The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XIX
THE CAPTIVES

IN a moment they were on a house adjoining the monastery, at the gate of which there was a vast concourse of persons, of all ages and of both sexes. Here's a crowd! exclaimed Leandro Perez. What ceremony can call so many good folks together? Why, replied Asmodeus, it is one which you have never witnessed, though it may be seen from time to time within Madrid. Three hundred slaves, all subjects of the crown of Spain, are expected to arrive each minute: they return from Algiers, where they have been recently purchased by some fathers of the Redemption. Every street through which they are to pass will be lined with spectators to welcome them.

It is true indeed, replied Zambullo, that I have never had the curiosity to behold a similar exhibition; and, if this be the treat which your worship has reserved to gratify my taste, I must tell you frankly that you need not have so boasted of its piquancy. Oh! I know you well enough, replied the Devil, not to be aware that it is no joyous spectacle for you to look upon the misery of your fellows but, when I tell you that, in bringing you here to view it under its present form, I am about to reveal certain singular circumstances attending the captivity of some, and the equally curious embarrassment in which others will find themselves on returning to their homes, I am persuaded that you will not be unthankful for the amusement I have provided. Certainly not, replied the Student; you put another face upon the matter; and you will afford me much pleasure by your promised revelations.

During this discussion, loud shouts were suddenly heard from the populace as they beheld the approaching captives, who marched two by two, in their slaves' dresses, each bearing his chain upon his shoulders. They were preceded by a considerable number of monks of the order of Mercy, who had been to meet them, and who rode on mules caparisoned in black serge, as if they headed a funeral: one of these good fathers carried the standard of Redemption. The younger captives came first; the more aged followed; and the procession was closed by an aged monk of the same order as the first, who, mounted on a diminutive steed, had all the air of a prophet: this was the chief of the missionary expedition. To him every eye was attracted, as much by his excessive gravity, as by a long white beard which flowed down his bosom, and gave to the features of this Moses of the Spaniards a venerable aspect, lighted as they were by a heartfelt joy at having been the instrument of restoring so many of his christian brethren to their country.

The captives whom you see, commenced the Cripple, are not all equally rejoiced at their restoration to liberty. If there be some whose hearts beat with pleasure at the thought that they are about to see once more their dearest friends, there are others not a little fearful that, during the time they have been estranged from their families, events may have occurred which will bring tortures to their minds more cruel than the most refined of slavery itself.

For instance, the two who first approach are in the latter category. The one, a native of the little town of Velilla in Aragon, after having passed ten years in bondage with the Turk, without once hearing of his much-loved wife, comes home to find her bound again in wedlock, and the mother of five little ones who can claim no kin with him. The other, son of a wool-merchant of Segovia, was carried off by a corsair nearly twenty years ago; he returns with a lively apprehension that matters have gravely changed during that time with his family, and he will find himself a prophet in his loss. His father and mother are dead; and his brothers, who shared their wealth, have dissipated it foolishly enough.

My attention is rivetted, exclaimed the Student, upon a slave whom, by his looks, I judge to be delighted that he is no longer exposed to the seducing influence of the bastinado. The captive whom you speak of, replied the Devil, has good reason to rejoice at his deliverance: he has learnt, since his return, that an aunt to whom he is sole heir has just been released from her troubles, and that he is consequently about to enjoy the free use of her brilliant fortune. This it is which now occupies his thoughts so agreeably, and gives to his appearance that air of satisfaction which you remark.

How all unlike is he to the unhappy cavalier who walks beside him; the tortures of suspense fill his bosom incessantly: I will tell you on what they impend. When he was taken by a pirate of Algiers, as he was passing into Italy from Spain, he loved a maiden and by her was loved: he dreads lest, while he was in chains, his fair one's constancy may have failed her. Has he been long a slave then? asked Zambullo. Eighteen months, replied Asmodeus. Pooh! exclaimed Leandro Perez, I fancy our gallant is a prey to causeless fear; he has hardly put his mistress's fidelity to such a test as to have need for great alarm. There you are mistaken, replied the Cripple; his princess no sooner heard that he was captive to the Moor, than she hastened to provide herself with a more fortunate lover.

Would you credit now, continued the Demon, that the man who follows immediately behind the two we have been speaking of, and whom that thick and sandy beard so horribly disfigures, was once a very handsome man? Nothing, however, can be more certain; and you see, in that bent and hideous figure, the hero of a story remarkable enough to induce me to relate it to you.

