THE curtain flopped on to the dusty boards. The crowd roared for more. Una mujer estupenda — a stupendous woman! So the playbills called her, and so she was. The crowd hammered on the tables and shouted at the fallen curtain to give them back their Isabelita. There were three tiers of them in the music hall: on the sawdust-covered floor the laborers from dock and market and factory; a yard higher on the surrounding dais, where the drinks were a little more expensive, the minor employees of commerce, the sailors with money to spend; in the gallery of boxes, the capitalistas — moneyed youth, shopkeepers, traveling salesmen, a foreigner or two.
They were roaring jovially now, but at times they could terrify. What they shouted for they got — the management saw to that. And, since there was no limit to what they might shout for, it was up to the lonely woman on the stage to dominate them. She must be, as Isabelita put it, a Danielita in a den of lions.
Even when the lions were out of hand, the true artiste knew how to tame them and harness their undisciplined ferocity to her own triumphal car. A jest would do it, a swing of the hips, a laugh of provocative contempt. And above all a girl had to hold them with her eyes. Isabelita had no trouble with them, though even if she had danced like Argentina herself it might not have been enough. A Spaniard among Spaniards, she understood and loved her audiences. Her triumph was not only that of a consummate artist; it was that of the orator who masters a potentially hostile crowd.
The blue curtain drifted irregularly up into the wings. The stage was empty. The click of the castanets began behind the backdrop and the orchestra followed the rhythm with accompaniment more conscientious than they would ever have given to the human voice. Isabelita believed in making the lions hungry before they were fed. She showed them an arched instep; she showed them the flounce of a skirt; she showed them a hand. The quickening rhythm of the castanets stirred their hair with a pleasurable wind of expectation. Then she was there. She was not a very lovely woman. A plump body she had, and blue-black oily curls swinging free around the white neck. But her eyes glittered. The mouth smiled distantly, ironically. Every movement of the little feet traveled upwards through her whole body. Even the flower behind her ear was alive.
Isabelita’s art was perfect. The Madrid professor who taught her was as exacting as the priest of a complex religion. His ritual of shawl, heel, hip, skirt, and hand was unvarying and established by the experience of centuries — a highly conventionalized technique for expressing a limited number of simple emotions that could be understood by any human being. Intellect played but a small part in his and Isabelita’s style, yet such were the dash and precision of performance that the dancing was intensely exciting. There was no suggestion of inhumanity. A girl was not a bird, a machine, a flame, an abstract thought. A girl was a girl; and it was in this that Isabelita excelled.
She beckoned to her lovers. She fled from them. She led them over strange cities and seas to high adventure — for the desire of her truly seemed high adventure when she danced. She raised them from their seats with a swing of her shawl and flung them back again with a flick of her skirt that had all the salaciousness of a bawdy jest. She shook the golden brandy in the glasses with the rattle of her impatient heels, and stood motionless except for the swift hands that wove a belt of clicking, tempestuous music around her waist. Then with a great sweep of her paneled skirt she sunk before them in a foam of white lace and raised her eyes once. Isabelita’s glance at her audience was a masterpiece of irony. It asked: ‘ My lords and masters, have I pleased you?’ And it added: ‘What shameless lovable scoundrels you all are!’ It touched a chord of humor common to every man in the crowd, and they thundered back their enthusiasm.
Isabelita slipped back into the public dressing room. Being the most highly paid artiste, she had a curtained corner of it to herself. The crowd yelled for a second encore. There were only a thin curtain and a canvas backdrop between the dressing room and the audience. The applause came through, not in the muffled waves of a theatre, but loud and ferocious, with every exclamation distinct.
Isabelita sighed happily.
‘You see, Maruja,’ she said, ‘it’s worth the trouble to learn to dance.’
‘They always like the classical stuff,’ answered Maruja, ‘if the woman can put it over.‘
‘It’s not classical if she can’t,’ said Isabelita proudly.
Isabelita always danced for her audience as for a lover. She considered that a step without a definite glance at a definite member of the audience was not a step at all. Being almost illiterate, she could not analyze her art, but what she unconsciously knew was that, in her particular style, technique without personality was not technique at all.
The audience roared incessantly.
‘Won’t you give them another encore?’ Maruja asked anxiously.
‘No! If they want more, they can stop for the second show.’
‘A little more. Just for a minute,’ pleaded Maruja.
