The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER VIII
OF VARIOUS PERSONS EXHIBITED TO DON CLEOPHAS BY ASMODEUS, WHO REVEALS TO THE STUDENT WHAT EACH HAS DONE IN HIS DAY

IN a few moments, the Demon and his pupil were on the roof of a large mansion, at a considerable distance from that part of the city in which they had left the prisoners. I have brought you here, said Asmodeus, because I am desirous of informing you what the mass of people who reside in the neighbourhood of the house we are on, have been doing in the course of to-day;—it will amuse you. Doubtless! replied Leandro. Begin, I beseech you: and first for yonder cavalier who is booting in such haste; what weighty matters call him from his home in such a night as this, my Mentor? He is a captain, replied the Cripple, whose steeds are waiting in the street to carry him to Catalonia where his regiment is stationed.

Well! yesterday, our hero, being without cash, applied to one of those gentry who, instead of giving to the poor, wisely lend unto the lords, or captains. Signor Sanguisuela, said he, can you not oblige me with the loan of a thousand ducats? Signor Captain, replied the usurer, I have them not; but I think I know a friend who has, and will lend them to you:—that is to say, if you will give him your note of hand for a thousand ducats, he will give you four hundred; out of which I shall be content to receive sixty only, as my commission. Money is so extremely scarce, that— What usury! interrupted the officer, hastily. What! ask six hundred and sixty ducats for the loan of three hundred and forty? Infamous extortion! Such hard-hearted scoundrels deserve to be hanged.

Keep your temper, at all events, Signor Captain, and go elsewhere for your money, replied the usurer, with the greatest coolness. Of what do you complain? Do I force you to take the three hundred and forty ducats? Heaven forbid! you are free to take them or to leave them. To this the Captain had no reply to make, and went his way; but, on reflecting that he must set out for the camp on the morrow, and that he had no time to lose, he resolved to lose his money; so he returned this morning to the usurer, whom he met at his door, dressed in a short black mantle, a plain collar round his neck, his hair closely trimmed, and with a rosary in his hand, garnished with saintly medals. Here I am again, Signor Sanguisuela, said he; I will take the three hundred and forty ducats, —necessity compels me to accept your terms. I am going to mass, gravely replied the usurer; on my return, I will give you that amount. Ah! no, exclaimed the Captain; I pray you give it me at once: it will but delay you for an instant. I would not entreat you, but my haste is great as is my need. I cannot, replied Sanguisuela: I hear mass daily, before I think of following my worldly avocations; it is a rule I have prescribed for my conduct, and I will endeavour religiously to observe it while I live.

However impatient might be our captain to lay his hands upon the money, he was obliged to comport himself with the rule of the pious Sanguisuela: he therefore armed himself with patience, and even, as though he feared that the ducats would escape him, followed the usurer to church. Mass performed, he was preparing to leave; when Sanguisuela inclined his head towards him, and whispered in his ear: Stay! one of the most talented men in Madrid preaches here this morning, and I would not lose his sermon for the world.

The Captain, to whom the mass had appeared overlong, was in despair at this further call on his endurance: however, needs must—and he remained where he had been driven. The preacher mounted the pulpit, and happened to discourse against usury. The officer was delighted; and observing Sanguisuela's countenance, he said within himself: If this Jew is capable of being touched, now,—if he will but give me six hundred ducats, I shall really think he is not too bad, after all. The sermon ended, they left the church together, when the Captain, addressing his companion, said: Well, what think you of the preacher? Did you not find his sermon extremely forcible? For myself, I was quite affected by it. I am quite of your opinion, replied the usurer; he treated his subject admirably. He is a learned man, and deeply skilled in his profession; and now, let us go, and show that we understand ours as well.

