The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XX
OF THE LAST HISTORY RELATED BY ASMODEUS: HOW, WHILE CONCLUDING IT, HE WAS SUDDENLY INTERRUPTED; AND OF THE DISAGREEABLE MANNER, FOR THE WITTY DEMON, IN WHICH HE AND DON CLEOPHAS WERE SEPARATED.

PABLOS DE BAHABON, son of an alcade of a village in Old Castile, after having divided with his sister and brother the small inheritance which their father, although one of the most avaricious of men, had left them, set out for Salamanca with the intention of increasing the number of students in its university. He was well made, not without wit, and was just entering upon his twenty-third year.

With a thousand ducats in his possession, and a disposition fitted to get rid of them, it was not long before he was the talk of the town. The young men, without exception, were eager to cultivate his friendship; the strife was who were to be included in the joyous parties which Don Pablos gave every day: I say Don Pablos, because he had assumed the Don, that he might live on equal terms with the students whose nobility would otherwise have demanded a formality in his intercourse with them, any thing but pleasant. So well did he love gaiety and the good things of this world, and so badly did he manage the only thing which can always command them,—his purse, that at the end of fifteen months he found it one morning empty. He contrived, however, to get on for some time longer, partly by credit and partly by borrowing; but he soon found that these are resources which speedily fail when a man has no other.

This having come to pass, his friends perceiving that their visits were any thing but agreeable,—to themselves, they ceased to call; and his creditors commenced paying him their respects, with an assiduity which was any thing but delightful to poor Don Pablos. For although he assured the latter that he was in daily expectation of receiving bills of exchange from his relations, there were some who were uncivil enough to decline waiting their arrival; and they were so sharp in their legal proceedings that our hero was on the point of finishing his studies in jail, when one day he met an acquaintance while walking on the banks of the Tormes, who said to him: Signor Don Pablos, beware! I warn you that an alguazil and his archers are on the look-out for you, and they intend to pay you the honour of a guard on your return to the city.

Bahabon, alarmed at this intended public attention to his person, which suited so ill to the state of his private affairs, resolved to shun this demonstration of respect, and instantly took to flight and the road to Corita. In his anxiety for privacy, he had not walked far before he turned off to plunge into a neighbouring wood, in which he resolved to conceal himself until night should lend her friendly shades to enable him to travel more secure from observation. It was at that season of the year when the trees are decked in their proudest apparel, and he therefore chose the best dressed in the forest, that it might spare a covering for him: into this he mounted, and arranged himself upon a branch whose wavy ornaments shrouded him from sight.

Feeling secure in his elevated seat, he by degrees soon lost all fear of the too attentive alguazil; and as men usually make the best reflections on their conduct when thought is too late to avail them, he recalled all the follies he had committed, and promised to himself, that if ever he again should be in fortune's way, he would make a better use of her favours. Most especially he vowed to be no more the dupe of seeming friends, who lead young men into dissipation, and whose attachment finishes with the last bottle.

While thus occupied with the busy thoughts which come like creditors into the distressed mind, night recalled him to his situation. Disengaging himself from the sheltering leaves, and shaking hands with the friendly branch, he was preparing to descend, when, by as much light as the moon could throw into the forest, he thought he could discern the figure of a man. As he looked, his former fears returned: and he imagined it must be the alguazil, who, having tracked his footsteps, was seeking him in the wood. His fears redoubled when he saw the man, after walking round it two or three times, sit himself down at the foot of the very tree in which he was.

Asmodeus interrupted the course of his narrative in this place: Signor Don Cleophas, said he, permit me to enjoy for a while the perplexity I occasion in your mind at this moment. You are desperately anxious to know now, who can this mortal be that comes so inopportunely, and what can have brought him thither. Well, that is what you soon shall learn: I will not abuse your patience.

After the man had seated himself at the foot of the tree, whose thick foliage almost hid him from the sight of Don Pablos, he reposed for a few seconds, and then rose and began digging the ground with a poniard. Having made a deep hole, and placed therein a leathern bag, he refilled it, covered it over carefully with the moss-grown turf he had removed, and then retired. Bahabon, who had strained his eyes to watch these operations, and whose fears were changed to anxious joy during their progress, scarcely waited until the man was out of sight ere he descended from his hiding-place to disinter the sack, in which he doubted not to find good store of silver or of gold. His knife was sufficient for the purpose; but, had he wanted that, he felt such ardour for the work, that he would have penetrated with his nails into the bowels of the earth.

