ONCE there was a boy so fond of spoiling walls, doors, and windows with grotesque drawings that there was no way of stopping him from practising his silly cleverness wherever he was. And I say silly, because from his hand came forth some primitive dolls, with heads as round as a billiard ball, eyes and nose forming a sort of cork, and arms and legs like thin thread, terminating in hands and feet which required an inscription in order not to be taken for scourges.
One afternoon he approached the very wall of the school, and there, with the greatest coolness, commenced to draw with a piece of charcoal some of his strange figures. Perico, for so the boy was called, traced the figure of the head of a puppet, made the eyes and the mouth, and, oh, how strange! the doll began to wink and open its mouth and put its tongue out like anything.
Perico was not timid, and therefore the moving of the eyes and mouth did not startle him, and so without paying attention continued with his sketching the arms and the rest of the body. But he had hardly finished when the doll’s hand came out and gave him such a tremendous knock that it made him lose his balance, and he would even have fallen to the ground if another blow with the other hand and on the opposite cheek had not kept him on his feet. And as if this was not enough, the legs sprang out of the wall, and two vigorous kicks that Perico received in the pit of the stomach quite convinced him that there was one too many, and he was the one. Thus convinced he was about to run away when the whole doll came away from the stone, and at a bound leapt on his shoulders and began to bite him in the back of the head.
Perico ran towards his house like a greyhound, feeling on his neck the weight of that unexpected load, when the latter grew heavy, as if, instead of a charcoal picture, he had to deal with a bronze statue.
The poor little boy sank to the ground, and on getting up saw at his side, in the middle of the square, the doll in question, as tall as a giant and changed into a motionless iron statue.
He tried to fly, but the statue caught him with its great hands by the neck and, raising him up, placed him on its shoulders, and this being done commenced to run in the direction of the country. Its footsteps produced a very disagreeable noise of ironmongery, something like a sack of nails being shaken up.
It was night-time and our giant, with Perico on its shoulders, ran as fast as anything to a neighbouring mountain, until he came to a dark grotto into which he penetrated without any need of matches, because intense lights shone from his eyes.
During all this Perico, needless to mention, was more afraid than ashamed, and did not know, nor could even imagine how, it was going to end.
At length, after some minutes’ walk in the grotto, the iron man straightened himself, and turning the light of his eyes towards a corner, lighted up by a glance the lamp which hung down from the rocky ceiling, and this being done, took Perico down from his shoulders and sat down.
"You do not know who I am," said the doll, opening his mouth with a horrible smile; "but when you do know, it will make your hair stand on end from fright."
"I am sure it won’t," said the lad, "because it is already doing so; and as I cannot be any more afraid than I am now, on account of being so much afraid the fear which I felt is passing away."
"Well, then, I am the magician Adefesio, and I am tired of your drawing me so ugly and so similar to all the boys. The thing which puts me out most is that you draw my eyes without pupils and my nose without nostrils. Moreover, the ears which you sketch look like jug handles, and I am sick of my portrait going about the world so disfigured and so badly done. Could you not have learnt to draw a little before commencing these pictures? Well, the punishment that I reserve for you is to draw your portrait every day."
"What a punishment!" exclaimed Perico.
"The fact is that I do not know how to draw either," answered the man of iron, "and the worst of it all is that while I am drawing you, you will grow like my sketch, so that in a twinkling you will be disfigured. There, does not that seem a severe punishment to you? Well, you will see!"
And seizing Perico by one arm he pulled the lamp which hung down. Then a hole opened in the ceiling and the lamp went up, dragging the doll and Perico through the air.
The light continued to rise through a sort of well which was lighted up, and whose walls were lined with books full of badly-made drawings, spoilt plans, pieces of forms with engravings made with penknives, and table-covers destroyed through having been drawn on. That was the museum of the man of iron, and each time he saw it he was filled with anger towards the young draughtsmen who spoilt everything.
Soon they found themselves in a spacious room decorated in Arabian style and furnished most luxuriously. In the background there was an easel of great size, and on it a blackboard on which were drawn a lot of dolls of the same sort that Perico drew.
"Dear me, how fine!" said the boy looking at the sketches; "it seems that I did them."
"Well, now you will see the consequences," and snapping his fingers he produced a metallic sound, and immediately a multitude of boys of different ages came through a door. But what funny boys! All had round heads, eyes like fishes, flat noses, and mouths like letter boxes, wide open and showing teeth like saws. Their arms were thin as wire, ending in long fingers without joints. Perico was not startled when they came in.
"Well, that is how you will look in a little while," said the iron man.
"He always exaggerates!" exclaimed Perico aside, "but seeing is believing."
The man of iron seized a piece of chalk, and going near to the board began to draw Perico’s head; but the latter called the doll’s attention, and when he looked the other way rubbed out what he had drawn.
The man could not have seen very well because he went on drawing very tranquilly, and Perico continued rubbing out what the other drew; and when he thought that he had finished he caught up the boy, brought him to the light, and imagine his surprise on seeing him the same as before. He went back, full of rage, to the blackboard; but Perico tripped him up, and did it so well that he fell down. Then he threw the board and easel on him, and climbing on top, began to jump on the doll, and calling to his companions, shouted:
"Come here so that he will not be able to run away!"
The boys drew near and, climbing on the blackboard, by their weight prevented the iron doll from moving.
But things did not rest thus, because Perico was a very daring boy, and taking up a rope, which was close at hand, hung the iron man by the neck to the lamp, and pulling on the other end of the rope, hauled him up with the help of his companions.
As he was made of iron he was not choked, but hanging up he could do nothing except make grimaces like a jack-in-the-box, which was just what he looked like hanging in the air.
"Let me down!" shouted the unhappy man, "and you may draw whatever you like."
"That won’t do, my friend," answered Perico, laughing at the doll’s movements. "I should not be so stupid as to let you escape."
So that, as the song says:
"Here, sirs, came to an end
The life of Don Crispin."
"Do you think I have forgotten the punch you gave me?"
The other boys tied the rope to a sofa so as not to get tired, and led by Perico began to explore the rooms of the cave. They were all beautiful save that the ornaments on the walls were of dolls as grotesque as the master.
The way out of the grotto could not be seen anywhere. And the reason was simple, as the means of exit was by the lamp to which the doll was hanging; but the boys did not like the idea of going down one by one, with a great risk of breaking their heads.
Perico, now uneasy, recommenced to run about the rooms, and troubled by seeing on the walls what recalled his unfortunate adventure, pulled out his handkerchief and rubbed out all the drawings, seeing, with extraordinary surprise, that the boys recovered their original shapes. On rubbing out the last drawing a formidable noise was heard: the iron man vanished as if he were smoke, the palace disappeared, and they found themselves at the entrance to the cave. From there they marched to the town, where their parents were anxiously waiting for them, and there they related what had occurred.
All returned thanks to God and promised not to draw dolls again anywhere.
Perico became a very honourable man, devoted himself to drawing, and became a great artist, but he never forgot those dolls, which might have cost him so dear.