His name is Fabricio, and he was hardly fifteen years of age when his father, a wealthy cultivator of Cinquello, a large village of the kingdom of Leon, died. He lost his mother shortly afterwards; so that, being an only son, he became thus early the master of a considerable property, the management of which was confided to an uncle, who happened to be honest. Fabricio completed his studies at Salamanca, where he had been previously placed; he then particularly devoted himself to the noble accomplishments of riding and fencing; in a word, he neglected nothing which might concur to render him worthy the sweet regards of Donna Hippolita, sister of a vegetating signor, whose cottage was about a couple of gun-shots from Cinquello.

This lady was beautiful in the extreme, and about the age of Fabricio, who, having seen her from his infancy, had, to speak vulgarly, sucked in with his mother's milk the love which occupied his soul in manhood. Hippolita, on her side, could not help perceiving that Fabricio was not ill-made; but, knowing him to be the son of a husbandman, she had never deigned to look on him with attention. Her pride was only equalled by her loveliness, and by the haughty bearing of her brother, Don Thomaso de Xaral, who was probably unsurpassed, even in Spain, for his lordly want of money, and his beggarly pride.

This inflated country gentleman lived in a small house which he dignified by the name of castle, but which to speak properly was a ruin, so little had the winds respected his nobility. However, although his means did not enable him to repair his mansion, and although he had hardly enough to sustain himself, he must needs keep a valet to attend upon his person; nay, he even kept a Moorish female to wait upon his sister.

It was a refreshing sight to witness, in the village, on Sundays and at every festival, Don Thomaso habited in crimson velvet, but sadly faded, and a little hat, overshadowed with an ancient plume of yellow feathers, which were carefully enshrined, like relics, on the common days of the year. Disporting this frippery, which to him was proof apparent of his noble birth, he would affect the grandee, and seemed to think that he amply repaid the reverence that was offered to him when he condescended to notice it by an approving smile. His fair sister was not less vain than himself of the antiquity of her race; and she joined to this folly that of such self-congratulation on her charms, that she lived in the most perfect confidence that ere long some noble signor would come to beg the honour of her hand.

Such were the characters of Don Thomaso and the beauteous Hippolita. Fabricio, aware of their foibles, and in order to insinuate himself into the estimation of persons so exalted, lost no opportunity of flattering their pride by the most respectful seeming; and so well did he manage, that the brother and sister at last were graciously pleased to allow him frequent occasions for paying his homage to them. As he was as well informed of their poverty as of their vanity, he was tempted every day to make offer of his purse; and was only withheld from doing so by the uncertainty as to which of their failings was the greater: nevertheless, his ingenious generosity found a way of relieving the one without causing the other to blush. Signor, said he one day to Don Thomaso in private, I have a thousand ducats which I would entrust in safe hands: have the kindness to take care of them for me;?permit me to owe this obligation to you.

I need hardly tell you that Xaral consented; but besides being short of money, he had the very soul for a trustee. He therefore made no scruple of taking charge of the sum proposed; and no sooner was it in his possession, than, without ceremony, he employed a good part of it in putting his house in order, and adding thereto sundry little conveniences. A new dress of splendid light blue velvet was bought, and made at Salamanca; and a green plume, also purchased there, came to snatch from the olden plume of yellow the glory which had pertained to it from time immemorial, of adorning the noble front of Don Thomaso. The lovely Hippolita had also her compliment, and was entirely new-rigged. And thus did Xaral quickly melt the ducats which had been confided to him, not once reflecting that they did not belong to him, or that he would never be able to restore them. Indeed, he would not have scrupled thus to use them, had such extraordinary thoughts occurred to him; he would have felt that it was perfectly proper a plebeian should pay for the patronage of so noble a person as himself.

Fabricio had foreseen all this; but had at the same time flattered himself, that out of love for his money, if not for himself, Don Thomaso would live with him on terms of greater intimacy; that Hippolita by degrees would become accustomed to his attentions, and finally pardon the audacity which had inspired him to elevate his thoughts to her. In effect, his intercourse with them certainly increased, and they displayed for him a consideration that he had never before appeared to deserve: a rich man is ever appreciated by the great, when he will consent to act for them the part of the wolf to Romulus and Remus. Xaral and his sister, who until now had nothing know it of riches but the name, had no sooner tasted the, intoxicating draught, than they deemed Fabricio, the source whence it flowed, an object not to be neglected; and they therefore exhibited towards him such marks of respect, and almost affection, as made him think his money well bestowed. He was soon convinced that he had really won upon them; and that wisely reflecting it is the lot of the proudest signors to be obliged, in order to sustain their pretensions, to graft their noble scions on the stocks of the fortunate vulgar, they now looked on him without disdain With this notion, which flattered his own self-love, Fabricio resolved to propose for Hippolita to her brother.

On the first favourable opportunity which offered to speak with Don Thomaso on the subject, he informed him that he had dared aspire to the honour of becoming his brother-in-law; and that, as the price of such concession, not only would he abandon all claim to the money deposited in his hands, but that he would add to it a present of a thousand pistoles. The haughty Xaral coloured at this proposition, which awakened his slumbering pride; and in the excitation of the moment, could scarcely refrain from displaying the utter contempt in which he held the son of an industrious father. But, however insulted he felt at the temerity of Fabricio, he constrained himself; and, as respectfully as his nature would permit, replied that in a matter of such importance he could not at once determine; that he must consult Hippolita, and that it would even be necessary to summon a conclave of his noble relatives thereupon.

With this answer he dismissed the gallant, and forthwith convoked a diet composed of certain hidalgos of his neighbourhood, with whom he claimed affinity, and who, like himself, were all infected with demo-phobia. With these he consulted, not as to whether they were of opinion that he should bestow his sister upon Fabricio, but on the most proper steps to be adopted in order sufficiently to punish the insolent young man, who, forgetful of the meanness of his origin, had dared pretend to the hand of a lady of the rank of Hippolita.

As soon as he had exposed to the assembly this presumptuous demand,?as he mentioned the name of Fabricio, and uttered the words, Son of a husbandman,?you should have seen how the eyes of all the nobles lighted up with fury. Each of them vomited fire and flame against the audacious groundling; and with one voice they all insisted, that his death beneath the cudgels of their domestics alone could expiate the vile affront he had offered to their family by the proposal of so scandalous an union. However, on mature consideration, the offended members of the diet agreed to spare the culprit's life; but, in order to teach him that first and far more useful knowledge?of himself, they resolved to play him such a trick as he should have reason to remember while he lived.

Various were the schemes proposed: the one on which they at last decided was as follows. Hippolita was to feign a sensibility for the passion of Fabricio; and, under pretence of consoling her unhappy lover for the refusal which Don Thomaso would have given to his proposal for her hand, she was to make an assignation for some particular evening to receive him at the castle; where, at the moment of his introduction by the Moorish female, the friends of the signor would surprise him with the waiting-maid, and compel him to espouse her.

The sister of Xaral at first inclined to favour this piece of rascality; she even joined in thinking that her reputation demanded of her to consider as an insult the addresses of a person in a station so inferior to her own. But these haughty feelings soon yielded to others more gentle, prompted by pity; or, rather, love suddenly vanquished all pride of heart in the bosom of Hippolita.

From that moment, she looked on all things with a different eye. The obscure origin of Fabricio now appeared to her more than compensated by a nobility of disposition; and she perceived in him but a cavalier worthy of her tenderest affection. Remark again, signor Student, and with all due admiration, how prodigious are the changes which this passion can effect: the very girl who yesterday imagined that a monarch's heir scarce merited the honour of possessing her, to-day is all enamoured of a ploughman's son, and is flattered by pretensions which before she had regarded as disgraceful.

{Illlustration: From that moment, she looked on all things with a different eye ?23}

Far therefore from assisting her brother in his purposed revenge, and yielding to the new-born passion which now reigned supreme within her soul, Hippolita entered into secret correspondence with Fabricio, by means of her Moorish attendant, who frequently of an evening introduced the gallant into the cottage. Thus baffled in his design, Don Thomaso soon became suspicious of the truth; and watching his sister, he was convinced by his own eyes that, instead of fulfilling the wishes of her relations, she had betrayed them.

He instantly informed two of his cousins of the discovery he had made: Vengeance! Don Thomaso, vengeance! they exclaimed, infuriate at such baseness in one of their illustrious race. Xaral, who did not require urging to exact satisfaction for an indignity of this nature, replied, with true Spanish modesty, that they should find he knew well how to use his sword when its employment was called for to avenge his honour; and he entreated them to come to his house on a particular night.

They came at the appointed time, and were secretly received and concealed in a small room by Don Thomaso; who left them, saying that he would return the instant the lover entered his doors, should he think fit to come at all that evening. This did not fail to happen; the unlucky stars of our lovers had decreed that they should choose that very night for their meeting.

