THE PRISON, AND THE PRISONERS
AND before I commence my memoirs, just observe the gaolers at the entrance of this horrible place. The poets of antiquity placed but one Cerberus at the gate of their hell: there are many more here, however, as you perceive. They are creatures who have lost all the feelings of humanity, if they ever possessed any;—the most malicious of my brethren could hardly replace one of them. But I observe that you are looking with horror on those cells whose only furniture consists of a wretched bed,—those fearful dungeons appear to you so many tombs. You are reasonably astonished at the misery you behold and you deplore the fate of those unhappy persons whom the law restrains: still, they are not all equally to be pitied; and I will enable you to distinguish between them.
To begin, in that large cell to the right are four men sleeping in two beds: one of them is an innkeeper accused of having poisoned a foreigner who died suddenly the other day in his house. They assert that the deceased owed his death to the quality of the wine he partook of; the host maintains, that the quantity, alone, killed him: and the accused will be believed, for the stranger was a German. Well! who is in the right, the innkeeper, or his accusers? said Don Cleophas. It is difficult to decide, replied the Devil. The wine was certainly drugged; but, i'faith, the Baron drank so largely, that the judges may for the nonce most conscientiously acquit a tavern-keeper of poisoning his customer.
His bedfellow is an assassin by profession;—not a soldier, but one of those scoundrels who are called Valientes, and who for four or five pistoles obligingly minister to all who will go to so great an expense for the purpose of secretly ridding themselves of some one to whom they owe an obligation. The third prisoner is a dancing-master, who has been teaching one of his female pupils a step not usually practised in genteel society; and the fourth is an unlucky gallant caught by the patrole in the act of entering, by the balcony, the apartment of a lady, whom he was about to console for the absence of her husband. He has only to declare the charitable object of his visit, to withdraw himself from the hands of justice; but he nobly prefers to suffer as a robber, rather than endanger the reputation of his mistress.
He is a model of discretion, indeed, said the Student; but it must be allowed that the cavaliers of Spain excel those of all other nations in affairs of gallantry: I would bet any thing that a Frenchman, for example, would never permit himself to be hanged under similar circumstances. And I would back you for that, answered the Devil; he would rather scale the balcony of a lady, of whose favours he could boast, in broad day-light, for the express purpose of proclaiming her disgrace.
In a cell near that of the four men I have just spoken of, continued Asmodeus, is a celebrated witch, who enjoys the reputation of doing all impossible things. By the power of her magic, old dowagers can find, they say, youthful admirers who will love them for their bloom; husbands are rendered faithful to their wives; and coquettes sincerely devoted to the rich fools who keep them: all which is, I need not tell you, absurd enough. Her only secret is in persuading people that she has one, and in making the most of that opinion. The Holy Office is jealous of the poor creature, so have called her to account; and she is likely to be burnt at the first auto de fé.
Under this cell, in a dark dungeon, lodges a young tavern keeper.—What! another? cried Leandro,—surely these people are going to poison all the world. Mine host, in this case, replied Asmodeus, will not suffer for his wine; it is for an illegal traffic in spirits that he was arrested yesterday, at the instance of the Holy Office also. I will explain the matter to you in a few words.
An old soldier, having risen by his courage, or rather by his patience, to the rank of serjeant, came to Madrid in search of recruits, and demanded a lodging in a tavern to which he was directed by his billet. The host told the serjeant that he certainly had spare rooms in his house, but that he could not think of putting him into any one of them, as they were haunted by a ghost who visited them nightly, and most shockingly ill-treated those who had the temerity to occupy them. The serjeant was not however to be daunted: Place me, said he, in any room you please; give me a light, some wine, a pipe and tobacco, and never trouble yourself for my safety; ghosts, depend upon it, have the highest respect for an old campaigner, whose hairs have whitened under arms.
