I had been told that the lisping of the z’s and c’s was going out of fashion. I was sorry to hear it. Such minor national mannerisms possess an agreeable flavour, and if I had my will not one jot or tittle of them should ever pass away. Insignificant in themselves, collectively they form a barrier which serves to retard a while the incoming tide of internationalisation (hateful word), the drab deluge that threatens to obliterate all personal distinctions in a tediously affable brother-hood of man. For my part, I shrink from the prospect of a world of blood relationsI like to discover in my friends a note of strangeness, a dissimilarity from myself, be it only in the contrary pronunciation of a consonant. Consider, too, what an innocent gratification it affords the tourist, newly returned from his fortnight’s excursion in the Peninsula, to be able to rectify his home-staying friends’ well-meaning ” Saragossa,” muffling the hissing sibilants with a soothing lisp. Does it not give him the authentic cachet of the traveller, as of one who knows Spain from within ?
The excursionist need have no fear. Ile is not immediately to be denied the pleasurable exercise of this artless trick. Zaragoza still lisps. The porter at the station lisps ; the cabman lisps ; the waiter at the café lisps ; the newsvendors lisp ; the street urchins lisp ; the very infants in arms lisp these last being doubtless unable to frame their speech otherwise. The whole syntax of the Castilian tongue appears to merge itself in one general, in-distinguishable lispso appears, at any rate, to the traveller fresh from Catalan Barcelona, where the lisp is not a universal habit but exists, as in more northern latitudes, merely as a private infirmity.
In Spain it is the general custom of the railways to keep at a respectful distance from the cities which the maps in the time-tables would suggest that they passed through. It is as though with a sense of delicacy, unusual in railways, they shrank from disturbing with their shrieking and grinding modernity these haunts of ancient peace. Upon this graceful consideration for the spirit of the past thrives a rude army of bus drivers, fly drivers, and drivers of vehicles of more ambiguous and questionable shape. Outside the railway station at Zaragoza this army is drawn up in well – ordered array, and assaults the traveller with singular precision of attack. The regiment of hotel porters advances as a single man. I can scarcely believe that there are as many hotels in Zaragoza as there are porters. Can it be that they are really only supers, employed by an ambitious municipality to impose upon the stranger and force from him a recognition of the city’s claims to be the rightful capital of all the Spains ? Or is hotel-keeping the staple industry of Zaragoza and do the inhabitants gain a livelihood by taking one another in as guests ?
” Hotel de France ! ”
The guide-books omit to make mention of it, but I had not forgotten the warmth of enthusiasm with which a young Frenchman, whom I had met at Barcelona, spoke of itits filles de chambres, their amiability, their unsophisticated fondness for caramels. So gay a picture had his flying fancies painted that, as I confronted the regiment of porters, I half expected to see a smiling chambermaid emerge from the ranks, and half regretted that I had neglected to provide myself with a store of the propitiatory sweet-meats. But no one advanced to greet me. As I repeated my confident summons the Cuatro Naciones looked at the Europa and shook his head, the Continental shrugged his shoulders at the España. At last the Union imparted the dismaying information
” There is no Hotel de France, señor, in Zaragoza.”
I could have pretty nearly any other nationality
I liked, it appeared, with the unspecified Four Nations thrown in. But France, no ! And it was precisely France that I wanted. So runs the world away, does it not, my masters ? Whether this kindly hostelry actually exists somewhere in the labyrinth of Zaragoza, concealing its identity under an alias, or whether in some more favoured city of the Peninsula it dispenses the hospitality of la belle France, I regret I cannot inform the inquiring reader. For me it remains the elect among hotels. But I know I shall never find it. Do I therefore regret its obscurity ? No, I think I would rather have it as it is, built only in my dreams, its tricolour smiling from the roof, its phantom chambermaids smiling from the balconies, secure from the disillusionising touch of fact. Should I chance to discover it, I might find that its filles de chambre had taken wings, or who knows ?they might reject my proffered caramels.
” Lion d’Or ! ”
Baedeker’s recommendations, if dictated by less romantic considerations, are more reliable. When it is a question of chambermaids, the sober Karl looks the other way, or if indeed they come within the purview of his all-observing eye, as assuredly they must, he is too admirably discreet to publish his observations upon them or even to betray their presence by a star. The only information he vouchsafes regarding the Lion d’Or is that it is unpretending. How infallible the man is ! What could be more unpretending than the dim individual, a six days’ growth upon his chin, frayed tennis shoes upon his feet, who started from his repose at the unaccustomed summons of the name which he bore in tarnished letters upon his cap ? He smiled an unpretending smileof gratitude, perhaps, at being preferred, like the humble guest at the feast in the parable, before those who had rashly presumed to take the foremost places, the pretentious, gold-laced minions of the Europa and the Cuatro Naciones. The bus ? Oh no, the Lion d’Or did not pretend to a bus. It was necessary to take a vehicle inscribed “Despacho Central,” a decayed conveyance patronised by the less successful among the commercial travellers.