Hollo! cried Don Cleophas, who are those two women in bed together, and laughing so loudly? Egad! they seem merry enough. They are sisters, replied the Devil, who this morning buried their father. He was an old curmudgeon, who had so great a distaste for matrimony, or rather to portioning his daughters, that he would never listen to a word about their marrying, however advantageous might be the offers made to them. They are at this moment discussing the virtues of the dear deceased. He is dead at last, exclaimed the elder; he is dead,—the unnatural father, who so cruelly delighted still to keep us maids: he will, however, no longer oppose our innocent desires. Well, sister, said the younger, for myself, I love the substantial; I shall look out for a good rich husband,—stupid, if you please; and the fat Don Blanco is just the man for my money. Softly, sister, replied the elder; we shall have for husbands those to whom we are destined; for marriages, they say, are written in heaven. So much the worse for us, replied the younger; for if dear papa has the luck to be there, he will assuredly tear out our leaf. The eldest could not help laughing at this sally, and it is that which still amuses them both.

In the next house to that of these ladies, in a furnished apartment, lodges an Aragonese adventuress. You may see her, while others sleep, admiring in a glass those charms on which she relies, and which have gained for her to-day a conquest to be proud of: like a good general, she studies her positions for attack; and she has just discovered a new one, which will finish her campaign with her lover to-morrow. He is well worth all the pains she can take to secure him, and she is well aware of his promising qualities. Today, for instance, one of her creditors calling to remind her of an account, which he insists on having settled in cash: Wait, my good friend, said she; wait but for a few days longer: I am on the point of concluding a most advantageous arrangement with one of the principal persons in the Customs.

I need not ask you, said Leandro, how a certain cavalier, whom I perceive at this moment, has been passing his day: he appears to be a complete letter-writer. What enormous quantities I behold on his table! Yes, replied the Demon; and, what is most amusing, all these letters are alike in their contents. He is writing to all his absent friends an account of an adventure which befel him this afternoon. He is in love with a widow of thirty, charming and discreet; he pays to her devotions which she does not despise; he proposes for her hand, and she consents to yield it without hesitation. While preparations are making for their nuptials, he has permission to visit her without ceremony. He went to her house to-day after dinner, and as he chanced to meet with no one to announce his coming, he entered the lady's apartment, where he found her stretched on a couch, en deshabille, or, to speak more correctly, almost naked, She was sleeping profoundly. What lover could resist the temptation thus offered to his eyes? He approaches her softly, and steals a gentle kiss. She starts, exclaiming as she wakes, What, again! I beseech you, Ambrose, leave me to repose.

 

Illustration: He went to her house to-day after dinner, and as he chanced to meet with no one to announce his coming, he entered the lady's apartment, where he found her stretched on a couch, en dishabille

The cavalier, as an honourable man, made up his mind on the instant to renounce all pretensions to the widow. He therefore immediately left the apartment; and meeting the servant at the door: Ambrose, said he, stay! your mistress prays you to indulge her with a brief repose.

Two doors beyond the house of this cavalier, I perceive an original of a husband, who is sleeping tranquilly, lulled to rest by reproaches with which his wife is upbraiding him for having passed the entire day from home. She would be still more bitter against her spouse, did she know how he had spent his day. It has been most probably occupied in some amorous adventure? said Zambullo. You have guessed it, replied Asmodeus; and shall hear the detail.

The man is a tradesman, named Patricio: he is one of those wedded libertines who live without care, as though they had neither wife nor children: the partner of this fellow, nevertheless, is pretty, amiable and virtuous; and he has two daughters and one son, all three still in their infancy. He left his family this morning, careless if they had bread to eat, which is not unfrequently the case, and directed his steps toward the great square, attracted thither by the preparations which were making for the bull-fight of to-day. The scaffolds were already erected around the place, and already the more curious in these matters began to take their places.

While gazing at the company, examining first one and then another, he observed a lady finely made and very neatly dressed, who discovered, as she descended from the scaffold, a well-turned leg and foot; and their effect was heightened by rose-tinted silken stockings, and garters of silver lace, the ends of which hung down to her ankles: it was enough to have tempted a saint, and our excitable citizen was almost out of his wits at the sight. He advanced towards the lady, who was accompanied by another whose air sufficiently disclosed that they were both damsels of easy virtue. Ladies, said he, accosting them, can I be of service to you? you have only to command me, and it will be my happiness to obey. Signor cavalier, replied the nymph with the rose-coloured stockings, you appear so obliging, that we will take advantage of your kindness: we had already taken our places, but are leaving them to go to breakfast, as we were unwise enough to leave home this morning without first taking our chocolate. Since you are so gallant as to offer your services, may we trouble you to escort us to some hotel, where we may eat a morsel of something? but we must beg you will select as retired a place as possible, for ladies, as you know, cannot be too careful of their reputation.

