The Windfall by Vicente Blasco Ibanez
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL SPANISH BY ISAAC GOLDBERG
I SIR, said Magdalena, the bugler of the prison, am no
saint; I've been jailed many times for robberies; some of them that
really took place and others that I was simply suspected of. Compared
to you, who are a gentleman, and are in prison for having written
things in the papers, I'm a mere wretch.... But take my word for it,
this time I'm here for good.
And raising one hand to his breast as he straightened his head with
a certain pride, he added, Petty thefts, that's all I'm not brave; I
haven't shed a drop of blood.
At break of day, Magdalena's bugle resounded through the
spacious yard, embroidering its reveille with scales and trills. During
the day, with the martial instrument hanging from his neck, or
caressing it with a corner of his smock so as to wipe off the vapor
with which the dampness of the prison covered it, he would go through
the entire edifice,an ancient convent in whose refectories, granaries
and garrets there were crowded, in perspiring confusion, almost a
He was the clock that governed the life and the activities of this
mass of male flesh perpetually seething with hatred. He made the round
of the cells to announce, with sonorous blasts, the arrival of the
worthy director, or a visit from the authorities; from the progress of
the sun along the white walls of the prison-yard he could tell the
approach of the visiting hours,the best part of the day,and with
his tongue stuck between his lips he would await orders impatiently,
ready to burst into the joyous signal that sent the flock of prisoners
scampering over the stairways in an anxious run toward the locutories,
where a wretched crowd of women and children buzzed in conversation;
his insatiable hunger kept him pacing back and forth in the vicinity of
the old kitchen, in which the enormous stews filled the atmosphere with
a nauseating odor, and he bemoaned the indifference of the chef, who
was always late in giving the order for the mess-call.
Those imprisoned for crimes of blood, heroes of the dagger who had
killed their man in a fierce brawl or in a dispute over a woman and who
formed an aristocracy that disdained the petty thieves, looked upon the
bugler as the butt for pranks with which to while away their boredom.
Blow! would come the command from some formidable fellow, proud of
his crimes and his courage.
And Magdalena would draw himself up with military rigidity,
close his mouth and inflate his cheeks, momentarily expecting two
blows, delivered simultaneously by both hands, to expel the air from
the ruddy globe of his face. At other times these redoubtable
personages tested the strength of their arms upon Magdalena's
pate, which was bare with the baldness of repugnant diseases, and they
would howl with laughter at the damage done to their fists by the
protuberances of the hard skull. The bugler lent himself to these
tortures with the humility of a whipped dog, and found a certain
revenge in repeating, afterwards, those words that were a solace to
I'm good; I'm not a brave fellow. Petty thefts, that's all.... But
as to blood, not a single drop.
Visiting time brought his wife, the notorious Peluchona, a
valiant creature who inspired him with great fear. She was the mistress
of one of the most dangerous bandits in the jail. Daily she brought
that fellow food, procuring these dainties at the cost of all manner of
vile labors. The bugler, upon beholding her, would leave the lucutory,
fearing the arrogance of her bandit mate, who would take advantage of
the occasion to humiliate him before his former companion. Many times a
certain feeling of curiosity and tenderness got the better of his fear,
and he would advance timidly, looking beyond the thick bars for the
head of a child that came with la Peluchona.
That's my son, sir, he said, humbly. My Tonico, who no longer
knows me or remembers me. They say that he doesn't resemble me at all.
Perhaps he's not mine.... You can imagine, with the life his mother has
always led, living near the garrisons, washing the soldiers'
clothes!... But he was born in my home; I held him in my arms when he
was ill, and that's a bond as close as ties of blood.
Then he would resume his timid lurking about the locutory, as if
preparing one of his robberies, to see his Tonico; and when he could
see him for a moment, the sight was enough to extinguish his helpless
rage before the full basket of lunch that the evil woman brought to her
Magdalena's whole existence was summed up in two facts; he
had robbed and he had travelled much. The robberies were insignificant;
clothes or money snatched in the street, because he lacked courage for
greater deeds. His travels had been compulsory,always on foot, over
the roads of Spain, marching in a chain gang of convicts, between the
polished or white three-cornered hats that guarded the prisoners.