Properly speaking, the Despacho Central is not a bus, but a corridor, hermetically sealed with wooden shutters. To lend cohesion to its abnormal length, it is braced together in the midst by an iron girder, which projects half-a-foot above the level of the floor, but which the twilight obscurity of the interior conceals from sight. By means of this device the hasty passenger is neatly floored, with all his bags and baggage, and the representative of the Lion d’Or smiles more unpretendingly than ever. It is a trick that he has never known to fail, and one that serves, no doubt, to brighten daily his somewhat dim and tarnished existence.
And now one begins to wish that the railway had been a trifle less scrupulous in respecting the privacy of Zaragoza and had presumed to draw a little nearer to its centre. One could have desired one’s introduction to the imperial city of Cæsar Augustus to have taken place under happier conditions. True, the distress of the introductory drive is not peculiar to Zaragoza, or for that matter even to Spain. It is one of the unredressed grievances of foreign travel. The traveller’s entry into the city of his election should be a joyous entry, a triumphal entry. He should advance in noiseless comfort down noble thoroughfares, on either side of which the city has massed her cathedrals, palaces and public monuments to fill his admiring eye. But only in Utopiaand Veniceare matters so well ordered. Mindful of the fact that first impressions leave lasting memories, cities should be careful of the appearance they present to the stranger they are about to welcome. Unfortunately they are nearly all slatterns. They greet us in deshabille ; they flaunt before our averted eyes their disreputable out-skirts ; they seem to insist perversely that we shall first explore their shabbiness and squalor and become acquainted with the harsh accent of their slums. Perhaps that is why the Despacho Central is hermetically sealed. It would screen us if it could from these disastrous first impressions. But alas ! though it can blinker our eyes it cannot seal our ears. Unpretentious in its outward aspect, the Despacho Central, when once it has launched into motion, proceeds with an awful majesty of sound, announcing its advent streets ahead by a succession of catastrophic detonations. Its immense iron-tyred wheels smite upon the flinty cobbles, leaving behind them a vivid trail of sparks ; its double set of glass and wooden windows rattle like the rifle-fire of a hotly contested engagement ; its sides, joints, hinges, axles, brakes, groan and shriek in the agony of transit the traveller’s trunks beat the devil’s tattoo upon its roof ; the myriad bells upon its mules burst into shrill carillons of insane mirth ; and above all the amazing din howls the demented being, exploding his whip like pistol-shots, into whose hands the lives of the quavering inhabitants of that dim interior are momentarily confided.
No brand-new, modern-comfort, cosmopolitan Grand Hotel, with polyglot porter in the vestibule and asphyxiating heating apparatus in the bed-room, for me. Give me the traditional Spanish fonda, chill, vast, mouldering, crepuscular, ex-haling a blend of garlic and the odour of the past. Of such a kind is the Lion d’Or. In it, indeed, the dainty-stomached traveller might veritably die ” in aromatic pain,” but the man of stronger nostrils can thrive and be happy there. Its proportions are generous, as befits the spacious age that built it, its staircases broad and shallow, its floors tiled and undulating, its passages endlessly ramifying, its windows shuttered with massive doors, fit to sustain a siege. It is dim, dusty, decaying, but is not the decay of the Lion d’Or more majestic than the sumptuousness of its upstart cosmopolitan rivals ? It is tragic in its conjunction of the squalid and the palatial. And it is untenantedfor the forlorn abandonment of this ancient hostelry which once, I am sure, entertained the Spanish grandees of the old régime and the English milords of the Regency, posting up and down the Peninsula with their splendour and their spleen, can never be adequately filled by the few commercial travellers upon whose patronage it has now declined.
Zaragoza, the Ever Heroical and Immortal Zaragoza, siempre herôica é immortal, for so it magniloquently announces itself in the placards relating to rates and taxes which the municipality affixes to the walls, capital of Aragon and scene of the youthful studies and exploits of Francisco Goya y Lucientes. That reminds meI had almost forgotten Goya. And after all it is Goya who has brought me to Zaragoza. I must rouse myself from dreaming of the vanished glories of the Lion d’Or and set about seeking traces of the great master. And surely the first shrine of my pilgrimage should be his birthplace in the neighbouring hamlet of Fuendetodos.