The instant that he had the bag in his possession, just handling it sufficiently to feel convinced that it contained good sounding coin, he hastened to quit the wood with his prey, less fearing to meet the alguazil in his altered state, than the man to whom the bag of right belonged. Intoxicated with delight at having made so good a stroke, our student walked lightly all the night, without caring whither he went, or feeling in the least degree incommoded with his burden. But, as day broke, he stopped under some trees near the village of Molorido, less, in truth, to repose, than to satisfy at last the curiosity which burned within him to know what it was indeed the sack enclosed. Untying it with that agreeable trembling which you experience at the moment you are about to enjoy an anticipated but unknown pleasure, he found therein honest double-pistoles, and, to his unspeakable delight, counted no less of these than two hundred and fifty.

After having contemplated them for some time with a voluptuous eagerness, he began seriously to reflect on what he ought to do; and having made up his mind, he stowed away the doubloons in his pockets, threw the bag into a ditch, and repaired to Molorido. He entered the first decent inn; and then, while they were preparing his breakfast, he hired a mule, upon which he returned the same day to Salamanca.

He clearly perceived, by the surprise which his acquaintances displayed at seeing him again, that they were in the secret of his sudden evasion; but he had his story by heart. He stated that, being short of money, and not receiving it from home, although he had written twenty times to relate his pressing need, he had determined to go for it himself, and that, the evening previous, as he entered Molorido, he had met his steward with the needful, so that he was now in a situation to undeceive all those who had decreed him a man of straw. He added, that he intended to convince his creditors that they were wrong in distressing an honest man who would have long since satisfied their claims, had his steward been more punctual in the remittance of his rents.

In reality, on the following day he called a meeting of his creditors, and paid them all to the last maravedi. No sooner did the very friends who had abandoned him in poverty hear of these extraordinary proceedings, than they quickly flocked around him, to flatter him by their homage, hoping to enjoy themselves again at his expense; but he was not to be caught a second time. Faithful to the vow he had made in the forest, he treated them with disdain, and changing entirely his course of life, he devoted himself to the study of the law with zeal and assiduity.

However, you will say, he was all this while conscientiously expending double-pistoles not very honestly acquired. To this I have no reply to make than that he did what nine-tenths of the world are daily doing in similar circumstances. He of course intended to make proper restitution at some future time; that is, if he should chance to discover to whom the doubloons belonged. In the meantime, tranquillizing himself with the goodness of his intentions, he disposed of the money without scruple, patiently awaiting this discovery, which nevertheless he made before twelve months were over.

About this time, it was reported in Salamanca that a citizen of that town, one Ambrosio Piquillo, having gone to the neighbouring wood to seek for a bag, filled with gold and silver coin, which he had there deposited nearly a year before, had turned up only the earth in which he had buried it, and that this misfortune had reduced the poor man to beggary.

I must say, in justice to Bahabon, that the secret reproaches of his conscience were not made in vain. He ascertained the dwelling of Ambrosio, whom he found in a wretched chamber whose entire furniture consisted of a truckle-bed and a single chair. My friend, said he with admirable hypocrisy as he entered, I have heard the public report of the cruel accident which has befallen you, and, charity obliging us to aid one another according to our means, I have come to bring you a trifling assistance; but I should like to hear from yourself the story of your misfortune.

Signor cavalier, replied Piquillo, I will relate it to you in a few words. I had the misfortune to have a son who robbed me. Discovering his dishonesty, and fearing that he would help himself to a leathern sack in which there were two hundred and fifty doubloons, I thought I could not do better than bury them in the wood to which I had the imprudence to take them. Since that unlucky day, my son has stripped me of all else that I possessed, and he at last disappeared with a woman whom he had carried off by force. Finding myself thus reduced by the libertinage of my worthless child, or rather by my misplaced indulgence for his faults, I determined on recourse to the leathern bag; but alas! my only remaining means of subsistence had been cruelly carried away.

As the poor man recounted his loss, his grief was renewed, and his tears fell fast as he spoke. Don Pablos, affected at beholding them, said to him: My dear Ambrosio, we must console ourselves for all the crosses we encounter during life. Your tears are useless; they cannot bring back your double-pistoles, which, if some scoundrel has laid hands on them, are indeed lost to you. But who knows? They may have fallen into the possession of some worthy man, who, when he learns that they belong to you, will hasten to restore them. You may yet see them again; live at least in that hope; and, in the meanwhile, added he, giving him ten of his own doubloons, take these, and come to me in a week from this time. He then gave his name and address, and went out overwhelmed with confusion at the benedictions heaped upon him by Ambrosio, who could not find words to express his gratitude. Such, for the most part, are your generous actions: you would find little cause for admiration, could you but penetrate their motives.

