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The rainbow.

The Rainbow

One day the peaceful village of N - was aroused by a strange visitor. He walked through the main street as one who owns the world: an air which contrasted decidedly with his appearance. He was of good height and build. Ruffled hair and a small pointed beard set the boundaries to his pale face, in which his smiling eyes were set like two precious stones filled with light and looked at everything intently as if discovering things that no one else could see. The abundant holes in his tights were carefully held together about his long thin legs by a few remaining and faithful threads, and his elbows protruded ostentatiously through his doublet sleeves. A leather box which he carried under his arm was all his luggage.

As he walked through the street everyone turned to stare at him. Really, the people in the peaceful village of N - were exceedingly curious.

The strange visitor stopped in front of a house of fair proportions and studied it minutely, as if weighing all its good and bad qualities, and then his eyes rested upon a sign over the door that said: HOSTERIA.

At the sight of this sign he seemed to make up his mind immediately and entered the house with resolution.

He was met by a stout man who was undoubtedly the hostelero, and readily he informed him: "I want the cheapest room you have." But anyone who had not heard him would have judged by his manner that he was demanding the best suite of rooms in the place.

The hostelero looked at him suspiciously and scrutinized the box under his arm, but the strange visitor remained impassive under this examination. Then the hostelero, apparently not very well satisfied with his inspection, turned hesitatingly to a boy who was watching the visitor with open mouth and eyes, and shouted:

"Hey, Perico, what are you standing there for with your mouth open like a boob? Don't you see we have a customer? Get a move on you and show this - gentleman to the room in the attic that gives onto the backyard."

Perico closed his mouth with a jerk and moved hastily toward the staircase followed by the gentleman, who instead of being annoyed by all this seemed to be greatly amused. Perico kept on turning to look at the visitor so many times, as he ascended the stairs, that once he stumbled and fell on his nose.

At last they arrived. Perico opened the door, and the visitor was led into a very poorly furnished room. The strange visitor dropped his box on the cot, and something clattered inside. Then he faced Perico, whose mouth was again open, and taking one of his hands he slapped a coin in it with such force that Perico gave a frightened jump and ran down the stairs. The visitor followed him with his eyes and then burst out in a loud laugh. Undoubtedly curiosity was very easy to arouse in this world.

The strange visitor had been now at the hosteria for some time. When the days were clear he rose up early in the morning and left with his box under his arm. He usually returned at sunset, carrying a picture with him besides the box. But when the weather was bad he slept late and remained in his room by the window without seeing or speaking to anyone.

After some time his room was quite full of pictures representing different quarters of the village or sketches of people, but mainly landscapes of the neighboring countryside. At last everybody knew he was a painter, and the general curiosity subsided and everyone became used to him.

Perico, who was the hostelero's son, had become a very good friend of the painter and often accompanied him on his excursions and watched him paint.

Once Perico was as usual standing by his friend and was carefully following the skillful brush move over the canvas and comparing the picture with the landscape in front of him when he exclaimed: "You are not making an exact copy of the landscape. There is, for instance, that tree at the left, which you have omitted. That is not a good picture."

His friend answered without looking at Perico: "Not every good picture is an exact copy, and not every exact copy is a good picture."

And he kept on working, narrowing his eyes and studying the landscape.

Perico continued to watch the picture in silence, and to his astonishment he saw that his friend was painting a rainbow.

Now, there was no rainbow. Perico looked in all directions to convince himself and then cried: "You are painting a rainbow. There is no rainbow. Why, we have not even had rain for three weeks!"

The painter turned to Perico this time with slight annoyance in his expression.

"Perico, there is a rainbow. You do not see it because you are not properly trained. But the artist can always see it. Usually people see the rainbow when it rains and the sun comes out, because the rainbow is covered with dust, and then the rain washes off this dust and the sun brings out the colors. But the rainbow is always there, and the artist sees it all the time."

"I should like to be an artist," said Perico thoughtfully, "so I could see what other folk can't see."

"You don't have to be precisely an artist for that. However, I will teach you what I know. When the opportune moment arrives I shall talk to your father. "

By this time the painter was not quite as shabby as when he arrived at the village. He had painted a portrait of the hostelero, who, in exchange, had given him one of the suits of clothes he had outgrown since he came into the possession of the hosteria. However, the painter's bill for room and board was now rather overdue, and he was being constantly annoyed by the hostelero's demands for money.

Once when the latter became particularly pressing the painter said to him: "Your son is a very bright and promising boy. He has expressed the wish to become an artist. I will teach him the art of painting in exchange for my room and board at your hosteria. What do you say?"

Although the hostelero did not consider art such a respectable and profitable profession as that of innkeeper he had noticed the lack of interest his son showed for all commercial matters and how he used to stand with his mouth open, his attention arrested by anything that passed in front of his eyes, whether it was a fly or a comet. Therefore the hostelero decided that he might as well let his son study that for which he showed greater interest, and the deal was satisfactorily closed.

The lessons began, and now the painter and Perico went to the country together and painted all day long. Perico was allowed to paint whatever he wished. He was seldom corrected. Only now and then the painter would abandon his work and come close to Perico and observe his progress, making a careless remark or a casual commentary. Most of the time they talked about different Things, and Perico found these conversations greatly entertaining and instructive and stopped going about with his mouth open.

After some time other boys in the village wanted also to take painting lessons, and soon the painter managed to gather quite a large class, and all the boys and everybody in the village began to call him the Master.

When the weather was fair the Master would leave the town surrounded by his pals, as he called the boys. They walked until they found a suitable spot, and then all set to work stretching canvases over wooden frames. The Master usually worked on one of his paintings while the boys about him painted whatever they chose or watched him paint.

They all thought him quite wonderful. He always managed to see little details and shades of color that were unnoticeable to the average eye. He always gave them sound advice that greatly improved their work. But most of the time he spoke to them of many other things that were not connected with painting, and after some time the boys discovered that they were learning many other important things.

At dusk they returned, and as the lamp posts began to be lighted the merry bunch invaded the village with their laughter and,joy. They went through the streets running, cheering, and playing, the Master usually making more noise than anybody else, as if he were but on@ of the boys. Then the Master would recline on the edge of the fountain that stood in the center of the plaza, and the boys surrounded him. Then he told them wonderful tales: tales of extraordinary happenings in which the name of the hero always coincided with the name of one of the boys about him; tales of mystery and adventure, and kept them there until dinner time, when they all scattered homeward and he went to his room in the attic.

All the boys loved and admired him. They all looked forward to those evenings when he would recline upon the edge of the fountain, his eyes full of wisdom, sparkling in the shadows like two precious stones, and while he would gaily sprinkle water on their youthful heads and the moon rose high, everything would grow silent as he began:

"Once upon a time . . ."

But slowly people began to begrudge the merry times he had with the boys. They began to say that he was a good-for-nothing and that in the end something bad would come from all that. Parents ostracized him and then forbade their children to be in his company. The children protested and said that he was their best friend, but they had to obey their parents, and the town again was dull, and the Master found himself alone once more.

One day the hostelero came up to his room and said to him: "I do not want my son to waste his time any longer learning to paint. And as for you, you may pay me all you owe me or get out."

The Master made no answer. He just sat on his cot thinking of how people always enjoy themselves in spoiling everything that is pleasant and good.

At last he sprang to his feet, took his box of paints, and giving a last sad look to the canvases that adorned his room walls he went off.

As he went through the streets he walked with the air of one who has lost everything in the world. Everyone turned to look at him. The older people with contempt in their faces, not even deigning to speak to him; the children with great love and pity in their eyes, not daring to speak to him.

He abandoned the village hurriedly without looking back. He walked for some time, and then his eyes were attracted by the beautiful scenery that could be seen from where he stood. He stopped, and his trained and profound eyes began to study the landscape.

Unconsciously he opened his box of paints and stretched a canvas upon a frame. He took out his brushes and then his palette, which still had all the colors on it, and began to work feverishly.

The sun was setting, the landscape he was painting was somber and portrayed all the sorrow of his soul. When he was happy all his pictures were colorful and gay, but now he had lost incentive to paint; he had lost all interest in his art.

He stood up in anger, and pushing the unfinished picture aside, he hurled the palette from him, and to his great astonishment it described a semicircle in the sky, leaving a trail with all its colors in it standing brightly under the light of the setting sun.

The Master remained motionless, contemplating this extraordinary arch that was growing dimmer as the sun disappeared, and suddenly he started back to the village, running like a madman to tell the people of the wonderful happening.

When he arrived at the village it was dark, and the people looked at him in surprise when they saw him return in that way: yelling and talking about an arch of colors that his palette had painted on the sky.

