THERE was once a cobbler who was unsurpassed by anybody in ugliness, and as regards bad temper was equalled by none. He would sit before a little table in the doorway, wearing a cotton cap that had once been blue and white, but the tints of which had long since faded into one indefinable hue. This said cobbler, with his leather apron and horn spectacles, was the butt of all the mischievous little urchins of the district, as well as of the elders, his customers; and they had so exercised his patience that he had not any left.
“Uncle Hormazo,” which was the name given to him because of his habitual threat to the youngsters to give them a blow with his last, was a very grave and strict man. He deemed it right for boots to walk about the streets, but not for young people; that shoes should have companions, but that modest girls ought not to have any others than the hearth, the spinning-wheel, and the Prayer-book.
But his daughter Mariquita was not of her father’s opinion, because never did ugly caterpillar give life to a more beautiful and frisky butterfly than was she. And this butterfly was in love, and corresponded by signs with a lieutenant, who cursed the sharp look-out of Uncle Hormazo, who in guarding his daughter forgot his old boots, and whose care for her reputation caused him to lose his own.
One day Uncle Hormazo was more worried than ever; the starch, although more rotten than usual, had been eaten by a hungry cat; the thread was in a tangle, and the cobbler’s wax was lost, and he had had a squabble with three old women, who had promised to revenge themselves. A flighty young woman arrived, and without any preface said:—
“Where are my shoes?”
“They are not ready,” responded Uncle Hormazo laconically.
“I have never seen a greater old fibber! Did you not tell me they would be ready?”
“I was mistaken.”
“I shall not be able to go to the dance!” exclaimed the girl, stamping her foot.
“So much the better: girls lose their good name by going to dances: sew, sweep, and be off!”
“I shall dance and sing as long as I please. Who are you? I came here for my shoes, and not for sermons! You are old, and therefore do not care for singing and dancing, and you are more false than the almanack!”
And she went away singing at the top of her voice:—
“There’s always a thief
In a tailor’s abode!
And nought but deceit
Is the shoemaker’s code!
“On shoemenders’ skulls—
Inscribed on the backs—
This motto you’ll find:
‘Viva cobbler’s wax!’”
Uncle Hormazo was about to reply to her when a little lad entered.
“What do you want?” the cobbler asked, with his gruff voice and a mistrustful glance.
“To ask you, Uncle Hormazo, if you have confessed.”
“Be off, or I’ll send you to Jericho!”
“I am come to teach you your confession, which is this:—
“I’m a cobbler,
And a sinner,
And am false;
I confess to the stone jar,
And to the big-bellied pitcher.”
“Vagabond, scamp! I will give you a hormazo that will crack your skull!”
But the threatened skull was already out of reach.
A quarter of an hour had not passed, when another customer presented himself. This one was not so badly received, as he carried a boot in his hand; but in the front of it there was an immense hole like a fish’s mouth, gaping as if to frighten Hormazo; whilst, to balance this, the heel was one sad ruin.
“Leave it here,” said the cobbler, without being frightened at or bemoaning its condition, he being as accustomed to such things as an army surgeon to wounds, or an antiquary to ruins.
“You must be careful, mother said, that you sew it well and strongly!”
“I do not want advice, master joker!” grunted Uncle Hormazo. “Do you think I shall sew it with cobwebs?”
“I’ve warned you,” said the youngster, going off at double quick march, as he shouted:—
“The poor cobbler cobbles the shoe,
To hide the holes he should sew through.”
“Be off, you scoundrel, or I will give a hormazo that you won’t forget in a hurry!”
“Uncle Hormazo,” said another lad, presenting himself with all the powers of an ambassador, “my grandmother sends me to say that all through you not having mended her shoe, she was not able to go to church, and that you are a Jew!”—which is a most dreadful insult to a Spaniard of the lower classes.
“I a Jew! What an insult! Fly, or by my faith, I’ll crack your skull with my last, you wretch! Tell that slanderer, your grandmother, that the barefooted go easier to glory than the shod!”
“Then, Uncle Hormazo, if you make shoes for Christians, you are working for the devil! Well says my grandmother that you are a Jew, and the song also says:—
“To church a cobbler went,
But knew not how to pray;
So passing by the altar
Cried, ‘Shoes to mend to-day?’”
