The inhabitants of San Sebastian will not hesitate to say that it is the prettiest town in Spain, and I do not know that they could be hopefully contradicted. It is very modern in its more obvious aspects, with a noble thoroughfare called the Avenida de Libertad for its principal street, shaded with a double row of those feathery tamarisks, and with handsome shops glittering on both sides of it. Very easily it is first of the fashionable watering-places of Spain; the King has his villa there, and the court comes every summer. But they had gone by the time we got there, and the town wore the dejected look of out-of-season summer resorts; though there was the apparatus of gaiety, the fine casino at one end of the beach, and the villas of the rich and noble all along it to the other end. On the sand were still many bathing-machines, but many others had begun to climb for greater safety during the winter to the street above. We saw one hardy bather dripping up from the surf and seeking shelter among those that remained, but they were mostly tenanted by their owners, who looked shoreward through their open doors, and made no secret of their cozy domesticity, where they sat and sewed or knitted and gossiped with their neighbors. Good wives and mothers they doubtless were, but no doubt glad to be resting from the summer pleasure of others. They had their beautiful names written up over their doors, and were for the service of the lady visitors only; there were other machines for gentlemen, and no doubt it was their owners whom we saw gathering the fat seaweed thrown up by the storm into the carts drawn by oxen over the sand. The oxen wore no yokes, but pulled by a band drawn over their foreheads under their horns, and they had the air of not liking the arrangement; though, for the matter of that, I have never seen oxen that seemed to like being yoked.
When we came down to dinner we found the tables fairly full of belated visitors, who presently proved tourists flying south like ourselves. The dinner was good, as it is in nearly all Spanish hotels, where for an average of three dollars a day you have an inclusive rate which you must double for as good accommodation in our States. Let no one, I say, fear the rank cookery so much imagined of the Peninsula, the oil, the pepper, the kid and the like strange meats; as in all other countries of Europe, even England itself, there is a local version, a general convention of the French cuisine, quite as good in Spain as elsewhere, and oftener superabundant than subabundant. The plain water is generally good, With an American edge of freshness; but if you will not trust it (we had to learn to trust it) there are agreeable Spanish mineral waters, as well as the Apollinaris, the St. Galmier, and the Perrier of other civilizations, to be had for the asking, at rather greater cost than the good native wines, often included in the inclusive rate.
Besides this convention of the French cuisine there is almost everywhere a convention of the English language in some one of the waiters. You must not stray far from the beaten path of your immediate wants, but in this you are safe. At San Sebastian we had even a wider range with the English of the little intellectual-looking, pale Spanish waiter, with a fine Napoleonic head, who came to my help when I began to flounder in the language which I had read so much and spoken so little or none. He had been a year in London, he said, and he took us for English, though, now he came to notice it, he perceived we were Americans because we spoke "quicklier" than the English. We did not protest; it was the mildest criticism of our national accent which we were destined to get from English-speaking Spaniards before they found we were not the English we did not wish to be taken for. After dinner we asked for a fire in one of our grates, but the maid declared there was no fuel; and, though the hostess denied this and promised us a fire the next night, she forgot it till nine o'clock, and then we would not have it. The cold abode with us indoors to the last at San Sebastian, but the storm (which had hummed and whistled theatrically at our windows) broke during the first night, and the day followed with several intervals of sunshine, which bathed us in a glowing-expectation of overtaking the fugitive summer farther south.