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Adios

And then the morrow was come. Getting up at five to catch my boat, I went down to the harbour; a grey mist hung over the sea, and the sun had barely risen, a pallid, yellow circle; the fishing-boats lolled on the smooth, dim water, and fishermen in little groups blew on their fingers.

And from Cadiz I saw the shores of Spain sink into the sea; I saw my last of Andalusia. Who, when he leaves a place that he has loved, can help wondering when he will see it again? I asked the wind, and it sighed back the Spanish answer: 'Quien sabe? Who knows?' The traveller makes up his mind to return quickly, but all manner of things happen, and one accident or another prevents him; time passes till the desire is lost, and when at last he comes back, himself has altered or changes have occurred in the old places and all seems different. He looks quite coldly at what had given an intense emotion, and though he may see new things, the others hardly move him; it is not thus he imagined them in the years of waiting. And how can he tell what the future may have in store; perhaps, notwithstanding all his passionate desires, he will indeed never return.

Of course the intention of this book is not to induce people to go to Spain: railway journeys are long and tedious, the trains crawl, and the hotels are bad. Experienced globe-trotters have told me that all mountains are very much alike, and that pictures, when you have seen a great many, offer no vast difference. It is much better to read books of travel than to travel oneself; he really enjoys foreign lands who never goes abroad; and the man who stays at home, preserving his illusions, has certainly the best of it. How delightful is the anticipation as he looks over time-tables and books of photographs, forming delightful images of future pleasure! But the reality is full of disappointment, and the more famous the monument the bitterer the disillusion. Has any one seen St. Peter's without asking himself: Is that all? And the truest enjoyment arises from things that come unexpectedly, that one had never heard of. Then, living in a strange land, one loses all impression of its strangeness; it is only afterwards, in England, that one realises the charm and longs to return; and a hundred pictures rise to fill the mind with delight. Why can one not be strong enough to leave it at that and never tempt the fates again?

The wisest thing is to leave unvisited in every country some place that one wants very much to see. In Italy I have never been to Siena, and in Andalusia I have taken pains to avoid Malaga. The guide-books tell me there is nothing whatever to see there; and according to them it is merely a prosperous sea-port with a good climate. But to me, who have never seen it, Malaga is something very different; it is the very cream of Andalusia, where every trait and characteristic is refined to perfect expression.

I imagine Malaga to be the most smiling town on the seaboard, and it lies along the shore ten times more charmingly than Cadiz. The houses are white, whiter than in Jerez; the patios are beautiful with oranges and palm-trees, and the dark green of the luxuriant foliage contrasts with the snowy walls. In Malaga the sky is always blue and the sun shines, but the narrow Arab streets are cool and shady. The passionate odours of Andalusia float in the air, the perfume of a myriad cigarettes and the fresh scent of fruit and flower. The blue sea lazily kisses the beach and fishing-boats bask on its bosom.

In Malaga, for me, there are dark churches, with massive, tall pillars; the light falls softly through the painted glass, regilding the golden woodwork, the angels and the saints and the bishops in their mitres. The air is heavy with incense, and women in mantillas kneel in the half-light, praying silently. Now and then I come across an old house with a fragment of Moorish work, reminding me that here again the Moors have left their mark.

And in Malaga, for me, the women are more lovely than in Seville; for their dark eyes glitter marvellously, and their lips, so red and soft, are ever trembling with a half-formed smile. They are more graceful than the daffodils, their hands are lovers' sighs, and their voice is a caressing song. (What was your voice like, Rosarito? Alas! it is so long ago that I forget.) The men are tall and slender, with strong, clear features and shining eyes, deep sunken in their sockets.

In Malaga, for me, life is a holiday in which there are no dullards and no bores; all the world is strong and young and full of health, and there is nothing to remind one of horrible things. Malaga, I know, is the most delightful place in Andalusia. Oh, how refreshing it is to get away from sober fact, but what a fool I should be ever to go there!

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The steamer plods on against the wind slowly, and as the land sinks away, unsatisfied to leave the impressions hovering vaguely through my mind, I try to find the moral. The Englishman, ever somewhat sententiously inclined, asks what a place can teach him. The churchwarden in his bosom gives no constant, enduring peace; and after all, though he may be often ridiculous, it is the churchwarden who has made good part of England's greatness.

And most obviously Andalusia suggests that it might not be ill to take things a little more easily: we English look upon life so very seriously, so much without humour. Is it worth while to be quite so strenuous? At the stations on the line between Jerez and Cadiz, I noticed again how calmly they took things; people lounged idly talking to one another; the officials of the railway smoked their cigarettes; no one was in a hurry, time was long, and whether the train arrived late or punctual could really matter much to no one. A beggar came to the window, a cigarette-end between his lips.

'Caballero! Alms for the love of God for a poor old man. God will repay you!'

He passed slowly down the train. It waited for no reason; the passengers stared idly at the loungers on the platform, and they stared idly back. No one moved except to roll himself a cigarette. The sky was blue and the air warm and comforting. Life seemed good enough, and above all things easy. There was no particular cause to trouble. What is the use of hurrying to pile up money when one can live on so little? What is the use of reading these endless books? Why not let things slide a little, and just take what comes our way? It is only for a little while, and then the great antique mother receives us once more in her bosom. And there are so many people in the world. Think again of all the countless hordes who have come and gone, and who will come and go; the immense sea of Time covers them, and what matters the life they led? What odds is it that they ever existed at all? Let us do our best to be happy; the earth is good and sweet-smelling, there is sunshine and colour and youth and loveliness; and afterwards--well, let us shrug our shoulders and not think of it.

And then in bitter irony, contradicting my moral, a train came in with a number of Cuban soldiers. There were above fifty of them, and they had to change at the junction. They reached out to open the carriage doors and crawled down to the platform. Some of them seemed at death's door; they could not walk, and chairs were brought that they might be carried; others leaned heavily on their companions. And they were dishevelled, with stubbly beards. But what struck me most was the deathly colour; for their faces were almost green, while round their sunken eyes were great white rings, and the white was ghastly, corpse-like. They trooped along in a dazed and listless fashion, wasted with fever, and now and then one stopped, shaken with a racking cough; he leaned against the wall, and put his hand to his heart as if the pain were unendurable. It was a pitiful sight. They were stunted and under-sized; they ceased to develop when they went to the cruel island, and they were puny creatures with hollow chests and thin powerless limbs; often, strangely enough, their faces had remained quite boyish. They were twenty or twenty-two, and they looked sixteen. And then, by the sight of those boys who had never known youth with its joyful flowers, doomed to a hopeless life, I was forced against my will to another moral. Perhaps some would recover, but the majority must drag on with ruined health, fever-stricken, dying one by one, falling like the unripe fruit of a rotten tree. They had no chance, poor wretches! They would return to their miserable homes; they could not work, and their people were too poor to keep them--so they must starve. Their lives were even shorter than those of the rest, and what pleasure had they had?

And that is the result of the Spanish insouciance--death and corruption, loss of power and land and honour, the ruin of countless lives, and absolute decay. It is rather a bitter irony, isn't it? And now all they have left is their sunshine and the equanimity which nothing can disturb.


THE END.

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William Somerset Maugham