As he appeared so resolute, they showed the old soldier to a chamber, gave him all he had required; and he began to smoke and drink at his ease. The hour of midnight sounded, but no ghost appeared to disturb the profound silence that reigned throughout the house; it seemed as though the spirit did indeed respect the valiant bearing of his new guest: but, between one and two o'clock, the wakeful sentinel was alarmed by a horrible din, as of rattling chains, and beheld, entering his apartment, a fearful spectre, clothed in black, and enveloped with iron chains. Our old smoker, not in the least alarmed at this spectacle, rose calmly from his chair, advanced towards the spirit, drew his sword, and gave him, with the flat side of it, a terrible blow on the head.
The phantom, unaccustomed to find such courageous tenants in his domain, and perceiving that the soldier was preparing to repeat the blow, fell upon his knees before him, crying out,—Pardon, signor serjeant; for the love of Heaven, do not kill me: have pity upon a poor devil, who throws himself at your feet to implore your clemency. I conjure you by St. James, who, like yourself, was a valiant soldier—— If you would preserve your life, interrupted the serjeant, tell me who you are, and what you do here. Speak the truth,—or by our Lady, I will cut you in two, as the knights of old split the giants they encountered. At these words, the spirit, finding with whom he had to do, saw that he had better lose no time in his explanation.
I am, said he, the head waiter of this inn; my name is William; and I love Juanilla, the only daughter of the landlord, and I do not love without return; but as her parents have a better match in view, my sweetheart and myself have arranged that, in order to compel them to choose me for their son-in-law, I shall nightly disguise myself in this manner. I clothe myself in a long black cloak, and put the jack-chain round my neck; and, thus equipped, I go about the house, from the cellar to the garret, making all the noise I can, of which you have heard a specimen. When I arrive at the door of my master and mistress's bedroom, I rattle my chains, and cry loud enough for them to hear,—Hope not to rest in peace, until you have married Juanilla to your head waiter, William!
After having pronounced these words in a hoarse and broken voice, I continue my clatter, and vanish by a window into the chamber where Juanilla sleeps alone, to inform her of what I have done. And now, signor serjeant, you may be assured that I have told you the whole truth. I know that after this confession you may ruin me, by informing my master of the affair; but if, instead of thus injuring me, you are inclined to serve me, I swear that my gratitude— Ah! interrupted the soldier, what service can you hope from me? You have only in the morning, replied the young man, to say that you have seen the ghost, and that it has so terribly frightened you—.What, the the deuce! frightened me! again interrupted the old warrior; do you expect that serjeant Hannibal Antonio Quebrantador is going to say that he was frightened? I would rather say that a hundred thousand devils had me— That is not absolutely necessary, in his turn interrupted William; and after all, it is of no great consequence what you say, provided that you but assist me in my design: only let me marry Juanilla, and see myself established by the assistance of her father, and I promise to keep open house for you all and your friends.
You are a regular seducer, master William, cried the soldier; you want to join me in a downright cheat: the matter may be serious, and you take it so lightly, as to make me, even, tremble for the consequences. But away with you! continue your infernal noise, and go to Juanilla to render your account: I will manage the rest.
Accordingly, on the following morning, the serjeant said to his host and hostess: Well! I have seen the ghost, conversed with it, and found it very civil and reasonable. I am, said he to me, the great-greatgrandfather of the master of this house. I had a daughter, whom I solemnly promised to the father of master William's grandfather: nevertheless, despite my pledge, I gave her hand to another, and died shortly afterwards. Ever since then, I have remained in purgatory, suffering for this perjury; and I shall continue in torment until some one of my descendants has married into the family of the head waiter. To accomplish this, I come here nightly; but it is in vain that I command them to unite Juanilla and young William,—the son of my grandchild turns a deaf ear to my entreaties, as well as his wife: but tell them, if you please, signor serjeant, that if they do not as I desire of them soon, I shall come to extremities with them, and will plague them both in a way they little dream of.
