulled in the oars so as not to make a noise. We drifted downstream and had almost reached the other side when Rubia, keen to reac dry land, jumped overboard. The noise alerted Primo Ramon. Gesticulating wildly he scurried amongst the legs of the soldiers, tugging at their coats and pointing a crooked finger in our direction.
The opposite bank was within reach. I jumped for it and ran, but a bullet caught me in the back… What happened to Don Sanchez I do not know…
“He got away”, I said.
“As I had hoped”, she laughed.
Post Scriptum: The gargoyle on the cathedral above saint number 13th down, 11th to the left…
I wait. The plains, stretching endlessly to the horizon and beyond, shimmer in the intense heat of the midday sun. The voice is gone. Yerba Buena is back under her olive tree. An increasing roar of traffic makes it seem unlikely that she’s been here at all. Nearby, just behind the Alcazar in that dread place where I myself have undergone an ordeal in more recent time – day-tourists are pouring out of buses. If they so desire they may walk through the rooms that were chambers of torture for me and many others.
Randolph has shrugged off the chimera that has ridden him in his sleep; he is stretching and yawning, his bright eyes telling me that it’s time for a stroll and something to eat.
Should I go to the house of my fiancé for lunch? Listen to Mercedes scold me for being lazy and hear her mother mutter “odio marxista” under her breath as soon as she sets eyes on me. Our families were friends and neighbours once…
No, I feel too happy, but also too fragile to talk to somebody who wants me to be different, so I decide to go down to my old mute friend at the Tolmo and order a simple tortilla de patatas for myself – and some chicken liver for Randolph. Rafael has a parrot that will sing any aria from Puccini if you whistle the beginning of the tune. Walking through the city I wonder what aria will best suit my exultant mood. But when I get there, I find the perch empty; Rafael explains in sign language that the parrot is dead.
– But you must sing! He tells me this by straining his neck, opening his
mouth, half shutting his eyes and pressing his heart with both hands and then pointing at me.
I sing. Thinking about the parrot that he loved I grab his hands and sing “Thy tiny hand is frozen” That ís when the strangest thing happens! Mimi’s part is sung back at me from out in the kitchen, not in the gruff parrots’ voice I have learned to love, but in a touching womans’ soprano. When the amazing singer eventually appears with our lunch, I notice that she is wearing a white gardenia in her raven black hair.
I sit down in awe and eat my tortilla!!!
After the meal we go, as usual, to that silent and remote place that is the library. There, I notice the portly old man presiding on a high-backed chair behind the desk, as if today is the first time I’ve seen him. He’s not so well dressed, smaller too and more seedy than I seem to remember, but I am nevertheless certain that the man before me is none other than that principled librarian of long ago.
He is talking in that wheezing voice of his to a tall young man with dark eyes and a drawn face. It’s someone I’ve got to know in the cafés of the Zocodover, a convert to Islam who never drinks alcohol or carouses with the rest of us, but lives a life as strict as that of any monk. – Still hungering for the spiritual realm, I find myself thinking, as we shake hands by the desk. Across the counter I notice that the wizened face of the old librarian lights up whenever he looks at the young man…
The afternoon I spend tracing the destinies of at least some of the people in the story I’ve been told by the spectre. There is the abdicated king Carlos V and his scheming son Ferdinand, Napoleon himself, Napoleon’s brother Joseph and Marshal Soult… I read about how the French Army overreached themselves when they marched into Spain and how at least half of the vast number of losses to French troops, were caused by the guerillas; that ‘something’ with which Napoleon had not reckoned…
But what I am really looking for is the histories of those brave men and women that Yerba Buena has told me about. How did they survive that first severe and homeless winter when Napoleon’s Grande Armée, marched on Madrid? Where were they? Hiding in the quarries of the Toledo mountains?
1810 …refugees were collecting in Cadiz and from among them rose the members of the Cortes de Cadiz – a parliament. An etching in one of the volumes I’ve dipped into depicts that historic moment; slightly to the left of centre is a bald fat man toasting his audience. Is it? I suspect it is!
In 1811 rumour had it that a devout and beautiful monk had killed several hundred soldiers with his bare hands!
Then at last, in 1812, the Spaniards described as “of a liberal mind” make their own Constitution, stating amongst other things that “all men are born free and equal in their rights”.
With these triumphant words ringing in my heart Randolph and I leave the library and go to the Calle Ancha for a stroll. We drift along on the evening tide, when all the inhabitants of Toledo pour into the main street as from a thousand little tributaries, swelling the city like a great wave. Everybody is there: dentists and doctors, students and teachers, women with fresh hairdos, fishmongers, lottery-sellers, thieves, gypsies, beggars of the two- as well as the four-legged variety, old clergy and young military cadets carrying ribboned parcels of marzipan for their sweethearts.