I ring the bell. Ring, did I say ? The bells of the Lion d’Or rang their last peal a century ago. The bell-pull still remains as a decorative line upon the damp and stencilled walls, but the bell no longer responds to the pull, be it never so urgent. I clap my hands. Echo claps hers and echo after echo, until the remotest passages of the fonda resound with a ghostly hand-clapping. It is as if all the ghosts of all the guests who had ever like myself been baffled by those unresponsive bells were mocking me. But no living soul approaches, not even the spectral Juan in his noiseless tennis shoes. Descending to the Comedor (no salle â manger here) I discover Juan, his head prone upon the white tablecloth, sleeping, after the fashion of porters and waiters, who appear never to get a whole meal of sleep, but take their repose in snatches, when and where they can. It seems harsh to abbreviate his brief oblivion, but–
” Can you tell me where Fuendetodos is ? ”
” Fuendetodos, Fuendetodos.” He repeats the word as though it were the meaningless refrain of a ballad.
” Yes, a little village not far from Zaragoza, famous as the birthplace of Goya.”
” GoyaDon Francisco Goya y Lucientes.”
” Lucientes, Lucientes–him that keeps the tobacco shop in the Calle de
Honour comes as hardly to painters as to prophets, it seems, in their own country.
Perhaps the local time-table might be better informed than the somnolent Juan. But not so. Fuendepiedra it knew, and many other Fuentes, but it too had never heard of Fuendetodos.
It was then that I bethought me of my passport, which ” requested and required in the Name of his Majesty all whom it might concern to afford the bearer every assistance and protection of which he might stand in need.”
” I will go to his Majesty’s Vice-Consul,” I said, ” and request and require him in his Majesty’s name to tell me whereabouts is Fuendetodos. In the face of so august a summons he will not keep back from me the truth.”
Ile kept me waiting, however, longer than it seemed to me that a mere Vice-Consul should, and when at last he came, after giving me one business-like glance from hat to boots, he inquired laconic-ally, ” Well, what are your troubles ?
Is it necessary then to be one that has had troubles, before invoking the assistance of a British Vice-Consul ?
” Troubles, dear sir ? Why, none to speak ofunless it be a few secret ones beyond the curing of any vice-consul under heaven. But the only trouble with which I propose to trouble you is that of knowing how to get to Fuendetodos.”
” And why do you wish to go to Fuendetodos ? There’s no commerce there.” A very practical Vice-Consul, a very proper representative of a people that has founded an empire largely upon the export of Manchester goods and Birmingham ware. Had he known his Tennyson he might have learnt that ” we are not cotton-spinners all.” But I suppose it does not come within the scope of a Vice-Consul’s duties to acquaint himself with the works of the poets-laureate of the nation to which he is accredited. No, that were assuredly too stringent an obligation. I explained that my commerce was with paint and canvas, which, however, I came neither to buy nor sell, but to mark, learn and inwardly digest. The Vice-Consul had heard of Goya. He esteemed him to be a painter of merit. Me he would doubtless have esteemed more had my business borne more directly upon the question of exports and imports, but stillFuendetodos lay some five miles away from a station on the branch line to Utrillas (alight at La Puebla de Albortón), population 531, contains a church, a constabulary office and a co-operative store,’ does an insignificant trade in wheat and cattle, total arable area–
Stop, stop, in his Majesty’s name!my troubles are remedied completely.
There is only one train on the branch line to Utrillasa hard-working little train, for every day of its life, Sundays and saints’ days included, it sets off from Zaragoza at 7.30 A.M., puffs up the eighty-mile incline to Utrillas, arrives there at 1.17 p.m., and then, allowing you just thirty-five minutes to lunch and see the sights of the town, at 1.52 whistles you back to the station, shuts off steam and slides back home again. This train is more like an expensive model toy than any other train I ever came across. Properly speaking, it consists only of an engine and a single coach, the latter neatly divided into two compartments, on the respective doors of which are painted the numerals I. and III., in order to remove any question in the mind of the traveller as to whether the compartment furnished with eight _cushioned arm-chairs is really the first class and that provided with rows of wooden benches the third. But, as though fearing that to arrive at Utrillas with only one coach in tow might suggest doubts as to its seriousness of purpose, it adds to its weight and dignity by taking on a complement of goods trucks, each fitted with a little wooden tower, presumably to afford the brakesman a more extended view of the scenery on the route. To be sure there are no goods in the trucks, but this is a secret deficiency which only those who are inquisitive enough to put their noses over the side and look in are likely to discover. It was somewhat surprising to find that the branch line was provided with miniature tunnels, bridges and signal boxes, all completein fact every-thing appeared to have been thought of that could make it as much like a real railway as possible. It seemed a pity, after the directors had been at so much trouble and expense, that no one should want to go to Utrillas.
