The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 19

Arrival at Madrid — Maria Diaz — Printing of the Testament — My Project — Andalusian Steed — Servant Wanted — An Application — Antonio Buchini — General Cordova — Principles of Honour.

On my arrival at Madrid I did not repair to my former lodgings in the Calle de la Zarza, but took others in the Calle de Santiago, in the vicinity of the palace. The name of the hostess (for there was, properly speaking, no host) was Maria Diaz, of whom I shall take the present opportunity of saying something in particular.

She was a woman of about thirty-five years of age, rather good-looking, and with a physiognomy every lineament of which bespoke intelligence of no common order. Her eyes were keen and penetrating, though occasionally clouded with a somewhat melancholy expression. There was a particular calmness and quiet in her general demeanour, beneath which, however, slumbered a firmness of spirit and an energy of action which were instantly displayed whenever necessary. A Spaniard and, of course, a Catholic, she was possessed of a spirit of toleration and liberality which would have done honour to individuals much her superior in station. In this woman, during the remainder of my sojourn in Spain, I found a firm and constant friend, and occasionally a most discreet adviser: she entered into all my plans, I will not say with enthusiasm, which, indeed, formed no part of her character, but with cordiality and sincerity, forwarding them to the utmost of her ability. She never shrank from me in the hour of danger and persecution, but stood my friend, notwithstanding the many inducements which were held out to her by my enemies to desert or betray me. Her motives were of the noblest kind, friendship and a proper feeling of the duties of hospitality; no prospect, no hope of self-interest, however remote, influenced this admirable woman in her conduct towards me. Honour to Maria Diaz, the quiet, dauntless, clever Castilian female. I were an ingrate not to speak well of her, for richly has she deserved an eulogy in the humble pages of The Bible in Spain.

She was a native of Villa Seca, a hamlet of New Castile, situated in what is called the Sagra, at about three leagues’ distance from Toledo: her father was an architect of some celebrity, particularly skilled in erecting bridges. At a very early age she married a respectable yeoman of Villa Seca, Lopez by name, by whom she had three sons. On the death of her father, which occurred about five years previous to the time of which I am speaking, she removed to Madrid, partly for the purpose of educating her children, and partly in the hope of obtaining from the government a considerable sum of money for which it stood indebted to her father, at the time of his decease, for various useful and ornamental works, principally in the neighbourhood of Aranjuez. The justness of her claim was at once acknowledged; but, alas! no money was forthcoming, the royal treasury being empty. Her hopes of earthly happiness were now concentrated in her children. The two youngest were still of a very tender age; but the eldest, Juan Jose Lopez, a lad of about sixteen, was bidding fair to realize the warmest hopes of his affectionate mother; he had devoted himself to the arts, in which he made such progress that he had already become the favourite pupil of his celebrated namesake Lopez, the best painter of modern Spain. Such was Maria Diaz, who, according to a custom formerly universal in Spain, and still very prevalent, retained the name of her maidenhood though married. Such was Maria Diaz and her family.

One of my first cares was to wait on Mr. Villiers, who received me with his usual kindness. I asked him whether he considered that I might venture to commence printing the Scriptures without any more applications to government. His reply was satisfactory: “You obtained the permission of the government of Isturitz,” said he, “which was a much less liberal one than the present. I am a witness to the promise made to you by the former ministers, which I consider sufficient. You had best commence and complete the work as soon as possible, without any fresh application; and should any one attempt to interrupt you, you have only to come to me, whom you may command at any time.” So I went away with a light heart, and forthwith made preparation for the execution of the object which had brought me to Spain.

I shall not enter here into unnecessary details, which could possess but little interest for the reader; suffice it to say that, within three months from this time, an edition of the New Testament, consisting of five thousand copies, was published at Madrid. The work was printed at the establishment of Mr. Borrego, a well-known writer on political economy, and proprietor and editor of an influential newspaper called El Espanol. To this gentleman I had been recommended by Isturitz himself, on the day of my interview with him. That unfortunate minister had, indeed, the highest esteem for Borrego, and had intended raising him to the station of minister of finance, when the revolution of the Granja occurring, of course rendered abortive this project, with perhaps many others of a similar kind which he might have formed.

