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Women of Andalusia

It is meet and just that the traveller who desires a closer acquaintance with the country wherein he sojourns than is obtained by the Cockney tripper, should fall in love. The advantages of this proceeding are manifold and obvious. He will acquire the language with a more rapid facility; he will look upon the land with greater sympathy and hence with sharper insight; and little particularities of life will become known to him, which to the dreary creature who surveys a strange world from the portico of an expensive hotel, must necessarily lie hid. If I personally did not arrive at that delectable condition the fault is with the immortal gods rather than with myself; for in my eagerness to learn the gorgeous tongue of Calderon and of Cervantes, I placed myself purposely in circumstances where I thought the darts of young Cupid could never fail to miss me. But finally I was reduced to Ollendorf's Grammar. However, these are biographical details of interest to none but myself; they are merely to serve as preface for certain observations upon the women whom the traveller in the evening sees hurrying through the Sierpes on their way home.

Human beauty is the most arbitrary of things, and the Englishman, accustomed to the classic type of his own countrywomen, will at first perhaps be somewhat disappointed with the excellence of Spain. It consists but seldom in any regularity of feature, for their appeal is to the amorist rather than to the sculptor in marble. Their red lips carry suggestions of burning kisses, so that his heart must be hard indeed who does not feel some flutterings at their aspect. The teeth are small, very white, regular. Face and body, indeed, are but the expression of a passionate nature.

But when I write of Spanish women I think of you, Rosarito; I find suddenly that it is no impersonal creature that fills my mind, but you--you! When I state solemnly that their greatest beauty lies in their hair and eyes, it is of you I think; it is your dark eyes that were lustrous, soft as velvet, caressing sometimes, and sometimes sparkling with fiery glances. (Alas! that I can find but hackneyed phrases to describe those heart-disturbers!) And when I say that the eyebrows of a Spanish woman are not often so delicately pencilled as with many an English girl, I remember that yours were thick; and the luxuriance gave you a certain tropical and savage charm. And your hair was plentiful and curling, intensely black; I believe it was your greatest care in life. Don't you remember how often you explained to me that nothing was so harmful as to brush it, and how proud you were that it hung in glorious locks to your very knees?

Hardly any girl in Seville is too poor to have a peinadora to do her hair; and these women go from house to house, combing and arranging the coiffure for such infinitesimal sums as half a real, which is little more than a penny.

Again I try to be impersonal. The complexion ranges through every quality from dark olive to pearly white; but yours, Rosarito, was like the very finest ivory, a perfect miracle of delicacy and brilliance; and the blood in the cheeks shone through with a rich, soft red. I used to think it was a colour by itself, not to be found on palettes, the carnation of your cheeks, Rosarito. And none could walk with such graceful dignity as you; it was a pleasure to watch your perfect ease, your self-command. Your feet, I think, were somewhat long; but your hands were wonderful, very small, admirably modelled, with little tapering fingers, and the most adorable filbert nails. Don't you remember how I used to look at them, and turn them over and discuss them point by point? And if ever I kissed their soft, warm palms, (I think it possible, though I have no vivid recollections,) remember that I was twenty-three; and it was certainly an appropriate gesture in the little comedy which to our mutual entertainment we played so gravely.

Now, as I write, my heart goes pit-a-pat, thinking of you, Rosarito; and I'm sure that if we had over again that charming time, I should fall head over ears in love. Oh, you know we were both fibbing when we vowed we adored one another; I am a romancer by profession, and you by nature. We parted joyously, and you had the grace not to force a tear, and neither of our hearts was broken. Where are you now, I wonder; and do you ever think of me?

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The whole chapter of Andalusian beauty is unfolded in the tobacco factory at Seville. Six thousand women work there, at little tables placed by the columns which uphold the roof; they are of all ages, of all types; plain, pretty, commonplace, beautiful; and ten, perhaps, are lovely. The gipsies are disappointing, not so comely as the pure Spaniards; and they attract only by the sphinx-like mystery of their copper-coloured skin, by their hard, unfathomable eyes.

The Sevillans are perhaps inclined to stoutness, but that is a charm in their lover's sight, and often have a little down on the upper lip, than which, when it amounts to no more than a shadow, nothing can be more enchanting. They look with malicious eyes as you saunter through room after room in the factory; it is quite an experience to run the gauntlet of their numerous tongues, making uncomplimentary remarks about your person, sometimes to your embarrassment offering you the carnation from their hair, or other things. Their clothes are suspended to the pillars, and their costume in summer is more adapted for coolness than for the inspection of decorous foreigners. They may bring with them babies, and many a girl will have a cradle by her side, which she rocks with one foot as her fingers work nimbly at the cigarettes.

They are very oriental, these women with voluptuous forms; they have no education, and with all their charm are unutterably stupid; they do not read, and find even newspapers tiresome! Those whose circumstances do not force them to work for their living, love nothing better than to lie for long hours on a sofa, neither talking nor thinking, in easy gowns, untrammelled by tight-fitting things. In the morning they put on a mantilla and go to mass, and besides, except to pay a polite visit on a friend or to drive in the Paseo, hardly leave the house. They are content with the simplest life. They adore their children, and willingly devote themselves entirely to them; they seem never to be bored.

For them the days must come and go without distinction. Their fleeting beauty leaves them imperceptibly; they grow fat, they grow thin, wrinkled, and gaunt; the years pass and their life proceeds without change. They do not think, they do not live: they merely exist, and they die, and that is the end of it. I suppose they are as happy as any one else. After all, taking it from one point of view, it matters very little what sort of life one leads, there are so many people in the world, such millions have come and gone, such millions will come and go. If an individual makes no use of his hour what does it signify? He is only one among countless hordes. In the existence of these handsome creatures, so passionate and yet so apathetic, there are no particular pleasures beside the simple joys of sense, but on the other hand, beyond the inevitable separations of death, there are no outstanding griefs. They propagate their species, and that, perhaps, is the only quite certain duty that human beings have.


William Somerset Maugham