FANDOM


FRIENDS TO THE POOR Edit

A Story of Modern Spain, 

by Eusebio Blasco Edit

Adapted for Short Stories 1903 from the Spanish by William Struthers* 

Well known and greatly respected in Madrid society was a certain marchioness,whose name we do not give, but to whom the newspapers referred as "the distinguished," "the illustrious," "the pious," or "the beautiful." Por the upper ten, as well as the sportive chulos, have their soubriquets, and if the Madrid women of the poorer class are designated as "the signboard," "the tight topknot," or "the mournful," not less readily do the journalists apply the epithets "elegant," "charitable," or "virtuous" to dames of high degree. Our marchioness "received," and in this was superior to any of our first-rate espadas (bull-fighters), who, by confession of their intimates, do not know how "to receive." 

Every Friday evening the marchioness entertained a half dozen friends, for whom she not only provided abundant refreshments, but also dishes with outlandish names, on a billof-fare in French, because, if not set down in French, what one eats is beneath one's notice. After eating, the guests of the marchioness played ombre, or talked literature, politics, or religion. 

Devoting her life to the poor, the marchioness organized charity balls, benevolent clubs and fairs of a similar character; and, indeed, there is no question but that she was an exceedingly estimable person. Each successive Friday had its own set of guests; so that the marchioness alternated her relations with society over the supper table; but at every repast her chaplain never failed to be present — a model cur£, angelic in disposition, neither a Carlist nor a Liberal, and no more ambitious than radical. An honorable priest, a sincere shepherd of souls was he, and likewise a very strong hand at ombre. 

Although the marchioness had numerous domestics, the servant nearest and dearest to her was her faithful, wide-awake Manuel, whom all the friends of the household liked and treated as one of the family. To each and every one of them he talked as though they were companions; while many a favor had he done them. Very worthy, in sooth, was he, and Don Esteban (for such was the chaplain's name) even went so far as to dub him a saint. 

And now on the particular Friday evening, wherewith we are concerned, matters proceeded in the following manner: 

Barring Don Esteban, first came Antofiito, and to say this means everything; for the mere name, Antofiito, represents a biography. 

But who is Antofiito ? 

Antofiito is a very lively and very elegant youth, with no profession, no business, and no income, and out of whom his parents have not succeeded in making anything, but whom everybody courts and praises, because everybody likes him. 

To-day he dines in one house, to-morrow in another; plays and sings snatches of songs at the piano, cuts a figure at La Pefia, belongs to a club in the suburbs, dances very well, rides a bicycle, thrums the guitar, kills bullocks (in the ring), gets drunk once in a while, fights if need be, applies nicknames that stick, tells jokes, is a crack marksman and sleeps away his day. Yet every drawing-room opens its doors to him, because he belongs to a good family. 

Next came Vizconde de Tal. The viscount is a bachelor, retired diplomat/member of all the Catholic clubs, subscriber to all the "smart" lectures, a monkish literatus — that is to say, the author of verses to Saint Paul, the first hermit, and to the blessed Maria Ana de Jesus; the author also of a life of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, patron saint of Calahoera, as well as of the glories of the Inquisition — works crowned by the Spanish Academy, which keeps him in pickle, so to speak, for the next vacant seat. He is twenty-six years of age, and without a copper. 

Third on the list we find Don Fidel Hermosilla, a retired Treasury clerk and a man of order, who injured his prospects by falling in love with somebody beneath him, but ahead of him in spending his salary — a very respectable-looking man, withgold-rimmed spectacles, and a cross embroidered ondress coat, which fits him very neatly. He is said to get his living now from ombre ; but some people do not believe it. 

Finally came Don Fidel a very lively young fellow, formerly a clerk in the Lottery Office, who, having married a countess, got to be called count — a title that he has retained, permitting folks to speak of him just as if he belonged to the Tamanes, Albas or Medinacelis. Left a widower at twentyfive, he spent his wife's fortune right merrily, and has now nearly reached the bottom of his purse, although he is not willing to acknowledge the fact, and his tailor has undertaken to make him appear to be wealthy. His good humor and his smart speeches make him popular in fashionable, or rather in general, society. He'enli vens dinner-table talk with tales from real life, and people stand in awe of his sharp tongue. He and Antofiito were at that time the delight of the marchioness's Friday receptions, when they chanced to meet there. Manuel, the old servant, would sometimes peep through the diningroom curtains to listen to them; while even Don Esteban would consent to ignore certain expressions, for the sake of the good things that went along with them. 