Don Fabricio was already with his dear Hippolita, listening to and repeating for the hundredth time those sweet avowals which make up the dialogue of lovers, but which, though spoken from eternity, have still the charm of novelty, when they were disagreeably interrupted by the cavaliers who waited to surprise them. Don Thomaso and his cousins, with all the courage of three against one, rushed upon Fabricio, who had scarcely time to draw in his defence; but perceiving at once that their object was to assassinate him, he fought with a courage which makes one equal to three; he wounded all his assailants, and exerting the skill he had acquired at Salamanca, managed to keep them at his sword's point till he had gained the door, when he made off at full speed.

Upon this, Xaral, maddened with rage at beholding his enemy escape him, after having with impunity dishonoured his house, turned all his fury against the unfortunate Hippolita, and plunged his sword into her heart. After which his two relatives returned to their homes, extremely mortified at the bad success of their plot, and with no other consolation than their wounds.

There we will leave them, continued Asmodeus. When we have passed in review the other captives, I will finish the history of this one. I will relate to you how, after justice, or rather the law, had possessed itself of his effects on account of this mournful event, the pirates seized his person, with about as good reason, when he happened to be making a voyage.

While you were telling me this story of love and pride, said Don Cleophas, I observed a young man whose countenance bespeaks such sorrow at his heart, that I wonder I did not interrupt you to inquire its cause. You will lose nothing by your discretion, replied the Demon; I can tell you now all you desire to know. The captive whose dejection attracted your notice is a youth of family from Valladolid. Two years was he in slavery, but with a patron who possessed a very pretty wife. The lady looked with favour on the slave, and the slave, as in duty bound, repaid the lady's favours with interest. The patron, becoming suspicious as to the nature of his slave's labours, hastened to sell the Christian to the brothers of the Redemption, lest he should be irreligiously employed in the propagation of Mahometanism. The tender Castilian, ever since, has done nothing but weep for the loss of his patroness; liberty itself cannot console him.

An old man of good appearance attracts my attention there, said Leandro Perez; who, and what, is he? The Devil replied: He is a barber, of Guipuscoa, who is about to return to Biscay after a captivity of forty years. When he fell into the hands of a corsair, in going from Valencia to the island of Sardinia, he had a wife, two sons, and a daughter. Of all these, one son alone remains; and he, more lucky than his father, has been to Peru, whence he has safely returned with immense wealth to his native province, in which he has recently purchased two handsome estates. What pleasure! exclaimed the Student,?what delight awaits this happy son, to behold again his long-lost parent, and to be enabled to render his declining years peaceful and agreeable!

You, replied the Cripple, speak like a child whom tenderness and duty prompt; the son of the Biscayan barber is of a sterner mould: the unlooked-for coming of his sire to him will bring more grief than joy. Instead of welcoming him to his mansion at Guipuscoa, and sparing nothing to mark the bliss he feels at pressing him once more to his bosom, he will probably be filial enough to make him steward of one of his estates.

Behind this captive, whose good looks you admire so much, is another as like an old baboon as are two drops of water to each other: he is a little Aragonese physician. He has not been a fortnight in Algiers; for as soon as the Turks knew what was his profession, they resolved, rather than suffer him to remain among them, to place him without ransom in the hands of the fathers of Mercy, who would certainly never have purchased him, and who bring him back with compunction to Spain.

You who feel so sensibly the woes of others, ah! how would you grieve for that other slave, he who wears upon his head that little cap of brown cloth, did you but know the ills he has endured during twelve years, in the house of an English renegade, his patron. And who is this unhappy captive? asked Zambullo. He is a cordelier of Navarre, replied the Demon. I must own, however, that for myself, I rejoice that he has suffered so severely; since, by his eternal preaching, he has prevented more than a hundred Christian slaves from adopting the turban.

Well! to imitate your frankness, replied Don Cleophas, I must say that I am really afflicted to think that this good father should have been so long at the mercy of the barbarian. As to that, replied Asmodeus, you are as unwise to regret it, as I to rejoice. The good monk has turned his dozen years' captivity to so good account, that he will find his advantage in having passed that time in suffering instead of in his cell, where he would have striven with temptations that he would not at all times have vanquished.

The first captive after the monks, said Leandro Perez, has a most complacent air for a man who returns from slavery: he excites my curiosity to know his history. You anticipate me, replied the Cripple; I was just about to tell you all about him. You see in him, a citizen of Salamanca, an unfortunate father, a mortal rendered insensible to misfortune by the weight of those he has experienced. I am tempted to relate to you the painful details of his life, and to leave the rest of the captives to their fates; besides, there is scarcely another whose adventures are worth the trouble of telling.

The Student, who began to tire of this sombre procession, stated that he asked for nothing better; whereupon, the Devil began the history contained in the following chapter.

 

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