Tonight, like most nights, a large crowd gathers at the Plaza Zocodover. Inside an amoeba like, shifting human form, I sense something interesting going on. I am curious to know what it is, but being a vain man – I have to admit that this is what I am, I feel it below my dignity to push and shove with the rest. Instead I settle down with a glass of jerez at a café and bide my time for the curtaincall of night. The indigo night, velvety and with just a hint of ultramarine at the edges.
As the crowd eventually disperse and the cacophony of voices dies down, a painting done with chalk reveals itself on the ground. It is El Greco’s ‘Burial of Count Orgaz’. A masterful copy! The young man standing next to it is holding out his cap.
Applauding, I get up from my table and pull out of my wallet the largest note I possess which I place in his hat. He has earned it.
Do I detect a certain amount of mockery behind my back…? It’s only money, but people are talking.
« You can’t afford to give away that kind of money! » hisses a familiar voice in my ear. « It is ridiculous – and ostentatious too! »
Mercedes has chosen this very moment to join me. Two angry red spots, one on either cheek, has put colour into her face. Her father, a pompous portrait painter, has instilled in her the ridiculous idea that the man she marries should keep her.
« Won’t you sit down and have a drink, » I offer, trying to be unperturbed.
« I have my reputation to think of, » she insists, angry tears welling up in her eyes.
Poor girl, she confessed to me only last week that she’d called the late general Franco “uncle” after he’d had his portrait painted by her father. But now that “uncle” is dead she feel that it was wrong…
She’s hovering by my table, her heartstrings pulled in different directions. Has she made a right choice in me? It seems not, she runs off with a sob.
More to the point, have I made a right choice in her whose tiny soul is frozen? As I remember the song, I also remember the gardenia wearing waitress at the Tolmo and wonder who it is she loves…
My thoughts are interrupted when trouble breaks out in the square.
« You know what you can do with this! » shouts the painter.
It appears that someone has put a crumpled up cigarette packet into his cap.
« What? Tell me, » sneers an ugly looking lout.
The painter strides towards him, cigarette packet in his fist, when someone I’ve never seen on the plaza before lays a fatherly hand on his shoulder.
« Please, take no offense », says the fat, bald-headed gentleman.
He has surprised the painter and uses the momentum to take the offending object out of his hand. With a flick of his wrist he transforms the crumpled cigarette packet into a rose. « Voila! »
The painter is also transformed. His anger has melted. He stares from the rose to the man, and a smile spreads all over his face.
« I know you, » he says.
« Of course you do! I’m the famous magician: Nuevo Feliz. How do you do? »
« I am Lazarillo, » says the painter.
« I already know that, » says the magician. « Your fame is as great as mine ».
Later on when the two of them sit down at my table I am not at all surprised to see Randolph jump onto Lazarillo’s lap.
We talk of politics. The civil war drove the magician, like myself, into exile. Only The General’s recent demise has made it possible for Nuevo Feliz to return to Spain.
We look at the new, and it seems, momentarily free world, displayed in the microcosm of the Plaza Zocodover, still hovered over by the dread Alcazar – where in another century in another war – an angry French captain wanted to arrest a small dog…
Out of the corner of my eye I see Mercedes coming towards us out of the calle Silleria. Although it is nighttime she is wearing sunglasses and has obviously cried.
Just as she lifts her hand in a conciliatory little wave, Nuevo Feliz stands up on the table and reaches out for me to join him. I jump up next to him and let him pull white doves out of my jacket pockets. They rise exultantly to the sky and we tumble off the table in laughter.
I see Mercedes turn and run. Poor, poor girl. Her destiny is still – harsh as it seems – never to be part of things…
Eventually we’re the only ones left at the plaza. We would have ordered another drink, but our young waiter is fast asleep in the doorway of the bar.
“Any idea where I can find lodgings at this time of the night?” asks Lazarillo.
“There ís a spare mattress in my room”, I offer.
“That’ll do”, he grins.
When we bid Nuevo Feliz goodnight, he takes our hands in his and says gravely: « When you pass the cathedral have a look at the gargoyle above saint number 13th down, 11th to the left… »
We do; we stop by the cathedral on the way to my small flat in Santo TomÈ, and count saints…. 13th down… Down from where? To the left of what? We laugh, but suddenly, our laughter ceases, as there, staring down at us, is none other than Primo Ramon; his skull luminous in the dark.
After that I quite expect to meet Yerba Buena in the flesh. Once, when Randolph – or is it Tadeo – growls, I even fancy I see a pig, and ask Lazarillo if he saw it too. But he says it must be the wine. Fancy meeting a pig in the streets of Toledo today! The streets are almost the same as they were back then, but for some reason no pigs!!
And frankly, I don’t think Yerba Buena would care to come back to a world that won’t let her walk about with her talented Rubia in tow…
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