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from Four plays
by Serafín and Joaquín Álvarez Quintero
(1871-1938) & (1873-1944)
In English versions by
Helen and Harley Granville-Barker
(?-1950) & (1877-1946)

Little, Brown, and Company
Read the introduction






Alberto Hidalgo is a young Madrid architect. We are in his study. It is well, though very simply furnished. There is a door on the right, another on the left. Through the glass of the enclosed balcony at the back, the pale clear sky of a December morning can be seen. On our left is Alberto's writing-table; a calendar hangs on the wall near it. There is a small electric stove alight in one corner.

Mónica, the housemaid, comes in, followed by Don Victorio. If there is one thing upon which Mónica prides herself more than another — and she is tolerably self-satisfied upon all accounts — it is her education and intelligence. Don Victorio is a gentleman who lives by his wits; but at the moment, if one may judge by the look of him, not very successfully. For in this bitter weather he is wearing a light summer suit and a straw hat, and both are of the shabbiest. No wonder his teeth are chattering!

   MÓNICA. Walk in.

   DON VICTORIO. Tha-tha-tha-tha-tha-thank you! Oh . . . it's good to be in a warm room again!

   MÓNICA. Call this warm? Now the drawing-room is warm. As cold as Iberia . . . I call this.

   DON VICTORIO. S-s-s-s-s-Siberia! Perhaps I could go into the drawing-room, then.

   MÓNICA. Yes, you can.

   DON VICTORIO. Is your mistress in the drawing-room?

   MÓNICA. Yes, she is.

Don Victorio launches into an apostrophe.

   DON VICTORIO. That angel of goodness! My benefactress! The angel beneath whose wings . . . !

He spares himself the difficulties of a conclusion by breaking down, and choking with a sob.

   MÓNICA. Oh, I wouldn't cry if I were you! Come along.

Don Victorio goes up to the little stove.

   DON VICTORIO. One moment . . . one moment! I 'm so cold I can't even speak clearly. Look at me! Madrid . . . December . . . four degrees above freezing . . . and I 'm dressed in cigarette paper! Brrrr!

He has a most effective fit of shivering.

   MÓNICA. Now will you please be good enough to come along before the master comes back here and finds you?

   DON VICTORIO. Certainly! I 'll come. I 'm coming. Not . . . please understand . . . that I don't wish to meet your master. But for a sight of my benefactress . . . of that angel . . . of charity . . . and goodness . . . !

He follows Mónica out to the right, sobbing and going on pathetically about angels, and the like. A moment later Alberto comes in from the left. He carries some papers, and settles himself at his table to work at them. Mónica returns and stands expectantly beside him. In a minute he lifts his head and looks at her.

   MÓNICA. Here I am, Señor.

   ALBERTO. What of it?

   MÓNICA. I 'm here.

   ALBERTO. I see you.

   MÓNICA. But what do you want, Señor?

   ALBERTO. Nothing for the moment.

   MÓNICA. But you rang, Señor.


   MÓNICA. You did n't ring, Señor?


Mónica crosses herself despairingly.

   MÓNICA. Holy souls in Purgatory . . . I can't get the hang of the bells in this house! I 'm sorry, Señor.

   ALBERTO. Don't mention it!

   MÓNICA. Thank you, Señor.

She turns to depart. However, by the time she reaches the door Alberto has thought of something, and he checks her.

   ALBERTO. Oh, by the way, though. . . .

   MÓNICA [encouragingly]. Ah . . . then you do want something, Señor. That 's right.

   ALBERTO. Who was it called just now? I heard some one at the door.

   MÓNICA. If I 'm to answer that correctly, Señor . . . as you'd wish me to and I 'd wish to . . . may I know precisely what you mean by "just now"?

   ALBERTO [mildly exasperated]. Just now, my good girl, means "a minute ago or five minutes ago . . . ."

   MÓNICA. Very good, Señor. Then it was a gentleman.

   ALBERTO. A gentleman?

   MÓNICA. Yes, Señor . . . not a lady . . . a gentleman.

   ALBERTO. What was he like?

   MÓNICA. What was he like? Ah! Well . . . he wasn't tall . . . but he wasn't short either. Not very old . . . but he was n't young. You could n't call him fat . . . and you would n't call him thin. He did n't look up to much . . . and he wore a dreadful old straw hat.

   ALBERTO. A dreadful old straw hat?

   MÓNICA. And when I took him in the drawing-room the Señora called him . . . ! Now whatever did she call him? She called him . . . ! No! I 'll remember in a minute. It was Don Julián . . . or Don Juan . . . or Don Beltrán . . . or something like that!

   ALBERTO. It was n't Don Victorio, by chance?

   MÓNICA. That was it!

   ALBERTO. Ah! Julián and Juan and Beltrán are n't very like that, though, are they?

   MÓNICA. I said something like it. Naturally I know they're not spelt the same.

   ALBERTO. True. Well?

   MÓNICA. Well, Señor . . . I showed him in . . . to the Señora . . . and the Señora's mother . . . who was with the Señora . . . and there he is still.

   ALBERTO. And why did you show him in?

   MÓNICA. I had my orders.

   ALBERTO. You were told to show him in?

   MÓNICA. I had my orders.

   ALBERTO. Very well. Be sure you're there when he goes . . . and let me know when he's gone.

   MÓNICA. You may rely on my doing so, Señor.

And Mónica, supremely self-satisfied, departs.

   ALBERTO. What a fool!

He sets to work again. His wife appears. Constanza is pretty and gentle, and looks, indeed, like the angel of pity of Don Victorio's apostrophe.

   ALBERTO. My dear! Why . . . why did your mother recommend us that idiot of a woman for a maid?

   CONSTANZA. She means so well.

   ALBERTO. She has the brains of a hen. But if only she was n't so pleased with herself! I don't know what silly thing she 'll do next.

   CONSTANZA. We must be patient. It 's her first place. And she tries so hard. But do you know what she did just now?

   ALBERTO. Yes, I do. Let Don Victorio in . . . and showed him in to you, what's more. And says you told her to.

   CONSTANZA. I particularly told her not to.

   ALBERTO. So I supposed. Well . . . is he going on as usual?

   CONSTANZA. I 've left him with Mother. Am I interrupting you?

   ALBERTO. You are!

   CONSTANZA. Are you working?

   ALBERTO. I am! Well . . . what is it?

   CONSTANZA. I want to ask you something.

   ALBERTO. I know you do . . . and I know what it is, too.

   CONSTANZA. How do you know?

   ALBERTO. I don't have to be very clever, do I, to know what 's going to happen when that humbug gets let in to see you and your mother?

   CONSTANZA. Oh, don't call him that, Alberto! After all he does n't beg because he likes begging.

   ALBERTO. And what's to-day's tragedy?

   CONSTANZA. He has been walking the streets looking for work . . . as usual.

   ALBERTO. As usual

   CONSTANZA. He was hardly inside the room before he broke down completely.

   ALBERTO. I 'm sure he did! Then . . . let me see: "Oh, my benefactress, I kiss your feet . . . I have not come for money . . . if I ask you for a penny, turn me out of the house."

   CONSTANZA. I believe you were at the keyhole.

   ALBERTO. What an odd thing it is! He never comes for money . . . but he never leaves without it.

   CONSTANZA. Don't be so cynical. You should have seen him shivering by the fire. The poor man was half dead with cold.

   ALBERTO. He might make a good living as an actor.

   CONSTANZA. And don't mock at misfortune. You should have heard the tale he told us. Two of his children are down with the measles . . . and last week the house caught fire. The servant has been stealing things and a cat scratched his sister and they think it 's mad. His father has got St. Vitus's dance, and his wife's brother tried to throw himself out of the window and put out his eye.