‘Chica! Are you in love with the manager?’ asked Isabelita reproachfully.
‘I can’t go on — not with them in this mood,’ Maruja said desperately. ‘I can’t! You must understand — I can’t!’
Maruja’s act, the next on the bill, was a simple one. She came on with a large Teddy bear and sang songs to it. As and when the lions roared for her to do so, she removed garments. If they were yawning after a full meal, they allowed her to depart with some remnants of modesty. If they were hungry, she got off the stage with the Teddy bear only. Again, it was a question of domination. When Maruja was swift in repartee and outrageous in speech, when she made the audience feel definitely inferior to her, the act was not in the least brutal; it had a certain Chaucerian piquancy quite devoid of nastiness. But the trouble was that Maruja was a very pretty girl. The act should have been put on — and usually was — by some motherly old soul with an abominable body and a sergeant-major’s voice. If Maruja could not tame the rows of males in front of her, she became merely a shrinking girl; the bottom fell out of the act; everybody went home feeling a little ashamed, and the management cursed.
It was impossible for Maruja to go on until the audience were in a quieter mood. Isabelita gave her a comradely spank.
‘I’ll cut them down to shape for you,’ she promised.
She ran on to the stage and put her head through the slit in the curtain. The house greeted her with a wild wave of applause.
‘Thank you, children,’ she said to them. ’I will give you one little one. And then no more! Shall it be a jota?’
’Jota! Jota!‘ roared the house, and each one found individual expression for his admiration. ‘What you will, Isabelita!’ . . . ‘Let us see your pretty feet!’ . . . ‘Beauty! My tripes move when I see you!’
Isabelita talked to them through the curtain while she changed. She lifted the mantilla and slid off the foaming skirt. The dresser handed her the Asturian peasant costume. High heels to low slippers — flowered bodice to the generous bulge of the country blouse — no hesitation! She threw the two halves of the curtain away from her with both hands and was on them with the fury of the village dance, feet leaping to the imaginary skirl of bagpipes. One could smell the hills and the winds off the Atlantic.
It was over in two minutes of wild action. The audience stared, mouths half open, amazed at her agility.
‘Ya! And don’t follow me home!’ said the country virgin. ‘I ‘m going to be married next week!’
She vanished, and the crowd shook itself loose with applause and laughter. Cigars were relit and glasses drained.
Isabelita was radiant. She swung into the dressing room hand on hip, acting for herself, enjoying her own force and humor.
‘Ay! What utter children are men!’ she cried. ‘It is we who count for something in this world — we, chicas! Get in, Maruja! By God, they don’t deserve to have a girl like you to look at!’
There was one girl who did not join the group around Isabelita. She sat by herself, making up, and every now and then looking at the triumphant Isabelita with curiosity. She was a slim brown German. Isabelita, the Latin, was white as ivory, for she kept carefully out of the sun. The fairhaired Northerner was golden-brown from the midsummer beaches of the Baltic.
Primitive and essentially coarse, Anna thought. She was a little contemptuous of Isabelita’s triumph. She resented the brutality of the audience and she disliked the whole business of intimacy with them. She had in a muddle-headed way adopted a theory of dancing — that, since the art of the dance is universal, beauty of movement is alone enough to hold any audience. It seemed to be as true in Spain as anywhere else. As a rule her act was watched in respectful silence and greeted with moderate applause. Actually it was puzzled applause. The patrons on the floor, who were essentially polite when an act did not conform to the recognized conventions of impoliteness, felt that applause was expected; so they gave it.
The lions roared. Maruja ran into the dressing room as naked as the day she was born and thoroughly happy. She had given of her best — plenty of spirit and an instant of flashing physical beauty — and it bad been appreciated. Anna was shocked. She had no false modesty, but her body was to her a religion. Athletic and good to see, she danced with only a short sarong. She had little interest, however, in admiration for herself as a woman. What she wanted was admiration for her movements, and to have those movements properly seen, for in her way she was an artist. She belonged to the cabarets of capitals, of Berlin and Paris and Warsaw, but what she had to give was not yet good enough for the capitals — therefore the tour of provincial music halls in Spain.
Isabelita and Maruja went up to the stage box reserved for artistes, hung their shawls over the balcony, and ordered drinks. Maruja had seen Anna’s act for several nights. To Isabelita, just come from San Sebastián, it was new.
’How is she?‘ she asked Maruja.