At the week's end, Piquillo, mindful of what Don Pablos had said to him, went to his house. Bahabon received him kindly, and said to him: My friend, from the excellent character I every-where hear of you, I have resolved to contribute all in my power to set you on your feet again: my interest and my purse shall not be wanting to effect this. As a beginning in the business, he continued, what think you I have already done? I am intimate with several persons as much distinguished by their charity as their station: these I have sought; and I have so effectually inspired them with compassion for your situation, that I have collected from them two hundred crowns, which I am about to give you. As he finished, he went into his cabinet, whence he returned in a moment with a linen bag, in which he had placed this sum in silver, and not in doubloons, for fear that the citizen, on receiving so many double-pistoles, should begin to suspect the truth; whereas, by this piece of management, he effectually secured his object, which was to make restitution in such a manner as might conciliate his reputation with his conscience.

Ambrosio, far from thinking that these crowns were a portion of his money restored, took them, in good faith, as the product of a collection made on his behalf; and, after repeatedly thanking Don Pablos for his kindness, he returned to his habitation, grateful to Heaven for having created a cavalier who took so much interest in his misfortunes.

On the following day he met one of his friends, who was in no better plight than himself, and who said to him: I leave Salamanca to-morrow, to set out for Cadiz, where I intend to embark in a vessel bound for New Spain. I have no great reason to be contented with my position here, and my heart tells me I shall be more fortunate in Mexico. If you will take my advice, you will go with me; that is, if you have but a hundred crowns. I should not have much trouble to find two hundred, replied Piquillo; and I would undertake this voyage willingly, were I sure to gain a living in the Indies. Thereupon, his friend boasted of the fertility of New Spain, and represented to him so many ways of there enriching himself, that Ambrosio, yielding to his powers of persuasion, now thought of nothing but the necessary preparations for setting out with his friend to Cadiz. But before he left Salamanca, he took care to address a letter to Bahabon, informing him that, finding a promising opportunity of going to the Indies, he was anxious to profit by it, in order to see whether Fortune could be induced to smile more kindly on him in another country than in his own; that he took the liberty of stating this to him, assuring him that he should gratefully preserve during life the remembrance of his goodness.

The departure of Ambrosio somewhat annoyed Don Pablos, as it disconcerted the plan he had formed for discharging the debt he owed him. But, when he reflected that the poor citizen might in a few years return to Salamanca, he became gradually reconciled to what had happened, and applied himself more diligently than ever to master the complications of civil and ecclesiastical legalities. So great was the progress he made, as much by the powers of his mind and its aptitude for his profession, as by the application I have spoken of, that he became a shining light in the university, of which he was ultimately chosen rector. In this position he was not contented to sustain its dignity by the extent and solidity of his scientific acquirements; he searched so deeply into his own heart, that he acquired all those habits of virtue which constitute a man of worth.

During his rectorship, he learned that in one of the prisons of Salamanca there was a young man accused of rape. On hearing this, he remembered that Piquillo's son had carried off a woman by force. Ile therefore made inquiries as to this prisoner, and, finding that it was indeed the son of Ambrosio, he generously undertook his defence. What deserves most to be admired in the science of the law, Signor Student, is, that it furnishes arms for offence and defence equally; and as our rector was an adroit fencer with these deadly weapons, he used them to good effect on this occasion in favour of the accused. It is true, that he joined to his legal skill the interest of his friends, and the most pressing solicitation, which, probably, as in most cases, did more than all the rest.

The guilty youth, therefore, came out of this affair whiter than snow. On going to thank his liberator, the latter said to him: It is out of respect for your father that I have rendered you this service. I love him; and to give you a further proof of my affection for him, if you will live in this town, and here lead the life of an honest man, I will take care of your welfare; if, on the contrary, you desire, like Ambrosio, to seek your fortune in the Indies, you may reckon on fifty pistoles for your outfit: I present them to you. The young Piquillo replied: Since I am honoured by the protection of your lordship, I should be wrong to quit a place where I enjoy so great an advantage. I will not leave Salamanca, and I promise you solemnly that I will conduct myself to your satisfaction. On this assurance the rector placed in his hands twenty pistoles, saying: Take this, my friend; embrace some honest profession; employ your time well, and rely on it that I will not abandon you.