The host, who is simple enough, was somewhat shaken by this discourse; but the hostess, still more silly than her husband, was so much affected by it, that she fancied she already saw the ghost at her heels, and at once consented to the match, which took place on the following day. William shortly afterwards took an inn in another part of the town, and serjeant Quebrantador failed not to visit him frequently. The new tavern-keeper at first, out of gratitude, filled him with wine at discretion; which so pleased the old moustache, that he took all his friends to the house: he even there enrolled his recruits, and made them drunk at the host's expense.
At last, therefore, master William became tired of constantly wetting so many parching throats; but, on communicating his ideas upon the subject to the sergeant, the latter, with a disregard of his own infraction of their treaty which would have fitted him to command an army, was unjust enough to accuse mine host of ingratitude. William replied, the other rejoined, and the conversation ended, as their first had begun, with a blow of the serjeant's long sword on the thick head of the unfortunate tavern-keeper. Some passers-by naturally sided with the civilian: of these Quebrantador wounded three or four; and his wrath was yet unsatisfied, when he was suddenly assailed by a host of archers, who arrested him as a disturber of the peace. They conducted him to prison, where he declared all that I have told to you; and upon his deposition the ex-headwaiter was encaged also. His father-in-law demands a divorce; and the Holy Office, hearing that William has acquired some considerable property, has kindly undertaken to investigate the matter.
Egad! cried Don Cleophas, our holy inquisition is ever alive to its interests. No sooner do they light upon a profitable— Softly! interrupted the Devil, have a care how you launch out against that tribunal: for it, the very walls have ears. They echo even words that the mouth has never spoken; and for myself, I hardly dare to mention it without trembling.
Over the unfortunate William, in the first chamber to the left, are two men worthy of your pity; one of them is a youthful valet, whom his master's wife privately indulged with the use of more than her husband's clothes. One day, however, the husband surprised them together; when the lady immediately began crying out for help, and accused the valet of having violated her person. The poor fellow was arrested, of course; and, according to appearances, will be sacrificed to his mistress's reputation. His companion, still less guilty than the valet, is also about to pay the forfeit of his life. He was footman to a duchess who has been robbed of a valuable diamond, which they accuse him of having taken. He will be tomorrow put to the torture, until the rack wrings from him a confession of the theft; and in the meanwhile the lady's maid, who is the real culprit, and whom no one dares to suspect, will moralise with the duchess on the depravity of modern servants.
Ah! Signor Asmodeus, said Leandro, let not the wretched footman perish, I entreat you! His innocence interests me for his life. Save him, by your power, from the unjust and cruel torture they would inflict he deserves— You cannot expect it! Signor Student, interrupted the Demon. What! do you suppose that I would prevent injustice?—that I would snatch the guiltless from destruction? As well might you pray an attorney to desist from the ruin of the widow or the orphan!
Oh! and it please you, added the Devil, expect not of me that which is contrary to my interest, unless indeed it be of great advantage to yourself. Besides, were I willing to deliver yonder prisoner from bondage, how could I effect it? How! repeated Zambullo, do you mean to say that you have not the power so to do? Certainly, replied the Cripple. Had you read the Enchiridion, or Albertus Magnus, you would know that neither I, nor any of my brethren, can liberate a prisoner from his cell: even I, were I so unfortunate as to be within the talons of the law, could only hope to escape by bribing my jailor, or my judges.
In the next room, on the same side, lodges a surgeon convicted of having, in a fit of jealousy, drained the warm blood which wantoned in the veins of his handsome wife, after the model of the death of Seneca. He was yesterday tenderly questioned on the rack; and having confessed the crime of which he was accused, he let out the secrets of his profession, by detailing a very novel and interesting mode which he had especially adopted for increasing his practice. He stated that he had been in the habit of wounding persons in the street with a bayonet, and of then lancing himself into his house by a backdoor. Of course the patient used to call out lustily at this unexpected operation; and as the neighbours flocked around at his cries, the surgeon, mingling with the crowd, and finding a man bathed in his blood, very charitably had him carried to his shop, and dressed the wound with the same hand that had given it.