At 9.10 precisely, for the absence of trouble-some traffic on the branch line removes the necessity for unpunctuality, I alighted at La Puebla de Albortón, or rather at a symmetrical building, such as an intelligent child might build with a well-equipped box of bricks, which was so labelled. It stood in splendid isolation in the midst of a wide and desolate plain. The railway in fact did not go to La PueblaLa Puebla must come to the railway. It was satisfactory to learn that the official who had charge of the symmetrical building had heard of Fuendetodos. ” But hurry, hurry,” he cried, ” the post has left a quarter of an hour ago. Alone, you will never find it. Hurry quickly and you will overtake him,” and he pointed vaguely in the direction of some distant hills.
I leapt across the little line and ran forward, stumbling over the stones of that stony wilderness. Before, behind and all around stretched the barren, tawny-hued plain, void of any sign of life. Road there was none. I strained my eyes for a glimpse of anything that might resemble a sublunary mail-cartbut as there was no road how should there be a cart ? At length I descried an object, distinguishable from every other object in the plain by the fact of its being unmistakably in motion, which, as I gazed, resolved itself into a donkey and its rider. I quickened my pace and as I did so it seemed to me that the beast did the same. I hollo’d, but the brutal peasant on its back responded only by applying his stick more vigorously to the donkey’s hinder parts. I gave eager chase, fearing that if I once lost sight of this solitary link with humankind I should be for ever lost in this uninhabited waste. Reminded of similar pursuits that I had undertaken in nightmares, with their invariably disastrous terminations, I passed from fear to despair. It was a cigarette that saved me. In Spain, you must know, smokers rarely smoke the cigarettes which the State, in its capacity of sole tobacconist, compels them to buythe paper in which the State wraps its cigarettes being, it appears, of a poisonous composition. Before it can be smoked, therefore, the cigarette must first be unrolled and then rerolled into a less noxious paper of private manufacture, with which the prudent smoker has taken care to provide himself. The operation takes time, but then time doesn’t matter in Spain-except when your welfare hangs upon your overtaking the post in the midst of an inhospitable wilderness, when it matters intensely. By the time the rider on the donkey had succeeded in getting his cigarette well alight, I was within earshot of him.
” Are you the post ? ” I called. Without looking round, the rider spat on the donkey’s off-side and returned a monosyllabic but welcome answer.
” And are you going to Fuendetodos ? ” ” Yes.”
” Then I shall have the pleasure of accompanying you there.”
No answer. More expectoration.
I awaited the catechism which some experience of travelling in the remoter parts of Spain had taught me to expectwhere did I come from ? whither was I going ? what was my name, my nationality, my business ? what did I sell ? had I a family ? how much had I paid for my trousers ? But no, this was an incurious and taciturn post, a post who posted post-haste and dallied with no man on the King’s highwayalthough it was only by a figure of speech that the King might be said to possess a highway to Fuendetodos. Then I remembered that we were in Aragon, and I recalled all I had ever read or heard of the men of Aragonhow they were a dour, hard, morose, pig-headed lot, a race of fighters, men of deeds rather than of words, partaking somewhat of the nature of the bleak, stern country from which they won a hard-earned sustenance. And of this breed was Goya himself. Judging by the specimen now before me, I deemed all that the books had said about the character of the Aragonese peasant well founded.
I was loath to let our conversation die thus prematurely without making some effort to pro-long it, for I have found that in forbidding and solitary regions there arises a desire for human intercourse more urgent than in places where Nature is milder and not so far removed from the influence of man. The spirit seems to need the assurance of the spoken voice. And so, more for the comfort of the sound of the words than for any interest their meaning might have for my interlocutorif one may be termed an interlocutor whose locutions are chiefly monosyllablesI re-marked, ” I have never been this way before. I am a foreigner.”
” That I have already clearly understood.”
A pause. The perspicacity of the man seemed to check the flow of inconsequential speech. ” Do you go to La Puebla every day ? ” ” Every day.”
A longer pause.
