In the windy month of March a sudden gloom falls upon Madrid, - the reaction after the folie gaiete of the Carnival. The theatres are at their gayest in February until Prince Carnival and his jolly train assault the town, and convert the temples of the drama into ball-rooms. They have not yet arrived at the wonderful expedition and despatch observed in Paris, where a half hour is enough to convert the grand opera into the masked ball. The invention of this process of flooring the orchestra flush with the stage and making a vast dancing-hall out of both is due to an ingenious courtier of the regency, bearing the great name of De Bouillon, who got much credit and a pension by it. In Madrid they take the afternoon leisurely to the transformation, and the evening's performance is of course sacrificed. So the sock and buskin, not being adapted to the cancan, yielded with February, and the theatres were closed finally on Ash Wednesday.

Going by the pleasant little theatre of Lope de Rueda, in the Calle Barquillo, I saw the office-doors open, the posters up, and an unmistakable air of animation among the loungers who mark with a seal so peculiar the entrance of places of amusement. Struck by this apparent levity in the midst of the general mortification, I went over to look at the bills and found the subject announced serious enough for the most Lenten entertainment, - Los Siete Dolores de Maria, - The Seven Sorrows of Mary, - the old mediaeval Miracle of the Life of the Saviour.

This was bringing suddenly home to me the fact that I was really in a Catholic country. I had never thought of going to Ammergau, and so, when reading of these shows, I had entertained no more hope of seeing one than of assisting at an auto-da-fe or a witch-burning. I went to the box-office to buy seats. But they were all sold. The forestallers had swept the board. I was never able to determine whether I most pitied or despised these pests of the theatre. Whenever a popular play is presented, a dozen ragged and garlic-odorous vagabonds go early in the day and buy as many of the best places as they can pay for. They hang about the door of the theatre all day, and generally manage to dispose of their purchases at an advance. But it happens very often that they are disappointed; that the play does not draw, or that the evening threatens rain, and the Spaniard is devoted to his hat. He would keep out of a revolution if it rained. So that, at the pleasant hour when the orchestra are giving the last tweak to the key of their fiddles, you may see these woebegone wretches rushing distractedly from the Piamonte to the Alcala, offering their tickets at a price which falls rapidly from double to even, and tumbles headlong to half-price at the first note of the opening overture. When I see the fore-staller luxuriously basking at the office-door in the warm sunshine, and scornfully refusing to treat for less than twice the treasurer's figures, I feel a divided indignation against the nuisance and the management that permits it. But when in the evening I meet him haggard and feverish, hawking his unsold places in desperate panic on the sidewalk, I cannot but remember that probably a half dozen dirty and tawny descendants of Pelayo will eat no beans to-morrow for those unfortunate tickets, and my wrath melts, and I buy his crumpled papers, moist with the sweat of anxiety, and add a slight propina, which I fear will be spent in aguardiente to calm his shattered nerves.

This day the sky looked threatening, and my shabby hidalgo listened to reason, and sold me my places at their price and a petit verre.

As we entered in the evening the play had just begun. The scene was the interior of the Temple at Jerusalem, rather well done, - two ranges of superimposed porphyry columns with a good effect of oblique perspective, which is very common in the Spanish theatres. St. Simeon, in a dress suspiciously resembling that of the modern bishop, was talking with a fiery young Hebrew who turns out to be Demas, the Penitent Thief, and who is destined to play a very noticeable part in the evening's entertainment. He has received some slight from the government authorities and does not propose to submit to it. The aged and cooler-blooded Simeon advises him to do nothing rash. Here at the very outset is a most characteristic Spanish touch. You are expected to be interested in Demas, and the only crime which could appeal to the sympathies of a Castilian crowd would be one committed at the promptings of injured dignity.