‘I do not know,’ answered Maruja. ‘She can’t dance and she’s a lady and she’s very indecent. I do not understand her.’
Anna had the lights lowered for her act. She set a small cruse of burning oil in the centre of the stage and around that she danced. The lithe limbs moved beautifully and naturally, but style was wanting. As music she preferred one of the Indian Love Lyrics. She had evidently studied rhythmic dancing, self-expression, sun worship, and heaven knows what. The lamp dance represented a Vestal Virgin watching the sacred flame. Had it been ten per cent better, it would have been very good. But to Isabelita, trained in a hard school, it was nothing at all, and, as Maruja had said, it was indecent. For why expose yourself to no good purpose? The customers did n’t even yell.
The three tiers of males stirred unhappily as Anna danced. The Spanish prudery was awakened — a prudery depending entirely on environment. There was no sentimentality in it. Anna neither suggested purity nor reminded her audience of carefully guarded sisters and daughters. She was out of place — incongruous but not irrelevant, as if her almost naked body had suddenly flashed upon a bevy of traveling salesmen exchanging stories on that very subject. The floor customers hesitated to sip their drinks — this from a sense of economy, since liveliness was not at the moment called for. The capitalistas were bored; their glances strayed around the hall, coming to rest at the box where Isabelita and Maruja sat.
To Anna, too, Isabelita was important. She watched Isabelita, not consciously seeking approval, but interested to see what the reaction of the star would be. The patrons, Anna hoped, would be moved by the romance of her golden body prowling catlike around the lamp, of the studied — but false — gesture with which she loosened the wreath around her forehead and let fall her veil, of the clean line from wrist to hip as her uplifted arms worshiped the flame; but she desired her sculptural poses and the long patterns woven by her bare feet to be suggestive to the star. She had little respect for Isabelita’s art, but a measure for Isabelita’s success. Success, sweet anywhere, had an even more notorious glamour in the world of the Spanish cabarets. Triumph was peculiarly triumphal. So, when Anna glided from the stage to the accompaniment of the usual modest applause, she had a glance for Isabelita, a comradely glance which asked for approval and return.
Isabelita’s eyes were otherwise engaged. She was arranging a carnation behind her ear. Her movements parodied with rare humor and all the skill of plump arms trained to the limit of expression the gesture of Anna undoing her veil. Anna’s look came too early to catch the unintentional cruelty and saw only indifference. But once she was off the stage the patrons in the opposite box, watching those eloquent arms, shouted with laughter. They laughed relievedly like men just come from church or boys from school. It was the end of the first show. The house began to empty.
Anna was utterly homesick as she dressed; a false homesickness, for she had no real longing for the office in the stuffy provincial town to which she had once been tied. But, being out of harmony with her audience and her environment, she felt gloomily alone. She did not expect a rousing welcome such as that given to Isabelita and the handful of other popular artistes; she did not even want it. She prided herself that here in Spain her art was for the few. She wished the music hall to lead not to the gallant atmosphere of bullfighters, grandees, and the best champagne, but to the concert hall. She would not admit that she had come to the wrong shop with her wares, but she felt that the Spanish market was a very foreign one. Even the memory of a German provincial office was a refuge.
‘Why can’t I throw myself into it?’ she sobbed. And then to herself, unconsciously recalling the gentle accents of her father: ’Thou must, little one! Thou must!’
She draped a green Manila shawl over her shoulders — a concession to Spain — and went up to the artistes’ box.
The capitalistas strolled back and forth along the horseshoe gallery, looking for friends and empty tables in the boxes. The workers were rapidly refilling the tables on the floor with the brusque and purposeful movements of men who have only the smallest silver coin to spend and mean to spend it to the best advantage.
Isabelita and Maruja made room for Anna casually. Maruja was in the box at Isabelita’s invitation. The star always invited one or more of her humbler colleagues. Otherwise she and Anna, being the only two dancers with any pretensions to art and a living wage, would have occupied the box alone.
‘It wasn’t bad, my dear,’ said Isabelita kindly, ‘but of course your dance does n’t mean enough.’
‘It isn’t meant to mean much — except just beauty,’ Anna replied. And then — anxious not to appear rude: ‘It’s another art, quite different from yours.’
Isabelita was a little startled at the other woman’s assumption of equality. Her first impulse was to snub Anna, but she vaguely realized that they were not on common ground, and so, with Spanish good sense, set out to define her position.
