|Maria was tall and rather thin and still handsome at fifty-four, which is old for a Spanish woman. Her thick hair was still black and her smooth olive skin tightly drawn over the strong bones of the face. She always wore a black silk handkerchief over her hair and was always dressed in black. I suppose it had originally been mourning for her husband "dead and in glory" for twenty years, but now like all old countrywomen of the ancient school in Spain, she always wore it as the only suitable wear for this woeful world.
She was rather a severe character, rather an old Roman. Devoted to our interests and very indulgent to our oddities after her fashion, she was hard upon mankind in general and spent a great deal of time in disapproving. Novedad--Novelty was her horror. Anything new was suspect. She would not have had a leaf change. And she spoke of novedad with the same intense disapproval as an old lady in the South whom I once, as a little girl, heard hold forth on a new electric tram service which was taking the place of the old mule-drawn cars. "I have no use," she said, "for these new-fangled Northern ideas." Maria ought to have been in her service.
Enrique, her son, was a very different character. He was a gentle, charming young man and loved flowers like a Linnaeus. He had hardly ever seen garden flowers except in pots in his native village in the Sierra Nevada, and our garden and orchard looked like the Garden of Eden. You could see him standing sometimes when he was not at work gazing up into a flowering orange tree with a sort of ecstatic wonder on his face, as if he were waking in the morning of the world. The Spanish love of the land is far stronger even than that of the French, and to keep them from the soil by not cultivating the big estates and the waste land of Spain is like starving them amidst plenty.
Pilar, Maria's daughter, was a rather wan widow with one ugly little four-year-old daughter. Her life had been sad. She had married a poor laborer, a "foreigner" from another village who had been a bad lot, ill-treated her, got into trouble and deserted her. Finally she had heard that he was dead. She had had to live with Maria and at Maria's expense. Until we bought our Malaga house and brought them all down with us to this land of plenty, they had suffered often from hunger and cold in their high mountain village.
Maria had disapproved of the marriage and blamed Pilar for the outcome and treated her severely, though like all Spaniards she loved children too much to be anything but kind and indulgent to her little granddaughter, the result of it. But Pilar's sad, patient face, which seemed ready to silently endure hunger, cold and privations of every kind, always seemed to me like an illustration for the life of the Spanish poor. Without being beautiful in any usual sense of the word, it had its own bleak austere beauty, like the beauty of some austere Spanish landscapes, where the gray granite and the yellow earth mount with bare unbroken noble lines to the sky without a tree, or, one would have said, a flower; and yet the gray fragrant herbs on the barren slopes feed great flocks of goats that pass with all their bells ringing, and myriads of bees droning through the bright day.
That afternoon Pilar was leaning, as she often did, on the back of my chair as we talked. This position, affectionate and familiar and also claiming protection, seemed always to me very characteristic of the relations of Spanish servants and masters at their best. They were our "family" in the old sense of the word, as when the disgraced Wolsey asks Henry to remember his "family," his household retainers. And their relation to us was not one of monthly payments, of hiring and giving notice. We could as soon have given our children notice. Pilar one day was scolding the poor little four-year-old.
"Don't scold her so hard for such a little thing," I protested.
"I want to bring her up to do me credit when she is your servant," Pilar said, "not to be my shame."
The poor little Mariquilla was already appointed to serve my older years. And if we both live there is no
doubt but that she will.
Tea was over and the servants scattered to their various tasks. Enrique to stir up the caked hot earth in the zinnia beds to give the roots air, and to prepare for his evening irrigating, which he would not begin until after the sun had set. Maria to prepare the evening meal, a great cazuela of chicken, rice and all sorts of green vegetables, and onions, tomatoes and peppers all cooked together in a huge earthenware pot over a charcoal fire, one of the most delicious meals imaginable.
I saw Pilar and the little Mariquilla crossing the garden on their way to feed the chickens and rabbits, carrying bundles of alfalfa and a basket of maize and kitchen scraps. They were laughing over some childish joke, escaped for the moment from Maria's severe eye. Pilar was wearing an old dress of mine which I had just given her and which she had hurriedly altered to fit. Clothes were her one frivolity, and her timid pride was entirely set in them. She liked to go to the shops in the village wearing a new dress and nice leather shoes but also wearing an apron to show that she was appearing in her role as servant in a big house of the English, and that if she were going to pay a visit or to shop in Malaga, she could wear something much better. She had lately begun appearing in an old coat of mine, to my distress, leaving off the graceful peasant shawl. A lovely little wind was blowing from the sea and the "pink band" was rising to the zenith; there it spreads, fades, and evening comes. We went out to the end of the garden and sat in a little mirador on top of the wall so that we could look out over the world beyond, over a lovely field of green maize already growing tall, to the olive yards stretching away towards the distant blue mountains.
To our left rose gray, stony hills covered with gray herbs that fill the air with aromatic scents of rosemary, thyme and lavender wherever you walk on them. I could hear a sheep bell that seemed as if it came from a thousand miles away, it was so thin and far-away sounding. The bats had come out and were flitting like black butterflies among the sharp-winged swallows which were performing their airy evening dance. The sky was yellow with soft diffused light pouring up from under the edge of the world.
Some laborers going home through the field called their friendly greeting.
"Buenas noches, Don Geraldo. Buenas noches, Senora! Vaya usted con Dios. "
"Go with God," we answered.
Two young workmen came by after them. "Salud!" they called, the Popular Front greeting.
"Salud !" Gerald answered rather half-heartedly.
But I answered them too: "Go with God."
Salud seemed curt and ugly after the soft Buenas noches and the splendid Vaya usted con Dios surely
the most beautiful greeting in any language. And the young men's voices seemed to have an aggressive ring; their harsh Salud, though it was spoken with friendly smiles, seemed to break rudely through the lovely evening sights and sounds like an aggression from other worlds of factories, labor troubles and strikes. The evening was too lovely to be thinking of agrarian reforms and the doubtful future of Spain.
The first star had appeared and the scent of the huge night-smelling datura blossoms came drifting towards
us; the little green flowers of the dama-del-noche were opening in the darkness and their lovely scent began to fill the air.
The sounds of the village came floating up to us, dogs barking, children playing, women calling. The bittersweet scent of burning herbs mixed with the scent of flowers was in the darkening air. The lovely day was over. The tranquil evening drew into a peaceful tender night.