   ALBERTO. Thank you . . . that will do! Why take in the daily paper! This leaves it nowhere.

   CONSTANZA. D' you think he 's not telling the truth?

   ALBERTO. Of course he is n't.

   CONSTANZA. I think he may exaggerate a little. But don't let us be too hard on him for that. We might do the same in his place. We don't know what it means to be without a roof to cover us or a dinner to eat.

   ALBERTO. Come, come . . . I 'm not such a callous brute, am I?

   CONSTANZA. You're a dear. And you're the most generous of men. You give away far more than you ought to.

   ALBERTO. Quite! And so do you. We both do. If we gave it to deserving people and it did any good . . . ! But Madrid is the swindlers' paradise. From now on not a penny do I part with till I 've proved that the case is genuine. Look here . . . by this morning's post!

He holds up three letters.

   CONSTANZA. Is n't it dreadful?

   ALBERTO. This man says he's promised work in Malaga . . . and will I pay his fare there . . . for if I don't he 'll starve.

   CONSTANZA. Poor thing!

   ALBERTO. Here 's a woman says the doctor has ordered her daughter Malt Extract and if she does n't get it she 'll die.

   CONSTANZA. Poor thing!

   ALBERTO. And here 's one raising money to buy herself a typewriter to support life on.

   CONSTANZA. Poor thing!

   ALBERTO. The subscription list is headed by the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Madrid, and the President of the Academy. Likely, is n't it!

   CONSTANZA. No . . . I suppose not. Still . . . one never knows!

   ALBERTO. And just now when I popped my head out of the front door, there was a man selling chestnuts who wanted money to buy a barrow; a workman out of work who wanted boots and a shirt or so; two Sisters of Charity asking help for an insane asylum, and a Friar collecting funds to build an alms house for the sane. This sort of thing would bankrupt a millionaire. And I 'm a wretched architect who's had a little luck . . . though it has n't run to building ourselves a house yet. Not to mention, my dear, not to mention . . . and you know it as well as I do . . . that when people are really in want they are far likelier to hide away and hold their tongues about it than to indulge in these antics that Don Victorio obliges us with.

   CONSTANZA. I know . . . I agree. We ought to set our faces against it. You're very generous and I 'm very easily taken in. But just this once . . . don't you think we might . . . ? Because whether it 's all true or not . . . he 's crying. And when people cry, somehow I 've got to believe them.

   ALBERTO. Simpleton!

   CONSTANZA. Besides . . . I 've not told you yet what his real trouble is.

   ALBERTO. Well?

   CONSTANZA. And I 'm sure this is true.

   ALBERTO. Even so, my dear, we cannot keep on giving money to every one that asks us.

   CONSTANZA. I agree . . . I 've said so. No need to get so excited, beloved!

   ALBERTO. Well, what 's his real trouble?

   CONSTANZA. Their landlord's going to turn them into the street this very morning if they don't pay their rent.

   ALBERTO. God's will be done!

   CONSTANZA. So he 's going round . . . getting a little here and a little there . . . to try to make it up.

   ALBERTO. Very well! He must get a little here, then, I suppose.

   CONSTANZA. Darling . . . how good you are!

   ALBERTO. But on one condition.


   ALBERTO. That this is the last penny Don Victorio has out of us.

   CONSTANZA. The very last.

   ALBERTO. And what's more . . . that we give not a penny to any other beggar till this month 's past.

   CONSTANZA. I promise you.

   ALBERTO. I promise you.

   CONSTANZA. You are good.

She gives him a kiss.

   ALBERTO. I owe that, I fear, to Don Victorio's skill as a beggar!

   CONSTANZA. Goose!

   ALBERTO. Now I must get on with my work.

Constanza is just going out when Mónica appears.

   MÓNICA. If you please, Señor . . .

   CONSTANZA. Yes . . . what is it?

   MÓNICA. No, Señora . . . it is the Señor I wish to speak to.

   CONSTANZA. I see!

Constanza goes out much amused.

   ALBERTO. Well, what is it . . . what is it?

   MÓNICA. I wish to make no mistakes, Señor, in the discharge of my duties. There is a ring at the front door. If it is the gentleman that came yesterday, what do I say to him?

   ALBERTO. What gentleman that came yesterday?

   MÓNICA. I think you will remember, Señor, that I brought you in his card . . . and he asked for it back . . . and you said it smelt of herrings.

   ALBERTO. Quite! Well, if it 's that gentleman say I greatly regret I cannot see him now . . . but I will write.

   MÓNICA. That is understood then. And if it is the gentleman that came the day before yesterday . . .

   ALBERTO. Heavens! Who was it came the day before yesterday?

   MÓNICA. He was short and he was fat and he was shaved. And he had a white waistcoat on and black boots. And he did n't live in Madrid. Because printed on his card there was . . . was it León or was it Burgos?

   ALBERTO. Or Córdoba?

   MÓNICA. Yes, it was Córdoba. I knew it had a cathedral.

   ALBERTO. Good! Well, if the gentleman from Córdoba should come . . . .

   MÓNICA. That also is understood, sir.

   ALBERTO. But what is understood?

   MÓNICA. That you cannot see him either . . . but that you will write.

   ALBERTO. Not at all. I want to see him . . . and you are to show him in.

   MÓNICA. That's what I thought, Señor.

Mónica is retiring, self-conscious and efficient, when Alberto stops her.

   ALBERTO. It really is understood, is it?

   MÓNICA. There is no great difficulty in understanding it, I think.

   ALBERTO. I agree.

   MÓNICA. If it 's the gentleman that came yesterday he's to go away and you 'll write . . . and if it 's the gentleman that came the day before yesterday I 'm to show him in.

   ALBERTO. Quite so!

   MÓNICA. Then I think that 's all, Señor.

And with perfect assurance she goes to open the door. It is hardly worth Alberto's while to set his mind to his work again. Instead, with a glance to the door by which his wife went and another to that by which Mónica has vanished, he murmurs . . . .

   ALBERTO. Ah . . . soft hearts! Thick head!

Whereat Mónica returns and resolutely announces . . . .

   MÓNICA. The gentleman that called yesterday.

Alberto rises in wrath.

   ALBERTO. But haven't I just this moment told you . . .?

Fortunato's appearance interrupts him.

   FORTUNATO. Good morning.

   ALBERTO. Good morning.

Fortunato is really a most ridiculous creature; one does not know whether to pity him or laugh at him. And as he stands there, so shabby, so humble, and so depressed, it is only too easy to guess what his errand is.

   MÓNICA. And can I do anything more for you, Señor?

Alberto goes up to the creature and says with concentrated passion . . . .

   ALBERTO. Did n't I tell you plainly that this was the gentleman I did n't want to see?

   MÓNICA. Yes, Señor . . . you did. But I felt so sorry for him.

   ALBERTO. Another soft heart! God is too good to me! Go away, do.

This last he flings out loudly, so loudly that poor Fortunato meekly inquires . . .


   ALBERTO. No. You!

This to Mónica, who is quite unabashed.

   MÓNICA. Yes, Señor. Also the telephone is ringing. And as I wish to make no mistakes . . . if this should be the gentleman . . . .

   ALBERTO. Whoever it is . . . tell him I 've gone to China.

   MÓNICA. Yes, Señor. As you say.

Mónica departs; and Alberto, recovering himself a little, surveys his unbidden guest; but, one fears, not too sympathetically.

   ALBERTO. Now . . . please tell me . . . .

   FORTUNATO. I gathered . . . I couldn't help gathering . . . that you did n't mean to see me.

   ALBERTO. I happen to be very busy just now . . . .

   FORTUNATO. Then . . . another day perhaps . . . .

   ALBERTO. No . . . as you are here . . . .

   FORTUNATO. You're very kind.