The Spanish version of the New Testament which was thus published, had been made many years before by a certain Padre Filipe Scio, confessor of Ferdinand the Seventh, and had even been printed, but so encumbered by notes and commentaries as to be unfitted for general circulation, for which, indeed, it was never intended. In the present edition, the notes were of course omitted, and the inspired word, and that alone, offered to the public. It was brought out in a handsome octavo volume, and presented, upon the whole, a rather favourable specimen of Spanish typography.

The mere printing, however, of the New Testament at Madrid could be attended with no utility whatever, unless measures, and energetic ones, were taken for the circulation of the sacred volume.

In the case of the New Testament, it would not do to follow the usual plan of publication in Spain, namely, to entrust the work to the booksellers of the capital, and rest content with the sale which they and their agents in the provincial towns might be able to obtain for it, in the common routine of business; the result generally being, the circulation of a few dozen copies in the course of the year; as the demand for literature of every kind in Spain was miserably small.

The Christians of England had already made considerable sacrifices in the hope of disseminating the word of God largely amongst the Spaniards, and it was now necessary to spare no exertion to prevent that hope becoming abortive. Before the book was ready, I had begun to make preparations for putting a plan into execution, which had occupied my thoughts occasionally during my former visit to Spain, and which I had never subsequently abandoned. I had mused on it when off Cape Finisterre in the tempest; in the cut-throat passes of the Morena; and on the plains of La Mancha, as I jogged along a little way ahead of the Contrabandista.

I had determined, after depositing a certain number of copies in the shops of the booksellers of Madrid, to ride forth, Testament in hand, and endeavour to circulate the word of God amongst the Spaniards, not only of the towns but of the villages; amongst the children not only of the plains but of the hills and mountains. I intended to visit Old Castile, and to traverse the whole of Galicia and the Asturias, — to establish Scripture depots in the principal towns, and to visit the people in secret and secluded spots, — to talk to them of Christ, to explain to them the nature of his book, and to place that book in the hands of those whom I should deem capable of deriving benefit from it. I was aware that such a journey would be attended with considerable danger, and very possibly the fate of St. Stephen might overtake me; but does the man deserve the name of a follower of Christ who would shrink from danger of any kind in the cause of Him whom he calls his Master? “He who loses his life for my sake, shall find it,” are words which the Lord himself uttered. These words were fraught with consolation to me, as they doubtless are to every one engaged in propagating the gospel in sincerity of heart, in savage and barbarian lands.

I now purchased another horse; for these animals, at the time of which I am speaking, were exceedingly cheap. A royal requisition was about to be issued for five thousand, the consequence being, that an immense number were for sale, for, by virtue of this requisition, the horses of any person not a foreigner could be seized for the benefit of the service. It was probable that, when the number was made up, the price of horses would be treble what it then was, which consideration induced me to purchase this animal before I exactly wanted him. He was a black Andalusian stallion of great power and strength, and capable of performing a journey of a hundred leagues in a week’s time, but he was unbroke, savage, and furious. A cargo of Bibles, however, which I hoped occasionally to put on his back, would, I had no doubt, thoroughly tame him, especially when labouring up the flinty hills of the north of Spain. I wished to have purchased a mule, but, though I offered thirty pounds for a sorry one, I could not obtain her; whereas the cost of both the horses, tall powerful stately animals, scarcely amounted to that sum.

The state of the surrounding country at this time was not very favourable for venturing forth: Cabrera was within nine leagues of Madrid, with an army nearly ten thousand strong; he had beaten several small detachments of the queen’s troops, and had ravaged La Mancha with fire and sword, burning several towns; bands of affrighted fugitives were arriving every hour, bringing tidings of woe and disaster, and I was only surprised that the enemy did not appear, and by taking Madrid, which was almost at his mercy, put an end to the war at once. But the truth is, that the Carlist generals did not wish the war to cease, for as long as the country was involved in bloodshed and anarchy, they could plunder and exercise that lawless authority so dear to men of fierce and brutal passions. Cabrera, moreover, was a dastardly wretch, whose limited mind was incapable of harbouring a single conception approaching to grandeur; whose heroic deeds were confined to cutting down defenceless men, and to forcing and disembowelling unhappy women; and yet I have seen this wretched fellow termed by French journals (Carlist of course) the young, the heroic general. Infamy on the cowardly assassin! The shabbiest corporal of Napoleon would have laughed at his generalship, and half a battalion of Austrian grenadiers would have driven him and his rabble army headlong into the Ebro.