It was eight o'clock when our six friends seated themselves at table. Their conversation embraced a variety of topics, each guest vying with his neighbor in readiness of speech. Antofiito gave a detailed account of the latest bull fight, and argued over the competency of the Minister of War with Don Fidel. The viscount announced the lecture that he purposed giving on "Changes of Linen during the Reign of Constantine," as well as his forthcoming book, "The History of the Iconoclasts of la Mancha," and, between turbot sauce capres and aspic de foie gras (which he ate with elegant voracity), expatiated upon Origen and Tertulian and Arius and the 'Nestorians, not to mention the Council of Nice and the barbarities of the Albigensians. Don Esteban was enchanted , while the count talked politics, comparing Don Francisco Silvela to the ancient heretics, Pi y Margall to Simon Magus, and Don CarloAo Antichrist. In fact, he found his little word for everything. They all ate heartily and then begged Antofiito to strike up some gay dances between the coffee and ombre. 

As the marchioness received only men at her house, she allowed a certain freedom that caused the evening to pass very pleasantly. And just at the end of the repast, as the chaplain was tef erring in highly eulogistic terms to the charity festival organized by her the previous week, the lady herself observed:! 

"Apropos, I must request a favor of you gentlemen." 

All present hastened to give their consent, be the petition what it might. 

"You are well aware, gentlemen, "continued the marchioness, "that I am not at all in the habit of annoying my friends with, direct appeals for aid in my charities. I prefer asking them to take a fauteuil at the theater, a ticket for a raffle, or a box at a concert; but this evening, before you take your leave, I shall place you all under contribution." 

Very slightly did each one wince; yet wince each one did, albeit for an instant only. 

"Agreed! Is that all! Whatsoever your highness wishes! Always doing good!" were some of the exclamations that followed. But the marchioness had not said her last word. 

"It concerns an unfortunate," she went on, "who has applied to me for help, and I rely upon you, gentlemen, to assist me. On two or three Fridays, with the aid of all my friends, I shall be enabled to make a wretched creature very happy." 

"The Senora Marquesa already knows," emphasised the curé, "that every copper I win at ombre goes to the poor." 

"Though there are no poor in Madrid," interrupted Antofiito. "If your reverence wishes to talk crooked, you had better practise it on my landlord, who can lie faster than he can speak. "{ 

' 'Come, come ! Coffee is served, gentlemen. " 

Don Fidel thereupon offering his arm to the marchioness, the'company adjourned to the drawing-room, where the coffee was awaiting them. 

According to her custom, the marchioness left her guests to themselves for a half hour, in order to let them smoke and chat without restraint. And during that half hour two other friends arrived — Commandant Soles, who informed the company that his last peseta had been won from him at the Casino, and begged not to have the matter mentioned to their hostess, lest she should haul him over the coals ; and a poor young man, named Ambrosio, who*was*a*?prot£g# of T the* P excellent "marchioness” and owned nothing save the short coat on his back and the carnation in his buttonhole. Briefly explained, the foul fiend, who delights in getting things in a tangle that particular night so contrived matters that everybody should be asked for money, when nobody had any, although none was willing to acknowledge the fact, because it seemed an unseemly thing to do in a house where one is invited to eat. 

Antofiito, puffing [at ja cigar and drumming on the piano, made a wryiace to attract the count's attention. Then, bearing hard on the joud pedal, so as to prevent the others from hearing what he said, he inquired: "Have you any money with you?" 

. "How should I? I have just enough for the |game and a thank you." 

"As the cur£ is sure to get that, you are certainly well off! Moreover, you know we all have to contribute to a poor fund before our departure." 

"Yes, I know, and therefore ask you the same question in my turn : 'Have you any money with you?' " 

"I should rather say not !" 

"Well, what are we going to do?" 

The commandant just then drawing near, the count said to him: "Listen, Soles, just before leavetaking you will be requested to contribute to a poor fund." 

" If that's the case, I'm off!" 

“ Haven't you any money about you ? None whatever ? " 

"No, not a centime! Haven't I told you that I've just lost fifteen hundred pesetas ? So what business have I to be here ?" 