‘There’s only one art,’ she said firmly. ‘Learn and train, and train and learn, and then — if you have it in you — you can dance; and, if you have n’t it in you, you can’t dance. My professor said he could teach me to hold my heels together, but only the good God could teach the blood to run in them.’
Her swift heels rolled a faint tattoo on the hard floor. It pleased her. Without moving from her seat, indeed hardly moving at all, she let hands and shoulders, eyes and head, dance to the demon drumming of her heels. The little gem of art ended in ten seconds. It was a mere epigram translated into movement; yet it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, all three polished, inevitable, and full of humor.
‘I think the blood runs in you if you would let it,’ Isabelita went on, ‘ but you have n’t learned and trained yet.’
‘It’s an entirely different technique,’ said Anna.
‘Ay de mil’ laughed Isabelita. ‘It’s no technique at all! Have a drink, frigid one, and I will teach you how to dance! ’
‘I would rather,’ Anna said, ‘that you taught me how to handle the men upstairs.’
When the two shows were over, the girls had to entertain at a not unpleasant little cabaret above the music hall. They were paid for their attendance and they received a liberal commission on such champagne as they could persuade their escorts to buy. In return they permitted to their escorts immediate caresses and exaggerated hopes. Isabelita was thoroughly used to this epilogue to her dancing. It was unavoidable in most of the halls she toured. She undertook it with vivacity, and if surrounded, as she often was, by admirers who had deliberately come upstairs to compliment her and buy her supper, with enthusiasm and much good-fellowship. Anna, accustomed to the sentimentality of the German cabaret, disliked the franker spirit of the Spanish and was unable to handle it. Her remark to Isabelita, while an obvious attempt to change the subject, was not contemptuous. Yet from Isabelita’s point of view what the German had done was to refuse pointblank her offer of help and ask her for information that any harlot could give as well.
‘ It is easy,’ replied Isabelita.
‘ I do not know. Laugh — drink — be respected! With me they do not go beyond the bounds of what can be permitted.’
Anna was exasperated. She had already heard Isabelita rebuff too personal a compliment with a Rabelaisian joke. She had seen her cut up an overwhelming amorous advance with laughter. Anna herself had attempted this method. It had repelled advances with too much success; the customer had paid his bill and gone home without a word. Yet this crude, plump dancer, utterly unable to analyze the secrets of her own power, could allow herself the haughtiness, licentiousness, and humanity of a mediæval queen.
‘It’s like dancing,’ said Isabelita. ‘ One must know how it is done. There is no second-best.’
‘If it comes to the worst, one can always break a glass,’ suggested Maruja humbly.
‘Little fool, it should never come to that!’ laughed Isabelita.
‘But it does sometimes,’ Maruja sighed.
‘Lord, what a child! Look, Anna! I will show you what Maruja is talking about.’
Isabelita picked up a tall goblet, holding it by its short stem, and tapped it three times on the corner of the table. At the third tap the goblet smashed, leaving a long spear-headed sliver of glass attached to the stem.
‘That will frighten any man,’ she said, ‘but why one should want to frighten a man I do not know.’
Anna fingered the glass weapon curiously.
‘Did you ever use it?’ she asked Maruja.
‘I once tried,’ admitted Maruja.
‘ But the glass broke in the wrong place, and he was very kind and tied my hand up and after that we were lovers.’
Isabelita gurgled with deep laughter. Her laughter was like a bell under water.
‘You would, Maruja!’ she cried. ‘You would, little angel! And it’s so easy to break in the right way! Look!’
She picked up glass after glass, collecting them with swift snatches from her own table and those around her, and smashed them cunningly on the edge of the table, laying in front of her a row of deadly little irregular instruments that might have been made for a Dresden china surgeon. The waiters hastened in from all sides.
‘I pay, sons!’ exclaimed Isabelita grandly, throwing down a twenty-fivepeseta note. ‘Ca! It’s dead here! The Caballeros must have something to look at until I dance again!‘
The musicians were already tuning up, warbling like a gaunt and hungry roost of black-backed birds before the dawn brings them to such fullness of melody as they have. The places left vacant by those who had stopped only for the first show had new tenants. The smoke and laughter thickened. Men passed and repassed the back of the artistes’ box, exchanging pleasantries with Isabelita and her companions.
Isabelita preferred to receive her court after she had danced and not before.