   ALBERTO. Sit down.

   FORTUNATO. But I must n't disturb you.

   ALBERTO. Never mind.

   FORTUNATO. But I am disturbing you . . . and annoying you. Another day! [And he turns to go, but turns again to say rather wistfully.] Except that . . . another day . . . well, it 'll be just the same, I 'm afraid.

   ALBERTO. You'd far better tell me now what it is you want of me.

   FORTUNATO. You are most kind. First, I 'm so sorry to call on you dressed like this . . . .

   ALBERTO. That 's no matter.

   FORTUNATO. I 'm ashamed to be seen in these trousers . . . but they're the only ones I have.

   ALBERTO. Quite so!

   FORTUNATO. And the coat 's just as bad . . . and my boots are n't much better . . . .

   ALBERTO. And your hat and your shirt are nothing to speak of.

   FORTUNATO [with a wry smile]. No . . . my shirt is nothing at all to speak of.

It is evident that this is literally true.

   ALBERTO. Well . . . I 'm glad you can joke about it.

   FORTUNATO [blankly]. Joke! I did n't mean to. I 'm very sorry. I 'd better come back another day.

   ALBERTO. No, no . . , say what you have to say . . . and say it now.

   FORTUNATO. You really are most kind. I knew your father. We were in the same office once.

   ALBERTO. Yes . . . you told me that in your letter. And I remember your name.

   FORTUNATO. Your father . . . God rest his soul! . . . thought well of me in those days. I 'm very much afraid that 's the only claim I have on you. I lost my place there four years ago. The head of my department had a nephew and . . . ! Really, it was a perfect scandal . . . !

   ALBERTO. Yes . . . we won't go into that. Tell me what I can do. What is it you want?


   ALBERTO. What sort of work?

   FORTUNATO. Anything. I 'm a clerk by rights. Bookkeeping besides . . . double entry. A little French. But in these four years I think there 's nothing I 've not tried. I was a bricklayer's labourer for a bit . . . I carried the bricks up the ladders. But I can't stand heights . . . I never could. And I used to shake so that at last I fell off and nearly killed myself. From sheer fright.

   ALBERTO. You were n't used to the job.

   FORTUNATO. No . . . it was fright. I 'm afraid I 'm a dreadful coward. Once I got a place as night-watchman in a shop that has been several times burgled . . . and only God knows what I went through there. But I couldn't see those that depended on me starve, could I? I 'm only telling you this to show you there's really nothing I won't do. Nothing!

   ALBERTO. Well . . . I 'll think it over . . . I 'll see what I can suggest. There's nothing I know of at the moment. But I 'll think it over . . . I 'll see what can be done.

   FORTUNATO. You are most kind. I do hope you forgive me for coming. You have n't any children of your own, perhaps.


   FORTUNATO. Then you won't understand . . . .

   ALBERTO. You have?

   FORTUNATO. Yes. Five. And they're all quite young. Five mouths to find food for. Food! I do assure you, I lie awake at night sometimes wondering where our next day's meal is to come from and saying the word over and over till . . . ! But I 've no right to trouble you with all this.

   ALBERTO. No . . . go on!

   FORTUNATO. One loves one's children better than anything in the world. But one might love them twice as much and it wouldn't make up to them for bringing them into the world and letting them starve there. I beg your pardon!

This last is an apology for the large tear which rolls down his cheek and which he wipes away.

   ALBERTO. Don't give way. And don't torment yourself. I 'll find you a job as soon as ever I can.

   FORTUNATO. I pray to God it may be soon, Señor. For it has come to this: My wife has to stay indoors now because she has n't clothes to put on. We've sold the very bed we slept on. We've nothing left to sell.

   ALBERTO. I 'll find you work. I promise. You're not to worry any more.

   FORTUNATO. I am deeply, deeply grateful.

There is a pause. Fortunato does not get up to go.

   FORTUNATO. And . . . ! But . . . !

   ALBERTO. Yes?

   FORTUNATO. I . . . ! Really, I 'm so unused to begging.

   ALBERTO. But I 've promised to find you a job.

   FORTUNATO. Yes. But . . . ! The fact is . . . !

   ALBERTO. Oh, to be sure! A little something to go on with?

   FORTUNATO. If you could see your way!

Poor Fortunato lowers his eyes with shame. But Alberto suddenly stiffens, remembering the talk with his wife.

   ALBERTO. No! No . . . I can't!


   ALBERTO. I 'm very sorry. I 'm not a rich man . . . I 've a thousand obligations . . . and I can't. I 've promised to find you work . . . and that 's all I can do.

   FORTUNATO. Of course . . . I understand . . . I 'm most grateful . . . I 've no right to . . . ! I would n't have come at all . . . except that things seemed so hopeless. And I won't detain you . . . and I 'm really most grateful. May I come back in a day or two?

   ALBERTO. Yes . . . come back in a week.

   FORTUNATO [despairingly]. In a week! Thank you. May God reward you! In a week! I 'm most grateful. Good morning.

Fortunato fades away. Alberto has an impulse to call him back. But he resists it.

   ALBERTO. No, no . . . when I 've just said I would n't! I must find out about him. But I strongly suspect that old fraud in there has just got what this fellow deserved. Oh . . . Mónica!

For Mónica has looked into the room.

   MÓNICA. Señor?

   ALBERTO. Who was it on the telephone?

   MÓNICA. Señor de Galíndez.

   ALBERTO. What did he want?

   MÓNICA. He said he had the cheque ready for you . . . and were you at home, please?

   ALBERTO. And what did you say?

   MÓNICA. Just what you told me. That you'd gone to China.

   ALBERTO. Good! Good!

He takes up a paper-knife with what appear to be most sinister intentions.

   MÓNICA. Was n't that right?

   ALBERTO. Be off! And don't let me see your face again.

Mónica departs in indignant silence. At the same moment Constanza returns; with her comes Don Victorio, whose cheeks are flushed, whose eyes are shining. He means to bring the scene he has been playing in the drawing-room to an effective conclusion.

   CONSTANZA. Darling . . . Don Victorio says he simply must say a word to you.

   ALBERTO. Must he!

   DON VICTORIO. He must! Stab me with that paper-knife . . . throw the inkpot at me . . . but I do not leave this house till I have kissed your hand.

   ALBERTO. You'll do no such thing.

   DON VICTORIO. I will not leave this house till I have kissed your hand.

Which he does, to Alberto's extreme disgust.

   ALBERTO. Very well! Now you've got what you came for . . . let me see the last of you.

   DON VICTORIO. You are vexed with me. I cannot go while you are vexed with me . . . not while you look at me like that. Smile at me . . . or I cannot go.

Alberto, driven to desperation, gives him a ghastly grin.

   ALBERTO. There, then! Now go.

   DON VICTORIO. Ah . . . what a wife Heaven has blessed you with!

   ALBERTO. Will you go?

   DON VICTORIO. And such a mother to such a wife! Is she a woman . . . or is she a saint?

   ALBERTO. Will you go away and leave me in peace?

   CONSTANZA. He really is very busy, Don Victorio.

   DON VICTORIO. Forgive me! My heart is full!

He kisses Constanza's hand.

   ALBERTO. Good God!

   DON VICTORIO. Forgive me! My heart is full.

He kisses Alberto's hand again.

   ALBERTO. This is too much!

   DON VICTORIO. I know! You need n't tell me. I impose on your good nature.

   ALBERTO. You do. You needn't tell us. We all know. Will . . . you . . . go?

   DON VICTORIO. Be calm, Don Alberto, be calm! I am going. But first hear me swear that never again will I come to this house asking for money.

   ALBERTO. Indeed!

   DON VICTORIO. Yes, Señor . . . indeed. And if I do come . . . don't open the door to me.

