María: A South American Romance by Jorge Isaacs

I slept as I used to when a child, after being lulled to slumber by a fairy story told me by the slave Pedro. I dreamed that Maria came in to renew the flowers on my table, and that when she went out she brushed against the curtains of my bed with her skirt of muslin dotted with blue flowers.

When I awoke the birds were fluttering about among the leaves of the orange-trees, in full song, and the perfume of the orange-blossoms filled my room as soon as I unfastened the shutters. Then Maria’s sweet, clear voice reached my ears ; it was her childish voice become more serious, and ready now to lend itself to all the intonation of tenderness and passion.

How many times in my dreams an echo of that voice has since come to my soul, and my eyes have searched in vain that garden where I saw her, in all her loveliness, that August morning.

As soon as I had lightly clothed myself I opened the window and perceived Maria, together with Emma, in one of the garden paths ; her dress was darker than the one she had worn in the evening, and her purple scarf, belted at the waist, fell over her skirt like a sash ; her long hair, parted into two masses, half hid her shoulder and breast.

Both she, I, and my sister were barefoot. She was carrying a little porcelain vase, scarcely whiter than her arms, which she was going to fill with roses that had opened in the night, rejecting the less dewy and luxuriant ones. Laughing with her companion, she buried her cheeks, fresher than the roses, in theodorous vase. Emma suddenly discovered me.

Maria observed it, and without turning towards me, I fell on her knees to hide her feet from me, loosened her scarf from her waist, and throwing it over her shoulders, pretended to be playing with the flowers.The daughters of the patriarchs, gathering flowers in the early dawn for the temple service, were not more beautiful.

After breakfast my mother summoned me to her sewing-room ; she wanted me at her side constantly. Emma and Maria were there embroidering. The latter began to smile when I entered ; she was thinking, perhaps, of the start I had given her in the morning. Emma began to ask me a thousand things about Bogota ; commanded me to describe to them magnificent bails, elegant dresses, and the most beautiful women then figuring in refined society.

They listened without giving over their work. Maria rose to consult my mother about the embroidery ; her light and noble walk revealed the unsubdued pride of our race, and the fascinating modesty of a pure and maiden soul. Her eyes lit up when my mother expressed a desire to have me give lessons to the girls in grammar and geography,
studies in which they had made small advance. It was agreed that we should begin the lessons after a few days.

Somewhat later it was told me that my bath was ready, and I went to enjoy it. A thick and leafy orange-tree, loaded with ripe fruit, formed a pavilion above the broad tank of polished stone ; roses were floating in the water ; it was an Oriental bath, perfumed with the flowers which Maria had gathered in the morning.

After three clays bad passed, my father asked Vine to go with him to inspect his ranches in the valley. My mother insisted strongly that we should return soon. Marfa did not ask, as did my sisters, that we should return the same week ; but her eyes were continually upon me while we were preparing for the journey.

During my absence at Bogotá my father had made great improvements: a fine and expensive sugar-mill, many acres of cane to supply it, large pastures with droves of cattle and horses in them, good stables, and an excellent house for the overseer were the most notable things about his farms in the tierra caliente. The slaves were well clad, and as happy as it is possible for slaves to be, and were docile and even affectionate towards their master.

I found that the boys who, years before, had taught me to set snares for chilacoas and guatines in the thick woods were now men ; they and their parents gave unmistakable signs of pleasure at seeing me again. But I was not to meet Pedro, my faithful friend and servant; he had shed tears when he placed me on my horse the day I set out for Bogotá saying, ”Dear little master, I shall never see you again.” Ilis heart told him that ho would die before my return.

It was easy to sec that my father, without ceasing to be a master, treated his slaves with kindness. I was anxious for their domestic happiness, and fondled the little ones.