‘Let us go and change,’ she said.
The three gathered their shawls around them, smiled at the floor and the gallery, and filed out of the box, through the artistes’ door, and down their dirty staircase to the dressing room.
The second show, like the second act of a play, developed the atmosphere created by the first. It was more intimate and less superficial. The entertainers remembered that the second house had dined well. They were also mindful that those of the capitalistas who had been sufficiently attracted by the romance of the performer would afterwards go upstairs to the cabaret to explore the reality of the woman. The singers of couplets thought more of the words than of appropriate and improper gestures. The dancers asked the electrician for less, and more entrancing, light. The guitarist, who had a wife and family to support and gave his regular and automatic best at every performance, changed his greasy black tie for a clean one.
The lions were good-humored — hungry, but playful. They insisted that the singers of the more outrageous couplets should suit action to word and permit the den a full view of their delights; they were complimentary to the dancers; they entertained each other with their remarks; and they felt a generosity reflected on themselves when the Conde de Urdiales, who sold automobiles and was an amateur of music and women, vaulted on to the stage from the box opposite the artistes’, crowned the guitarist with a velvet brassière left behind by the preceding turn, and covered the bottom of his Cordoba hat with silver.
When Isabelita’s number was reached, she was a little drunk; not with the drunkenness due to a steady infiltration of alcohol into the system, but that which comes from a single golden glass of manzanilla — all she had consumed — intensifying and quickening the body’s reaction to its surrounding atmosphere. She was of Spain rather than in it, of her audience rather than performing before them. The reaction of her audience was ecstatically physical. The nerves of their spines shivered in sensuous pleasure under the music of her fingers and the beat of her heels. The tradition of Rome and of Africa in the classic dance expressed the desires of those cells of Rome and of Africa which had been passed down from womb to womb into the bodies of that living crowd. Isabelita filled the sordid hall with the indefinable spirit of Spain — of pageantry and bulls, of village fiesta, of wailing song under moon glare on white wall and yellow rock; pure and delicate images of savagery and passion. The three tiers of males talked, applauded, drank, and behaved more or less as at all other performances, but the common unspoken current of their thoughts ran strong with desire for the clean and the unknown; not for the titillation of a half-glimpsed breast, but for cruelty and sorrow and love.
To Anna in the dressing room came also this communal current. The music, the rhythm of Isabelita’s heels and castanets, the swinging of her skirt seen from the wings, were much the same as they had been at the earlier show, yet they had in tenser meaning. She, like everyone else in the place, was a little drunk on Isabelita’s single glass of manzanilla. Nor was it surprising that a glass of good wine in the stomach of a consummate artist could change the undercurrent of the thoughts of five hundred men and a few women eager for any emotion which would lift them out of their daily lives.
Isabelila entered the dressing room silently and with tears in her eyes. The applause thundered and thundered from the hall. The audience, released from her spell, were angry with their own hands because, crashed together, they could not make more noise. Maruja, the following turn, they hardly noticed. She was wise enough not to call any lasting attention to herself. She crooned rather than sang to her Teddy bear, and what the words were nobody knew or cared. The stream had not passed her by, but she did not attempt to swim on it. She knew she was good to look at and was content. So, while they collected their thoughts, were her audience.
While Maruja was still on the stage and three minutes were yet to go before Anna’s turn, the manager came into the dressing room. His usually kindly face glowed with annoyance through a carpet of unshaven bristles.
‘You must put more on, Anna,’ he began. ‘I told you —‘
‘Why?’ she interrupted curtly.
‘Why? Because I have just been fined by the civil governor for permitting your indecency.’
‘Indecency! How dare he! And the others — look at them! Oh, how dare he! How dare he! Schweinerei! . . .’ She broke into a torrent of hysterical German, her Spanish unable to deal with the rush of fury — the first genuine emotion she had felt in Spain.
‘For the love of God, shut up!’ The manager was almost weeping. ‘They’ll hear you out in front.!’
‘I do not care if they hear me down the river!’ shouted Anna. ‘The damned, dirty civil gov —’
She felt a soft hand clapped over her mouth and turned in fury.
‘Sh-sh, chica!‘ said Isabelita, holding her. ‘Do not be indiscreet! Ay, and I thought you Northerners were cold!’ she added with gentle humor. ‘If only you could show such passion in your dance! ’
‘Oh God, what do any of you know about dancing!’ Anna cried, her voice breaking with misery.