   ALBERTO. That's a bargain.

   DON VICTORIO. And if you do . . . and if I do ask for money . . . kick me down the steps. I shall deserve it. Good-bye, dear lady. Ah . . . my earthly providence!

In an ecstasy of gratitude he seizes Alberto's head and plants a kiss on the top of it. Alberto is by now speechless with rage.

   DON VICTORIO. Yes, I impose on your good nature! You need n't tell me! I know it. No one better!

He disappears. But Alberto stands at the door to watch him out of the house. And suddenly. . . .

   ALBERTO. One moment, Don Victorio.


Don Victorio returns.

   ALBERTO. My umbrella, I think.

And he takes it from him.

   DON VICTORIO. Is it? So it is! I hardly know what I 'm doing. For my heart is full . . . so full . . . so full!

He finally departs.

   ALBERTO. The scoundrel! The mountebank! And what do you think of him now?

   CONSTANZA. Yes . . . I 'm really afraid . . . .

   ALBERTO. While I 've just let a poor devil go away without a farthing . . . and I do believe he was telling me the truth.

   CONSTANZA. Have you? Oh, how dreadful!

   ALBERTO. Well, that's what happens, my dear!

And once more he returns to his work. Constanza stands looking at him affectionately; sighs, smiles, and then, preparing to leave him, notices that yesterday's leaf has not been torn off the calendar. She repairs the omission, and reads to-day's.

   CONSTANZA. "Society is a conspiracy of knavery against honesty . . . Leopardi." Oh, how shocking! "One half the world gets up in the morning determined to cheat the other half before bedtime . . . Anon." How cynical!



A street corner in a quarter of Madrid where there are still more empty lots than houses, so that our main view is of hoardings and advertisements. The corner itself, however, is occupied by a little wine shop. Down one street comes a blind fiddler, playing as he comes. He stops before he reaches the corner and leans against the wall, still playing. Down the other street comes Don Victorio, beaming, rubbing his hands, less from the cold now than from satisfaction with a good job done. He slips into the wine shop, and after a moment slips out again, wiping his mouth and yet more cheery. He looks round and then waves and whistles a preconcerted signal to some one at some other corner. Then while he waits he falls to whistling an obbligato to the blind man's tune. Gorguera appears in response to the signal. He is Don Victorio's confederate and hanger-on. He is poorly dressed, but he wears a good thick overcoat; and he carries a big cape which Don Victorio promptly takes and wraps round him. When their talk is well on its way the blind man stops fiddling, though he stays leaning against the wall.

   DON VICTORIO. Thank you, my lad . . . I 've been wanting this badly.

   GORGUERA. What luck?

For answer Don Victorio delicately breathes in his face.

   DON VICTORIO. A petty vair! Luck enough for the price of that!

   GORGUERA. You're a corker!

He wrings his chief and mentor enthusiastically by the hand.

   DON VICTORIO. I am the Moses of Madrid . . . I draw water from the rocks. But . . . curse it! . . . on a day like this and dressed like this I 'd make the statues down the Prado feel sorry for me.

   GORGUERA. And . . . combeen?

   DON VICTORIO [holding out his five fingers]. Sink!

   GORGUERA. You're a corker!

And again he wrings his hand.

   DON VICTORIO. I asked for four pesetas seventy-five. Odd sums sound well . . . and of a morning there's mostly no change in a house till the cook gets back from market. And I could n't give change, could I? So it was Sink, my boy!

   GORGUERA. You are a corker!

He wrings his hand yet again.

   DON VICTORIO. Well, what have you been up to? What about that letter to Don . . . to that priest?

   GORGUERA. I took it . . . I gave it him myself. He kept on looking at me while he read it . . . and then he stared at me as if he 'd stare right through me . . . and I 've to go back tomorrow.

   DON VICTORIO. Impudence! A letter . . . full of Latin . . . and asking help for a poor sick niece . . . and signed by a brother priest. And you're to go back to-morrow? Ah . . . you've got a lot to learn, my lad!

   GORGUERA [humbly]. I know it, Don Victorio.

Don Victorio fetches two more letters from his pocket.

   DON VICTORIO. Well . . . you'd better take these other two before we get our lunch. Let's see . . . the black-edged one's for the widow. How did I sign it? Sinforiano Núñez. How does that sound?

   GORGUERA. Fine!

Don Victorio, before he licks the envelope, glances through the letter again with all an author's pride.

   DON VICTORIO. "The boyhood friend of him who has just passed away." Curse it . . . when a man 's not cold in his grave the least a widow can do is to stump up something for his boyhood's friend . . . whether she's thankful he's tucked away or not. For the sake of appearances . . . for the honour of the family . . . out of respect for the institution of marriage!

   GORGUERA. I should say so!

   DON VICTORIO. Then there's this one for the Marchenero Chico.

   GORGUERA. That's the bull-fighter?

   DON VICTORIO. Yes, of course he is.

   GORGUERA. Who's that from?

   DON VICTORIO. Guayabita Chico Chico . . . late Chulo of the Malaga Bull Ring. But it's the address I 'm pleased with. 'Otel de la Perla . . . hotel without the "h"! That ought to fetch him.

   GORGUERA. Don Victorio . . . you really are a corker! He makes yet another attempt to wring the master's hand.

   DON VICTORIO. Here, don't you wring my fingers any more. You'll spoil my handwriting. Be off now . . . and do your bit.

   GORGUERA. Where's lunch to be?

   DON VICTORIO. La Perica's. We 'll have a blow-out to-day . . . and we deserve it.

   GORGUERA. I can do with one.

   DON VICTORIO. Cut along.

   GORGUERA. Au revaw!

   DON VICTORIO. Si vous play!

Gorguera departs. The blind man, the while, has ended one tune and after a little begun another. And now a child, for whom he has been waiting, comes down the street and starts to lead him past the corner. They pass Don Victorio, who eyes them with some indignation, saying to himself . . . .

   DON VICTORIO. What the authorities are about to let these troops of beggars perambulate the streets I really do not know!

He turns to go; but, passing the wine shop door again, he pauses, and says, in his remarkable French . . . .

   DON VICTORIO. Vogue la galair! Veev la bagatel!

So he goes in to have another.

   THE BLIND MAN. Who was that?

   THE CHILD. Some swell.

   THE BLIND MAN. He looked at me, did n't he? Policeman, I thought he might be, going to move me on.

   THE CHILD. No fear!

   THE BLIND MAN. Look here, now . . . you run over to Demetria's chestnut stall and see if she has n't got a little present for me.

   THE CHILD. She might give me one, too.

   THE BLIND MAN. Don't be long, though.

   THE CHILD. I won't. And you have to run to dodge the motors!

She runs off. The blind man has settled himself at the corner on his little campstool, and puts a tin plate on the pavement beside him lest any charitably-minded persons should come by. He starts to play again, though listlessly. Fortunato comes dowry the street, even more depressed, if that is possible, than when we saw him last; distracted, too, as if he really did not know now which way to turn. He stands at the corner, muttering to himself.

   FORTUNATO. What am I to do . . . what am I to do? I can't go home with nothing! What am I to do?

At this moment, Don Victorio, more cheerful than ever, comes out of the wine shop. He catches sight of Fortunato and goes up to him at once.



   DON VICTORIO. Fortunato!

   FORTUNATO. Why . . . it 's Don Victorio!

   DON VICTORIO. And how wags the world with you?

   FORTUNATO. Not very well.

   DON VICTORIO. I say . . . you 're as thin as a herring!

   FORTUNATO. Yes . . . I 've reason to be.

   DON VICTORIO. Don't digest your food?

   FORTUNATO. No . . . I don't digest much food.

   DON VICTORIO. Shall I tell you the secret of a happy life? See your stomach does its work.

