The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVI
THE DREAMERS

LEANDRO PEREZ, as soon as Asmodeus had  finished this narrative, said to him: A very pretty picture of friendship have you presented! But, rare though it be to see two men so bound by love as the Toledan and Don Fabricio, I imagine it were quite impossible to find two rivals of the softer sex, who could so generously sacrifice to each other, for friendship's sake, the man they love.

Doubtless! replied the Devil: that is a sight the world ne'er saw, and one that, as it grows older, it probably never will see. Women have no affection for each other. I will suppose two who think themselves friends; I will even go the length to suppose that they never speak ill of one another when apart,—so extraordinary are the ties which bind them. Well! see them together; and incline the least towards the one, and rage shall fill the bosom of the other; not that she cares an atom for yourself, but because she would be preferred by all. Such is the character of woman: jealousy occupies too large a portion of her heart to leave room for friendship.

The history of these peerless friends, replied Don Cleophas, possesses a slight touch of the romantic, and has led us somewhat from our object. The night is far advanced, and we shall soon behold the brilliant heralds of the coming day: I expect of you, therefore, a new pleasure. I perceive a great number of persons still sleeping, and wish you to satisfy my curiosity by informing me of their dreams. Willingly! replied the Demon. You are, I see, an admirer of les tableaux changeants; I will gratify your taste.

Thanks! said Zambullo: I expect that I am about to hear of rare absurdities in these same dreams. And why? asked the Cripple: you, so well versed in Ovid, do you not know that it is towards break of day that dreams visit the mind with presages of truth, because at that time the soul is disengaged from the vapours of digestion? Oh! as to that, replied the Student, despite of master Ovid, I have no faith in dreams. You are wrong then, exclaimed Asmodeus: you should neither treat them as fantastic visions, nor yet believe them all; they are liars, who sometimes speak the truth. The emperor Augustus, whose head had well adorned a student's shoulders, despised not dreams which turned upon his fate; and nearly took it in his head, at the battle of Philippi, to strike his tent, on hearing of a dream which regarded himself. I could cite a thousand examples to you, which would convince you of your folly in this respect; but I forbear to do so, that I may at once satisfy the new desire which prompts you.

We will begin by this handsome mansion on our right. Its proprietor, whom you see ensconced in that superb apartment, is a liberal and gallant noble. He is dreaming that he is at the opera, listening to a new prima donna; and that the voice of the syren is just enslaving his heart.

In the next apartment lies the countess, his wife, who loves play to madness. She dreams that she has no money, and that she is pawning her diamonds with a jeweller, who is lending her thereon three hundred pistoles, deducting only a very moderate discount.

In the next house, on the same side, lives a marquis of the same stamp as the count, and who, for the moment, is in love with a celebrated, but capricious, beauty. He dreams that he is borrowing largely of an usurer for the purpose of securing her to himself; while his steward, who is sleeping at the top of the house, is dreaming that he is growing rich as fast as his master is hastening to ruin. Well! what think you of these dreams? Is there anything in them so extravagant? No! on my life, replied Don Cleophas, I begin to think Ovid is right: but who is that man whom I see, lying with his mustachios in paper, and preserving in his sleep an air of gravity which would indicate that he is no ordinary cavalier. He is a country gentleman, replied the Demon,—a viscount of Aragon, imbued with all the pride of that province. His soul at this moment swims in delight; he dreams that he is with a grandee who is yielding to him precedence in a public ceremony.

But, continued Asmodeus, I observe in the same house two brothers, apothecaries, whose dreams are particularly unpleasant. One of them is reading, in his sleep, an ordinance which decrees that doctors shall not be paid, except when they have cured their patients; and, his brother is occupied with a similar law, which ordains that medical attendants shall head the procession at the funeral of all who die in their hands. I could wish, interrupted Zambullo, that these decrees were as true as they would be just; and that your doctor were thus compelled to be present at the burial of his innocent patient, as a lieutenant criminel, in France, is bound to witness the execution of the guilty wretch whom he has condemned. I like your comparison, exclaimed the Devil: it might be said in such a case, however, that the one merely superintends the execution of his own sentence; but that the other, having already performed his especial function, pursues his victim after death.

Hollo! cried the Student, who is that personage rubbing his eyes, and rising in such tremendous haste? He, replied Asmodeus, is a noble signor who is soliciting an appointment, as governor, in the Indies. A frightful dream has startled him from sleep; he fancied himself at court, and that the premier had passed him with averted eyes. And there, too, is a youthful damsel, waking to the world, not over contented with her dream. She is a lady of rank, and not more handsome than discreet. She has two lovers; for one of whom she nourishes a passion the most tender, and for the other an aversion, almost amounting to horror. Well! in her sleep just now, she saw, upon his knees before her, the gallant she detests; and he was so impassioned, so assiduous, that had she not awakened, she would have treated him with even greater kindness than she ever bestowed on the lover whom she favours: nature, during sleep, signor Student, throws off the yoke of reason, and of virtue.

Cast your eyes upon that house at the corner of this street: it belongs to an attorney. Behold him and his wife sleeping in twin bedsteads, in that room hung with ancient tapestry, embroidered with grotesque figures. The man of law dreams that he is about to visit one of your hospitals for the charitable purpose of relieving a sick client with his own money; while the lady imagines that her husband is driving out of his house a sturdy clerk, of whom he has become suddenly jealous.

I hear ungentle snorings break on the stillness round us, said Leandro Perez; and I fancy they proceed from yonder plump old man, whom I discern in the house adjoining that of the attorney. Precisely so, answered Asmodeus. It is a canon chanting in his sleep his Benedicite.

His neighbour, there, is a silk-mercer, who vends his costly wares, at his own price, to titled customers, for their time. His lordly ledger is inscribed with debts amounting to above a hundred thousand ducats; and he is dreaming that his debtors are bringing him their gold; while his creditors are horrified with visions of his own bankruptcy. These dreams, said the Student, certainly, have not emerged from Sleep's dark temple by the same gate. I fancy not, indeed, replied the Demon; the first has passed by the ivory portal of the leaden god, and the other from that of horn.

The house adjoining that of the mercer is occupied by a celebrated bookseller. He has recently published a work which has been extremely successful. On bringing it out, he promised to give the author fifty pistoles, in addition to the price agreed for, should the book run to a second edition; and he is at this moment dreaming that he is reprinting it without informing the unfortunate scribe of the fact.

Ah! exclaimed Zambullo, there is no need to ask from which door that dream proceeded; and I have not the slightest doubt of its proving one of the least deceitful visions he ever had in his life. I am perfectly acquainted with those worthy gentlemen, the booksellers. Heaven help the poor authors who fall into their hands! To cheat them, is the mystery of their craft. Nothing can be more true, replied the Cripple; but, it appears, you have yet to become acquainted with those as worthy gentry—the authors. They are six of one and half-a-dozen of the other: it is impossible to decide on their relative merits. By the by, I will relate to you an adventure which occurred not a century ago, in this very town, and which will enlighten you on the subject.

Three booksellers were supping together at a tavern; and the conversation naturally turned on the scarcity of good modern authors. Thereupon, one of them said to his brethren: My friends, I must tell you, however, in confidence, that I have been in luck's way within these few days. I have purchased a manuscript, for which I paid rather dearly, it is true, but it is by an author—oh! it is uncoined gold. One of those whom he addressed now interrupted him; and boasted of having been equally fortunate on the preceding day in a similar purchase. And I, gentlemen, at last exclaimed the third, in his turn,—I will not be behind-hand in confidence with you; I will shew you the gem of manuscripts, of which I only this morning became the happy owner. As he finished, each drew from his capacious pocket the precious acquisition he had made; when these miracles of authorship turned out to be as many copies of a new theatrical piece, intitled the Wandering Jew, which the astonished bibliopoles found had been sold to each of them separately.

Near the bookseller, in the next house, continued the Devil, you may perceive a timid and respectful lover just awaking. He loves one of the most sprightly of widows; and was dreaming, but this moment, that, beside her in the covert of a dusky wood, whose shade lent courage to his modest spirit, he was so tender,—so gallant in his speech, that his fair mistress could not help exclaiming: Ah! you are becoming absolutely dangerous! If I were not steeled against the flattery of men, I should be lost.

But you are all deceivers! I never trust to words; actions alone can win me.—And what actions, madam, do you ask of me? interrupted the gentle swain: must I, to prove the excess of my passion, undertake the twelve labours of Hercules? Lord! no, Nicaise, replied the lady, much less would content me. Thereupon—he awoke.

Prythee, tell me, said the Student, why yonder man, in that dark-coloured bed, tosses about so furiously. He, replied the Cripple, is a talented licentiate; and his present agitation arises from a dream, in which he is disputing in favour of the immortality of the soul, with a little doctor of medicine, who is as good a catholic as he is a physician. In the same house, over the licentiate, lodges a gentleman of Estramadura, named Don Balthazar Fanfarronico, who has come post-haste to court, to demand a reward for having valiantly slain a Portuguese, by a musket-shot, in ambush. And of what do you imagine he is dreaming? Nothing less than that he is appointed to the government of Antequera, at which he is very naturally dissatisfied: he thinks he deserves a viceroyalty at least.

In a furnished house close by, I discover two distinguished personages, whose dreams are far from pleasant. One of them is governor of a fortress, where he is now sustaining a fancied siege, and which, after a faint resistance, he is on the point of surrendering, with himself and garrison, at discretion. The other is the bishop of Murcia, whom his majesty has charged with the task of eulogising a deceased princess, whose funeral takes place in a day or two. He has, in imagination, just ascended the pulpit; and there has his imagination left him, for he has stopped short in the exordium of his discourse. It is not impossible, said Don Cleophas, that this misfortune may really befal the worthy prelate. No, truly, replied the Devil; for it is not very long since his grace found himself in a similar predicament on a like occasion.

And now, if you would like to behold a somnambulist, look into the stables of this same house: what see you? I perceive, answered Leandro Perez, a man walking in his shirt, and holding, what seems to me, a horse-comb in his hand. Well! replied the Demon, he is a sleeping groom. Nightly does he rise in sleep to curry his pampered charge, and then betake himself to bed again. His fellow servants look on the sleek coats of the horses as the frolic work of some wanton sprite; and the groom himself shares this opinion with them.

In the large house, opposite, lives an aged chevalier of the Fleece, who was formerly viceroy of Mexico. He has fallen sick; and, as he fears he is about to die, his viceroyalty begins to trouble him: true it is that he exercised his functions so as to justify his present inquietude; the chronicles of New Spain, unless they be belied, make no too honourable mention of his name. He has just started from a dream, whose horrid visions float before him still, and which will probably bring about their own fulfilment in his death! Ah! exclaimed Zambullo, that must be something extraordinary. You shall hear, replied Asmodeus: there is really something in it rather singular. The sickly lordling dreamt he was in the valley of the dead, where all the victims of his injustice and inhumanity thronged fiercely round, and heaped upon him menaces and insult. They pressed upon, and would have torn him limb from limb; but, as their hot breath seemed to burn his very brain, he thought he took to flight, and saved himself from their fury. He had no sooner escaped, than he found himself in a large hall, hung all around with black cloth, where, sitting at a table upon which were three covers, he saw his father and his grandfather. His two dismal companions solemnly beckoned him to approach; and, with all the gravity which belong to the dead, said to him: We have waited for you long: come, take your place beside us.

Oh! the wretched dream, interrupted the Student; I could forgive the poor devil, for the fright he is in! To make up for it, resumed the Cripple, his niece, who reposes in the apartment over his, passes the night in bliss: sleep brings to her its brightest illusions. She is a maiden of from twenty-five to thirty, ugly as myself, and not much better made. She dreams that her uncle, to whom she is sole heiress, has ceased to live; and that she sees, in swarms around her, amiable signors, who dispute for the honour of her slightest glance.

If I do not deceive myself, said Don Cleophas, I hear someone laughing behind us. It is no deception, replied the Devil; it is a widow laughing in her sleep, a few paces from us. She is a woman who affects the prude, and who loves nothing so well as a little friendly scandal: she dreams that she is chatting with an ancient devotee whose conversation could hardly fail to delight one of her taste.

I cannot help laughing in my turn, to see, in the room under that of the widow, an honest cit, who lives with difficulty on the little he possesses, but who dreams that he is picking up pieces of gold and silver, and that the more he gathers the more remain to glean: he has already filled a large coffer. Poor fellow! said Leandro; he will not enjoy his treasure long. No! replied the Cripple; and when he awakes he will be like the really rich when dying; he will see all his wealth disappear.