‘Well, to you it may not seem much,’ answered Isabelita with an air of finality as of one not wishing to argue. ‘Shall we go to the box, Maruja?’
The child Maruja, just come from the stage, slipped an evening frock over her head and followed Isabelita wonderingly. It seemed to her to be the moment when rival artistes begin to throw plates at one another, yet she could imagine neither of these goddesses indulging in such vulgarity. Conscious of storm clouds, she did not know what lightning, if indeed any, would follow. She fled after Isabelita, her pretty head still struggling through the opening of her frock.
Anna slowly and deliberately took down a scarf from her peg and wound it about the breasts that had dared to offend the civil governor. The suppressed anger of the Northerner possessed her. It was in perfect harmony with the sultry atmosphere of emotion. She strode out of the wings, slinking forward on long, golden, slender legs, without a trace of the temporary malaise she had felt on former occasions. The crowd, to whom a rumor of the civil governor’s action had come, received her with applause in which was a note of pity. Not that they disapproved of the governor; they considered that for the dignity of his office he could have done nothing else. Anna’s act, to them as to him, had been vaguely indecent. Still, there was the eternal pity of the Spaniard for the human being that has to earn its bread in face of the arbitrary and ever-interfering preventions of the law.
The anger in Anna’s heart gave her for the first time a feeling of intimacy with her audience. Insult and outrage had shattered the detachment with which she had always gone through her series of moderately pretty movements. Possessed by a berserk demon which had to be exorcised by violent action, she hurled herself into the music. ‘Give the swine something they can understand!’ she shouted in her heart. ‘Oh, give them something they can understand!’ She tried to, but her dance had fury without form. She challenged comparison with the wretched posings of the early turns. She even attempted some stock tricks from the Spanish dances, recollections of the easy grace of Isabelita. It was incredibly bad — burlesque without humor. It was hysteria, the negation of all art.
Isabelita, watching from the artistes’ box, was disgusted by such a profanation. She had utterly lost the regal pity with which she treated the failures of her fellow performers. Twice offended by Anna, she was now hard and insensitive. She caught the expression of the Conde de Urdiales in the opposite box and giggled. He was watching Anna with blank amazement — with the absurdly puzzled expression of a man who has drunk rather too much and suddenly been transported on the magic carpet of another’s unaccountable emotion into an unintelligible world.
Rising to her feet, she began to imitate Anna’s dance within the confines of the box. A touch of her hand produced a slight disheveling of her glossy hair which suggested Anna’s bob. She pinned a hastily folded table napkin across her flowered bosom. A bottle on the table represented the sacred flame. Her shawl became a wickedly funny veil. With every exquisite movement of her body she pretended delirium and inefficiency, Anna raged on through her dance, knowing nothing of the parody until she saw the eyes of the pianist flash up to the artistes’ box. She looked at the audience; up to that moment she had felt them, but only seen them as a blur of faces. They were all looking away from her and up to the box. They were not laughing, but an uneasy grin seemed to dominate every face. She followed their eyes to Isabelita, gay, careless, and imitating her.
Anna signaled to the musicians to stop at the end of the bar and walked into the wings without another glance. The audience clapped feebly. They had not laughed, nor had Anna wept. The tension in that hall was terrific. The mood of exaltation aroused by Isabelita’s dancing had never descended, and on to it came the impact of a hysterical woman on the stage and a wild act of comedy at which none could laugh outright. Only Isabelita, insolent and triumphant, neither realizing the supreme effect of her own performance nor heedful of her later cruelty, was insensitive to the storm of suppressed and conflicting emotions that she had raised.
Miguel de Urdiales signaled across to her and to Maruja to meet him in the cabaret. The house emptied. The sweepers began to pass between the tables brushing together the sawdust and cigarette ends, a labor of temporary value like that of the red-shirted attendants in the bull ring who sweep sand over the blood that more may safely be shed.
Anna was quite calm as she dressed. She was alone in the dressing room, for the rest of the girls had already gone upstairs. The sweat dripped at intervals from her armpits and ran down her golden sides. It was cold sweat, not the pleasant warm dampness of exercise, and she vaguely wondered at it. She was not thinking of Isabelita or of her uncompleted berserk mood. Indeed, she was not thinking of anything at all. She gave exaggerated importance to every motion of dressing, and talked to herself aloud in trivial little exclamations. She took particular care over her make-up for the cabaret and was astonished at the brilliance of her eyes and the stillness of her face. She put on a straight white frock that well showed the simple and lovely lines of her body and took neither cloak nor shawl.
