Thursday, December 2

The seamstress of the royal theater

When he learned that his granddaughter was pregnant, he felt a deep sadness. “My poor thing,” he murmured, looking at her with compassionate eyes. Nieves didn’t dare look back at him. With her head down she was squeezing the handkerchief in her hands. He cried silently, although every now and then a sigh escaped him.

“I’m sorry, grandmother.” Very sorry. He has told me that he will take care of me and our son, that I do not have to worry …

–But how can you not worry, pitcher soul ?! He replied. He would have hugged her willingly, but Belén didn’t even have the strength to move in bed.

They were in the large, dim bedroom. It was dawn. The first rays of dawn and the nearby bustle of those who began to work in the Plaza de la Cebada entered through the ajar leaves of the window. It was the first day of June 1857, Monday.

-He told me he has a little apartment where I can go …

“A little flat?”

“Well, I guess you don’t want me to stay here.” Enough disgrace will fall on you when it is known …

“I don’t care about my honor as much as I care about you,” the grandmother said firmly with a frown. He tried to get up, Nieves got up from the chair to put another pillow behind his head. Nothing to leave this house, if it is not to get married as God intended. You will have the child here, at home… But you must not see that man again –he sentenced.

-But, grandmother …

“Don’t you understand that this will dishonor you more? If you continue to be his mistress, you will ruin the rest of your life?” And your son …, that child will have a lot of misfortune being the son of … Because he will not want to admit it …


“We haven’t talked about that yet…” She started to cry again.

“How long have you … known him?”

He was slow to respond. She stopped crying, wiped away her tears, and sniffled at her handkerchief. Without daring to look at his grandmother, he replied in a tremulous voice:

-Year and a half.

“Jesus, what nonsense!”

Belén Roca, born in Havana, was the daughter of a military man, she was 74 years old. She married very young to a widowed general who was a friend of her father, twenty years her senior. She was a faithful wife, although her true love was a mestizo soldier, her father’s assistant, destined for Cuba. He asked her to go with him, but he stayed in Madrid. It was a painful decision that he did not regret. Youthful passion is condemned to fleetingness, poverty can last a lifetime, he told himself then. He was soon widowed and was left with a month-old girl, Teresa, who years later married as young as she was. A year later, Nieves, the granddaughter in front of her, was born, crying uncontrollably.

He sighed without taking his eyes off her.

-You spend your life crying, girl. Nothing is solved that way, ”he said in a tired but firm voice. He looked at his grandmother with bloodshot eyes. It’s not the end of the world. It is a disgrace, but you will be able to recover and, who knows, if you learn the lesson and make the right decisions, perhaps in the future you will achieve happiness and that of that creature that is to come …

A few months after Nieves was born, she was left without a mother because of the cholera epidemic that hit Madrid, like the rest of the country, in the summer of 1834, and her father died a year later fighting the Carlists. Orphan, with two years, the grandmother took care of her. The girl gave him joy, comforted his loneliness. Bethlehem had lost her only daughter, the two needed each other.

He raised and cared for Nieves in his fifties. They lived united by the family bond and by how much they had in common: the mole on the forehead, the slight squint of one eye, the dislike for cats, the difficulty in reading and writing. She used a scribe (preferably a woman) to attend to her correspondence and delight her every afternoon by reading to her some of the volumes that she had inherited from her father.

Yes, her granddaughter looked a lot like her, he thought once more as he watched her runny nose.

Since its inauguration seven years ago, Nieves had been working at the Royal Theater as a seamstress, despite not being very handy with the needle. It was a modest job that she had gotten thanks to her grandmother’s influences around the royal palace.

Now she understood better … Her lips almost drew a smile when she thought of those royal extras that, according to what she told her, she earned with odd jobs, and that they used to buy dresses, elegant hats … «I have to be well-groomed, grandmother. What would they think of me as a seamstress if they saw me badly dressed? “, She said the day she asked him.

