Diego and Juana’s eyes met, finding haven and confirmed by reassuring smiles. His cheeks blushed as he sat down beside her, stiffly pulling his chin into his neck revealing a dimple on his jaw line. Juana, wooed by his vulnerability, his dimple, his fine-featured nose, and his dark eyes, reached out and took his hand to find him recovered and composed.
Pacheco held his pause, looked around, and with aging eyes resting on his devoted daughter, smiled, deliberated still longer - again wondering that day where the years had gone.
Notwithstanding, still beaming, puffed with pride, he squeezed his lips together, repressing a tear, and, once more with confident composure, spoke.
“Señores, señoras, friends, a father could be no happier than to have all whom he loves and holds dear enjoying each other’s company in witnessing the marriage of my daughter Juana.” He paused, again looking around to all who were in attendance. The highly cultured and tactfully opinionated master felt at home. “And, of course, my dear Diego, whom I had the honour to apprentice and who is now a far superior painter than I.”
Pacheco raised his hands respectfully, quietening his peers who felt obliged to protest.
“I consider it no disgrace for the pupil to surpass the master.” He remembered the day when he had realized he had an artistic genius under his instruction, the excitement and responsibility he had felt. “This fine young man who was accepted as a Maestro Pintor de y Magineria in March last year and although he was not yet nineteen, I chose to marry him to my daughter.” Pausing again, this time looking at his past apprentice, he continued, “I, Pacheco, was moved by his virtue, his integrity,”-he took a deep breath-“and his good parts”-the siblings laughed-“and by the promise of his natural and great talent.”
The senior stepped over to the junior and, placing his right hand upon Diego’s shoulder and his left on Juana’s, continued. “Welcome, my dear son, to the bosom of our family. Be as caring toward your wife as you have been toward your master, and your painting will know no bounds.”
The room was sober, the elders nodded reflectively while the young assimilated the words to their own lives. “Raise me up many strong grandchildren!” The nods picked up speed.
“You have made an old man a happy old man.”
He called the room to charge their glasses and again drink to the bride and groom. With every vestige of support for the words spoken, the place rang with affirmation.
Pacheco sat down flushed with contentment, sighed, and imbibed. His wife’s loving, supportive hand slipped around his stout torso as she rested her cheek against the crisp, white shirtsleeve of his upper arm and whispered endearing words into his ear. He turned to her. He beheld the wife of his youth and felt complete.
Nobody was in a hurry that evening. It was a slice of time consciously pleasured. Lively music of lutists wafted tunefully out the openings, momentarily pausing on the veranda, and then cascaded down the narrow, whitewashed, walled streets that had been built several hundred years before by the Moors.
The melody told-no, declared-to the future that this man and woman barely out of childhood, were to be well considered. They would make their mark for God, fiercely defended by the Supreme Council and the Inquisition established a hundred and thirty odd years before and dedicated to banishing any non-Catholic from its shores. They would stand for the king, a Habsburg, staunchly Roman Catholic in denial of the religious and economic times in which he lived, whose administration was power hungry, with blood on its hands, responsible for much poverty. Always they would be loyal to their beloved country, basking in the dimming light of her glory years.
Spain was an empire grasping to hold on to its very existence crumbling from within and without, through war and disease, corruption and banishment, intrigue and mistrust. Yet, paradoxically, this decaying ground was the unlikely and inadvertent fertile media in which arose an unsurpassed flourishing growth in Spanish performing and visual arts. With this burgeoning arose men sworn in secret to be faithful custodians thereof, men loyal to the throne but at odds with many of the policies that impeded and fettered. They gathered together from different walks of life, united in one cause.
Today, politics was put to one side as all partook in plentiful eating, spontaneous singing, improvised dancing, and enthusiastic conversing. Over copious plates of paella and churros and fine wine, poems were birthed, friendships strengthened, and inspired salutations uttered from the heart.
Diego took stock of the sublime scene and sighed. Once again, he reached out for Juana’s hand and began to whisper words of content. Juana’s smiling eyes looked deeply into his, sealing the vows made in the cathedral that afternoon and embracing the blessing handed down by the priest in Latin. She too was content.
The priest was seated at one of the top tables, enjoying the company of a correct and trusted group of people. This was no accident. It had been painstakingly worked out weeks before. Where to sit the father was a consideration at every wedding in uncompromising Catholic Spain. It was not meant as a slight against the church; these overly cautious people lived on a sharpened knife edge, easily coming under suspicion perchance they hosted a priest looking for an opportunity to prove himself before the Holy Office. Caution was heeded at this wedding full of perceiving artists, free-spirited poets, and religion-challenging philosophers.
Every person in the room knew of someone who had come under the suspicion of the Holy Council. Some survived to tell the nightmarish tale; some were never seen again. This constant threat was a sobering influence designed to keep the people’s servitude. The worrying thought was that a careless guest might have a loose tongue, having been made looser still with wine; cause enough to take extreme care.