Pedro Antonio De Alarcon (1833-1891)
Born in the province of Granada, Alarcon studied first for the law and then delved into theology. He made several unsuccessful efforts to sell his early writings. His first success was as editor of a small provincial paper. He was for a great part of his life engaged in political activities, was exiled, and was finally recalled to fill a position of honour. His best works are his novels and short stories.
The most famous of these is doubtless The Tall Woman, one of the classic ghost stories. It is remarkably well told, and exemplifies the writer’s outstanding qualities of vivacity, invention, and ingenuity.
The Tall Woman
“TTDW little we really know, my friends; how little we really I know.”
The speaker was Gabriel, a distinguished civil engineer of the mountain corps. He was seated under a pine tree, near a spring, on the crest of the Guadarrama. It was only about a league and a half distant from the palace of the Escurial, on the boundary line of the provinces of Madrid and Segovia. I know the place, spring, pine tree and all, but I have forgotten its name.
“Let us sit down,” went on Gabriel, “as that is the correct thing to do, and as our programme calls for a rest here—here in this pleasant and classic spot, famous for the digestive properties of that spring, and for the many lambs here devoured by our noted teachers, Don Miguel Bosch, Don Maximo Laguna, Don Augustin Pascual, and other illustrious naturalists. Sit down, and I will tell you a strange and wonderful story in proof of my thesis, which is, though you call me an obscurantist for it, that supernatural events still occur on this terraqueous globe. I mean events which you cannot get into terms of reason, or science, or philosophy—as those ‘words, words, words,’ in Hamlet’s phrase are understood (or are not understood) to-day.”
Gabriel was addressing his animated remarks to five persons of different ages. None of them was young, though only one was well along in years. Three of them were, like Gabriel, engineers, the fourth was a painter, and the fifth was a litterateur in a small way. In company with the speaker, who was the youngest, we had all ridden up on hired mules from the Real Sitio de San Lorenzo to spend the day botanizing among the beautiful pine groves of Pequerinos, chasing butterflies with gauze nets, catching rare beetles under the bark of the decayed pines, and eating a cold lunch out of a hamper which we had paid for on shares.