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El Buen Ejemplo

by Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896)

Translated to English from the Spanish original by Kenny Beechmount

Foreword

Vicente Riva Palacio was born in Mexico City in 1832, studied law and became a lawyer in 1854. He became interested in politics, but joined the army, from which he retired as a general in 1865, two years after the Mexican victory over the French at Puebla in 1862.  He dedicated most of the rest of his life to writing and published several novels about the colonial era in Mexico,
including the influence that the Spanish inquisition had.

He also wrote a number of short stories and anecdotes, and these are perhaps his
greatest contribution to the literature of the time. His marvelous way of
describing life in rural Mexico and bringing life to imaginary events is
particularly well demonstrated by in El Buen Ejemplo (The Good Example)

===================================

If I said that I have seen what I’m going to tell you, without a doubt,  someone would say that this was not true; and it would make sense because I didn’t see it, but I believe it, because an old lady told me, referring to persons she trusted, that they had heard it from a person, who had been friends with a credible witness, and on such a basis, one can well give credence to the following story.

In the southern part of the Mexican Republic in the foothills of Sierra Madre, which extends to the waters of the pacific, there is a little village, all of which in general are like this: small, white houses, roofed with red tiles or shining palm leaves, sheltering from the burning rays of the tropical sun, under the cool shade, provided by towering coconut palms, copiously crowned tamarinds, rustling plantains and gigantic cedars.

Small streams of water runs across all the lanes and sometimes hide between beds of flowers and vegetables.

There was a school in the village and it must still be there. At that time, the
principal, Don Lucas Forcida, a character very much-loved by all the
neighbours, never failed to fulfill his heavy obligation during the customary
hours.  “What a calling for martyrdom those village school teachers must have.”

In this school, following traditional customs and general use in those times, the boys studied like a kind of choral society,  in different tones, but always with exasperating monotony, in choir they studied, in choir they counted and the same with the letters and the syllables and with the Christian doctrine or the multiplication tables.

With heroic resignation, don Lucas withstood this daily opera, but there were times when the boys excitedly shouted to see who could do it the loudest and the best and one could see the stupidity of it all moulded in the factions of the likeable and honourable face of Don Lucas.

At five o’clock in the afternoon, the boys left the school, throwing stones, pulling dog’s tails, shouting and whistling, but only once outside the jurisdiction of don Lucas, who watched them leaving, trembling with satisfaction, as a novelist would say.

Then don Lucas took a great rattan armchair out to the street; a servant brought him a cup of chocolate with a large bread pudding, and don Lucas, enjoying the fresh air of the afternoon, receiving on his bald forehead the light, scented breeze, arriving from the forests, as if to comfort the neighbours from the chores of the day, began to consume his modest snack, sharing it affectionately with his parrot.

Because don Lucas had a parrot which was, as they say these days, his weakness, and which always was on a perch at the door in the school, at a respectable height to escape the boys and sheltered from the sun by small pieces of palm leaf. This parrot and don Lucas understood each other perfectly. Occasionally, it mixed its words, more or less well understood, with the sing-songs of the boys, not clashing or increasing the uproar with shrill cries it had learned in its maternal home.

But when the school was deserted and don Lucas went out to drink his chocolate, the two friends freely showed all their affections.  The parrot went up and down the perch, saying what it knew and what it didn’t; rubbing its beak on it with satisfaction, and hung in its feet, head down, to receive the soup and bread with chocolate which don Lucas gave it with paternal affection.

And this happened every afternoon.

Several years went by and don Lucas gained such confidence in his beloved perico, as the boys called it, that he didn’t cut its wings nor took care to put the string on its legs. One morning at about ten o’clock, one of the boys, who by chance was outside the school, shouted “Mr Teacher, Perico is flying away” No sooner had they heard this, when the teacher and pupils charged forward to the door in a
wild rush; and there, in the distance, like a grain of green enamel, struck by the rays of the sun, they saw it, unfortunately increasing its passage , before escaping to the nearby forest.

Pursuit was impossible because not even by having the affiliation of the runaway, could one have picked him out in the multitude of parrots that populate those forests. Don Lucas, speaking from deep within his breast, uttered: “It is God’s will,” returned to his seat and the school lessons continued, as if this terrible event had never taken place.

Several months past and don Lucas, who had forgotten the ingratitude of Perico, had to go on a trip to one of the nearby villages, using some vacation time.

At daybreak, he saddled his horse, took a light breakfast and left the village, cordially greeting the few neighbours he met in the streets.

In that country, nearby villages are those separated by a distance of some twelve to fourteen leagues, and don Lucas had to travel most of the day.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon; the sun poured torrents of heat and the wind not so much as stirred the tufts of the palms, silhouetted against a blue sky, with the indolence of a tree of cicadas, singing tenaciously in the middle of the blue, terrible silence of mid day.

Don Lucas’s horse trotted noisely  with the measured beat of its footsteps hitting like the monotonous sound of a ticking clock.

Suddenly don Lucas thought he heard, in the distance, the singing of the children when they were studying the letters and syllables.

At first, it sounded like a hallucination produced by the heat, like the music and beats that those who suffer from dizzy spells at first may hear; but as he got closer, the sounds became more distinct and perceptible; it was a school in the middle of the deserted forest.

He stopped surprised and fearful, when from the nearby trees a flock of parrots took flight, singing rhythmically ba, be, bi, bo, bu; La, le. li, lo, lu.  Behind them, a parrot flying majestically, passed close to the frightened teacher, turned its head and said cheerfully:

“Don Lucas, I have school now.”

Since this time, the parrots from that region,ahead of their time, have vitnessed the disappearance of the shadows of obscurantism and ignorance.

To site this translation, please quote: beachmount.wordpress.com/El Buen Ejemplo by Vincente Riva Palacio, translated to English.

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