Two months afterwards, it happened that the young Piquillo, who from time to time paid his respects to Don Pablos, one day appeared before him in tears. What ails you? asked Bahabon. Signor, replied the son of Ambrosio, I have just heard news which cuts me to the soul. My father has been taken by a corsair of Algiers, and is at this moment in chains: an old Salamancan, lately returned from Barbary, where he was ten years in captivity, and whom the fathers of Mercy have redeemed, told me not an hoursince that he had left Ambrosio in slavery. Alas! He added, striking his breast and tearing his hair, wretch that I am! it was my infamous behaviour which reduced my father to the necessity of burying his money, and afterwards to leave his country! It is I who have delivered him to the barbarian who loads him with fetters. Ah! Signor Don Pablos, why did you shield me from the vengeance of the law? Since you love my father, you should have avenged him, and have suffered me to expiate, by an ignominious death, the crime of having caused all his misfortunes.

These exclamations, evidently betokening an erring mind's return to virtue, together with the natural expressions of the young Piquillo's sincere grief, greatly affected the rector. My child, he said to him, I see with pleasure that you repent of your past transgressions. Dry up your tears: it is enough for me to know what has become of Ambrosio to give you assurance of beholding him again. His deliverance depends but on an easy ransom, which I shall cheerfully provide; and how great soever may have been the sufferings he has endured, I feel persuaded that on his return, to find in you a son restored to virtue, and filled with tenderness for him, he will not complain of the rigour of his destiny.

Don Pablos, by this assurance, dismissed the son of Ambrosio with a lightened heart; and, a few days afterwards, he set out for Madrid. On his arrival in this capital, he placed in the hands of the fathers of Mercy a purse containing a hundred pistoles, to which was attached a label bearing these words: This sum is given to the fathers of the Redemption, for the ransom of a poor citizen of Salamanca, named Ambrosio Piquillo, now captive in Algiers. The good monks, in their recent voyage, acting in pursuance of the directions of the rector, did not fail to purchase Ambrosio, and you beheld him in that slave whose tranquil air excited your attention.

In my opinion, said Don Cleophas, Bahabon has worthily repaid the debt he owed to this luckless citizen. Don Pablos, however, replied Asmodeus, thinks differently. He will not be contented until he has restored to him both principal and interest; the delicacy of his conscience even extends so far as to scruple at his retention of the wealth he has gained since he has become rector of the university; and when he sees Ambrosio, he intends saying to him: Ambrosio, my friend, do not regard me as your benefactor; you behold in me the scoundrel who disinterred the money you had buried in the wood. It is not enough that I restore to you the doubloons I robbed you of, since by their means it is that I have raised myself to the station I now enjoy: all that I possess belongs to you; I will retain so much alone as you shall please to . . . Asmodeus suddenly stopped in his relation; a trembling seized him as he spoke, and an unearthly paleness overspread his visage.

Why, what's the matter now? exclaimed the Student; what wonderful emotion agitates you thus, and chains your willing tongue? Ah! Signor Leandro, answered the Demon with tremulous voice, what misery for me! The magician who kept me prisoned in my bottle, has discovered that I am absent without leave; and prepares e'en now such mighty spiritings, to call me back to his laboratory, as I must fain obey. Alas! exclaimed Zambullo, quite affected, I am mortified beyond expression! What a loss am I about to suffer! Must we, then, my dear Asmodeus, separate for ever?

I trust not, replied the Devil. The magician may require some office of my ministry; and if I have  I fortune to assist him in his projects, perhaps, out I gratitude, he may restore me to liberty. Should that arrive, as I hope it may, rely on my rejoining you at once; on condition, however, that you reveal not to mortal ears what has this night passed between us. Should you be weak enough to confide this in any one, I warn you, continued Asmodeus emphatically, that you will never see me more.

I have one consolation in leaving you, he resumed, which is, that at least I have made your fortune. You will marry the lovely Seraphina, into whose bosom it has been my business to instil a doting passion for your lordship. The signor Don Pedro de Escolano, too, has made up his mind to bestow her hand upon you; and do you take care not to let so splendid a gift escape your own. But, mercy on me! he concluded, I hear already the potent master who constrains me; all Hell resounds with the echoes of the fearful words pronounced by this redoubtable magician: I dare not stay a moment longer. Farewell, my dear Zambullo! We may meet again. As he ceased, he embraced Don Cleophas, and, after having dropped the Student in his own apartment on his way to the laboratory, disappeared.

 

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