Although the rascally practitioner has confessed to this atrocity, for which a thousand deaths were not one too many, he still hopes that his life will be spared; and it is not improbable that it may be so, seeing that he is related to the lady who has the honour of clouting the little princes of Spain: besides which, he is the inventor of a marvellous wash, of which the secret would die with him, and which has the virtues of whitening the skin, and of giving to the wrinkled front the juvenile appearance of fifteen. Now, as this incomparable water serves as the fountain of youth to three ladies of the palace, who have united their efforts to save him, he relies so confidently on their credit at court, or rather on that of his wash, that he sleeps tranquilly in the soothing hope that he will awaken to the agreeable intelligence of his pardon.
I perceive, upon a bed in the same room, said the Student, another man, who appears to me to be sleeping peaceably enough; his business is not a very bad one, I expect. It is a very ticklish affair, though, replied the Demon. That cavalier is a gentleman of Biscay, who has enriched himself by the fire of a carbine: I will tell you how. About a fortnight ago, shooting in a forest with his elder and only brother, who was in possession of a large estate, he killed him, by mistake, instead of a partridge. A very lucky mistake, that, cried Don Cleophas, laughing, for a younger son. Yes, replied Asmodeus; but a collateral branch of the family, the members of which would have no objection to see the deceased's estate fall within their line, have disinterestedly prosecuted his murderer on the charge of having designedly shot him, that he might succeed to his property. The accused, however, immediately rendered himself into the hands of justice; and he appears to be so deeply afflicted by the death of his brother, that they can scarcely imagine him guilty of deliberately taking his life. And has he really nothing with which to reproach himself, beyond his fatal awkwardness? asked Leandro. No, replied Asmodeus, his design was innocent enough; but when an elder son is in possession of all the wealth of his family, I should certainly not advise him to make a shooting party in company with his younger brother.
Observe attentively those two youths who, in a retreat near to that of the fatal shot, are conversing as merrily as though they were at liberty. They are a pair of veritable picaros; and there is one, especially, who may some day amuse the public with one of those details of roguery, which never fail to delight it. He is a modern Guzman d'Alfarache: it is he who wears the brown velvet vest, and has a plume of feathers in his hat.
Not three months since, in this very town, he was page to the Count d'Onato; and he would still have been in the suite of that nobleman but for a little piece of rascality, which gained for him his present lodging, and which I will narrate to you.
One day, this youth, whose name is Domingo, received a hundred lashes, which the Count's intendant, otherwise governor of the pages, directed to be bestowed on him as a reward for some trick which appeared to deserve it. Domingo was, however, impatient under such a load of obligation; and so, proudly resolved to return it on the first opportunity. He had remarked more than once that the Signor Don Como, as the intendant styled himself, delighted to wash his hands with orange-flower water, and to anoint himself with pastes redolent of the pink or jessamine; that he was more careful of his person than an old coquette, and that, in short, he was one of those coxcombs who imagine that no woman of taste can behold them without loving them. These observations inspired Domingo with a scheme for revenge, which he communicated to a young waiting-woman who resided in the neighbourhood, whose assistance he required for the execution of his project, and in whose favour he stood so high that she had none left to grant him.
This damsel, called Floretta, in order to have the pleasure of an unrestrained intercourse with the page, introduced him as her cousin into the house of Donna Luziana, her mistress, whose father was at that time absent from Madrid. The cunning Domingo, after having informed his pretended relative of her part in his design, going one morning into the apartment of Don Como, found my gentleman trying on a new dress, looking with complacency at his figure in a mirror, and evidently by no means displeased with its reflection. The page affected to be struck with admiration of this Narcissus, and exclaimed, in well-feigned transport: Upon my honour, Signor Don Como, you have the air of royalty itself. I see, daily, nobles richly clad; but notwithstanding the elegance and splendour of their vestments, I discern in none that dignity of mien which distinguishes you. I will not assert, added he, that with the respect I have for you, I may not regard you with eyes somewhat prepossessed in your favour; but this I can say, that I know of no cavalier at court whom you would not totally eclipse.