"Frankly," observed Antofiito, as he nonchalantly played the romance from "La Pavorita," "this is a'nice hole we've all tumbled into!" 

"Were only one of us without money, it wouldn't look so bad ; but for all of us to be in the same plight is a disgrace !" 

"As soon as I heard of the threatened ' bleeding,' " muttered the count, "my digestion became affected, and those artichokes lie like a dead weight on my stomach." 

"Don't join the game. Let us be off." 

"Gentlemen!" cried the chaplain, already seated and shuffling the cards, "to your places !" 

Don Fidel was likewise seated [and, (leaning toward the cur£, said in a whisper: "Don Esteban, lend me four duros until to-morrow." 

"Ah, I'm so sorry," replied the good father; "I haven't a bit of money about me. When I'm unlucky at ombre I ask the marchioness for money and reimburse her the next day." 

"But I have only just so much on my person, as I made a payment on my way hither; and if I should lose at play, could not contribute anything to the marchioness's poor fund." 

"How could you lose, Don Fidel? Why, you know more about ombre than the man who invented it." 

"Yet just suppose I were to lose. I am not a man who permits all the world to know his business. Come, I'm going to take my leave. I cannot endure the thought of incurring such a risk." 

"God will provide, God will provide!" returned the cur6. "Ho, there 1 diamonds, hearts, spades, clubs 1 The viscount must deal!" 

Tne viscount was having his own thoughts. He kept aloof and begged favors of nobody, striding up and down the apartment, between the door and the window, like a caged lion; while his ears were redder than when he penned his "Ode to Saint Simon Stylites the Less," which won a prize from the municipality of Cadrete, province of Saragossa. He had not brought any^money for ombre, because that was the thirty-first of the month, and the viscount was wont religiously to pay his debts on that day, and remained without a copper in his pocket; while no one knew whether he' was poor or rich. How was he going to inform the marchioness that he had not a cuarto about him ? He talked to himself, and, as he walked to and fro, mumbling, the good cur6 said: "Come, come! Drop those verses, and I'll add a coda to them of my own J" 

"Wait a moment," he answered, in a very low voice, as though, all of a sudden, a luminous idea had struck him; and, walking off, he remained absent about ten minutes, returning with the countenance of a man whose mind is thoroughly at ease, and, sitting down again, he began to shuffle the cards. 

"Ah I" cried Antoftito, striking up the march from "Le Proph^te " with a grand crash and clangor. "Now I have it! A rare idea! Now I have it!" 

"What is it, what is it?"eagerly questioned the commandant and the count. 

"Manuel ! Manuel will" give us'the money !" 

"Manuel? The servant?" queried the commandant. 

"You are right," chimed in the count. "The old family servant, he who is so fond oAis all. Why, he lent me last month ten duros, which I had lost at ombre. Not having sufficient withine to make things square, I gole out softly, told him what a strait I was in, he came to my rescue, and two days afterward I handed him back the money with a bonus/' 

"I do not borrow money from servants " replied the commandant. 

"All right! It is not the same with you as with us. He knew us when we were children, and was a confidant in all our scrapes. I will ask for both," said Antofiito. "Go, my dear count, and have your little game at ombre." 

"I'll do so, now that we've arranged affairs." 

Whereupon the count seated himself at the table, and the commandant did likewise, to make a fourth hand at the game, counting upon the other two to make all settlements*, while Antofiito gracefully made his exit to seek out and confer with old Manuel in the antechamber. From afar he descried Ambrosio already in confidential converse with the aged servitor. 

Poor Ambrosio had overheard the remarks of the others at the piano, and beganjbo feel exceedingly squeamish; and, as he did not possess a coin to bless himself with, he thought the best plan was to borrow from the old man, to whom he was just at that moment saying: 

"Manuel, lend me a couple of duros, payable at the end of the month. I'm awfully hard up, and cannot speak to the marchioness on the subject, because only yesterday she paid what I owed at my lodgings." 

And Manuel's response was: "Wait, Sefiorito, until I see whether I have enough about me; for I've just handed the Senor Vizconde four duros, as he lost his portmonnaie in the Calle Salve. Yes, here it is, and now don't waste it. ' ' 

Ambrosio went back to the drawing-room, and Antoftito, coming very close, slapped Manuel familiarly on the shoulder: 

"Manuel, dear, kind Manuel, my good little old boy, who is it that thinks a great deal of you? And how do you manage always to be so good and so even-tempered ?" 