This time the last went flying through the air, but only struck the door, the youngster having already reached the street, where he was heard singing:—
“To church a cobbler went.”
“What a trade this is for a Christian!” exclaimed the antithesis of Herod, in desperation. “I am the victim of childish tyranny. And that is not the only thing, although that is enough. They shall see that I’ve not got the patience of Job! Imps of mischief!”
Then he went to the doorway, and with much difficulty got upon the bench; scarcely had he settled himself, when a microscopic individual of about five years old, who scarcely spoke distinctly yet, and only preserved his equilibrium by supporting one hand against the wall, stood before him, and presenting a bull’s horn at Uncle Hormazo, as a soldier might a musket, said:—
“Mr. Graceful cobbler,
Will you make shoes for this fine lad?”
“Ah, you little goose!” exclaimed the cobbler, beside himself with vexation. “You, also, want to mock me? Now you shall catch it!”
But as the enemy was so feeble, and Uncle Hormazo generous, he did not take his favourite weapon, the last, but seized a handbrush and threw it at the youngster, who, terrified, had taken to flight; but not in time enough to avoid the missile, which came with all its force against his back, and sent him and his bull’s horn sprawling on the ground together. On hearing the loud bellowing of their darling, out rushed from the adjoining house his mother, his grandmother, his aunt, his godmother, and half a dozen female neighbours; and the more they compassionated the victim, the more they burned with indignation against the Fierabras cobbler. Like a volley of musketry, they launched at Uncle Hormazo the following endearing terms—
The mother. “Heretic!”
The grandmother. “Herod!”
The aunt. “Cain!”
The godmother. “Heartless brute!”
The cousin. “Monster!”
An old woman. “Jew!”
A milliner. “Nero!”
A soldier’s wife. “Despot!”
A sailor’s wife. “Pirate!”
A French corset maker. “Ogre!”
A mendicant negress. “Savage!”
A nun. “Atheist!”
A little girl. “Bogey!”
The object of all this indignation continued tranquilly reuniting disjoined uppers and soles, without taking any other notice than repeating from time to time: “This time it is the brush; the next time that that badly-tutored reptile comes again to mock a respectable man, he shall have a hormazo that will teach him good behaviour; you are forewarned, Juana Ganotes!” But Uncle Hormazo had not yet come to the end of his tribulations, for at this moment he saw passing by, with his little military cap perched upon his forehead, and with a jaunty air, the assistant of an officer, who, thanks to the clatter and noise of the crowd the* e, hoped to be able to pass without being noticed by the Cerberus of his lieutenant’s beloved. But he deceived himself; to the vigilance of the dog, the cobbler united the hundred eyes of Argus.
On beholding that spruce but hostile apparition, Uncle Hormazo began to get exasperated, and put himself in a position to follow all its movements. He gave himself a blow on the head that gave his old cotton cap a similar position on his bald pate to that of the cap worn by the officer’s assistant. Having through this manoeuvre uncovered one of his ears, he was enabled to hear distinctly all that passed without stopping his work, and this was what the Mercury sang with a tenor voice:—
“Arandin, arandin, arande,
Miss Mariquita, I wait for thee.”
And he pursued his way.
“I am waiting too,” said the cobbler to himself, as he put in and drew out his thread with the force of a Hercules and the courage of an Achilles.
After a little while the enemy returned, singing as he passed by:—
“Miss Mariquita, don’t be late,
To meet my master at the gate.”
And he went on as if quite unconscious of addressing any one.
“Don’t you think you are very cunning?” groaned the cobbler with indignation.
At the expiration of about five minutes, the soldier made his third appearance: the cobbler clenched an old sole in his hands with rage; then he heard a window of his house softly opened, and a soprano voice singing:—
“Arandin, arandin, arandero,
Say to thy master I’ll quickly go.”
Scarcely had the treble voice finished its couplet, when Uncle Hormazo, in his fury kicking over his table with all the odds and ends upon it, and grasping a last in his uplifted hand, rushed into the street, singing with a tremendous bass voice:—
“Arandin, arandin, arandaso,
Howe’er thou runnest thou’lt get a hormazo."