There is a soft, gentle strain of music played pianissimo by the orchestra, and, surrounded by a chorus of mothers and maidens, the Virgin Mother enters with the Divine Child in her arms. The Madonna is a strapping young girl named Gutierrez, a very clever actress; and the Child has been bought in the neighboring toy-shop, a most palpable and cynical wax-doll. The doll is handed to Simeon, and the solemn ceremony of the Presentation is performed to fine and thoughtful music. St. Joseph has come in sheepishly by the flies with his inseparable staff crowned with a garland of lilies, which remain miraculously fresh during thirty years or so, and kneels at the altar, on the side opposite to Miss Gutierrez.

As the music ceases, Simeon starts as from a trance and predicts in a few rapid couplets the sufferings and the crucifixion of the child. Mary falls overwhelmed into the arms of her attendants, and Simeon exclaims, "Most blessed and most unfortunate among women! thy heart is to be pierced with Seven Sorrows, and this is the first." Demas rushes in and announces the massacre of the innocents, concluding with the appropriate reflection, "Perish the kings! always the murderers of the people." This sentiment is so much to the taste of the gamins of the paraiso that they vociferously demand an encore; but the Roman soldiers come in and commence the pleasing task of prodding the dolls in the arms of the chorus.

The next act is the Flight into Egypt. The curtain rises on a rocky ravine with a tinsel torrent in the background and a group of robbers on the stage. Gestas, the impenitent thief, stands sulky and glum in a corner, fingering his dagger as you might be sure he would, and informing himself in a growling soliloquy that his heart is consumed with envy and hate because he is not captain. The captain, one Issachar, comes in, a superbly handsome young fellow, named Mario, to my thinking the first comedian in Spain, dressed in a flashy suit of leopard hides, and announces the arrival of a stranger. Enters Demas, who says he hates the world and would fain drink its foul blood. He is made politely welcome. No! he will be captain or nothing. Issachar laughs scornfully and says he is in the way of that modest aspiration. But Demas speedily puts him out of the way with an Albacete knife, and becomes captain, to the profound disgust of the impenitent Gestas, who exclaims, just as the profane villains do nowadays on every well-conducted stage, "Damnation! foiled again!"

The robbers pick up their idolized leader and pitch him into the tinsel torrent. This is also extremely satisfactory to the wide-awake young Arabs of the cock-loft. The bandits disperse, and Demas indulges in some fifty lines of rhymed reflections, which are interrupted by the approach of the Holy Family, hotly pursued by the soldiery of Herod. They stop under a sycamore tree, which instantly, by very clever machinery, bends down its spreading branches and miraculously hides them from the bloodthirsty legionaries. These pass on, and Demas leads the saintly trio by a secret pass over the torrent, - the Mother and Child mounted upon an ass and St. Joseph trudging on behind with his lily-decked staff, looking all as if they were on a short leave of absence from Correggio's picture-frame.

Demas comes back, calls up his merrymen, and has a battle-royal with the enraged legionaries, which puts the critics of the gallery into a frenzy of delight and assures the success of the spectacle. The curtain falls in a gust of applause, is stormed up again, Demas comes forward and makes a neat speech, announcing the author. Que salga! roar the gods, - "Trot him out!" A shabby young cripple hobbles to the front, leaning upon a crutch, his sallow face flushed with a hectic glow of pride and pleasure. He also makes a glib speech, - I have never seen a Spaniard who could not, - disclaiming all credit for himself, but lauding the sublimity of the acting and the perfection of the scene-painting, and saying that the memory of this unmerited applause will be forever engraved upon his humble heart.

Act third, the Lost Child, or Christ in the Temple. The scene is before the Temple on a festival day, plenty of chorus-girls, music, and flowers. Demas and the impenitent Gestas and Barabbas, who, I was pleased to see, was after all a very good sort of fellow, with no more malice than you or I, were down in the city on a sort of lark, their leopard skins left in the mountains and their daggers hid under the natty costume of the Judaean dandy of the period. Demas and Gestas have a quarrel, in which Gestas is rather roughly handled, and goes off growling like every villain, qui se respecte, - "I will have r-revenge." Barabbas proposes to go around to the cider-cellars, but Demas confides to him that he is enslaved by a dream of a child, who said to him, "Follow me - to Paradise;" that he had come down to Jerusalem to seek and find the mysterious infant of his vision. The jovial Barabbas seems imperfectly impressed by these transcendental fancies, and at this moment Mary comes in dressed like a Madonna of Guido Reni, and soon after St. Joseph and his staff. They ask each other where is the Child, - a scene of alarm and bustle, which ends by the door of the Temple flying open and discovering, shrined in ineffable light, Jesus teaching the doctors.