The intendant smiled at this discourse, which offered so agreeable a tribute to his vanity, and graciously replied:—You flatter me, my friend; or rather, as you say, you esteem me so highly, that your friendship endows me with graces that nature has refused. I cannot think so, replied the parasite; for there is no one who does not speak of you in terms which I dare not repeat, lest you should think I flattered you indeed. I wish you had heard what was said to me yesterday by one of my cousins, who is in the service of a lady of quality.
Don Como failed not to ask what it was that Domingo's cousin had said of him. Why, replied the page, I ought hardly to tell you; but she enlarged on the majesty of your figure,—on the charms which are every where visible in your person; and, what is better, she told me, in confidence, that the greatest delight of Donna Luziana, her mistress, is to watch for your passing her house, and to feast her eyes with beholding you.
And who is this lady? said the intendant,—where does she live? What! replied Domingo; do you not know the only daughter of general Don Fernando, our neighbour? Ah! to be sure I do, replied Don Como: I remember to have frequently heard of the wealth and surpassing beauty of this Luziana; she is not to be despised. But is it possible that I can have attracted her attention? Can you doubt it! exclaimed the page. Besides, my own cousin told me of the fact; and, though in a humble situation, she is incapable of falsehood, and I would answer for her word with my life. In that case, said the intendant, I should be glad to have a little private conversation with your relative, to engage her in my interest by the customary trifling presents to which her situation entitles her; and if she should advise me to pay court to her mistress, egad! I'll try my fortune. And why not? It is true that there is some difference between my rank and that of Don Fernando; but still I am a gentleman, and have a good four hundred ducats per annum. There are more extraordinary matches than this made every day.
The page fortified his governor in his resolution, and procured for him an interview with his cousin; who, finding the intendant disposed to swallow any thing, assured him of her mistress's inclination in his favour. You have no idea, said she, how often Luziana has questioned me as to the handsome cavalier who had made such an impression on her heart; and you may be sure that my replies were neither unpleasing to her, nor unfavourable to you: in short, Signor, she loves you; and you have everything to hope from her affection. Seek then her hand, openly and without hesitation; justify her secret passion, by showing that she loves a cavalier, not only the most charming and well-made, but the most gallant, of all Madrid. Give her, in serenades, the delightful assurance that your heart responds to hers; and rely on me to picture your devotion in the most pleasing colours,—an office as agreeable to myself as I hope it will be useful to you. Don Como, transported with joy at finding the maid so warmly disposed to serve him, almost stifled her with his caresses; and, placing a worthless ring upon her finger, which he had liberally purchased of a Jew, and which had served the same purpose fifty times, he exclaimed,—Dearest Floretta! accept this ring as an earnest of my gratitude, until I have an opportunity of more worthily recompensing the favours you are about to shower on me.
Never was lover in greater ecstasy than was our intendant at the result of his conversation with Floretta; and as he was indebted to Domingo for this happiness, the page not only received his thanks, but was rewarded by the magnificent present of a pair of silk stockings, some shirts trimmed with lace, and a promise of the Signor's losing no opportunity which might offer for promoting his interests. My dear friend, said he, on leaving Floretta, what is your opinion of the steps I should take in this matter? Do you think I should commence with an impassioned and sublime epistle to my Luziana? Decidedly, replied the page. Make her a declaration of your love in fitting terms: I have a presentiment that it will not be badly received. Well! I think so too, replied the intendant; at all events, I will try the experiment. Accordingly, down he sat to compose the missive; and after having torn in pieces at least fifty scrawls, which would have made the fortune of a German romancist, he at last succeeded in composing a billet-doux which satisfied his scruples. It was conceived in the following grandiloquent and affecting terms:—
"Months have rolled like centuries, oh! lovely Luziana, since, inspired by the renown which every where proclaims your perfections, my too-sensible soul has yielded to the flames of love, to burn for you alone! My heart consumed in secret, a willing prey to the fires that devoured me; and I never dared proclaim my sufferings to you, much less to seek for consolation. But a happy chance has recently revealed the soothing secret that, from behind the jealous screen which conceals your celestial charms from the eyes of men, you sometimes deign to look with pity on me as I pass;—that, directed by the divinity who guards you, and the destiny of your star,—oh, happy star for me!—you even think of me with kindness. I hasten then in all humility to consecrate my life unto your service; and should I be so fortunate as to obtain permission so to do, to renounce in your favour all ladies past, or present, or to come.
