You must have seen some of the pictures of Spanish boys and girls painted by the great Spanish master Murillo. Let me recall a few of them to your memory.
There is the "Young Peasant-Girl with Fruit." She stands in the fair, open country, her smiling face peering out at you from her kerchief-draped head, and one hand clasping a basket of the richest fruits of the earth. Her costume, picturesque though it be, proclaims her a member of what we call the working class, but there are no careworn lines furrowing her brow and mocking at her youth. Poor she is, without a doubt, in the worldly sense of the word, even though her simple daily food includes many of the finest varieties of sun-loving fruits that we look upon as luxuries; but all life, we feel, must be a luxury to this beauteous little maiden, whose whole being radiates happiness and content.
Again, there is the "Spanish Flower-Girl," who looks out of the picture at you with mellowing eyes, now shimmering with the youthful joy of life. How plainly those eyes tell you that she is growing into a typical Spanish woman! Already she can talk with them, having that natural gift for their emotional language which is common to all her countrywomen. In a few years, maybe months, they will be burning love-stars, glowing through the grated window of her bedchamber, and drawing magic from the guitar of her lover who serenades his beloved in the street below. Or those same eyes may some day be flashing hatred that would make your Northern blood run cold. Following a Spanish custom among her sex in the matter of adornment, the girl is wearing a flower in her hair. The choice blooms she is offering for sale are daintily held in an embroidered scarf, which is thrown over one shoulder and puckered up by a light touch of her hands into a "basket" for her treasured stock-in-trade.
Then, there are Murillo's very poor little peasant-boys. Barefooted and ragged though they be, would you call them sons of misfortune? Notice their well-rounded limbs; look at their laughter-lit faces; and behold this one, with head thrown back and wide-open mouth, ready to make short work of a big bunch of grapes; that one with bulging cheek and three-parts of a fine juicy melon still in hand; another with a chunk of bread in his chubby fist.
All Murillo's peasant children, be they successful-looking little workers or beggarly ragamuffins, provide a feast for the eye which revels in sunshine and colour, and awaken delight in the heart and mind of anyone who can appreciate those types of personal beauty in which temperament plays an active part. Above all, they arouse a feeling which compels the belief that all Spanish children must have been very happy in the days when Murillo lived, for we know that this famous master painted things as they actually were. And if you are at all familiar with his pictures, you already have a very good idea of the life which Spanish children lead; for all changes are wrought very slowly in their homeland, and, luckily for them, no change has yet been mooted which is likely to spoil an inheritance that puts them, from the day of their birth, among the most fortunate little people in the world.
One of the most deeply-rooted national characteristics is the love which Spanish parents of all classes lavish on their children. Nothing is too much trouble for father and mother where the welfare of their family is concerned, and within broadest limits of reason the boys and girls of Spain enjoy freedom to do as they like. There are, of course, lesson-times, and the boys in particular have to work very hard at school. Moreover, it is the duty of many of the peasant children to help keep the home together by selling flowers and fruit, or by labouring in the vineyards and orange-groves. But Spain is so constantly keeping national festivals that every other day in this country seems a holiday, and even on working days there is ample leisure for both children and grown-ups to make merry to their hearts' content.
Boys and girls frequently play together. Most of their games are simple and pretty, and nearly all are enacted to the accompaniment of a gaily-sung doggerel or nursery rhyme. A favourite game for boys and girls is "Ambo, ato." In this the one who is selected as it has to choose a partner, but first she stands alone while the others join hands, close round her in a circle, and whirligig merrily as they sing a quaint rhyme. Then the one who is it is bidden choose whom she will. When she has singled out her mate her companions ask in chorus: "What will you give him?" Thereupon the little maid holds out an orange, a pomegranate, a bunch of grapes, or a flower, and the boy of her heart steps shyly forth to join her in the middle of the ring. The circle closes up, and, singing at the top of their voices, the happy youngsters dance jubilantly round and round the little couple of the moment.
The tiny tots among the girls are very fond of playing "Tintarella," a game which is not quite unknown in our own country. The players divide off into couples, and partners stand toe to toe and grip hands firmly; the fun lies in spinning round as fast as possible. In Spain the children always sing some merry rhyme as they whirl round in the "Tintarella."
With the boys the game of "Torero "has no rival. This, their favourite amusement, is a miniature bull-fight, a playground version of the great national sport of Spain. The captain of the ring is generally elected to play bull. With a basketwork cover on his head, the bull is let loose, to be chased and harried by the boys, whom he, in his turn, does his best to butt in a manner that shall be worthy of his most honourable position as star performer.