If you are curious to know the dreams of two actresses who live near each other, I will relate them to you. One is dreaming that she is catching birds with a call; that she strips them as she takes them, and then throws them to be devoured by a large tomcat in which she delights, and which has all the profit of her skill. The other dreams that she is driving from her house greyhounds and coach-dogs, which for a long time have sunned themselves in her presence, having resolved to confine her affections to a pretty little lapdog, which has recently gained her favour.

Illustration: One is dreaming that she is catching birds with a call; that she strips them as she takes them, and then throws them to be devoured by a large tomcat in which she delights

Two dreams absurd enough! cried the Student; I fancy that if at Madrid, as formerly in Rome, there were interpreters of dreams, they would be sadly puzzled to explain these. Not so much as you think, replied the Devil: a very small acquaintance with the domestic habits of your syrens of the stage, would enable them to render their sense perfectly intelligible.

Well! for myself, exclaimed Don Cleophas, they are past my comprehension, and that troubles me little: I would rather be informed who is that lady sleeping in a bed with amber velvet hangings, bordered with silver fringe, and near which, upon a small table, I perceive a book and a wax-candle. She is a lady of illustrious family, replied the Demon, whose establishment is mounted in gallant style, and who loves to see her livery adorned by young and handsome men. She is accustomed to read in bed, and cannot sleep without her favourite author. Last night she was indulging in the Metamorphoses of Ovid: in consequence, she is at this moment dreaming, extravagantly enough, that Jupiter has become amorous of her charms, and has entered her service in the form of a favourite page.

Apropos of metamorphoses, there is another subject who will amuse you. You perceive that man, tasting in the calm of sleep the exquisite pleasure of imagined flattery. He is an actor, a veteran of such ancient service, that there is not a grey-beard in Madrid who can say he witnessed his first appearance. He has been so long behind the scenes, that he may be said to have become theatrified. He is not without talent, but, like most of his profession, he is so vain that he thinks the part of Man beneath him. Of what think you is this hero of the slips now dreaming. He imagines that he is on the point of death; and that round his couch are assembled all the deities of Olympus, to decide on what they are to do with a mortal of his importance. He listens while Mercury insists before the council of the gods that a comedian so famed, after having so often had the honour of mimicking themselves, and Jove's own person, on the stage, should not be subject to the common fate of man, but merits a reception as a brother god by those who now surround him. Mercury finishes by moving accordingly, and Momus seconds the motion; but the male and female members of the celestial parliament murmuring at the proposition of so extraordinary an apotheosis, Jupiter, to put an end to the debate, is about to decree, of his sovereign authority, that the aged son of Thespis shall be transformed into a theatrical statue, for the amusement of future generations.

The Devil was about to continue, but Zambullo interrupted him, exclaiming: Hold! signor Asmodeus, you forget that it is day. I am afraid they will perceive us from the street. If the gentle public should remark your lordship, we shall hear such an uproar as we may be glad to put an end to.

Never fear! replied the Demon; they will not see us. I have the power ascribed to the fabulous deities of whom I spoke but now; and like to the amorous son of Saturn, who, upon Mount Ida, shrouded himself in a cloud, to hide from the world the blisses he shared with Juno, I am about to envelope you and myself in a misty veil which the searching eye of man cannot pierce, but which shall not prevent you from beholding those things which I wish you to observe. As he spoke, they were suddenly surrounded by a vapour, which, although dense as the smoke of a battlefield, offered no obstacle to the sight of the Student.

So now to return to our dreamers, continued the Cripple,—but I do consider, he added, that the mode in which you have consumed the night must have fatigued you. I advise, therefore, that you let me bear you to your home, and leave you to a few hours' sleep. In the meanwhile, I will just take a turn round the earth, and amuse myself after my fashion; taking care to rejoin you by the time you awake, when we will continue our laugh at the expense of the swarming world. I have no desire to sleep, and am not in the least fatigued, replied Don Cleophas; so, instead of leaving me, do me the pleasure to expound the various objects which occupy the yawning brains of the persons whom I see already risen, and who are preparing, as it seems to me, to leave their houses: what can possibly call them out so early? What you ask me is well worth your knowledge, answered the Demon; you shall gaze on a picture of the cares, the emotions, the anguish that poor mortal man gives himself during life, to occupy, with the vain hope of happiness, the little space which is granted him between the cradle and the tomb.

 

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