"DON COMO DE LA HIGUERA."
Domingo and Floretta were not a little amused, on the receipt of this letter, at the expense of the poor intendant. But, not contented with the folly they had already induced him to commit, they set their wits to work to compose an answer to the billet which should be sufficiently tender. This done, it was copied by Floretta, and delivered by the page on the following day to Don Como. It was in these words:—
"I know not who can have so well informed you of my secret sentiments. Some one has however betrayed me. Still, I pardon the treachery, since to it I owe an avowal of your love. I see many pass before my window, but I look with pleasure upon you alone; and I am too happy to find that I am dear to you. Perhaps I am wrong to feel this delight, and still more wrong to dare to tell you so. If it be a fault in me, your virtues have caused, and must excuse it.
" DONNA LUZIANA."
Although this letter was rather too warm for the daughter of a Spanish general, as its authors had not thought much about ceremony, the presumptuous Don Como received it without suspicion. He thought sufficiently well of himself to imagine that for him a lady might well forget somewhat of the usages of society. Ah! Domingo, he cried with an air of triumph, after having read the letter aloud, you see, my friend, that the fish bites. Congratulate me! I shall soon be son-in-law to Don Fernando, or my name's not Don Como de la Higuera.
It is beyond a doubt, said the rascally confidant; you seem to have made a tremendous impression on the girl. But, à-propos, added he, I must not forget to tell you that my cousin particularly desired me to say, that to-morrow, at latest, you should serenade your mistress, in order to complete her infatuation. I will on no account omit it, replied the intendant. You may assure your cousin that I will in all things follow her advice; and that to-morrow, without fail, in the middle of the night, the street shall resound with one of the most gallant concerts that was ever heard in Madrid. And away went the intendant to secure the assistance of a celebrated musician, to whom he communicated his project, and whom he charged with the care of its execution.
In the meanwhile, Floretta, informed of the intended serenade, and finding her mistress in a desirable mood, said to her,—Madam, I am preparing for you an agreeable diversion. What may that be? asked Luziana. Why, replied the waiting-maid, laughing until the tears ran from her eyes, there is much to amuse you. An original, one Don Como, governor of the pages of the Count d'Onato, has taken it into his head to choose you as the sovereign lady of his thoughts; and he intends, to—morrow, in order that you may no longer remain ignorant of his devotion, to gratify you with the sound of music and sweet voices, in an evening serenade. Donna Luziana, whose composition was none of the most grave, and who was far from foreseeing an unpleasant consequence to her in the gallantries of the intendant, instead of regarding the matter seriously, was delighted at the anticipated tribute to her charms; and thus, without knowing what she did, assisted in confirming the amorous Don Como in an illusion, of which it would have shocked her greatly to have been supposed designedly the author.
The night came, and with it appeared, before the balcony of the lady, two carriages, from which descended the gallant Como and his confidant, accompanied by six musicians, vocal and instrumental, who commenced a very decent concert, which lasted for a considerable time. They performed many of the newest airs, and sang all the songs in vogue whose verses told the power of love in uniting hearts despite the obstacles of fortune, and the inequality of rank; while at every couplet, which the general's daughter perceived to be directed to herself, her merriment knew no bounds:
When the serenade was over, and the performers had departed in the carriages which brought them, the crowd which the music had attracted dispersed, and our lover remained in the street with Domingo alone. He approached the balcony, whence, in a few minutes, the servant-girl, with her mistress's permission, said to him in a feigned voice: Is that you, Signor Don Como? Who asks me that question? replied the Don in a languishing tone. It is, rejoined the girl, Donna Luziana, who would know if the concert she has heard but now, is an offering of your gallantry to her. It is, exclaimed the intendant, but a shadow of those festivals my love prepares for her who is the marvel of our days, if she will deign receive them from a lover who is sacrificed on the altar of her beauty.