” There’s not a heavy post, I suppose, to Fuendetodos ? ”
” Sometimes a newspapertoday a post-card.”
A discouraging bag, to be sure, for so arduous a day.
The track began to climb steeply upwards, passing beneath clusters of stunted fir-trees, their sombre green richly burnished by the sun. The sun, scaling the hill-top, now beat strongly on our backs and flashed a painfully dazzling reflection from the chalky soil of the ravine. I began to grow tired.
” Does the road wind uphill all the way ? ” (Now did I ask that question of myself, or was it a quotation ?)
” Yes, to the very end.”
(Surely he must have read Christina Rossetti too.)
Now, where were we going ? FuenFuende-
well, there would be an inn there any way.
” Will there be beds for me and all who seek ? ” (That was the proper question, wasn’t it ?) ” Yea, beds for all who come.”
(There, he’s got the answer pat again !)
How strong the sun is ! I think I’ll rest a little.
Of course it was all the fault of the bells of the Lion d’Or. No bell, no breakfast, and without breakfast it is not wise to pursue the post across the plain under a strong sun.
” There, a little better ? Yes, the sun is strong, and it’s a rough road. Now ride a little, I’ll walk. That’s it.”
After all, they are a kindly race, these Aragonese.
We climbed up out of the ravine and passed through some fields, in which the young green corn was pushing up out of the baked soil and the almond-trees were yielding their blossoms to the sun’s kiss. At length we crossed the summit of the flat-topped hill and descended into a saucer-shaped valley, poised in the altitude of the sierra. In the midst of it a huddle of crumbling, earth-coloured houses clustered round a high-shouldered church, topped by two miniature cupolas. It was Fuendetodos.
The post delivered me as carefully as if I had been a registered parcel at the posada, for fonda there is none at Fuendetodos, and went his ways, no doubt to attend to the delivery of the postcard. A fonda, I may explain, is where you eat and sleep, a posada where you eat and drink merely. A restaurant, in fact ?well, yes, if the term did not seem so incongruous when applied to the primitive building into the patio of which, large and bare as a coach-house, I now entered.
On a low stool just inside the immense coach-house door sat a girl, working at pillow lace. On another low stool at her side sat a large woman, dressed in black, with a black silk handkerchief over her head, working at embroidery. A third stool was produced, on which I sat, working at nothing at all. We sat all three, silent, bathed in that profound and timeless tranquillity which pervades the cool dark patios of Spainsat, so it seemed to me, ” without emotion, hope or aim,” like Wordsworth ” in the loved presence of his cottage fire.” Presently I began to wish there were a fire. The chill of the bleak Aragonese winters hangs about these vast patios far into spring. An unfriendly and treacherous chill it is too, lurking ambushed in shadows and striking into your vitals when you are least expecting it. Just on the other side of the threshold, where the frontier between sun and shade was sharply defined, it was high summer. A dog of undistinguished pedigree lay on the sunny side, snapping unsuccessfully at the newly hatched but nimble flies of spring, and sturdy Aragonese children played at make-believe bull-fights in the dust. On our side of the frontier, however, December still held sway and warmth was contraband. I sneezed.
” Go into the kitchen, señor,” commanded the lady in black. ” Pilar, go and light the fire.”
I was glad to obey, and passing through an open door at the back intruded upon a calf and several young pigs who were taking their midday siesta. Correcting my error, I entered another and smaller room with a large inglenook, indeed it would be correct to say that the room was all nook. Upon the hearth was heaped a pile of green fir branches which, when Pilar applied a light to them, shot a sudden violet flame up the yawning chimney to the square of shining blue at the top. The flame at once shrank into a few glowing embers, on which Pilar commenced to fry a potato omelette. I have no doubt it would have been a very excellent omelette if an itinerant pedlar, peddling paste earrings, had not chanced to wander in at that very critical moment. It is not so easy to fry a potato omelette and at the same time decide between the relative attractions of emerald and sapphire earrings, all at the surprisingly cheap rate of half-a-peseta apiece. By the time that Pilar had elected for the emeralds, the omelette was lost irretrievably. But my loss was the pedlar’s gain, for, observing that I made but little headway with the charred remains, he offered to take them off my hands, to which I gladly consented.