In the fourth act, Demas meets a beautiful woman by the city gate, in the loose, graceful dress of the Hetairai, and the most wonderful luxuriance of black curls I have ever seen falling in dense masses to her knees. After a conversation of amorous banter, he gives her a golden chain, which she assumes, well pleased, and gives him her name, La Magdalena. A motley crowd of street loafers here rushed upon the scene, and I am sure there was no one of Northern blood in the theatre that did not shudder for an instant at the startling apparition that formed the central figure of the group. The world has long ago agreed upon a typical face and figure for the Saviour of men; it has been repeated on myriads of canvases and reproduced in thousands of statues, till there is scarcely a man living that does not have the same image of the Redeemer in his mind. Well, that image walked quietly upon the stage, so perfect in make-up that you longed for some error to break the terrible vraisemblance. I was really relieved when the august appearance spoke, and I recognized the voice of a young actor named Morales, a clever light comedian of the Bressant type.

The Magdalene is soon converted by the preaching of the Nazarene Prophet, and the scene closes by the triumphant entry into Jerusalem amid the waving of palm-branches, the strewing of flowers, and "sonorous metal blowing martial sounds." The pathetic and sublime lament, "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets!" was delivered with great 'feeling and power.

The next act brings us before the judgment-seat of Pontius Pilate. This act is almost solely horrible. The Magdalene in her garb of penitence comes in to beg the release of Jesus of Nazareth. Pontius, who is represented as a gallant old gentleman, says he can refuse nothing to a lady. The prisoner is dragged in by two ferocious ruffians, who beat and buffet him with absurd and exaggerated violence. There is nothing more hideous than the awful concreteness of this show, - the naked helplessness of the prisoner, his horrible, cringing, overdone humility, the coarse kicking and cuffing of the deputy sheriffs. The Prophet is stripped and scourged at the pillar until he drops from exhaustion. He is dragged anew before Pilate and examined, but his only word is, "Thou hast said." The scene lasts nearly an hour. The theatre was full of sobbing women and children. At every fresh brutality I could hear the weeping spectators say, "Pobre Jesus!" "How wicked they are!" The bulk of the audience was of people who do not often go to theatres. They looked upon the revolting scene as a real and living fact. One hard-featured man near me clenched his fists and cursed the cruel guards. A pale, delicate-featured girl who was leaning out of her box, with her brown eyes, dilated with horror, fixed upon the scene, suddenly shrieked as a Roman soldier struck the unresisting Saviour, and fell back fainting in the arms of her friends.

The Nazarene Prophet was condemned at last. Gestas gives evidence against him, and also delivers Demas to the law, but is himself denounced, and shares their sentence. The crowd howled with exultation, and Pilate washed his hands in impotent rage and remorse. The curtain came down leaving the uncultivated portion of the audience in the frame of mind in which their ancestors a few centuries earlier would have gone from the theatre determined to serve God and relieve their feelings by killing the first Jew they could find. The diversion was all the better, because safer, if they happened to the good luck of meeting a Hebrew woman or child.