There was no money involved. They were gifts. Although in the end it was not much different, Belén thought without looking away from her sobbing granddaughter. Don José de Salamanca was too rich, vain, and elegant to pay his lovers.

Jose of Salamanca

Like almost everyone in Madrid, the grandmother had heard a lot about Don José de Salamanca.

Born in Malaga in 1811, he studied at the University of Granada. His heart, young and romantic, became liberal, revolutionary. Years later he became mayor of several towns in Alicante and Almería, as well as a deputy in the Cortes for Malaga. He married Petronila Livermore, daughter of a wealthy English merchant. He met influential people, associating with businessmen and bankers. He became so rich that the gatherings he organized at his residence were the most attended by the cream of Madrid society.

José de Salamanca owned palaces, farms, hotels in Spain and abroad, but he lived in the palace that was built between the Recoletos convent and the Pósito factory. A magnificent two-story Neo-Renaissance style palace, luxuriously decorated with expensive works of art, surrounded by a garden with Lebanese cedars and delightful granite and marble fountains, all enclosed by a beautiful gate. A palace built thanks to a fortune won and lost several times, through investments in the Stock Market, municipal works and railway lines.

This was José de Salamanca, the man who had made Nieves his lover and future mother. A man who was to capriciously collect lovers as works of art.

“Oh, girl! … What will become of you when I’m gone?”

In the absence of grandmother

It was at her grandmother’s funeral when Carmen met her cousin Nieves again. Despite the loose black dress she was wearing, her belly was in an advanced state of pregnancy.

In such a simple ceremony, the ostentatious crown that adorned the coffin was astonished, reading: “From your beloved granddaughter, who will never forget you.” It was an ornament so spectacular that it was only seen in some aristocratic funeral, too onerous to be within the reach of a humble seamstress. Carmen and her husband were not surprised.

When Nieves confessed the name of her lover, she already knew it from Baldomero, her husband, who had told her that José de Salamanca was a businessman, owner of several companies, who loved opera and had converted the circus in the square del Rey in a theater (the Teatro Circo) and who was subscribed to the best boxes in Madrid, including the Royal Theater, where he probably discovered Nieves, a humble seamstress, young, beautiful, easily impressionable, whom he seduced by joining her cast of lovers, Carmen surmised.

Fourteen months after the death of his grandmother, Nieves returned to the Puerta de Toledo cemetery, but this time to attend the funeral of his cousin Carmen, who died of the flu. He did it in the company of his daughter Belén, who was one year old.

He had made the decision to stay at his grandmother’s house and live off the few incomes that he bequeathed to him. Although José de Salamanca offered him a flat on the calle de la Ese, he did not accept it when he found out that on that street (actually shaped like the one that joined the Castellana with Serrano) other lovers of his lived in flats of his property. Disappointed, she wanted to get back her job as a seamstress at the Teatro Real, which she left shortly after becoming pregnant. It did not succeed.

Despite being such a popular man, Nieves knew only about José that he was married, that he had two children, that he liked parties (although he did not take her to any), and that he traveled a lot. The same day he proposed to take her with him to Paris, he excitedly told him that she was pregnant. He was left without knowing the city of his dreams. But he was generous, he gave her dresses, hats, shoes, chocolates … She knew she lived in a wonderful palace, although she only knew the gate.

What hurt the most was knowing that José had other lovers. Deeply offended, she refused to be part of his whimsical collection. He returned his gifts, wrote him a letter in which he said he did not want to see him again: “Your daughter will have my last name: Montero Gil, so you should not worry about her or me …”.

José de Salamanca, who did not go to see Nieves or the girl after the birth, sent him the best midwife. On Kings Day 1858, she appeared at her house with gifts for herself and the baby. He came from Alicante, where he had participated in the inauguration of the railway station.

-If you don’t want us to see each other again, at least let me help you raise this little doll …

He accepted the life pension he was offered, but did not intervene in his life again. He did not see him again.

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