And now other Pilarsfor you are as safe in calling a girl in Aragon Pilar as a new-made knight in England Sir Johnentered in flocks, as though the inglenook were none other than the interior of the mountain near Hamelin’s town and the pedlar the Pied Piper himself. ” The stuff of all countries is just the same,” remarked the sententious Emerson. The feminine stuff is so, at any rate. One might have supposed there was not a large demand for jewellery in Fuendetodos. Even the Vice-Consul was unaware of it. But, bless you, the Rue de la Paix itself never saw such a brisk half-hour’s trade in precious stones. Vanity ? Well, it went a trifle deeper than that, I fancy. Spring was in the air, and the same impulse that was urging the young green wheat to greet the sun and the almond-trees to woo the winds with blossom stood the pedlar in good stead.
Whilst the bargaining was going forward, I had leisure to observe carefully the Pilars of Fuendetodos, so that I might recognise them if I saw any of them afterwards on the canvases of Goya. No languid beauties of the South, these children of windy Aragonrose-cheeked, brown-haired, quick-eyed, with high, broad foreheads and full, determined little chins. But for their Aragonese chatter, I could have sworn that they had been nurtured on the heaths of Scotland. Scotch without a doubt was their loathness to part with the sixpences, for not a single sapphire or emerald changed hands at a half-a-peseta but a strenuous if unsuccessful effort was made to secure an allowance of five centimos discount.
But now it was high time for me to set out in quest of the house where Goya was born. Calle de Alfondiga, No. 15, was the direction given by the landlady of the posada, who proceeded to conduct me thither. News of my coming must have been signalled in advance, for I was abashed to find half the housewives of Fuendetodos assembled in the patio to receive me.
” This way, señor, here she is,” exclaimed a young woman, whom I took to be the mistress of the house, leading the way to a small bedroom on the ground floor, the rest of the company following. ” She,” whoever she might be, was bedridden, but made an effort to lift her silvery head from the pillow as I entered. Now could there be a mistake ? Did they take me for the doctor from La Puebla ?
That could scarcely be, for every woman who addressed me put her mouth close to my ear and shouted at the topmost pitch of her robust Aragonese lungs. By that it was clear that they were aware that I was a foreigner, for every Spaniard knows that the only way to make the foreigner understand is to shout at him at close quarters so that the words cannot fail to penetrate his skull, however obtuse.
” She’s very old and feeble ! ” shrieked she who was mistress of the place.
” Six and eighty years ! ” a neighbour vociferously corroborated.
” She’s not like to be much longer in this world,” screamed a friend of the invalid.
” We don’t think she’ll last the summer out,” roared another sympathiser.
I scarcely knew whether the correct attitude to adopt was one of condolence or of optimism. In any case it seemed desirable that we should discuss the impending decease of the aged sufferer in a lower key.
” But who is she ? ” I inquired at last.
” Why, Doña Benita Lucientes,” chorused the crowd, ” granddaughter of Goya’s mother’s sister.”
They say she has the face of Goya,” explained the hostess of the posada. ” Open the shutter, Pilar, and let the Señor see for himself.”
But what the face of Goya was really like I confess I had not the hardihood to stay to see. Throughout this somewhat embarrassing interview I had been secretly glad of the shutter’s kindly obscurity, and now, briefly pressing the old lady’s shrunken fingers, I hastily took my leave. The bedroom in which the newly born Francisco first saw the light that was to be the joy of his four-score years, the kitchen where he doubtless loved to watch the violet flame shoot up the yawning chimney to the blue patch of sky, the backyard where he first teased those bulls of which he became, if report speaks true, a dexterous fighterwell, are they not like the bedrooms, kitchens and back-yards of all the little Franciscos whose fame has never travelled out of earshot of the village where they were born ? 1
And now to the church. But first we must call upon the Alcaldefor there is a certain etiquette to be observed even in Fuendetodosor rather upon the Alcalde’s wife, for his worship was afield ploughing. Again the cool shadowy patio and the three low stoolsthe landlady of the posada, the Alcalde’s wife and I.
” Do you ever have a fiesta here ? I asked the words falling into this tense silence like stones into still water.
” Once a year, the 24th of August.”
” And do you have music then ? ”
” Oh yes, music and a procession.”
” Guitars, no doubt ? ”
” Guitar-r-r-as ! No, Dios mio ! ” And the Alcalde’s wife made a gesture, not altogether unlike that of a rude boy putting his fingers to his nose, expressive of her horror at the profanity of the idea. A very formal and rather triste little village, I reflected, and wondered whether it had been as formal and as triste in Goya’s day. In order to divert the thoughts of the company from the unhappy subject of the guitars, I inquired if we were waiting for the Cura.
” For the Senor Cura,” corrected the Alcalde’s wife. Decidedly a most formal little village, which held authority in due respect.
