FOR two months I had been unable to pay my landlady her rent, and I now found myself penniless and without prospects of getting money from any source. The poor woman was kind-hearted and discreet, and, knowing my position, she respected it as long as she could; but there came a day when she could hold out no longer, and she begged me at least to pay her something on account, even if I could not liquidate the whole of the debt. I put on my hat, and went out to see if I could find something. There was not much use trying to borrow, for I knew that all my friends were about as bare of pocket as I was. I turned down toward the Buena-dicha quarter, little caring where I went, and was just beginning to ponder over ways and means, when I saw a man coming toward me with open arms. “Thank God!” I burst out, “I have stumbled on good fortune unawares.” But what was my disappointment to find that I was shaking hands with a well-remembered friend of my childhood!
“You cannot imagine how delighted I am to meet you!” he said. “I have just arrived, know no one in the city, and by an unfortunate oversight have left my purse at home.”
I did not know how to extricate myself from my embarrassing position. I could hardly allow the man to sleep on the streets; that would be an atrocity; and if my invitation 252 bore the appearance of coolness, he would not accept it. So I showed him the usual cordialities.
“My dear friend,” said I, “there is little that I can do for you, but I trust you will make my house your own,” mentioning the street and number.
“I shall take great pleasure in accepting your courteous invitation for the time I may be staying in Madrid,” he replied. “I have friends who would receive me very gladly, but I would rather go with you than with any of them.”
“I shall be delighted to have you, but I cannot offer you very much.”
“No matter at all; even if there is nothing but soup, we shall enjoy the soup.”
Cold perspiration broke out on my forehead. But he left me no time for reflection. He took my hand in a grip that bade fair to crunch the bones, and hardly was this agony over before he clasped me in his arms in such a manner as to utterly deprive me of breath for the space of five minutes.
“What number did you say? I shall see you later, then.”
When I returned to the house I found my landlady in a pleasanter mood, for she had succeeded in borrowing two hundred reals. I could not at once bring myself to enlighten her as to the result of my expedition and the unfortunate meeting in the Buena-dicha, but my friend saved me the trouble by ringing the door-bell loudly, and taking possession of the house, with the words:
“Pardon me for being a little late; I fear that I have kept you waiting.”
I had to conceal my shame and tell the landlady the circumstances, but she, poor woman, was made of such good stuff that she said at once:253
“Never mind! We will eat what there is. I will sleep in the attic, and your friend may have my room.”
But my good friend was so dainty that nothing suited him. The next day he complained that the bed was hard. I took counsel with the landlady, which resulted in a decision to offer the dear fellow an additional mattress — namely, mine, the only remaining one in the establishment. He accepted like a lord, as though he were conferring a great favor on me. Thereafter, with nothing but a doubled-up old shawl between the wire and my body, my nights were miserable.
The dinners were especially obnoxious to the gentleman’s delicate taste. Everything was either too insipid or too salty.
“I really don’t understand how you endure this,” he said, “These women are such fools that they don’t know their right hand from the left.”
I was on pins and needles. More than once I was tempted to tell him to go to the devil; but I reflected that he was, after all, my guest, and that he would soon conclude his affairs and leave me in peace.
One morning, after having read the newspaper in bed (the subscription for the said periodical having been paid by the landlady), he got up in a good humor.
“I have good news for you,” he said. “To-morrow you will entertain my wife, her little girl, and baby, and two of my brothers. I hasten to inform you because I know how much you will enjoy their visit.”
And he went on describing his family.
My emotions would furnish material for many volumes. Imagine the frantic efforts of myself and my landlady to find beds and sustenance for all that brood; imagine that it stayed with me for six months, and then tell me if my life will be long enough to liquidate the debts incurred in that 254 period, and if I deserve to be damned even though I should die in mortal sin.
As I was leaving the house one morning I almost ran into a man who was inquiring for my friend. Hoping to learn something that might liberate me from the pest that had invaded my home, I waited at the door and heard the following dialogue:
“Are you going to pay what you owe me?”
“But, my good man, I have not a farthing.”
“That may or may not be, but I shall send a sheriff to seize anything he can find.”
“Now, what is the use of that, when I offer to pay as soon as I can? It is not necessary to deprive me of my tables and my chairs and everything in the house which belongs to me and for which I owe nobody.”
“Then, sir, I will go at once to the judge.”
“Only wait a few days. In the meantime my servant, whom you met as you entered, will return. I will write to my steward, and ——”
I did not allow him to finish the sentence. My fury knew no bounds. “I am your servant, am I!” I broke in. “Just take yourselves out of that door, or I will throw you out the window.”
And they actually evacuated the house, asking a thousand pardons. As my friend was walking away he turned, and said:
“I trust that this little misunderstanding will not affect our friendship.”
And he shook my hand so warmly that I can hardly hold the pen to write this story.