I now made preparations for my journey into the north. I was already provided with horses well calculated to support the fatigues of the road and the burdens which I might deem necessary to impose upon them. One thing, however, was still lacking, indispensable to a person about to engage on an expedition of this description; I mean a servant to attend me. Perhaps there is no place in the world where servants more abound than at Madrid, or at least fellows eager to proffer their services in the expectation of receiving food and wages, though, with respect to the actual service which they are capable of performing, not much can be said; but I was in want of a servant of no common description, a shrewd active fellow, of whose advice, in cases of emergency, I could occasionally avail myself; courageous withal, for it certainly required some degree of courage to follow a master bent on exploring the greater part of Spain, and who intended to travel, not under the protection of muleteers and carmen, but on his own cabalgaduras. Such a servant, perhaps, I might have sought for years without finding; chance, however, brought one to my hand at the very time I wanted him, without it being necessary for me to make any laborious perquisitions. I was one day mentioning the subject to Mr. Borrego, at whose establishment I had printed the New Testament, and inquiring whether he thought that such an individual was to be found in Madrid, adding that I was particularly anxious to obtain a servant who, besides Spanish, could speak some other language, that occasionally we might discourse without being understood by those who might overhear us. “The very description of person,” he replied, “that you appear to be in need of, quitted me about half an hour ago, and, it is singular enough, came to me in the hope that I might be able to recommend him to a master. He has been twice in my service: for his talent and courage I will answer; and I believe him to be trustworthy, at least to masters who may chime in with his humour, for I must inform you that he is a most extraordinary fellow, full of strange likes and antipathies, which he will gratify at any expense, either to himself or others. Perhaps he will attach himself to you, in which case you will find him highly valuable; for if he please he can turn his hand to any thing, and is not only acquainted with two but half a dozen languages.”

“Is he a Spaniard?” I inquired.

“I will send him to you tomorrow,” said Borrego, “you will best learn from his own mouth who and what he is.”

The next day, as I had just sat down to my “sopa,” my hostess informed me that a man wished to speak to me. “Admit him,” said I, and he almost instantly made his appearance. He was dressed respectably in the French fashion, and had rather a juvenile look, though I subsequently learned that he was considerably above forty. He was somewhat above the middle stature, and might have been called well made, had it not been for his meagreness, which was rather remarkable. His arms were long and bony, and his whole form conveyed an idea of great activity united with no slight degree of strength: his hair was wiry, but of jetty blackness; his forehead low; his eyes small and grey, expressive of much subtlety and no less malice, strangely relieved by a strong dash of humour; the nose was handsome, but the mouth was immensely wide, and his under jaw projected considerably. A more singular physiognomy I had never seen, and I continued staring at him for some time in silence. “Who are you?” I at last demanded.

“Domestic in search of a master,” answered the man in good French, but in a strange accent. “I come recommended to you, my Lor, by Monsieur B.”

Myself. — Of what nation may you be? Are you French or Spanish?

Man. — God forbid that I should be either, mi Lor, j’ai l’honneur d’etre de la nation Grecque, my name is Antonio Buchini, native of Pera the Belle near to Constantinople.

Myself. — And what brought you to Spain?

Buchini. — Mi Lor, je vais vous raconter mon histoire du commencement jusqu’ici:— my father was a native of Sceira in Greece, from whence at an early age he repaired to Pera, where he served as janitor in the hotels of various ambassadors, by whom he was much respected for his fidelity. Amongst others of these gentlemen, he served him of your own nation: this occurred at the time that there was war between England and the Porte. 15 Monsieur the Ambassador had to escape for his life, leaving the greater part of his valuables to the care of my father, who concealed them at his own great risk, and when the dispute was settled, restored them to Monsieur, even to the most inconsiderable trinket. I mention this circumstance to show you that I am of a family which cherishes principles of honour, and in which confidence may be placed. My father married a daughter of Pera, et moi je suis l’unique fruit de ce mariage. Of my mother I know nothing, as she died shortly after my birth. A family of wealthy Jews took pity on my forlorn condition and offered to bring me up, to which my father gladly consented; and with them I continued several years, until I was a beau garcon; they were very fond of me, and at last offered to adopt me, and at their death to bequeath me all they had, on condition of my becoming a Jew. Mais la circoncision n’etoit guere a mon gout; especially that of the Jews, for I am a Greek, am proud, and have principles of honour. I quitted them, therefore, saying that if ever I allowed myself to be converted, it should be to the faith of the Turks, for they are men, are proud, and have principles of honour like myself. I then returned to my father, who procured me various situations, none of which were to my liking, until I was placed in the house of Monsieur Zea.