” But may we not enter the church without waiting for the Señor Cura ? I questioned, observing how the shadows were lengthening in the plaza in front of us. But the question was apparently too senseless to be worth an answer and the silence in the patio again became like still, deep water.
Happily before the shadows grew many inches longer, the Señor Cura arrived, a rather wistful-looking young man, whose face, had it been shaved, would, I feel sure, have worn an air of no little distinction and refinement. But I can quite under-stand that the niceness of personal habits is apt to perish in villages such as Fuendetodos. Ile too must have been forewarned of the object of my visit, for without any words beyond the formal phrase of greeting he went to fetch the keys and led the way to the church. I know he took me for a heretic, for he never offered me so much as a drop on his finger-tips of the holy water with which he crossed himself as we entered.
The church was very dark, lit only by a few circular windows set high up in the wall, and even these were curtained. Over a side altar on the gospel side, the one nearest the altar mayor, stands a retablo which serves as a cupboard in which the modest treasures of the little church are stored. Its double doors are painted on both sides by the hand of Goya. The subject on the outer panel represents St James, as he prays on the banks of the Ebro, receiving from Our Lady the image and the jasper pillar which are now pre-served in the Cathedral of La Virgen del Pilar at. Zaragoza. The light, however, was so poor, and the painting so dimmed with dirt and candle smoke, that the picture presented no more than a blurred impression. Removing the candlesticks, the priest opened the doors, on the inner panels of which the paintings proved to be in a much better state of preservation. One represented the Assumption of the Virgin, the other a saint with a snowy beard, whose identity I have forgotten. I looked at these figures in vain for any trace of Goya’s realistic vision. They were purely conventional in colour and design. Little wonder that when he visited Fuendetodos as an old man, in 1808, Goya exclaimed on seeing again his early work : ” Don’t tell me that I painted this ! ” Tradition has it that Goya painted these panels at the tender age of twelve, but I am convinced that this is merely another of those inaccuracies into which tradition, with its incurable hankering after the marvellous, is so easily misled. No child of twelve, were he never so precocious, ever attained such fluency of design and knowledge of the handling of paint, Moreover these figures were obviously painted by one who was familiar with the fashion in which saints are wont to arrange their draperies and the poses which they naturally adopt when they are standing for their portraits, and where should the infant Goya have become acquainted with these peculiarities ? Not in Fuendetodos, I imagine. Much more likely at Zaragoza, in the studio of his master, Don José Luzân y Martinez, who had lived in Italy, and studied Tiepolo, and may there-fore be conjectured to have had first-hand know-ledge of the attitudes of saints. If I were to hazard a guess, I should say that these panels belonged to the period of his early student days in Zaragoza, painted perhaps in the leisure of a holiday spent in his native village, when the young artist was eager to display to the admiring villagers the clever tricks he had learnt down there in the city in the valley.
As I had made no audible comments during my examination of the paintings, the priest thought it only kind, no doubt, to give me a friendly lead.
” Los intelligentes,” he remarkedpeople with intelligence, that is to say” esteem very highly the naturalness of the beard of the saint.”
But I think that I learnt more about Goya out there in the little plaza in front of the church than before those half-effaced traces of his early efforts. All the boys of Fuendetodos were waiting outside the church door, and when the Señor Cura appeared every one of them salutednot a perfunctory touching of the forelock, but as profound a reverence as Dr Johnson thought fit for an arch-bishop. The Señor Cura was evidently both priest and potentate of the little hamlet. No squire here to usurp the reins of government, and as for the Alcalde, ploughing his holding out there in the fields, why, what was he but a peasant like the rest of them ? But with that instinct which still survives from less democratic centuries they recognised that the priest belonged to another world than theirshis face, shaven or unshaven, bore the ineffaceable stamp of authority. No wonder the village did not dare to speak of him even behind his back without the prefix of respect, and did not greet him without uncovering. I am sure that this wistful-eyed young man never misuses his authority, but qualifies it with affection and good sense. But what of the Señor Cura who ruled here in Goya’s time ? I could not help wondering if he might not have been a tyrant de facto as well as de jure, and whether some petty but rankling act of injustice might not have kindled the first spark of Goya’s angry anti-clericalism. In my mind’s eye I saw the scowling Francisco standing there with his playmates in front of the church, as the urchins were standing now, his cap in his hand and black hatred in his heart. And guitars forbidden too at the annual fiesta, Dios mio ! ” An ugly thing, this Catholic Church,” he may well have thought, ” with its bullying señor curas and its abomination of guitars ! ” Is it altogether fanciful to suppose that from such tiny seeds may have sprung the bitter fruit of the satires of his later years ? ” Surely we end rather than begin with the principles that shape our life and thought.” We live first and formulate our principles afterwards. And I fancy that if we were to be quite honest with ourselves we should have to admit that those principles which we supposed to be the logical product of experience were really there, in the germ, in the motions which stirred in us in the first moments of waking consciousness. We grow, but we change less than we suppose. We follow throughout our lives the first bent of our nature. And how slight and imperceptible the touch that gives to the sapling character its determining bent.