One evening, just at sunset, we were coming; back with Higinio, the overseer, from the fields to the mill. They were talking about the work to be done ; I was occupied with less serious things : I was thinking about the days of my childhood. The peculiar odor of trees just cut down, and of ripe cypress-cones ; the clamor of the parrots in the neighboring reeds and among the guava-trees ; the distant note of some shepherd’s horn echoing among the mountains; the piping of the slaves as they slowly came from their work with their tools on their shoulders ; the red glow in the sky seen beyond the fields of waving cane— all reminded me of the afternoons in which I, with Marfa and my sisters, taking advantage of permission wrung with difficulty from my mother, used to gather guavas  from our favorite trees, pluck bunches of cypress-cones, often at cost of many scratches on hands and arms, and spy out the fledgeling parrots in the hedges about the yards.

As we met a group of slaves, my father said to a young negro of remarkably pleasant appearance,

“Well, Bruno, your wedding is all arranged for the day after to-morrow?”

”Yes, master,” he replied, taking of this hat made of rushes, and leaning upon the handle of his shovel.

“Who are going to stand up with you ?”

“Dolores and Anselmo, if your honor pleases”

“Very well. You and Kemigia must be sure to go to confession first. Have you bought everything which you two need with the money I ordered given you ?”

“Everything, master.”

“And you want nothing more ?*’

“Your honor will see to that.”

“Is it a good cabin Higinio has given you?”

“Yes, master.”

“Ah, now I know what it is. You want a ball !”

Bruno laughed at this, showing his gleaming white teeth, and looking around at his companions.

“That’s right ; you conduct yourself well. Now you know what to do,” he added, addressing Higinio, ”you attend to this and make them happy.”

“And will your honors go away before the wed-
ding .”


I answered him,

“and we understand we are invited.”

Bruno and Remigia were married the next Saturday morning. That night at seven, my father and I mounted our horses to go to the ball; we could hear the music from af;ir. When we arrived Julian the slave captain of the gang, came out to help us dismount and to care for our horses. He was in his Sunday’s best, and there hung from his belt the long knife with silver-plated sheath which was the sign of his office. One large room of the old farmhouse had been cleared of its furniture for a ballroom.

They had built a platform around it; in a wooden chandelier hanging from one of the beams a half-dozen candles were swinging ; the musicians and singers, a mixture of slaves and freedmen, were stationed at one of the doors. There were only two reed flutes, an improvised drum, two rattles, and a timbrel ; yet the fine voices of the negroes struck into the chants with such skill, there was in their songs such an affecting combination of melancholy and light and joyful chords, the verses they sang were so simple and tender, that the most cultivated car would have listened with the highest pleasure to that half-savage music.

We entered the room in leggings and hats. Remigia and Bruno were then dancing. She, with a blue flounced skirt, a girdle red-flowered, a white chemise embroidered with black, and necklace and ear-rings of ruby-colored glass, was dancing with all the ease and grace to be expected of her lithe figure. Bruno, with his woollen cloak folded about his shoulders, breeches of fine cotton cloth, a starched white shirt, and a new knife in his belt, was footing it with admirable dexterity.

That dance over, the musicians struck up their best tune, for Julian told them it was to be for the master. Remigia, urged on by her husband and by the captain, at last agreed to dance a few moments with my father; but she dared not lift her eyes while she was doing it, and her dancing was rather constrained. At the cnil of an hour we went away.

My father was pleased with my attentiveness during our visit to the farms ; but when 1 told him that in the future I wished to share his labors, and stay by his side, he informed me, almost sorrowfully, that it was necessary for him to sacrifice his ease for my sake, and that he should keep the promise made to me before of sending me to Europe to study medicine ; I should have to begin the journey, he said, at the end of four months at the latest.

When he told me this his face wore an expression of unaffected gravity, which was always to be observed in him when he had taken an irrevocable resolution. This happened the afternoon when we were going back to the uplands. It was growing dark, and but for this he must have observed the emotion which his decision caused me. How gladly should I have returned to see Maria, had not this announcement thrust itself in between my hopes and

Excerpt from:

Isaacs, J. María: A South American Romance. Section IV. Available at: