La Cachucha

Warhorse! warhorse! Old friend, who now stand tethered in the pasture, do you remember your youth?

Do you remember the day of the battle? You sprang forward, as if you had been borne on wings, your mane fluttered about you like waving flames, on your black haunches shone drops of blood and frothy foam. In harness of gold you bounded forward; the ground thundered under you. You trembled with joy. Ah, how beautiful you were!

It is the gray hour of twilight in the pensioners’ wing. In the big room the pensioners’ red-painted chests stand against the walls, and their holiday clothes hang on hooks in the corner. The firelight plays on the whitewashed walls and on the yellow-striped curtains which conceal the beds. The pensioners’ wing is not a kingly dwelling⁠—no seraglio with cushioned divans and soft pillows.

But there Lilliecrona’s violin is heard. He is playing the cachucha in the dusk of the evening. And he plays it over and over again.

Cut the strings, break his bow! Why does he play that cursed dance? Why does he play it, when Örneclou, the ensign, is lying sick with the pains of gout, so severe that he cannot move in his bed? No; snatch the violin away and throw it against the wall if he will not stop.

La cachucha, is it for us, master? Shall it be danced over the shaking floor of the pensioners’ wing, between the narrow walls, black with smoke and greasy with dirt, under that low ceiling? Woe to you, to play so.

La cachucha, is it for us⁠—for us pensioners? Without the snowstorm howls. Do you think to teach the snowflakes to dance in time? Are you playing for the light-footed children of the storm?

Maiden forms, which tremble with the throbbing of hot blood, small sooty hands, which have thrown aside the pot to seize the castanets, bare feet under tucked-up skirts, courts paved with marble slabs, crouching gypsies with bagpipe and tambourine, Moorish arcades, moonlight, and black eyes⁠—have you these, master? If not, let the violin rest.

The pensioners are drying their wet clothes by the fire. Shall they swing in high boots with iron-shod heels and inch-thick soles? Through snow yards deep they have waded the whole day to reach the bear’s lair. Do you think they will dance in wet, reeking homespun clothes, with shaggy bruin as a partner?

An evening sky glittering with stars, red roses in dark hair, troublous tenderness in the air, untutored grace in their movements, love rising from the ground, raining from the sky, floating in the air⁠—have you all that, master? If not, why do you force us to long for such things?

Most cruel of men, are you summoning the tethered warhorse to the combat? Rutger von Örneclou is lying in his bed, a prisoner to the gout. Spare him the pain of tender memories, master! He too has worn sombrero and bright-colored hairnet; he too has owned velvet jacket and belted poniard. Spare old Örneclou, master!

But Lilliecrona plays the cachucha, always the cachucha, and Örneclou is tortured like the lover when he sees the swallow fly away to his beloved’s distant dwelling, like the hart when he is driven by the hurrying chase past the cooling spring.

Lilliecrona takes the violin for a second from his chin.

“Ensign, do you remember Rosalie von Berger?”

Örneclou swears a solemn oath.

“She was light as a candle-flame. She sparkled and danced like the diamond in the end of the fiddle-bow. You must remember her in the theatre at Karlstad. We saw her when we were young; do you remember?”

And the ensign remembered. She was small and ardent. She was like a sparkling flame. She could dance la cachucha. She taught all the young men in Karlstad to dance cachucha and to play the castanets. At the governor’s ball a pas de deux was danced by the ensign and Mlle. von Berger, dressed as Spaniards.

And he had danced as one dances under fig-trees and magnolias, like a Spaniard⁠—a real Spaniard.

No one in the whole of Värmland could dance cachucha like him. No one could dance it so that it was worth speaking of it, but he.

What a cavalier Värmland lost when the gout stiffened his legs and great lumps grew out on his joints! What a cavalier he had been, so slender, so handsome, so courtly! “The handsome Örneclou” he was called by those young girls, who were ready to come to blows over a dance with him.

Then Lilliecrona begins the cachucha again, always the cachucha, and Örneclou is taken back to old times.

There he stands, and there she stands, Rosalie von Berger. Just now they were alone in the dressing-room. She was a Spaniard, he too. He was allowed to kiss her, but carefully, for she was afraid of his blackened moustache. Now they dance. Ah, as one dances under fig-trees and magnolias! She draws away, he follows; he is bold, she proud; he wounded, she conciliatory. When he at the end falls on his knees and receives her in his outstretched arms, a sigh goes through the ballroom, a sigh of rapture.

He had been like a Spaniard, a real Spaniard.

Just at that stroke had he bent so, stretched his arms so, and put out his foot to glide forward. What grace! He might have been hewn in marble.

He does not know how it happened, but he has got his foot over the edge of the bed, he stands upright, he bends, he raises his arms, snaps his fingers, and wishes to glide forward over the floor in the same way as long ago, when he wore so tight patent leather shoes the stocking feet had to be cut away.

“Bravo, Örneclou! Bravo, Lilliecrona, play life into him!”

His foot gives way; he cannot rise on his toe. He kicks a couple of times with one leg; he can do no more, he falls back on the bed.

Handsome señor, you have grown old.

Perhaps the señorita has too.

It is only under the plane-trees of Granada that the cachucha is danced by eternally young gitanas. Eternally young, because, like the roses, each spring brings new ones.

So now the time has come to cut the strings.

No, play on, Lilliecrona, play the cachucha, always the cachucha!

Teach us that, although we have got slow bodies and stiff joints, in our feelings we are always the same, always Spaniards.

Warhorse, warhorse!

Say that you love the trumpet-blast, which decoys you into a gallop, even if you also cut your foot to the bone on the steel-link of the tether.