After having been a pupil among the buglers of a regiment, he had
launched upon this life of continuous imprisonment, punctuated by brief
periods of freedom, in which he lost his bearings, not knowing what to
do with himself and wishing to return as soon as possible to jail. It
was the perpetual chain, but finished link by link, as he used to say.
The police never organized a round-up of dangerous persons but what
Magdalena was found among them,a timorous rat whose name the
papers mentioned like that of a terrible criminal. He was always
included in the trail of vagrant suspects who, without being charged
with any specific crime, were sent from province to province by the
authorities, in the hope that they would die of hunger along the roads,
and thus he had covered the whole peninsula on foot, from Cadiz to
Santander, from Valencia to La Coruña. With what enthusiasm he recalled
his travels! He spoke of them as if they were joyous excursions, just
like a wandering charity-student of the old Tuna converting his
tales into courses in picturesque geography. With hungry delight he
recollected the abundant milk of Galicia, the red sausages of
Extramadura, the Castilian bread, the Basque apples, the wines and
ciders of all the districts he had traversed, with his luggage on his
shoulder. Guards were changed every day,some of them kind or
indifferent, others ill-humored and cruel, who made all the prisoners
fear a couple of shots fired beyond the ruts of the road, followed by
the papers justifying the killing as having been caused by an attempt
at flight. With a certain nostalgia he evoked the memory of mountains
covered with snow or reddened and striped by the sun; the slow
procession along the white road that was lost in the horizon, like an
endless ribbon; the highlands, under the trees, in the hot noon hours;
the storms that assailed them upon the highways; inundated ravines that
forced them to camp out in the open; the arrival, late at night, at
certain town prisons, old convenes or abandoned churches, in which
every man hunted up a dry corner, protected from draughts, where he
could stretch his mat; the endless journey with all the calm of a
purposeless procession; the long halts in spots where life was so
monotonous that the presence of a group of prisoners was an event; the
urchins would come running up to the bars to speak with them, while the
girls, impelled by morbid curiosity, would approach within a short
distance, to hear their songs and their obscene language.
Some mighty interesting travels, sir, continued the robber. For
those of us who had good health and didn't drop by the roadside it was
the same as a strolling band of students. Now and then a drubbing, but
who pays any attention to such things!... They don't have these
conductions now; prisoners are transported by railroad, caged up in
the cars. Besides, I am held for a criminal offense, and I must live
inside the walls... jailed for good.
And again he began to lament his bad luck, relating the final deed
that had landed him in jail.
It was a suffocating Sunday in July; an afternoon in which the
streets of Valencia seemed to be deserted, under the burning sun and a
wind like a furnace blast that came from the baked plains of the
interior. Everybody was at the bull-fight or at the seashore.
Magdalena was approached by his friend Chamorra, an old
prison and traveling companion, who exercised a certain influence over
him. That Chamorra was a bad soul! A thief, but of the sort that
go the limit, not recoiling before the necessity of shedding blood and
with his knife always handy beside his skeleton-keys. It was a matter
of cleaning out a certain house, upon which this fearful fellow had set
his eye. Magdalena modestly excused himself. He wasn't made for
such things; he couldn't go so far. As for gliding up to a roof and
pulling down the clothes that had been hung out to dry, or snatching a
woman's purse with a quick pull and making off with it... all right.
But to break into a house, and face the mystery of a dwelling, in which
the people might be at home?...
But Chamorra's threatening look inspired him with greater
fear than did the anticipation of such an encounter, and he finally
consented. Very well; he would go as an assistant,to carry the
spoils, but ready to flee at the slightest alarm. And he refused to
accept an old jack-knife that his companion offered him. He was
Petty thefts aplenty; but as to blood, not a single drop.
Late in the afternoon they entered the narrow vestibule of a house
that had no janitor, and whose inhabitants were all away. Chamorra
knew his victim; a comfortably fixed artisan who must have a neat
little pile saved up. He was surely at the beach with his wife or at
the bull-fight. Above, the door of the apartment yielded easily, and
the two companions began to work in the gloom of the shuttered windows.
Chamorra forced the locks of two chiffoniers and a closet.
There was silver coin, copper coin, several bank-notes rolled up at the
bottom of a fan-case, the wedding-jewelry, a clock. Not a bad haul. His
anxious looks wandered over the place, seeking to make off with
everything that could be carried. He lamented the uselessness of
Magdalena, who, restless with fear and with his arms hanging limp
at his sides, was pacing to and fro without knowing what to do.
