It is a curious fact that in a country where a poetic genius for love-making is inborn in the heart of every man and woman, custom has made it as difficult as possible for young people to find their mates.
Spanish girls are always under the watchful eye of some staid female attendant; they are never allowed to go out for a walk alone, even in the daytime, and the utmost precautions are taken to see that they are never left alone in a room with a man, no matter how great a friend of the family he may be. Under these conditions it is not surprising to find that surreptitious methods of sweethearting are resorted to; but all such methods are of a romantic nature, as, for instance, moonlight serenading, and passing glances, lingering looks with eyes well trained to deliver messages which lips cannot speak when there are other ears to hear than those for which they are intended. And some-times in spite of the strictest vigilance of the girl's mother in particular, and all her female relatives in general, the young couple will manage to steal away together for a brief spell; or when there is an old family servant on duty, a little bribe gallantly administered with much flattery may effect the same happy result.
Frequently the lover-man's diplomacy is a long and vain expenditure of energy, for Spanish women are born coquettes, and they thoroughly enjoy the fine art of attracting and receiving court. But frequently, too, these clandestine preliminaries end in an engagement, and by the time a Spanish woman pledges her word to marry she has generally had enough of playing with love to satisfy her romantic soul, is sure of her mind, can trust to the genuineness of her feelings, and will settle down to make her lover and beloved a most loyal and devoted wife.
Spanish men make very good husbands. A Spanish boy is always devoted to his mother, and learns through his love for her to reverence his wife. The women as a whole take no interest in the progressive movement of their sex afoot in other parts of the world, and the only right claimed by the majority is to be petted and made much of in their homes. But although custom has decreed that the men shall not make any intellectual demands on the women, and the women shall be content with the homage and adoration of the men, fortunately there is something in feminine Spanish nature which prevents the women from degenerating into spoiled babies and dressed-up dolls. That something, which has made for the salvation of the sex and for the general welfare of the country, is the maternal instinct, with its kindred spirit, the love of home.
There is no country in the world—no, not even England—where home-life is a higher ideal than in Spain, and it is the women who make the homes there so dear to the heart of every member of their family.
Let the abode be rich or poor, cheerfulness always reigns supreme within its precincts. Mother may have had a tiring, worrying morning, but she plays a Spanish version of "This little pig went to market" with her treasured baby as though she were still a merry child herself. A little later she will be preparing her husband's midday meal, singing the while. She may not have much to give him to eat, but the dishes are sure to be tasty, and she will lead the gay chatter which makes a feast of the repast, however frugal it may be. The evening meal finds her in the same good spirits, and the children—such of them as are not yet happily asleep—are full of fun and frolic. There are no sullen faces, no grumblings and growlings, no discordant elements to popularize public entertainments and social gatherings. Consequently, the Spanish husband prefers as a rule to stay at home for his evening's amusement; he is quite pleased if a neighbour drops in for a gossip, a hand at cards, or a game of dominoes, but he is also perfectly content to be alone with his family.
Loyalty and devotion are in themselves fine traits, but the loyalty of the Spanish wife, the devotion of the Spanish mother, are priceless virtues, for from them are bred that cheerfulness which does so much to make the home a magic circle.
The poor peasants live in little cottages or tiny hovels. Truth to tell, they do not always keep their rooms scrupulously clean; but as whitewashed walls are very common, even the homes which disimprove most on acquaintance present a pleasing appearance as a rule when first seen. The nobility have their country mansions and estates, or fine residences in the large towns, but among ordinarily well-to-do folk it is a common practice for several families to share one house.
One of the most attractive features of a great many Spanish dwellings is the Oriental patio, or court, round which the house is built. The patio usually has a fountain in the centre, and while shady trees add to the enticement of this spot as a cool retreat, there are thick carpets of gay flowers to rejoice the luxury-loving Southern heart. In the summer an awning is drawn over the patio, seats are taken out, very possibly a piano, too, and the family or families in the surrounding house spend much of their time in this delightful out-of-door room.
The smallest Spanish hovels bear witness to the national love of flowers. Often you see the windows of tumble-down dwellings in the meanest of streets richly bedecked with rows of plants, creepers climbing over the walls, flowers growing out of nooks and crannies here, there, and everywhere, and trees rising from the roofs. This national passion can naturally expend itself more freely in the southern districts, where sun-loving vegetation flourishes in reckless pro-fusion; and it is here that we find the most beautiful garden-houses and the wonderful fairy gardens, with magic fountains, orange-walks, myrtle-thickets, lemon-groves, palm-aisles, fern-grottoes, stately cypresses, spreading cedars, gorgeous oleanders, and flower-laden terraces. Rich colours flash in the sunshine; cool water bubbles up on every side; the air is delicately perfumed with a thousand fragrant scents. It is difficult to imagine a more sumptuous banquet than that which is provided by a Spanish garden as you wander around, wide awake to its delights; but if you would really feast with the gods, hearken to the call of the trees, and, with the burning kiss of the sunshine on your brow, the rich bouquet of Nature's perfume intoxicating your whole being, go dream within the leafy portals of their magic shadowland.
A Spanish Patio.
To return to the commonplace, one of the most striking features of Spanish municipal and household arrangements is the very general use of electric light. You travel miles beyond the civilization of a big town, toil up a very winding path, and arrive late at night in a little out-of-the-way village on the top of a high hill. Primitive is the only word to describe your surroundings, yet when you muster up courage to enter the only inn, you are greeted by a cheering flash of electric lights, and there is electric light in your bedroom to put to flight any fears aroused by your first sight of the ramshackle hostelry, fears which might very well have brought you a sleepless night under the ghostly influence of a flickering candle.
During the period when gas was popular in other countries Spain was too far behind the times to adopt that method of lighting. She has jumped straight away from candles and olive-oil lamps to electric light, and by the very general use of this up-to-date method of illumination she is ahead of many other more generally advanced countries in the matter of lighting facilities.
The streets of many of the smallest towns are now lit by electricity. The street lamps formerly in use were very quaint. On the top of a wooden post was a close-meshed network receptacle, made of thick, strong wire, in shape very much like a frying-pan; this was filled with chips and logs of pine-wood, which, when kindled, gave quite a good light. Stacks of wood were stored at the base of each post, and the lamp-lighter not only had to go his round to light the lamps, but it was his duty to feed them, so that they kept on burning throughout the night. At festival times copies of the old street-lamps are still sometimes used for illumination purposes, to show the children how their native town was lighted in the days not long gone by.
To let you see how far electric lighting has been brought within the bounds of possibility for the masses of Spain, I will give you some idea of the cost thereof. On inquiring of a peasant how much she paid for this modern convenience, she explained to me that she had one light in the living-room and one in the sleeping-room. For economy's sake, the fittings were so arranged that she must switch off the one before she could use the other, and on these terms her bill amounted to one and a half pesetas a month—about 1s. 3d. in our money.