   FORTUNATO. But you've got to find it work first, have n't you?

   DON VICTORIO. Are n't you still in that same old office?

   FORTUNATO. No. I wish I were!

   DON VICTORIO. Well . . . at least you don't catch cold once a week sitting in those draughts. I never met such draughts!

   FORTUNATO. It 's draughtier in the streets looking for a job.

   DON VICTORIO. Did they chuck you out?


   DON VICTORIO. I 'm damned! You were the only man there that ever did any work as far as I could see.

   FORTUNATO. It was just my luck.

   DON VICTORIO. This country's going to the dogs . . . I 've been saying so for years. The men who work are the only men who don't get on. I found that out. Work! I know a trick worth two of it. And what are you doing now?

   FORTUNATO. Well . . . I 've done a little of everything these past four years. Selling lottery tickets . . . and penny toys. No good!

   DON VICTORIO. I know. Your stars get crossed sometimes.

   FORTUNATO. I 'm afraid I have n't got a star. Last year I put every penny I could scrape together into a business. It failed. And that was the last straw.

   DON VICTORIO. What sort of business?

   FORTUNATO. Selling ices. My wife made the ices. I rented a little pitch down by the Prado . . . and, oh, the rent I had to pay! It was in May . . . just when the warm weather was starting. But on the day we started . . . it snowed! Yes, I do assure you, it snowed.

   DON VICTORIO. Man alive . . . why had n't you looked at the weather forecast?

   FORTUNATO. I never thought of that. But it snowed and snowed. And every one that passed was shivering and swearing. And when they saw my stall with "Ices for Sale" on it . . . they said such things to me! Ten quarts my wife had made. And we had to eat it all ourselves or waste it. And the children nearly died of it. Better for them if they had, I suppose.

   DON VICTORIO. Well, it was bad luck, Fortunato. I say . . . what the devil did your parents give you such a name for? That was tempting providence.

   FORTUNATO. So I sold the stall and put the money into candles.

   DON VICTORIO. Candles! Why candles?

   FORTUNATO. I 've a friend who 's a sexton . . . and he meant to let me stand at the cemetery gates to sell candles.

   DON VICTORIO. That's a gloomy trade.

   FORTUNATO. Then we found out the Archbishop was forbidding it . . . because it 's superstitious.

   DON VICTORIO. Quite right. So it is! And you could n't eat the candles.

   FORTUNATO. We very nearly had to.

   DON VICTORIO. No . . . you've had no luck.

   FORTUNATO. And since then it has been dreadful.

   DON VICTORIO. No prospects?


   DON VICTORIO. Here . . . I 'll give you a tip. Ever heard of Don Alberto Hidalgo?

   FORTUNATO. The architect?

   DON VICTORIO. Yes. He's got a wife. She's soft . . . any one can get round her. You go there.

   FORTUNATO. But I 've just been there.

   DON VICTORIO. Did n't you get anything?

   FORTUNATO. Promises.

   DON VICTORIO. Ah! I 'm afraid that 's because I 'd just been there before you.

He cannot help feeling — and even showing — a certain pride in this.



   FORTUNATO. They gave you something, did they?

   DON VICTORIO. Thrust it on me!

   FORTUNATO. No . . . I 've no luck. But how do you manage it? What do you do . . . what do you say?

   DON VICTORIO. Well . . . it can't be taught. It just comes to me. I talk a lot . . . and I look miserable . . . and I cry. And if there 's a hole in my coat I take care they see it. And I kiss their hands. That 's the great thing. Cry a lot and kiss their hands. If you can't get hold of their hands . . . kiss something that belongs to them. Kiss the furniture. Kiss anything. Keep on crying and kissing things and don't come away till you 've got what you want.

   FORTUNATO. But can you cry . . . on purpose?

   DON VICTORIO. And to order! Name your requirements. Anything from one tear slowly trickling down the nose . . . to a perfect flood. I can foam at the mouth too.

   FORTUNATO. But is n't that being a . . . being rather a . . .


   FORTUNATO [most apologetically]. Yes.

   DON VICTORIO. Why . . . of course it is!

   FORTUNATO. I really shouldn't like to do it . . . even if I could.

   DON VICTORIO. Look here . . . if you 're going to be unpractical you'll never get on. When you set out to do a thing do it as well as you can and make a success of it. That 's common sense. I 've got my dinner to-day and you haven't. And as to the rights and the wrongs of the thing . . . did I ask to be born into this world? No. Then I 'm owed a living here . . . and if I can't get it one way I will another. That's only reasonable!

   FORTUNATO. Well, it may be . . . I don't say. But I 'm really afraid I could n't.

   DON VICTORIO. Very well! Then I 'm sorry for you, that's all. Look here, though . . . we're old friends. I 've got a young fellow lunching with me at La Perica's. He 's my assistant . . . I 'm teaching him his trade. Enough for two is enough for three. Come along.

   FORTUNATO. Thank you . . . oh, thank you . . . you 're very kind. But I think I won't. I don't think I could eat . . . with the children at home having nothing. I 'm sure you understand.

   DON VICTORIO. Well . . . there's not enough for a regiment, I 'm afraid. I 'll be off then. See you again some time!

   FORTUNATO. Some time.

Don Victorio goes down the street, turning for a last glance at Fortunato, and saying . . . .

   DON VICTORIO. That 's a depressing fellow . . . say what you like!

He disappears. Fortunato, left alone with the blind man (who has fallen asleep on his campstool) for the first time in our acquaintance with him, braces himself up a little.

   FORTUNATO. He's a scoundrel . . . that 's what he is . . . a scoundrel. And it pays to be a scoundrel! For I might, have had what he cheated them out of! It 's not fair . . . it 's not fair. And me without a penny . . . without a penny in the world! Very well then . . . from now on I don't care what I do. I 'll beg . . . here in the street . . . from the neat person I see. From the very next . . . .

As he says it his eye falls on a young woman coming down the street, a dressmaker's assistant she might be, by the look of her. He hesitates till she has passed him. Then with an effort he takes of his hat and says . . . .

   FORTUNATO. Señorita.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Were you speaking to me?

   FORTUNATO. Yes. No. Yes.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Well . . . what is it?

   FORTUNATO. I . . . !

He gesticulates vaguely, unable to utter another word.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Out with it! I can't stop here all day.

   FORTUNATO. No, no . . . do listen.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Are n't I listening?

   FORTUNATO. Won't you be so kind as to . . . to . . . to . . .

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Well . . . what?

   FORTUNATO. . . . to tell me the way to the Calle Juan de Mina.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. The Calle Juan de Mina. That's a long way from here. It 's over by the North Station.

   FORTUNATO. No . . . it 's near the Stock Exchange.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Yes . . . you 're right . . . it is near the Stock Exchange.

   FORTUNATO. You go down past the Stock Exchange . . . and the first on the left is Philip the Fourth . . . and the next is Lealtad . . . and the next is Juan de Mina.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. Well . . . if you know . . . what did you ask me for?

   FORTUNATO. Oh! I . . . I just thought I 'd like to make sure.

   THE YOUNG WOMAN. No, you didn't. You thought you'd like to get acquainted with me . . . that 's what you thought. An old scarecrow like you, too. Shame on you!

And she goes on her way, leaving Fortunato utterly crushed.

   FORTUNATO. I 'm no good at it. I knew I should n't be.

Now an old gentleman is turning the corner. He stops by the blind fiddler and puts a piece of money in the tin plate, muttering as he does so . . .

   OLD GENTLEMAN. Bless my soul . . . here 's another of 'em. What's Madrid coming to!

As this looks promising Fortunato resolves on another effort and addresses the old gentleman hat in hand.

   FORTUNATO. Señor.


   FORTUNATO. For God's sake, Señor . . . a little help. I 've a wife and children . . .