Myself. — You mean, I suppose, Zea Bermudez, who chanced to be at Constantinople.

Buchini. — Just so, mi Lor, and with him I continued during his stay. He put great confidence in me, more especially as I spoke the pure Spanish language, which I acquired amongst the Jews, who, as I have heard Monsieur Zea say, speak it better than the present natives of Spain.

I shall not follow the Greek step by step throughout his history, which was rather lengthy: suffice it to say, that he was brought by Zea Bermudez from Constantinople to Spain, where he continued in his service for many years, and from whose house he was expelled for marrying a Guipuscoan damsel, who was fille de chambre to Madame Zea; since which time it appeared that he had served an infinity of masters; sometimes as valet, sometimes as cook, but generally in the last capacity. He confessed, however, that he had seldom continued more than three days in the same service, on account of the disputes which were sure to arise in the house almost immediately after his admission, and for which he could assign no other reason than his being a Greek, and having principles of honour. Amongst other persons whom he had served was General Cordova, who he said was a bad paymaster, and was in the habit of maltreating his domestics. “But he found his match in me,” said Antonio, “for I was prepared for him; and once, when he drew his sword against me, I pulled out a pistol and pointed it in his face. He grew pale as death, and from that hour treated me with all kinds of condescension. It was only pretence, however, for the affair rankled in his mind; he had determined upon revenge, and on being appointed to the command of the army, he was particularly anxious that I should attend him to the camp. Mais je lui ris au nez, made the sign of the cortamanga — asked for my wages, and left him; and well it was that I did so, for the very domestic whom he took with him he caused to be shot upon a charge of mutiny.”

“I am afraid,” said I, “that you are of a turbulent disposition, and that the disputes to which you have alluded are solely to be attributed to the badness of your temper.”

“What would you have, Monsieur? Moi je suis Grec, je suis fier et j’ai des principes d’honneur. I expect to be treated with a certain consideration, though I confess that my temper is none of the best, and that at times I am tempted to quarrel with the pots and pans in the kitchen. I think, upon the whole, that it will be for your advantage to engage me, and I promise you to be on my guard. There is one thing that pleases me relating to you, you are unmarried. Now, I would rather serve a young unmarried man for love and friendship, than a Benedict for fifty dollars per month. Madame is sure to hate me, and so is her waiting woman; and more particularly the latter, because I am a married man. I see that mi Lor is willing to engage me.”

“But you say you are a married man,” I replied; “how can you desert your wife, for I am about to leave Madrid, and to travel into the remote and mountainous parts of Spain.”

“My wife will receive the moiety of my wages, while I am absent, mi Lor, and therefore will have no reason to complain of being deserted. Complain! did I say; my wife is at present too well instructed to complain. She never speaks nor sits in my presence unless I give her permission. Am I not a Greek, and do I not know how to govern my own house? Engage me, mi Lor, I am a man of many capacities: a discreet valet, an excellent cook, a good groom and light rider; in a word, I am [Greek text]. What would you more?”

I asked him his terms, which were extravagant, notwithstanding his principes d’honneur. I found, however, that he was willing to take one half.

I had no sooner engaged him, than seizing the tureen of soup, which had by this time become quite cold, he placed it on the top of his forefinger, or rather on the nail thereof, causing it to make various circumvolutions over his head, to my great astonishment, without spilling a drop, then springing with it to the door, he vanished, and in another moment made his appearance with the puchera, which, after a similar bound and flourish, he deposited on the table; then suffering his hands to sink before him, he put one over the other and stood at his ease with half-shut eyes, for all the world as if he had been in my service twenty years.

And in this manner Antonio Buchini entered upon his duties. Many was the wild spot to which he subsequently accompanied me; many the wild adventure of which he was the sharer. His behaviour was frequently in the highest degree extraordinary, but he served me courageously and faithfully: such a valet, take him for all in all,

“His like I ne’er expect to see again.”

Kosko bakh Anton.

15 This was possibly the period when Admiral Duckworth attempted to force the passage of the Dardanelles.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32