Soon a group gathered about him, and he began to tell them about what had happened, but they looked at him with wondering eyes and someone said: "The man is crazy, do not pay attention to him. How is it possible for a palette to paint an arch of colors upon the sky? The man is crazy."

And everyone repeated, "He is crazy," and the sentence went from mouth to mouth, spreading throughout the village.

The Master was desperate. He went madly from one person to another trying to explain.

But everybody turned from him and laughed.

"The Master has returned insane."

And somebody would comment: "He always showed signs of insanity. Remember how he used to play with the boys as if he were one of them. Imagine a man at his age playing. Who thinks of play in this world after growing up? He always showed signs of insanity." And everybody was convinced that he was insane.

And the person would continue: " Remember how he used to keep the boys for hours about the fountain, telling them tales about crazy things. I sometimes stood by and listened. He spoke of witches that flew over cornfields at night, and princes that turned into swans. He never spoke seriously, he was always jesting. Indeed, a man must be insane to speak for hours about things that are not serious."

And then the Master addressed the boys as a last hope, but the boys looked at him with infinite pity and then turned their heads away and cried.

Even his former pals doubted his sanity. This thought made him lose his head, and he began to doubt his own mind. Perhaps at that moment he actually became insane, because his eyes flashed, and he attacked a man who was standing before him laughing.

Several men rushed to the rescue, and one of them fetched a piece of rope, and the Master's hands were tied behind his back, and that night he was placed in a chamber that had bars in the windows and a small heavy door with a little grating in it. The village had no madhouse because nobody had ever been known to go mad there.

In that cell the Master remained for some time. He hardly ate and never spoke. He just lay on his bed, his eyes resting on the ceiling.

And in the meanwhile the dust of many days had accumulated on the beautiful arch of colors which his palette painted upon the sky, and therefore no one could see it.

One day a great lord came to visit the village. He put up at the hosteria where the Master had dwelt, and it was by chance that he discovered the paintings which the Master had left there.

Now, this great lord considered himself a very good art critic, and when he saw the paintings he marveled at them and exclaimed: "Why, these pictures are masterful, they are the best I have seen. Who painted them? I want to meet the author immediately."

Whereupon the hostelero answered: "Unfortunately, your,lordship, the author of those pictures is in confinement because he became insane."

"Insane nothing!" cried the lord. "It is more likely that all of you are idiotic. The author of those paintings is a genius. It is often difficult to tell insanity and genius apart."

And everyone repeated the statement of the great lord and began seriously to think that after all perhaps they were all idiotic and the Master was a genius.

The lord insisted: "I want to be taken immediately to that great artist, for it is my intention to take him with me and present him to the King, who will bestow a decoration upon me for having found him a new genius, seeing that the court is rather short of genius lately."

But when they arrived at the cell they found the Master dead in his usual position, lying on the bed, and his eyes - those marvelous eyes - were now closed and would see no more.

A modest funeral was arranged for the dead Master, and the children carried his body to be buried outside the town in a spot where he had often sat and painted, surrounded by his young pupils.

But as they were carrying the body a storm broke out, and it began to rain copiously. This rain did not last long, and the sun came out brighter than before.

And then all beheld an extraordinary spectacle: Against the sky, from one hill to another, there was a marvelous arch of many bright colors in parallel stripes. The arch of which the Master had spoken. The rain had washed off the dust that covered it, and now the sun brought out its colors as brightly as the day when the palette traced them upon the sky.

A murmur of admiration rose from the people, and the body of the Master passed under the first rainbow.

When the Master woke up the next morning he felt very happy that all had been but a dream. It was a fine day, and he went as usual with his pals to the country to paint. He was cheerful, and the boys found him, if possible, more amusing than ever. They were all delighted with his company.

That evening, when they returned to the village, there were gathered in the plaza several older people, who also wanted to listen to the. Master's tales, and who greeted him with friendly and expectant smiles.

The Master reclined on the edge of the fountain. His eyes sparkled with strange fascination and added to his usual expression of wisdom a slight touch of mockery.

Tonight," he said, "I have a new story for you. It is called The Rainbow."'

He sprinkled some water over the youthful heads about him, and the moon rose high.

The Master began: "Once upon a time . . ."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Georges Perec/Felipe Alfau; short story; Three Old Tales from Spain
Author:Alfau, Felipe
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:The clover.
Next Article:From 'Powdered Eggs.' (excerpt) (Georges Perec/Felipe Alfau)

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