   OLD GENTLEMAN. Ah, yes . . . the same old tale! And if I give a penny to one . . . the rest of you swarm round like fees. No . . . I 'm sorry . . . I can't.

   FORTUNATO. It 's the first time I 've ever begged . . . like this.

   OLD GENTLEMAN. I 'm glad to hear it. And let it be the last. You're a fit man, aren't you? You 're not blind . . . or crippled. Why don't you work?

   FORTUNATO. I can't get work.

   OLD GENTLEMAN. Nonsense! That 's what all you loafers say. Look for it . . . and keep on looking. No, I can't help you. And I can't stop here talking to you. I 've lots to do . . . most urgent business. Deuce take these beggars!

He goes on his way. During this talk a Sister of Mercy has also passed along and has paused to put a coin or two in the blind man's plate. Fortunato stands looking after the old gentleman.

   FORTUNATO. Urgent, is it? Not so urgent as mine! Well . . . that's that! That's no good. What else can I do? What else can I try . . . except stealing! Very well then . . . I 'll steal. Yes, I will. I 'll steal sooner than see them go hungry!

He sets off in desperation. But passing the blind man, he catches sight of the coins in the tin plate, and stops, transfixed.

Holy Virgin, Queen of Heaven! What a chance! Is he asleep? Yes, he is. No one would see me. Oh, but I can't . . . I can't: I could never look any one in the face again. Oh . . . the Devil shouldn't be let tempt me like this. Saints in Heaven help me!

He has a dreadful struggle with himself; but after a second or so he manages to tear himself from the spot. Round the corner, though, he stops again, temptation still strong.

But why shouldn't I? It 's not as if it was for myself . . . it 's for them. And he may be a fraud like that other fraud. I don't doubt he is.

He creeps back a few steps.

Besides . . . whoever gave it him . . . did n't give it him, so to speak. They just meant to be charitable. And I need it as much as he does . . . more than he does . . . because of the children. I 'll do it. I will do it. And I 'd better do it now or there'll be somebody coming. Very well . . . !

He slips round the corner, gives a quick glance about him, snatches the coins from the plate and retreats, shaking all over, the coins tight in his clasped hand.

I 've done it. I 've done it! And nobody saw me.

He feverishly stuff's the coins in his pocket. But his pocket must have a hole in it, for they come falling down his trouser-leg and go rolling about the street. If a bomb had exploded Fortunato could not be more frightened.

Oh! . . . Holy Souls in Purgatory!

He goes down on hands and knees and chases the coins.

One . . . two . . . where's the other? Here! But nobody saw me . . . I 'm sure.

He gets up again and stands a moment to recover equanimity.

I must pull myself together . . . I must n't be a fool. Nobody saw me. Not so bad, then, for a first try! Not so bad . . . if nobody saw me!

He laughs mirthlessly. But the noise has wakened the blind man, who calls in his feeble voice . . . .

   THE BLIND MAN. Conchita! Conchita . . . are you there?

At this Fortunato starts trembling again, and turns to watch the blind man who bends over to feel in his tin plate. Finding it empty, he sighs.

   THE BLIND MAN. No luck! Conchita! Conchita . . . where are you?

   FORTUNATO. She's not here. There's nobody here . . . except me.

   THE BLIND MAN. Thank you, Señor. You 're very kind.

Finding himself taken for a passer-by, and for a gentleman at that, Fortunato manages, if a little feebly, to sustain the character.

   FORTUNATO. Kind! Do you do well out of your fiddle?

   THE BLIND MAN. Oh no, Señor . . . not well. But I scrape along . . . thanks be to God!

   FORTUNATO. Ah . . . quite so! Thanks be to God . . . as you say.

   THE BLIND MAN. You 're pretty well starved with the cold when you get home at night . . . but as long as you've earned a bit of something for the children.

   FORTUNATO [his voice shaking a little]. Oh . . . you 've got children, have you?

   THE BLIND MAN. Yes, Señor . . . three children.

   FORTUNATO. Three. Well . . . I 've got five.

   THE BLIND MAN. Ah . . . but you don't have to worry, I daresay, over feeding them and clothing them.

   FORTUNATO. No . . . no, of course not. [Then, under his breath]. I can't . . . I can't!

This last is wrung from him as he stands clasping and unclasping the coins in his hand.

   THE BLIND MAN. What's that?

   FORTUNATO. I . . . I did n't speak. Well, my friend . . . here's a little something . . . something for the children.

He presses the coins into the blind man's hand and then heaves a mighty sigh . . . as if relieved of as mighty a burden.

   THE BLIND MAN. God reward you, Señor, God reward you! It 's very good of you to spare it.

   FORTUNATO. Not at all . . . not at all! I can spare it . . . I can spare it.

Conchita has returned by this, and stands staring in open-mouthed amazement at Fortunato's lordly almsgiving. The blind man becomes conscious of her.

   THE BLIND MAN. Conchita!

   CONCHITA. Yes . . . I 'm here. Demetria says if you want some you must come and get them. She would n't trust me . . . she would n't!

   THE BLIND MAN. Come along, then.

   CONCHITA. All right.

   THE BLIND MAN. Bring the stool.

   CONCHITA. I 've got it.

   THE BLIND MAN. Good-day to you, Señor.

   FORTUNATO. Good- day . . . good-day!

The Blind Man and Conchita go their way along the street.

   THE BLIND MAN. What 's he like?

   CONCHITA. Sh! You could have knocked me down with a feather. He looks the asking sort . . . not the giving. I don't think he 's quite right in his head. You do meet some odd people, though, if you go about.

They go on their way; and the Blind Man, to lose no chance, begins again on his fiddle.

   FORTUNATO. Why . . . I couldn't feel happier if I 'd my pockets full of money! What 's to be done now, though? Beg . . . again?

He turns to go along the other street. Meanwhile a ragged old cripple has encountered the blind man and Conchita; and Conchita, it seems, couldn't help telling him of this wonderful occurrence.

   THE CRIPPLE. That him?

   CONCHITA. That 's him.

She goes after her father while the cripple hurriedly pursues Fortunato.

   THE CRIPPLE. Señor. . . .

His hat is off and his hand outstretched for alms. But Fortunato, hearing the step, has turned and his hat is off too and his hand almost outstretched. And we leave the two looking at each other in mutual amazement as the sound of the blind man's fiddle dies away.



A little garden — though really we can hardly dignify it by that name — in the suburbs of Madrid. A few shrubs, a few struggling flowers are all it boasts. Its chief feature is the bare brick wall that bounds it, its most noticeable furnishing a curious board, set up like an easel and of the height of a man, standing against this wall. A couple of kitchen chairs complete the picture. Fortunato and the maidservant, Inés, appear. Inés is a melancholy young woman; later we shall learn why. Fortunato looks very weary.

   INÉS. This way.

   FORTUNATO. Thank you. He sighs.

   INÉS. You 're tired.

   FORTUNATO. Yes . . . I 'm a little tired.

   INÉS. Take a chair.

   FORTUNATO. Thank you. Is this supposed to be Madrid still? I feel I 'm half way to Toledo.

   INÉS. Did n't you come by tram?

   FORTUNATO. No . . . no . . . I was in rather a hurry. That's to say, I prefer walking. And looking about and wondering where the house was . . . why, I was here before I knew!

   INÉS. You want to see Señora Amaranta?

   FORTUNATO. Do I? The advertisement did n't have any name to it. It just said: Assistant Required.

   INÉS. It was Señora Amaranta put it in.

   FORTUNATO. This is her house, then?

   INÉS. No . . . she boards here. Dona Catalina Antonelli . . . it 's her house . . . takes boarders. They're mostly professionals . . . and foreigners. Señora Amaranta . . . She's an Argentine.