"Senorito Antofiito is always so funny !" 

"Ah, but if< you don't help Senorito Antofiito out of the scrape he is in, he is going this very night to blow his brains out at the viaduct !" 

"Lord Jesus 1 do not offend God ! What is the matter?" 

And thereupon, in whispered, hurried accents, Antofiito made a speech full of falsehoods and tremendous phrases, the purport whereof was simply that Manuel must give him twenty duros before midnight. 

"Twenty duros! Senor Dios!" ejaculated Manuel, who hailed from Navarre, "I was expecting something of this kind. Why, what ails you all? And, look you, Senorito Antofiito, I swear to you that I have but twenty duros in my trunk. And if you knew, if you only knew — but you do not wish to know! Welladay! Til go fetch them to you. But when will you, dear kind Senorito, give them back to me?" 

"Oh, to-morrow or the next day! Run and get them. Are they in one note or separate ?" 

'They are separate. But what difference does that make?" 

"Never mind ! I know what I'm talking about. Go I" 

And away went the good old man to get the money; and when he presently brought it, Antofiito kissed his bald pate before returning in triumph to the drawing-room, to which the marchioness had also gone back, and now asked him to play some Flemish dances whilst J;he others continued their game. 

Never was ombre played with greater zest and animation. The chaplain showed himself at his very best, and nearly drove his fellow players to desperation ; for he won every game. He took from them right and left, laughing with all his might as he stripped them of every cuarto. The commandant rose to his feet, furious, and muttered to the count: 

"This is unendurable. I really believe the old chap isn't playing straight!" 

The viscount slipped out quietly, and thus saved himself from being petitioned in charity's name. Ambrosio did not play. 

At eleven o'clock the servants brought tea, and whilst the marchioness was preparing the cups, Antofiito stealthily handed the commandant four duros, the count four, and four more to Don Fidel, each of whom had whispered to him in turn: "I haven't a real in my pocket; Don Esteban has skinned me completely!" 

At midnight the cur£ observed that it was growing late. Whereupon the marchioness said: "Now, then, my dear friends, having already announced that I should trouble you to-night with a petition, I shall add that it relates to a great misfortune. A little alms, for the love of God 1" 

And, then, as though it had been the most natural thing in the world, each guest handed her his four duros — that is all excepting Antofiito, who gave eight, and Ambrosio, who gave two. Then, with a thousand amiable expressions, they prepared to depart. 

"Wait a moment," said their hostess, "until I summon Manuel and bid him take this money to-morrow to the person for whom it is intended. Manuel, come here 1" 

"Manuel."

"Senora Marquesa." 

"You have told me of an unfortunate who, by reason of a merchant's failure, has lost all his savings, have you not?" 

"Yes, Senora." 

"You have also told me that the unhappy man does not wish me to be the one to rescue him from suicide, because I have already done so much for him, but desires rather to have me beg my friends for assistance, who are all friends to the poor. Is not this the truth ?" 

"Yes, Senora." 

"Well, then, you may tell him that these good friends of mine have all responded to the voice of charity, and I now hand you the twenty-six duros that they wish you to convey to him. I am not acquainted with the ruined man; but, perhaps, these gentlemen would like to know whom they are helping. Can you not give me the name of the unfortunate person?" 

Slowly, with all humility, Manuel answered: 

"Senora, the unfortunate person is I myself!" 

The guests of the marchioness hastily took their leave, each one fleeing in his own particular direction and, to tell the truth, laughing to himself over the occurrence. 

Manuel was discharged the following day. 

"How shameful!" exclaimed the marchioness. "To oblige me to beg for a member of my own household! To have a servant who has been in my family for thirty years compel me to annoy my friends in such a manner!" 

Antofiito and the count neither returned themselves nor sent the money back; yet were they urgently invited to sup with the marchioness. The viscount wrote a pamphlet on "Pauperism in Families." Only the commandant handed Antofiito back the twenty pesetas on a day when he had won ten thousand reales with a single duro. 

Poor Manuel found no friends in the hospital where he took refuge save the pious cur£, Don Esteban, who, recalling that famous night, repeatedly said to him : 

"Why, man, don't you know that nearly all the money that many persons give to the poor is only what they themselves have taken from them before?" 

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.