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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

A Woman Viewed from Without

By Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (1833–1891)

From ‘The Three-Cornered Hat’

THE LAST and perhaps the most powerful reason which the quality of the city—clergy as well as laymen, beginning with the bishop and the corregidor—had for visiting the mill so often in the afternoon, was to admire there at leisure one of the most beautiful, graceful, and admirable works that ever left the hands of the Creator: called Seña [Mrs.] Frasquita. Let us begin by assuring you that Seña Frasquita was the lawful spouse of Uncle Luke, and an honest woman; of which fact all the illustrious visitors of the mill were well aware. Indeed, none of them ever seemed to gaze on her with sinful eyes or doubtful purpose. They all admired her, indeed, and sometimes paid her compliments,—the friars as well as the cavaliers, the prebendaries as well as the magistrate,—as a prodigy of beauty, an honor to her Creator, and as a coquettish and mischievous sprite, who innocently enlivened the most melancholy of spirits. “She is a handsome creature,” the most virtuous prelate used to say. “She looks like an ancient Greek statue,” remarked a learned advocate, who was an Academician and corresponding member on history. “She is the very image of Eve,” broke forth the prior of the Franciscans. “She is a fine woman,” exclaimed the colonel of militia. “She is a serpent, a witch, a siren, an imp,” added the corregidor. “But she is a good woman, an angel, a lovely creature, and as innocent as a child four years old,” all agreed in saying on leaving the mill, crammed with grapes or nuts, on their way to their dull and methodical homes.

This four-year-old child, that is to say, Frasquita, was nearly thirty years old, and almost six feet high, strongly built in proportion, and even a little stouter than exactly corresponded to her majestic figure. She looked like a gigantic Niobe, though she never had any children; she seemed like a female Hercules, or like a Roman matron, the sort of whom there are still copies to be seen in the Rioni Trastevere. But the most striking feature was her mobility, her agility, her animation, and the grace of her rather large person.

For resemblance to a statue, to which the Academician compared her, she lacked statuesque repose. She bent her body like a reed, or spun around like a weather-vane, or danced like a top. Her features possessed even greater mobility, and in consequence were even less statuesque. They were lighted up beautifully by five dimples: two on one cheek, one on the other, another very small one near the left side of her roguish lips, and the last—and a very big one—in the cleft of her rounded chin. Add to these charms her sly or roguish glances, her pretty pouts, and the various attitudes of her head, with which she emphasized her talk, and you will have some idea of that face full of vivacity and beauty, and always radiant with health and happiness.

Neither Uncle Luke nor Seña Frasquita was Andalusian by birth: she came from Navarre, and he from Murcia. He went to the city of —— when he was but fifteen years old, as half page, half servant of the bishop, the predecessor of the present incumbent of that diocese. He was brought up for the Church by his patron, who, perhaps on that account, so that he might not lack competent maintenance, bequeathed him the mill in his will. But Uncle Luke, who had received only the lesser orders when the bishop died, cast off his ecclesiastical garb at once and enlisted as a soldier; for he felt more anxious to see the world and to lead a life of adventure than to say mass or grind corn. He went through the campaign of the Western Provinces in 1793, as the orderly of the brave General Ventura Caro; he was present at the siege of the Castle of Piñon, and remained a long time in the Northern Provinces, when he finally quitted the service. In Estella he became acquainted with Seña Frasquita, who was then simply called Frasquita; made love to her, married her, and carried her to Andalusia to take possession of the mill, where they were to live so peaceful and happy during the rest of their pilgrimage through this vale of tears.

When Frasquita was taken from Navarre to that lonely place she had not yet acquired any Andalusian ways, and was very different from the countrywomen in that vicinity. She dressed with greater simplicity, greater freedom, grace, and elegance than they did. She bathed herself oftener; and allowed the sun and air to caress her bare arms and uncovered neck. To a certain extent she wore the style of dress worn by the gentlewomen of that period; like that of the women in Goya’s pictures, and somewhat of the fashion worn by Queen Maria Louisa: if not exactly so scant, yet so short that it showed her small feet, and the commencement of her superb limbs; her bodice was low, and round in the neck, according to the style in Madrid, where she spent two months with her Luke on their way from Navarre to Andalusia. She dressed her hair high on the top of her head, displaying thus both the graceful curve of her snowy neck and the shape of her pretty head. She wore earrings in her small ears, and the taper fingers of her rough but clean hands were covered with rings. Lastly, Frasquita’s voice was as sweet as a flute, and her laugh was so merry and so silvery it seemed like the ringing of bells on Saturday of Glory or Easter Eve.