   FORTUNATO. An Argentine!

   INÉS. I 'll tell her you 're here.

She returns to the house to do so.

   FORTUNATO. Well . . . something may come of it. That 's a glum girl! Yes . . . if God is good to me! And since I gave that money back I 've felt quite hopeful. Here she is again . . . glummer than ever! I 'm too late . . . as usual. They've engaged somebody.

Inés reappears.

   INÉS. Señora Amaranta says will you wait, please.

Fortunato gives a long-drawn sigh of relief.


Inés gives a long-drawn sigh — of despair, it would seem.

   INÉS. Ah!

   FORTUNATO. Anything wrong? You won't think it rude of me asking. But you seem very low in your mind. What's the trouble?

   INÉS. Life.

   FORTUNATO. Oh . . . of course! But anything in particular?

   INÉS. Yes . . . I 've got a sorrow. Have you?

   FORTUNATO. Many of them. Ah!

   INÉS. Ah!

They sigh in unison this time.

   FORTUNATO. What sort of an assistant is it that Señora Amaranta wants?

   INÉS. She'll tell you.

   FORTUNATO. Well, as long as she does n't ask impossibilities . . . !

   INÉS. No . . . they 're not. You 'll be taking Sabatino's place.

   FORTUNATO. Sabatino?

   INÉS. Yes. Poor Sabatino!

   FORTUNATO. Why . . . what's happened to him? Is he dead?

   INÉS. Shot himself.

   FORTUNATO. Good heavens! And I 'm to take his place?

   INÉS. I suppose so.

   FORTUNATO. Oh! In a sense I ought to be grateful to him. But why did he shoot himself?

   INÉS. For love.

Fortunato is much relieved.

   FORTUNATO. Oh . . . for love! Love of you, was it?

   INÉS. No. If it had been me he'd have had no need. I 'm not like some I know. Tigresses! Poor, poor Sabatino! So handsome . . . so good . . . so brave. To go and shoot himself. Ah . . . they put it about that he shot himself. But it does n't follow . . . does it? . . . that it 's true.

   FORTUNATO. It might have been an accident. Firearms are nasty things. I never could stand them. A knife or a dagger . . . it 's dangerous . . . but it does n't make any noise. But guns go off when you least expect it. Why, there was a clerk in my office . . . .

   INÉS. Here's Señora Amaranta.

   FORTUNATO. Oh, I say!

This admiring exclamation is wrung from him, and when we too see Señora Amaranta we cannot wonder. She certainly is a stunner. She has a handsome face, a flashing eye, and short hair curling all over hey head. She wears a well-cut but not inconspicuous tailor suit, with a man's collar and tie. Her manners are very gracious, and her voice is gentle. But she speaks as one who knows her own worth and is accustomed to be obeyed.

   AMARANTA. Good morning.

   FORTUNATO. Good morning. It 's . . . it 's a fine day.

   AMARANTA. You need n't wait, Inés. I may want you later.

   INÉS. Yes, Señora.

Inés departs.

   AMARANTA. Do sit down.

   FORTUNATO. I can quite well stand . . . thank you very much.

   AMARANTA. But if you 've come in answer to my advertisement we must have a little talk.

   FORTUNATO. Yes . . . I came in answer . . . to the advertisement.

   AMARANTA. Then please sit down.

   FORTUNATO. Thank you.

Fortunato, quailing a little under her eye, resumes his seat. Señora Amaranta sits down too.

   AMARANTA. I want an assistant . . . and I want him at once.

   FORTUNATO. An assistant?

   AMARANTA. And at once. The matter is pressing and I am ready to pay well.

The heavens open to Fortunato.

   FORTUNATO. Oh, Señora . . . you don't know what this means to me! I 'll do anything in the world for you. It's by mere chance I 'm here. I was walking about wondering how I could earn something . . . and I found the paper . . . with your advertisement. No, it 's God's doing . . . that 's what it is!

   AMARANTA. There . . . there! Don't upset yourself.

   FORTUNATO. I 'm not upset . . . that is . . . it 's joy that 's upsetting me. I 'll dig up stones with my teeth if you want me to . . . if it 'll earn me enough to buy my children a meal.

   AMARANTA. You 've children, have you?

   FORTUNATO. Five, Señora.

   AMARANTA. And you 're hard up?

   FORTUNATO. Look at me.

   AMARANTA. Down to your last penny?

   FORTUNATO. My very last.

   AMARANTA. The wolf at the door!

   FORTUNATO. A whole pack of them! [He laughs feebly at this rather feeble joke.] I have n't laughed since I don't know when.

   AMARANTA. Well . . . we must see what we can do for you. Are you an artist?

Fortunato stares.

   FORTUNATO. Oh, no, Señora! That is . . . not so far as I know. But I 'm willing to try. No . . . I 'm a clerk by profession . . . that is, I was. I 've not had much work for four years.

   AMARANTA. Four years! That 's bad.

   FORTUNATO. It has been! I really don't know how we've pulled through. And . . . are you an artist, Señora?

   AMARANTA. But . . . don't you know me?

   FORTUNATO. Know you! Yes . . . of course . . . in a sense. But....

   AMARANTA. I am Amaranta the Invincible.

   FORTUNATO [who is obviously leagues from knowing her]. Oh . . . of course! Your face . . . and your voice . . . ! Who could mistake it?

   AMARANTA. Yes, indeed! I am an artist. I am at the head of my profession. That is why envy and calumny pursue me. I come of a race of artists. We die for our art.

   FORTUNATO. Really! You don't say so!

   AMARANTA. My dear papa . . . crossing Niagara upon a tight-rope . . . stumbled and fell. The thundering cataract was his tomb. What a glorious end! Don't you think so?

   FORTUNATO. Oh . . . most!

   AMARANTA. My brother Hannibal . . . a godlike creature . . . and as noble in soul as in body . . . was eaten by his six black panthers. And Aristides, the youngest of us . . . perished in the urn.

   FORTUNATO. The urn! What urn?

   AMARANTA. He was famous . . . world famous . . . for his fasting . . . sealed in a crystal urn. But once . . . when he'd endured for a fortnight . . . his strength failed . . . and he passed away.

   FORTUNATO. That's an art I do know something of! I might do well in an urn!

   AMARANTA. It is not a subject for humour. I follow in my mamma's footsteps.

   FORTUNATO. Indeed! Might I ask what she died of?

   AMARANTA. Dear Mamma died of old age.

   FORTUNATO. Good! I mean . . . well . . . one's thankful it was no worse. Might I ask, too, what it is you want me to do? As long as it 's anything I can do . . . .

   AMARANTA. A child could do it.

   FORTUNATO. I 'm glad of that.

   AMARANTA. I must put you through a few simple tests.

   FORTUNATO. Yes, of course. I write quite a good hand . . . I know a little French . . . I can do bookkeeping by double entry . . . .

   AMARANTA. These pleasantries are out of place.

She rises majestically and majestically departs, leaving Fortunato bewildered.

   FORTUNATO. Pleasantries! What does she mean? What does the woman do? What does she want of me? I can't walk a tight-rope. Well . . . I could but fall off! But I hope it is n't panthers.

Señora Amaranta returns, Inés following her. She is her pleasant self again. She carries a rifle over her shoulder, and Inés has a tray with some indistinguishable small objects on it. At the sight of the ride Foytunato's eyes open painfully wide. But with a smile and nod to him she passes on to examine that strange board standing against the wall. Fortunato makes a little dash towards Inés and asks desperately.

   FORTUNATO. For pity's sake tell me. Who is she? What is she?

   INÉS. What is she? She's the world's champion shot.

   FORTUNATO. Good God!

Having adjusted that strange board Amaranta the Invincible turns to him with a smile.

   AMARANTA. Now we're ready. Come along.

   FORTUNATO. Where?

   AMARANTA. Here. You stand straight in front of the target

   FORTUNATO. The target!!!

   AMARANTA. And you've nothing to do but to keep calm.


   AMARANTA. And cool. Cool as a cucumber!

   FORTUNATO. I feel as cold as ice.

She now takes a box of very large wax matches from Inés' tray, strikes one and hands it to him.

   FORTUNATO. Thank you, I . . . I 'm not smoking.

   AMARANTA [reprovingly]. Come, come . . . this is business. Hold it at arm's length, please.

She leaves him to do so and takes her own stand fifteen paces from him.

   FORTUNATO. But . . . but what is it you 're going to do, please?

   AMARANTA. Shoot out the lighted match.

And with ease and precision she takes aim. But in a twinkling Fortunato has saved her the trouble; he has blown it out.

   FORTUNATO. No, no . . . it 's out . . . it 's out!

Amaranta the Invincible lowers her rifle and looks at him sternly.

   AMARANTA. What is this? Are you afraid?

   FORTUNATO. Not at all. Afraid . . . oh, dear no! Well . . . perhaps . . . yes . . . just a little afraid.

   AMARANTA. Do you realise that you insult me by saying that? But you do it in ignorance. It is excusable. You evidently do not know me.

   FORTUNATO. That . . . that is so; Señora. I confess it. I do not know you.

   AMARANTA. I can reassure you, I fancy. Have you good eyes?

   FORTUNATO. Excellent.

She beckons him to her and then points towards some tree not far off.

   AMARANTA. Do you see the top branch of that tree . . . and a spray of bloom at the end of it? The flower at the very end has four petals . . . can you see that?


   AMARANTA. I 'll take one of them off.

She shoots and apparently does so.

   AMARANTA. What do you say to that?

   FORTUNATO. I 'm struck dumb.

   AMARANTA. And you're not afraid any longer?

   FORTUNATO. How . . . how . . . how could I be?

   AMARANTA. Then go and stand in front of the target.

She takes up her position again and waits for him.

   FORTUNATO. You don't mind my suggesting it . . . have you ever thought of trying it with a candle stuck in a bottle, now?

   AMARANTA [looks at him coldly]. Where, then, would be the credit of extinguishing it?

   FORTUNATO. I should have thought it would come to about the same thing.

   AMARANTA. Really? That 's not a very sensible remark. Where would be the risk . . . where would be the thrill? Who wants to see me snuff out a candle stuck in a bottle? But held in your hand or an inch above your head so that if I make the slightest slip I kill you on the spot . . . there 's a thrill in that! That 's what the public pay to see.

   FORTUNATO. Yes . . . of course . . . they would!

   AMARANTA. Suppose dear Papa, instead of slinging his tightrope over mighty Niagara had crossed some wretched little gutter of a river . . . can't you see the difference?

   FORTUNATO. Yes . . . he 'd have got a ducking . . . but he'd be alive now.

   AMARANTA. Why did great crowds gather round to watch those first aeronauts vanish into the sky? Because death was waiting for them there. Isn't danger the very salt of life? Yes . . . your own danger. In your youth, no doubt, you loved some fair woman who was another's. Did n't you?

   FORTUNATO. No . . . really . . . I don't remember . . . .

   AMARANTA. Was n't it her greatest charm that, at any minute, her husband might come in and kill you in her very arms?

   FORTUNATO. The fact is, you know . . . I 've never been at all like that. I 'm for a quiet life . . . I always was.

   AMARANTA. Well . . . let 's get back to business. Light your match, please. Square to the target. Arm out to its full extent.

Fortunato gets the match lit and his arm out. But try as he will, it shakes like an aspen. Amaranta's ride is to her shoulder again, but she lowers it in despair.

   AMARANTA. Heavens, man . . . keep still! If you shake like that how can I help shooting you?

This is too much for poor Fortunato. He flings down his match in despair.

   FORTUNATO. Señora . . . I . . . I 'm afraid I shan't suit the place. My nerves would never stand it. I 'm sorry. You must excuse me.

Amaranta is now very angry indeed, coldly, impersonally angry.

   AMARANTA. I see. Thank you . . . I quite understand! You came here without knowing who I was. And the moment you learn I am Amaranta the Invincible . . . all the slanders you've heard about me set you quivering like a jelly.

   FORTUNATO. I do assure you, Señora . . . I have n't heard any slanders about you.

   AMARANTA. Nonsense!

   FORTUNATO. Not a slander.

   AMARANTA. Nonsense, I tell you . . . when Madrid is ringing with them! Ringing with the lie that I shot Sabatino by bungling a new trick with him!

   FORTUNATO. Oh . . . they say that, do they?

Fortunato and Inés exchange a glance, and hers is a guilty glance.

   AMARANTA. A drunken good-for-nothing who dared to fall in love with me! And when I sent him about his business . . . what else did he expect, pray? . . . the fool goes and shoots himself. Is that my fault? I 'm sure he's no great loss. But what a chance for my enemies! And they take it! I know what's being said of me. That my eye's out . . . that my nerves are shaky . . . that I 'm going to pieces. I know what the audience were thinking last night . . . I could feel it. And I 've had three contracts sent back to me. But I 'll show them! I 'll astonish them. Before I leave Madrid they shall see what shooting is. I 'll shoot as I 've never shot before. Now what have you to say?

   FORTUNATO. Nothing, Señora . . . nothing. I think I 'd better go.

   AMARANTA. Then go. You have the impertinence to distrust me! I have shot at men for twenty years . . . and never singed a hair of their heads. Do you know what the Spread-Eagle is? I cover that target with a sheet and I place you against it . . . so. And I draw a pattern round you with bullets as if I drew it with a pencil. I have done that five hundred times and more to my own mother . . . the dearest thing on earth to me. To my own mother! And when she walked away from the target scatheless the audience would go mad with delight. Be off with you! And don't come whining to me about your five starving children again. You're a coward.

She turns to go. But a convulsion seems to seize Fortunato.

   FORTUNATO. My children! Señora . . . .

   AMARANTA. What now?

   FORTUNATO. Wait . . . wait! Yes . . . I 'm a coward . . . I always have been. But I 'll do it. In spite of that . . . I 'll do it.

   AMARANTA. That 's right!

   FORTUNATO. I did n't think I could. But I can. Here I am . . . spread-eagled! Draw your pattern. Go on!

He spreads himself ecstatically against the target, like another St. Sebastian.

   AMARANTA. Splendid! Quite still, please. And she takes a masterly aim.

   FORTUNATO. I 'll be still! And my children will have bread.

   AMARANTA. Steady!

She fires. We hear the ping of the shot on the target. Fortunato gives a yell; his knees collapse.

   AMARANTA. What is it?

   INÉS. Oh . . . what has happened?

Fortunato feels himself very carefully all over.

   AMARANTA. Well?

   FORTUNATO. Nothing.

   AMARANTA. So I should hope!

   FORTUNATO. Nothing at all. A little nervousness . . . to begin with. But I 'm quite myself now. Fire away, Señora . . . fire away.

With a slight touch of arrogance he spreads himself once more upon the target.

   AMARANTA. You're a hero.

   FORTUNATO. Not at all . . . not at all! But most kind of you to say so.

   AMARANTA. Steady!

She fires again; and but for a slight twitch Fortunato manages to keep it up.

   AMARANTA. Steady!

She fires a third time. We might almost think Fortunato was enjoying himself.

   FORTUNATO. And my children will have bread!

   AMARANTA. Steady!

She fires again.

   FORTUNATO. My children will have bread!

   AMARANTA. Steady!

   FORTUNATO. My children. . . .

She goes on firing; Fortunato rejoicing still.