Take the quilts, ordered Chamorra, We're sure to get
something for the wool.
And Magdalena, eager to finish the job as soon as possible,
penetrated into the dark alcove, gropingly passing a rope underneath
the quilts and the bed-sheets. Then, aided by his friend, he hurriedly
made a bundle of everything, casting the voluminous burden upon his
They left without being detected, and walked off in the direction of
the outskirts of the town, towards a shanty of Arrancapinos, where
Chamorra had his haunt. The latter walked ahead, ready to run at
the first sign of danger; Magdalena followed, trotting along,
almost hidden beneath the tremendous load, fearing to feel at any
moment the hand of the police upon his neck.
Upon examining the proceeds of the robbery in the remote corral,
Chamorra exhibited the arrogance of a lion, granting his accomplice
a few copper coins. This must be enough for the moment. He did this for
Magdalena's own good, as Magdalena was such a spendthrift.
Later he would give more.
Then they untied the bundle of quilts, and Chamorra bent
over, his hands on his hips, exploding with laughter. What a find!...
What a present!
Magdalena likewise burst into guffaws, for the first time
that afternoon. Upon the bed-clothes lay an infant, dressed only in a
little shirt, its eyes shut and its face purple from suffocation, but
moving its chest with difficulty at feeling the first caress of fresh
air. Magdalena recalled the vague sensation he had experienced
during his journey hither,that of something alive moving inside the
thick load on his back. A weak, suffocated whining pursued him in his
flight.... The mother had left the little one asleep in the cool
darkness of the alcove, and they, without knowing it, had carried it
off together with the bed-clothes.
Magdalena's frightened eyes now looked questioningly at his
companion. What were they to do with the child?... But that evil soul
was laughing away like a very demon.
It's yours; I present it to you.... Eat it with potatoes.
And he went off with all the spoils. Magdalena was left
standing in doubt, while he cradled the child in his arms. The poor
little thing!... It looked just like his own Tono, when he sang him to
sleep; just like him when he was ill and leaned his little head upon
his father's bosom, while the parent wept, fearing for the child's
life. The same little soft, pink feet; the same downy flesh, with skin
as soft as silk.... The infant had ceased to cry, looking with
surprised eyes at the robber, who was caressing it like a nurse.
Lullaby, my poor little thing! There, there, my little king...
child Jesus! Look at me. I'm your uncle.
But Magdalena stopped laughing, thinking of the mother, of
her desperate grief when she would return to the house. The loss of her
little fortune would be her least concern. The child! Where was she to
find her child?... He knew what mothers were like. Peluchona was
the worst of women, yet he had seen even her weep and moan before her
little one in danger.
He gazed toward the sun, which was beginning to sink in a majestic
summer sunset. There was still time to take the infant back to the
house before its parents would return. And if he should encounter them,
he would lie, saying that he had found the infant in the middle of the
street; he would extricate himself as well as he could. Forward; he had
never felt so brave.
Carrying the infant in his arms he walked at ease through the very
streets over which he had lately hastened with the anxious gait of
fear. He mounted the staircase without encountering anybody. Above, the
same solitude. The door was still open, the bolt forced. Within, the
disordered rooms, the broken furniture, the drawers upon the floor, the
overturned chairs and clothes strewn about, filled him with a sensation
of terror similar to that which assails the assassin who returns to
contemplate the corpse of his victim some time after the crime.
He gave a last fond kiss to the child and left it upon the bed.
Good-bye, my pet!
But as he approached the head of the staircase he heard footsteps,
and in the rectangle of light that entered through the open door there
bulked the silhouette of a corpulent man. At the same time there rang
out the shrill shriek of a female voice, trembling with fright:
Magdalena tried to escape, opening a passage for himself with
his head lowered, like a cornered rat; but he felt himself seized by a
pair of Cyclopean arms, accustomed to beating iron, and with a mighty
thrust he was sent rolling down the stairs.
On his face there were still signs of the bruises he had received
from contact with the steps, and from the blows rained upon him by the
In sum, sir. Breaking and entering. I'll get out in heaven knows
how many years.... All for being kind-hearted. To make matters worse,
they don't even give me any consideration, looking upon me as a clever
criminal. Everybody knows that the real thief was Chamorra whom
I haven't seen since.... And they ridicule me for a silly fool.