Anna was remote and calm when she walked into the cabaret. Those few of the customers who had not patronized the music hall and did not know who she was assumed her to be some frigid and self-sufficient tourist wailing for the husband or friend who at that moment was depositing his hat and coat.
Isabelita and Maruja sat at a table near the door with Miguel de Urdiales and two of his friends. They needed a third woman to complete the party.
‘ We must invite her,’ said the Conde de Urdiales.
He heaved his tall figure off the low, luxuriously upholstered bench. Youth and dignity concealed a slight unsteadiness of the feet. He approached Anna courteously. She bowed and walked silently before him to the table.
‘ Sit here, chica!’ said Isabelita genially and with a little remorseful smile, patting the chair next to her.
Anna thanked her and sat down.
‘A barbarian, the civil governor!’ Isabelita went on. ‘But do not mind, girl! We all admire you and will make you at home. Is n’t it so, caballeros?’
The three men vied with each other in paying compliments to Anna, who accepted them pleasantly and remotely.
‘I behaved badly,’ admitted Isabelita with regal frankness, ‘but it did me no good and it did you no harm. We shall be friends, I know it.’
‘I am sure of it,’ replied Anna gravely.
Her mind was still running on trivialities; they occupied it so thoroughly that she had not given a thought to her surroundings. The cold sweat still trickled down her sides. She was able to contemplate Isabelita quite calmly, even to admire, very distantly, as if it belonged to a complete stranger, her superb good nature.
‘And you, little flower,’ — Isabelita turned to Maruja, — ‘you say nothing. What is it?’
‘I am afraid,’ answered Maruja simply, with a little shiver of her naked shoulders.
’Que va! Everybody is sad this evening except me. Let us drink, Miguel!’
Miguel de Urdiales poured her a glass of champagne and then filled the other five glasses. Isabelita drank hers, tilted back her chair, and, with the air of a merry queen to whom all things must be permitted, propped up her bare legs on the table. They were beautiful so, the blue veins and muscles stretched tight beneath the round knees.
‘Will you dance?’ asked the man on the other side of her.
‘Not yet. Let the place wake up a bit.’
To anyone entering at the moment, the cabaret would have seemed fully awake. The high stools at the bar were each supporting a man. The tables were fairly full. The orchestra blared over a cheerful undertone of voices. But Isabelita loved an extravagant communal spirit. She liked to see flowers thrown and much outrageous jesting and the whole house dancing a jota in the middle of the floor. She did n’t much care for foxtrots, but she enjoyed a solo with the rest of the cabaret playing the chorus around her.
The Conde de Urdiales began to speak German with Anna. She was hardly aware that the language had been changed, for her disjointed thoughts had been running in German. Isabelita’s attention was attracted.
‘ Speak Christian, Miguel! ’ she laughed. ‘The good God made it to talk to women in. And Anna speaks so well.’
‘She does indeed,’ agreed de Urdiales. ‘She learns amazingly quickly.’
‘Ay de mi!’ exclaimed Isabelita with mock sorrow. ‘ I wish she would let me teach her to dance!’
The mists very suddenly cleared away from Anna’s brain. She was back at the point where she had stopped the orchestra. Hatred and fury overwhelmed her — against Spain and the civil governor, against Isabelita. Above all, against Isabelita. Her fingers caressed the long water goblet in front of her. She turned deliberately to de Urdiales.
‘You see,’ she said slowly, ‘I have not the training. You must learn and train and train and learn’ — her voice rose to a scream of misery and passion. ‘You must learn to drink and laugh at men and insult women! You must have technique . . .’
She smashed the goblet so swiftly that not one of them had time to think what it could mean. Then she drew the glass knife with a single powerful cut through vein and muscle across the underside of Isabelita’s knees.
The men tried to hold her, but could not. She was away from them, away from the doorkeepers, and out into the street, running, running. She did not know whether they were after her. She was not trying to escape. She ran from the blood. She ran because running stopped her thinking what she had done. Her feet, undirected by herself, took her to the port, and there they found her in the morning exhausted by weeping and asleep upon a pile of crates marked ‘ Hamburg.’ They arrested her with a strange respect, for Isabelita had told them that she would make no charge against her.