The Calle de Amargura - the Street of Bitterness - was the next scene. First came a long procession of official Romans, - lictors and swordsmen, and the heralds announcing the day's business. Demas appears, dragged along with vicious jerks to execution. The Saviour follows, and falls under the weight of the cross before the footlights. Another long and dreary scene takes place, of brutalities from the Roman soldiers, the ringleader of whom is a sanguinary Andalusian ingeniously encased in a tin barrel, a hundred lines of rhymed sorrow from the Madonna, and a most curious scene of the Wandering Jew. This worthy, who in defiance of tradition is called Samuel, is sitting in his doorway watching the show, when the suffering Christ begs permission to rest a moment on his threshold. He says churlishly, Anda! - "Begone!" "I will go, but thou shalt go forever until I come." The Jew's feet begin to twitch convulsively, as if pulled from under him. He struggles for a moment, and at last is carried off by his legs, which are moved like those of the walking dolls with the Greek names. This odd tradition, so utterly in contradiction with the picture the Scriptures give us of the meek dignity with which the Redeemer forgave all personal injuries, has taken a singular hold upon the imaginations of all peoples. Under varying names, - -Ahasuerus, Salathiel, le Juif Errant, der ewige Jude, - his story is the delight and edification of many lands; and I have met some worthy people who stoutly insisted that they had read it in the Bible.

The sinister procession moves on. The audience, which had been somewhat cheered by the prompt and picturesque punishment inflicted upon the inhospitable Samuel, was still further exhilarated by the spectacle of the impenitent traitor Gestas, staggering under an enormous cross, his eyes and teeth glaring with abject fear, with an athletic Roman haling him up to Calvary with a new hempen halter.

A long intermission followed, devoted to putting babies to sleep, - for there were hundreds of them, wide-eyed and strong-lunged, - to smoking the hasty cigarette, to discussing the next combination of Prim or the last scandal in the gay world. The carpenters were busy behind the scenes building the mountain. When the curtain rose, it was worth waiting for. It was an admirable scene. A genuine Spanish mountain, great humpy undulations of rock and sand, gigantic cacti for all vegetation, a lurid sky behind, but not over-colored. A group of Roman soldiers in the foreground, in the rear the hill, and the executioners busily employed in nailing the three victims to their crosses. Demas was fastened first; then Gestas, who, when undressed for execution, was a superb model of a youthful Hercules. But the third cross still lay on the ground; the hammering and disputing and coming and going were horribly lifelike and real.

At last the victim is securely nailed to the wood, and the cross is slowly and clumsily lifted and falls with a shock into its socket. The soldiers huzza., the fiend in the tin barrel and another in a tin hat come down to the footlights and throw dice for the raiment. "Caramba! curse my luck!" says our friend in the tin case, and the other walks off with the vestment.

The Passion begins, and lasts an interminable time. The grouping is admirable, every shifting of the crowd in the foreground produces a new and finished picture, with always the same background of the three high crosses and their agonizing burdens against that lurid sky. The impenitent Gestas curses and dies; the penitent Demas believes and receives eternal rest. The Holy Women come in and group themselves in picturesque despair at the foot of the cross. The awful drama goes on with no detail omitted, - the thirst the sponge dipped in vinegar, the cry of desolation, the spear-thrust, the giving up of the ghost. The stage-lights are lowered. A thick darkness - of crape - comes down over the sky. Horror falls on the impious multitude, and the scene is deserted save by the faithful.

The closing act opens with a fine effect of moon and stars. "Que linda luna!" sighed a young woman beside me, drying her tears, comforted by the beauty of the scene. The central cross is bathed in the full splendor that is denied the others. Joseph of Abarimathea (as he is here called) comes in with ladders and winding-sheets, and the dead Christ is taken from the cross. The Descent is managed with singular skill and genuine artistic feeling. The principal actor, who has been suspended for an hour in a most painful and constrained posture, has a corpse-like rigidity and numbness. There is one moment when you can almost imagine yourself in Antwerp, looking at that sublimest work of Rubens. The Entombment ends, and the last tableau is of the Mater Dolorosa in the Solitude. I have rarely seen an effect so simple, and yet so striking, - the darkened stage, the softened moonlight, the now Holy Rood spectral and tall against the starry sky, and the Dolorous Mother, alone in her sublime sorrow, as she will be worshipped and revered for coming aeons.

