YOU will often have it said to you, when smarting under a disappointment, "Never mind! it is all for the best!" I dare say you are sometimes inclined to doubt the truth of this maxim; I remember when I was a child I did, but I have found out in life, that it does very often prove true. And if you like, I will tell you one instance in which this was the case.
In the course of one of my rambles in Spain it happened one day that I was tempted by an old longing to make acquaintance with one of her most out-of-the-way and primitive villages, to separate from my party at the comfortable hotel at C---- and make my way with only one young companion to a place some five miles west, called Guadaxox, a name which I dare say in your longest geography lesson you have never been called on to pronounce; and you would find it no easy matter to do so, unless I wrote it for you thus: Guadakquoth.
Five miles' walk through the clear bright air of Spain, and the fresh spring breeze charged with all the perfume from the mountains, is a pleasant prospect enough; and as I can usually adapt myself to any quarters which may fall to my lot on a march, I had little fear of not being sufficiently rested to perform the return journey easily before sunset. My companion was a hearty lad of fourteen, who had joined us for his Easter vacation from Eton, and the prospect proposed even less difficulties to him.
I think you would be amused with our little adventures by the way through a country in which every outline of foreground or horizon, every tree and plant, every beast or fowl, every implement of husbandry, every article of dress of the people, every individual thing you meet, will probably prove new to an English eye. But I must not dwell on these things now. I will only tell you that we had such a bright and pleasant day as I have hardly ever known out of Spain; that we found so much to sketch and so much to interest us altogether, that we never noticed how the time passed, nor how the wind from the mountains had covered the fair sky with angry clouds. It was only when the first great drops of the storm patted us on the shoulder that we realized the extent of our difficulty. We looked at the banks of clouds and then at each other, for we each felt there was little chance of holding up that evening, and if it did, some of the mountain paths we had to traverse would be rendered too slippery by the torrent to be pleasant, not to say safe, for our lowland-bred feet.
It was a contretemps which disconcerted us not a little; but we turned with what courage remained to see after a shelter for the night. Time forbids me to describe the only venta, or inn, the place boasted, it will suffice to say it wanted for every comfort. It only expected to have hardy peasants to house who would not object to the earthen floor or the companionship of pigs and fowls in their slumbers. My Eton companion thought it rather manly to roll himself up in his great coat and compose himself to sleep on a board sloped from a low bench on to the floor. For myself I preferred sitting up, and established myself bravely in a chair, having previously taken the precaution to replenish the lamp. The first stage of weariness was just coming on when the door, which there was no means of locking, was thrown rudely open, and a couple of rough carters were ushered in to take up their quarters in the same apartment. I remonstrated at the intrusion without success, and something of an altercation ensued, in the midst of which another door, which I had not before noticed, was opened by a lady in black, who beckoned me into her room. I followed her, glad of an escape, but with a misgiving, lest I had not mended the matter. At first sight I had felt inclined to set her down as "an old hag;" but as she talked I saw intelligent benevolence in her dark eye, and traced remnants of early beauty in her shrivelled countenance. We were soon friends. She was travelling from place to place with her daughter, who supported them both by her exertions on the stage; she had gone on with friends to another village that evening, so her bed was free; it did not look inviting, and I excused myself as delicately as I could. She had the tact not to press the matter; and we continued sitting up, talking about the customs and legends of the people, a matter in which the old lady was well versed, and which had always had a special charm for me. She was delighted to have some one who would listen to her "long yarn;" and I was delighted to have found a source at which to satisfy some of my curiosity about Spanish Traditions.
The next day, as I sat in the hotel at C---- writing down the substance of what she had told me, and which I have embodied in the following collection of tales, I could not help saying to myself, "Well, it was all for the best. I thought that storm a great annoyance yesterday, but it has procured me an acquaintance with the very subjects after which I had had many fruitless researches before."
The store thus begun has been added to since in many various ways which I will not detain you by narrating, as I sincerely hope you are anxious to plunge into them, and still more that they will answer your expectations and entertain you as they did me.
I dare say they will seem to you at first very like other stories you have read, but if you follow them attentively you will trace many singular national characteristics. One in particular to which I would call your attention is the spirit of humour of which the Spanish and particularly the Andalusian people are so fond. This will sometimes lead them to what we should be inclined to consider irreverence; but it is nothing of the sort with them; and if you find them speaking with playfulness on a sacred subject , it is because such a vein of faith underlies all they say that the notion of being irreverent never occurs to them.