 

Illustration: He observed a lady finely made and very neatly dressed, who discovered, as she descended from the scaffold, a well-turned leg and foot

At these words, Patricio, becoming even more civil and polite than the occasion demanded, took the princesses to a tavern in the neighbourhood, and ordered breakfast. What would you like to have, sir, inquired the host? I have the remains of a magnificent dinner, which took place here yesterday: there are larded fowls, partridges from Leon, pigeons from Old Castile, and the best part of a ham from Estremadura. More than enough, mine host! exclaimed the conductor of the two vestals. Ladies, it is for you to choose;—what would you prefer? Whatever you please, replied they: your choice shall be ours. Thereupon the citizen ordered a brace of partridges and a couple of cold fowls, to be served in a private room, as the ladies were too modest to think of eating in public.

They were immediately conducted to a small chamber, and in a few minutes the host appeared with the chosen dishes, some bread, and some wine. Our Lucretias fell to eating with most unfashionable appetites, and the fowls rapidly disappeared; while the simpleton, who was to pay, was occupied in ogling his Luisita,—the name of the lady who had taken his fancy,—in admiring the whiteness of her hand, upon which glittered an enormous ring she had gained by her profession,—and, unable to eat for joy of his good fortune, in lavishing upon the lady all the tender epithets, such as his star or his sun, that his imagination could invent. On inquiring of his goddess if she were married, she told him she was not, but was living under the protection of her brother;—had she added,—by descent from our father Adam, she would not have been far from the truth.

Good eating is nothing without good drinking; so the two harpies, having each demolished a fowl, washed them down with a proportionate quantity of wine; and, consequently, the two flagons which had been placed upon the table were soon exhausted. That they might be more speedily replenished, our gallant left the room with the empty vessels; and he had no sooner closed the door than Jacintha, Luisita's companion, clawed hold of the two partridges, which were yet untouched, and put them in a spacious pocket which her gown conveniently afforded. Our Adonis, on returning from his chase of the wine, and remarking that the eatables had vanished, was anxious to know if his Venus had eaten enough. Why, said she, if the pigeons of which the host has spoken be very good, perhaps I might be tempted to taste them; or else a morsel of the ham of Estremadura will do. These words were no sooner uttered than away went Patricio again in search of provender, and quickly returned, followed by three of the loving birds and a substantial dish of the ham. The two vultures pounced on their prey like lightning; and as the witless citizen was obliged a third time to leave the room for bread, they sent a pair of the pigeons to keep company with the imprisoned partridges.

After the repast, which ended with a dessert composed of all the fruits the season afforded, the amorous Patricio began to press Luisita for that payment in kind which he expected from her gratitude. The lady, however, was resolved to look upon it as a treat; but at the same time indulged him with the hopes of a return, telling him there was a time for all things, and that a tavern was not a fitting place in which to testify, without reserve, her satisfaction for all his kindness. Then, hearing the clock strike one, she assumed an uneasy air, and said to her companion: Ah! my dear Jacintha, how unfortunate! We shall be too late to find a place to see the bull-fight. Excuse me, replied Jacintha; this gentleman has only to conduct us where he so politely accosted us, and never fear for our finding a place.

Before leaving the tavern, however, it was necessary to settle with the host, who presented an account amounting to fifty reals. The citizen pulled out his purse; but, as it contained but thirty of the requisite pieces, he was obliged to leave, in pawn, his rosary adorned with numerous medals of silver. This done, he esquired the frail ones to the place from whence they came, and obtained for them convenient seats upon one of the scaffolds, the proprietor of which, being known to him, gave him credit for their price.

They were no sooner seated, than they demanded further refreshment. I am dying with thirst, cried one;—that ham was terribly salt. And so am I, replied the other; I could drink an ocean of lemonade. Patricio, who understood but too well what all this meant, left them, in search of what they wanted; but suddenly stopping on his way, he exclaimed to himself: Madman! where art thou going? Would not one think thou hadst a hundred pistoles in thy purse, or in thy house? And thou halt not a single maravedi! What shall I do? added he. To return to the lady without that which she requires is impossible;—and must I, then, abandon so promising an adventure? I cannot resolve on that either.

While thus embarrassed, he perceived among the spectators one of his friends who had frequently tendered him services, which his pride had always prevented him accepting. But now, lost to shame, he hastened towards him, and without hesitation, begged the loan of a double pistole; possessed of which his courage returned, and hurrying to a confectioner's, he ordered them to carry to his princesses so many iced liqueurs, so many biscuits and sweetmeats, that the doubloon hardly sufficed to meet this new expense.

At length the day ended, and with it the festival; when our citizen conducted his lady to her house, in the pleasing hope of at last reaping the reward of all his thoughtless extravagance. But, as they arrived near the door of a house which Luisita indicated, as her dwelling, a servant-girl came to meet her, saying with much apparent agitation: Ah! where have you been until now? Your brother, Don Gaspard Heridor, has been waiting for you these two hours, swearing like a trooper. Upon this the sister, in well-feigned alarm, turned towards her gallant, and pressing his hand, said to him in a whisper: My brother is a man of most violent temper, but his anger is soon appeased. Wait here awhile with patience: I will soon set all to rights; and as he sups from home every night, as soon as he has left the house, Jacintha shall inform you, and bring you to me.

Patricio, consoled by this promise, kissed with transport the hand of Luisita, who returned his caresses, in order to keep up his spirits, and then entered the house with Jacintha and the girl. The poor dupe took patience, as directed, and sat himself down on a stone, a few yards from the door, where he waited for a considerable time, never dreaming of the possibility of their playing him a trick. He only wondered at the stay of Don Gaspard, and began to fear that this cursed brother had lost his appetite with his passion.

Ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, the hour of midnight, sounded; and not until then did his confidence begin to evaporate, and some slight doubts of the good faith of his lady to infuse themselves into his mind. All was darkness around him; when, approaching the door, he entered on tiptoe, and found himself in a narrow passage, in the middle of which his hand encountered a staircase. He dared not ascend it; but, listening attentively, his ears were greeted with the discordant concert which might be expected to proceed from a barking dog, a mewing cat, and a crying child, all performing their parts to admiration. He felt that he was deceived; and he was convinced of the fact when, having explored the passage to its termination, he found himself in another street, parallel with that in which he had, so long, waited for his love.

The ghost of his money rose in judgment against him; and he returned to his own house, moralising on the deceptive influences of rose-coloured stockings. He knocked at the door; it was opened by his wife, a chaplet in her hand, and tears in her eyes. Ah! Patricio, she said, in a voice which told her affliction; how can you thus abandon your home? how can you thus neglect your wife—your children? Where have you been from six this morning, when you left us? The husband, whom this question would have puzzled to answer satisfactorily, and who was, besides, somewhat ashamed of himself, had not a word to say; so he undressed, and got into bed in silence. His wife, however, was not in want of a text; and she read him a lecture, the continuous hum of which, as you perceive, has soothed him to sleep.

And now, continued Asmodeus, cast your eyes upon the large house by the side of that in which the cavalier is writing to his friends the story of his rupture with the mistress of Ambrose. Do you not remark a young lady sleeping in a bed of crimson satin, embroidered with gold? Wait!—oh, yes!—I see a lady sleeping; and I fancy I see a book, open, on her pillow. Precisely so, answered the Demon. That lady is a talented young countess, full of life and spirit; she has recently suffered extremely from sleepless nights, and having sent for a physician, one of the most dignified of his class, he has prescribed for her a remedy, derived, he says, from Hippocrates himself. The lady, nevertheless, ridiculed his prescription; at which the physician, a crabbed sort of animal, who does not understand joking, said to her, with a proper professional gravity: Madam, Hippocrates is not a man to be laughed at. Certainly not, signor doctor, replied the Countess, with the most serious air imaginable; far from laughing at so celebrated and learned an author, I think so highly of him, that I feel assured the mere opening of his work will cure me of my sleeplessness. I have in my library a new translation from the pen of Azero; it is, I believe, the best: here! find it for me, added she, turning to her attendant. You behold the magic power of Hippocrates! She had not read three pages before she sank into profound repose.

In the Countess's stables there is a poor, one-armed soldier, whom the grooms, out of charity, permit, by night, to sleep upon the straw. During the day he begs about the city; and a few hours ago, he had an amusing conversation with another mendicant, who lives near Buen-Retiro, on the road to the palace. The latter has an excellent business, which he manages so well, that his daughter, who is of a marriageable age, passes among the beggars for a rich heiress. This morning, the soldier accosting the father, said to him: Signor Mendigo, I have lost my right arm; I can no longer serve the king; and, like yourself, I am obliged to gain a livelihood by doing the civil to the passers-by. I know well that of all trades there is not one which does more for those who follow it; and that all that is wanting to it is, that it should be a little more highly esteemed. If it were a bit more honourable, replied the old man, it would not be worth following at all, as we should have too much competition;—all the world would beg if it were not for shame.

Very true! replied he of the one arm. Well, now! I am a brother beggar; and I should be happy to ally myself with so distinguished a member of our profession: you shall give me your daughter. Hold! my dear sir, replied the warm old gentleman; you cannot think of such a thing. She must have a better match than you will make. You are not half lame enough. My son-in-law must be a miserable-looking object, who would draw blood out of a stone. Do you think, then, that you will find one worse off than I am? To be sure! Why, you have only lost an arm; and ought to be absolutely ashamed of yourself, to expect that I will give you my daughter. I'd have you to know that I have already refused a fellow without legs, and who goes about the city in a bowl.

I must on no account, continued the Devil, omit to call your attention to the house which joins that of the sleeping countess, and which contains a drunken old painter and a satirical poet. The artist left home at seven o'clock this morning in search of a confessor, as his wife was at the point of death; but happening to meet with a boon companion, he went with him to a tavern, and forgot his wife until ten this evening, when he returned to find she had died unshriven. The poet, who enjoys the reputation of having frequently received most striking proofs of the merits of his caustic verses, was swaggering in a cafe this morning; and in speaking of a person who was absent, exclaimed: He is a scoundrel, to whom, some of these days, I must give a good drubbing. That is kind of you, replied a wag who heard him; though I believe, by the bye, that you owe him a good many.

I had nearly forgotten a scene which took place this morning at a banker's in this street. He is only recently established in Madrid, having returned with immense riches about three months ago from Peru. His father is an honest cobbler of Mediana*, a large village of Old Castile, near the Sierra d'Avila, where he lives, contented with his lot, and with his wife, who, like himself, is about sixty years of age.

[NOTE:* It is curious, that in the original of the latest Paris edition, as also in the third edition, of 1707, the earliest I have been able to consult, and which was published under the superintendence of Le Sage, this passage stands, "un honnęte capareto de Viejo et de Mediana." There is a note to the word "capareto," giving its translation into French as savetier. Being puzzled by the double name of the village,—"de Viejo et de Mediana," I sought the assistance of a talented Spaniard, Signor Lazeu, and was surprised to find the Spanish for cobbler is "zapatero de viejo," or, "shoemaker of old (things)," and that it should consequently have stood in the original "zapatero de viejo de Mediana." It has been doubted by many, among others the late H. D. Inglis, whether Le Sage were really the author of Le Diable Boiteux and Gil Blas; and it has been asserted that he merely translated these works from the unpublished manuscripts of some Spanish author. If the error in question were really that of Le Sage, it would certainly go far to confirm this assertion.—TRANSL.]

It is upwards of twenty years since the banker left his father's house, for the Indies, in search of a better fortune than he could expect from his parents. During all this time, though lost to sight, he was ever present in their thoughts, and every night and morning saw the poor couple on their knees, praying Heaven to shield him with its protection; nor did they fail, on each succeeding Sabbath, to entreat their friend the curate to recommend their child to the prayers of his humble flock. As soon as the banker had returned to Spain, having hastily established his house of business, he resolved to ascertain, in person, the condition of his parents, whom, in his prosperity, he had never forgotten. With this view, having told his domestics he should be absent for a few days, he set out alone, about a fortnight ago, and journeyed on horseback towards the place of his birth.

It was about ten o'clock at night, and the good old cobbler was sleeping peaceably beside his spouse, when they were suddenly awakened by the noise which the banker made, as he knocked violently at the door of their little house. Who's there? cried the startled pair, together. Open—open the door! replied a voice; it is your son, Francillo. Tell that to the marines! replied the ancient son of Crispin;—be off with you, scoundrels! there is nothing here worth stealing. Francillo is at this moment in the Indies, if he be not dead. Your son is not now in the Indies, replied the banker; he is returned from Peru; it is he who speaks to you: will you refuse to receive him in your arms? Let us go down, Jacobo, said the wife; I think it is indeed Francillo: I seem to recollect his voice.

They immediately dressed themselves hurriedly; and, as soon as the cobbler had struck a light, they descended, and opened the door. The old woman looked at Francillo but for an instant, and, with a mother's instinct, recognised her son: she fell upon his neck, and pressed him to her bosom; while master Jacobo, as much transported as his wife, threw his arms around them, and kissed them both by turns. It was some time before the happy family, reunited after so long a separation, could tear themselves apart, or cease those expressions of delight which filled their throbbing hearts.

At length, however, the banker was able to think of his horse, which he unsaddled and led to a stable, already occupied by a cow, whose teeming udders daily yielded their sweet food for his parents. On his return to the house, he related the adventures of his life in Peru, and told them of the wealth which he had brought with him to Spain. The story was somewhat long, and might have appeared annoying to uninterested listeners; but a son who unbosoms himself after a twenty years' absence, rarely fails to fix the attention of a father and mother. To them, nothing was indifferent; they greedily devoured every syllable he uttered, and the most trifling details of his life made upon them the most lively impressions of sorrow or of joy.

He finished his history, by telling them that his wealth would lose all its value unless shared by them, and entreated his father to think no longer of working at his stall. No, no, my son, said master Jacobo to him; no, no! I love my trade, and I will stick to my last. What! exclaimed Francillo, is it not time you lived in peace? I do not ask you to go with me to Madrid; I know well that a city life would have no charms for you: I do not propose, then, that you should leave the peaceful village where your days have passed; but, at least, spare yourself a painful toil, and live here at your ease, since it is in your power to do so.

The mother joined her son in besieging the old cobbler with entreaties; and, at last, master Jacobo capitulated. Well! Francillo, said he, to satisfy you, I will be a gentleman; that is, I will not work any longer for all the village; I will only mend my own shoes, and those of our good friend, the curate. On this convention, the banker, having swallowed a couple of eggs that they had fried for his supper, went to bed beneath his father's roof, the first time for many years, and slept with a calmness of delight that the good alone are capable of enjoying.

The following day, Francillo returned to Madrid, after leaving with his father a purse of three hundred pistoles. But, this morning, he was not a little astonished at beholding master Jacobo suddenly enter his room. Ah! my father, what brings you here? cried he. Why, my son, replied the old man, I bring you back your purse. There, take your money; I am determined to live by my trade: I have been miserable ever since I left off work. Ah, well! my father, said Francillo, return to the village, and continue to work as you will: but, at all events, let it be only to amuse you. Take back your purse, too, and do not spare mine. And what, then, do you think I can do with so much money? asked master Jacobo. It will enable you to relieve the poor, replied the banker: do with it as the curate and your own conscience shall dictate. The cobbler, satisfied to accept it on these terms, immediately departed for Mediana.

Don Cleophas had listened, with pleasure, to the history of Francillo; and he was about to express his admiration of the good-hearted banker's filial affection, when, at the very moment, his attention was distracted by the most piercing shrieks. Signor Asmodeus! he exclaimed, what frightful noises do I hear? Those cries, which rend the air, replied the Devil, proceed from a receptacle for madmen, who tear their throats with shouting, or with singing. We are not far from the place of their confinement, then, said Leandro; so let us look at them at once. By all means, replied the Demon: I will afford you that amusement, and inform you of the causes of their madness. It was no sooner said than done; and, in a moment, the Student found himself on the Casa de los locos.

 

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