A curious observation is made by all foreigners, of the absence of the apostles from the drama. They appear from time to time, but merely as supernumeraries. One would think that the character of Judas was especially fitted for dramatic use. I spoke of this to a friend, and he said that formerly the false apostle was introduced in the play, but that the sight of him so fired the Spanish heart that not only his life, but the success of the piece was endangered. This reminds one of Mr. A. Ward's account of a high-handed outrage at "Utiky," where a young gentleman of good family stove in the wax head of "Jewdas Iscarrit," characterizing him at the same time as a "pew-serlanimous cuss."

"To see these Mysteries in their glory," continued my friend, "you should go into the small towns in the provinces, uncontaminated with railroads or unbelief. There they last several days The stage is the town, the Temple scene takes place in the church, the Judgment at the city hall, and the procession of the Via Crucis moves through all the principal streets. The leading roles are no joke, - carrying fifty kilos of wood over the mud and cobble-stones for half a day. The Judas or Gestas must be paid double for the kicks and cuffs he gets from tender-hearted spectators, - the curses he accepts willingly as a tribute to his dramatic ability. His proudest boast in the evening is Querian matarme, - 'They wanted to kill me!' I once saw the hero of the drama stop before a wine-shop, sweating like rain, and positively swear by the life of the Devil, he would not carry his gallows a step farther unless he had a drink. They brought him a bottle of Valdepenas, and he drained it before resuming his way to Golgotha. Some of us laughed thoughtlessly, and narrowly escaped the knives of the orthodox ruffians who followed the procession."

The most striking fact in this species of exhibition is the evident and unquestioning faith of the audience. To all foreigners the show is at first shocking and then tedious; to the good people of Madrid it is a sermon, full of absolute truth and vivid reality. The class of persons who attend these spectacles is very different from that which you find at the Royal Theatre or the Comic Opera. They are sober, serious bourgeois, who mind their shops and go to mass regularly, and who come to the theatre only in Lent, when the gay world stays away. They would not dream of such an indiscretion as reading the Bible. Their doctrinal education consists of their catechism, the sermons of the curas, and the traditions of the Church. The miracle of St. Veronica, who, wiping the brow of the Saviour in the Street of Bitterness, finds his portrait on her handkerchief, is to them as real and reverend as if it were related by the evangelist. The spirit of inquiry which has broken so many idols, and opened such new vistas of thought for the minds of all the world, is as yet a stranger to Spain. It is the blind and fatal boast of even the best of Spaniards that their country is a unit in religious faith. Nunca se disputo en Espana, - "There has never been any discussion in Spain," - exclaims proudly an eminent Spanish writer. Spectacles like that which we have just seen were one of the elements which in a barbarous and unenlightened age contributed strongly to the consolidation of that unthinking and ardent faith which has fused the nation into one torpid and homogeneous mass of superstition. No better means could have been devised for the purpose. Leaving out of view the sublime teachings of the large and tolerant morality of Jesus, the clergy made his personality the sole object of worship and reverence. By dwelling almost exclusively upon the story of his sufferings, they excited the emotional nature of the ignorant, and left their intellects untouched and dormant. They aimed to arouse their sympathies, and when that was done, to turn their natural resentment against those whom the Church considered dangerous. To the inflamed and excited worshippers, a heretic was the enemy of the crucified Saviour, a Jew was his murderer, a Moor was his reviler. A Protestant wore to their bloodshot eyes the semblance of the torturer who had mocked and scourged the meek Redeemer, who had crowned his guileless head with thorns, who had pierced and slain him. The rack, the gibbet, and the stake were not enough to glut the pious hate this priestly trickery inspired. It was not enough that the doubter's life should go out in the blaze of the crackling fagots, but it must be loaded in eternity with the curses of the faithful.

Is there not food for earnest thought in the fact that faith in Christ, which led the Puritans across the sea to found the purest social and political system which the wit of man has yet evolved from the tangled problems of time, has dragged this great Spanish people down to a depth of hopeless apathy, from which it may take long years of civil tumult to raise them? May we not find the explanation of this strange phenomenon in the contrast of Catholic unity with Protestant diversity? "Thou that killest the prophets!" - the system to which this apostrophe can be applied is doomed. And it matters little who the prophets may be.