For the next ball I determined to carry the masker's advice into effect, but I did not want to take a courtesan or a married woman with me, and I could not reasonably expect that any young lady of family would accompany me.
It was St. Anthony's Day, and passing the Church of the Soledad I went in, with the double motive of hearing mass and of procuring a partner for the next day's ball.
I noticed a fine-looking girl coming out of the confessional, with contrite face and lowered eyes, and I noted where she went. She knelt down in the middle of the church, and I was so attracted by her appearance that I registered a mental vow to the effect that she should be my first partner. She did not look like a person of condition, nor, so far as I could see, was she rich, and nothing about her indicated the courtesan, though women of that class go to confession in Madrid like everybody else. When mass was ended, the priest distributed the Eucharist, and I saw her rise and approach humbly to the holy table, and there receive the communion. She then returned to the church to finish her devotions, and I was patient enough to wait till they were over.
At last she left, in company with another girl, and I followed her at a distance. At the end of a street her companion left her to go into her house, and she, retracing her steps, turned into another street and entered a small house, one story high. I noted the house and the street (Calle des Desinjano) and then walked up and down for half an hour, that I might not be suspected of following her. At last I took courage and walked in, and, on my ringing a bell, I heard a voice,
"Who is there?"
"Honest folk," I answered, according to the custom of the country; and the door was opened. I found myself in the presence of a man, a woman, the young devotee I had followed, and another girl, somewhat ugly.
My Spanish was bad, but still it was good enough to express my meaning, and, hat in hand, I informed the father that, being a stranger, and having no partner to take to the ball, I had come to ask him to give me his daughter for my partner, supposing he had a daughter. I assured him that I was a man of honour, and that the girl should be returned to him after the ball in the same condition as when she started.
"Senor," said he, "there is my daughter, but I don't know you, and I don't know whether she wants to go."
"I should like to go, if my parents will allow me."
"Then you know this gentleman?"
"I have never seen him, and I suppose he has never seen me."
"You speak the truth, senora."
The father asked me my name and address, and promised I should have a decisive answer by dinner-time, if I dined at home. I begged him to excuse the liberty I had taken, and to let me know his answer without fail, so that I might have time to get another partner if it were unfavourable to me.
Just as I was beginning to dine my man appeared. I asked him to sit down, and he informed me that his daughter would accept my offer, but that her mother would accompany her and sleep in the carriage. I said that she might do so if she liked, but I should be sorry for her on account of the cold. "She shall have a good cloak," said he; and he proceeded to inform me that he was a cordwainer.
"Then I hope you will take my measure for a pair of shoes."
"I daren't do that; I'm an hidalgo, and if I were to take anyone's measure I should have to touch his foot, and that would be a degradation. I am a cobbler, and that is not inconsistent with my nobility."
"Then, will you mend me these boots?"
"I will make them like new; but I see they want a lot of work; it will cost you a pezzo duro, about five francs."
I told him that I thought his terms very reasonable, and he went out with a profound bow, refusing absolutely to dine with me.
Here was a cobbler who despised bootmakers because they had to touch the foot, and they, no doubt, despised him because he touched old leather. Unhappy pride how many forms it assumes, and who is without his own peculiar form of it?
The next day I sent to the gentleman-cobbler's a tradesman with dominos, masks, and gloves; but I took care not to go myself nor to send my page, for whom I had an aversion which almost amounted to a presentiment.