I stayed a while leaning over the parapet that bounds the little plaza, looking out over the shallow, stony valley. The sun was dropping below the hilltops and the warm brick-reds of the landscape chilled to the grey of a March twilight. A gap in the hills beckoned the eye to the distant purple plain beyond. What a remote, desolate, abandoned spot was this Fuendetodos to foster a genius in ! And what indomitable resolution must have been his to break the hard shell that confined him, to free himself from the oppression of the environment, to defy the tyranny of the Señor Cura and all other repressive authorities, to tramp with dogged steps over the stony wilderness to La Puebla and down the long valley to Zaragoza and out into the world beyond ! I began to doubt whether there has ever been a mute inglorious Milton or a Michael Angelo whose hands never relaxed their grip of the handle of the plough. Genius, like murder, will outif it could get out of Fuendetodos there is surely no solitude or fastness in the world from which it cannot disimprison itself. But that is the essence of genius, independence of circumstances. It stands upon its own foundation and needs no external supports. Do we not sometimes think that, had circumstances been otherwise, we should have been this or that, something at any rate very different from what we are ? And we are right, so we shouldbecause we are of the lesser sort who live dependent on circumstances. To the great ones of the earth circumstances are indifferent. It is all one to them whether they are born in Fuendetodos or in Rome.
But it grows late. As the post only makes the journey once a day, I hired an urchin to accompany me as far as the brow of the hill from which on a clear evening you can see the symmetrical station down in the plain, not trusting to my own sagacity to select the particular track, in all that labyrinth of tracks, which leads to La Puebla. Miguel, having with Aragonese shrewdness first secured payment in advance, strode along man-fully, his blanket thrown over his shoulder in the manner of his elders. We gained the brow of the hill, descended the chalky ravine where the golden fir-trees cower, and emerged from their shadows. Before us stretched the plain, purple beneath a purple sky, but spotted here and there with shining, clear-cut circles of light, where the last fugitive rays slanted upon it. An erring gleam fell upon Miguel as he stood there in the pathway, sturdy, upright, frank, a picture of Aragon in little. He pointed silently to the station, and then, holding out his small brown hand, he looked me frankly in the eyes and smiling said :
” Haslet otra vez “Until another time. Adorable child ? How have your rude hills taught
you so fine and simple a courtesy ? But no, Miguel, there will not be another time. I have said good-bye to Fuendetodos and its Señor Cura and its moribund Dona Benita Lucientes for good and all. Never again shall I pursue the hurrying post across this forlorn plain. For there is something in the desolation, the abandonment, the oppressive peace, of these lost hamlets of an older Spain for which my spirit, I confess it with shame and sorrow, is not sufficiently robust. Is it not a fact that much sojourning in the garish but friendly towns corrupts and enfeebles the spirit, unfitting it for an exile, however brief, in those solitudes where has been shaped a more ancient and inflexible way of life ?
I remember that once, in an idle hour, I scanned a map of Spain and spied in a white oasis in the maze of print the pleasant name of Madrigal de las Altas Torres (Madrigal of the High Towers). Do you not see it, the compact, brown-walled town, with its high towers piercing the blue ? But if you have registered a vow, as I did, to visit it some time before your journeying days are done, take my advicedo not go ! For when at last, weary and footsore, you stand beneath the shadow of its crumbling towers, you will find nothing but dust and silence and weariness of spirit. And the people of the place will gather round you and shout into your ears until the drums are like to crack. And they will bring the Señor Cura to you, but he will give you no holy water, for whether you are of the Faith or not, being English, you shall not escape the taint of heresy. Spain, I think, will always remain an undiscovered country, for the reason that there are few who have the intrepidity of spirit necessary to discover it.
I was glad when the train, with a welcoming whistle, slid into sight at La Puebla de Albortón, trailing its unoccupied coach and useless goods trucks. Nor did I envy the brakesmen in their little observatories, for I had seen that day enough of desolation and weakly craved for the limited but substantial comforts of the Lion d’Or.