Illustration: "Is that you, Signor Don Como?"
At this brilliant metaphor, Luziana with difficulty restrained her laughter; but, coming forward and putting her head partially out of the little window from which her maid had addressed him, she said to the intendant, as seriously as possible: Signor Don Como, you are, I perceive, no novice in the art of love; in you, each gallant cavalier who would gain his lady's heart, may find a model for his conduct. I thank you for your serenade, and feel flattered by your attention; but, added she, retire now, lest we should be observed: another time we may, unrestrained, indulge in further conversation. As she finished these words, she closed the window, leaving the intendant in the street, highly delighted at the kindness she had displayed for him, and the page greatly astonished that the lady had herself undertaken a part in the comedy.
This little fête, including the carriages and the enormous quantity of wine which its bibulous performers had consumed, cost Don Como upwards of a hundred ducats; and, two days afterwards, his confidant engaged him in a further outlay, in the following manner. Having learned that, on the sight of St. John,—a night so celebrated in this city,—Floretta was about to join the damsels of her class at the fiesta del sotillo, Domingo undertook to enliven this dance by a magnificent breakfast at the intendant's expense.
Accordingly, Signor Don Como, said he, on the eve of this festival, you are aware of what takes place to-morrow. I thought, however, you would like to be informed that Donna Luziana intends to repair at break of day to the banks of the Mançanarez, to witness the sotillo. I need say no more to the Corypheus of gallant cavaliers:—you are not the man to neglect so favourable an opportunity, and I am certain that your mistress and her companions will not fare badly to-morrow. Of that you may be sure, replied the governor, and I am obliged to you for informing me of her intention: you shall see if I know how to kick the ball as it bounds. In effect, very early on the following day, four of the Count's servants, conducted by Domingo, and loaded with every description of cold meat, cooked in all fashions, with an infinite number of small loaves and bottles of delicious wines, arrived on the bank of the river, where Floretta and her companions were dancing, like nymphs before the golden throne of Aurora.
Had that goddess herself appeared, she would hardly have been more cordially greeted than were the wines and cold collation which the page brought on the part of Don Como; offering, as they did, so agreeable a repast after the delightful fatigues of the dance, which they so agreeably interrupted. The damsels seated themselves on the velvet turf of the meadow, and lost no time in paying due honour to the feast, the while laughing immoderately at the dupe who gave it; for Domingo's kind cousin had not omitted to inform them of their benefactor, and his amorous adventure.
While they were in the midst of their rejoicing and their breakfast, they perceived the squire, richly dressed, and mounted on one of the Count's steeds, which was ambling towards them. He rode up to his confidant, and gaily saluted the ladies, who rose at his approach, and politely thanked him for his generosity. His eyes wandered among the company in search of Donna Luziana, as he was anxious to deliver himself of a speech, glittering with compliments as the sward beneath his horse's feet with flowers, and which he had composed during his ride in honour of his mistress. Great therefore was his grief, when Floretta, taking him aside, informed him that a slight indisposition had prevented her lady from joining in the festival. The Don, with a proper display of sensibility on the occasion, was particular in his inquiries as to the ailment; but when the girl informed him that Luziana suffered from a cold, caught on the previous night from exposure in the balcony without her veil, talking of him and of his serenade, he was not without consolation to find so sad an accident proceeded from a cause so good. He therefore contented himself with the usual expressions of condolence; and, after praying Floretta to continue to interest herself in his behalf with his mistress, took the road to his dwelling, rejoicing more and more at his great good fortune.
About this time, the intendant received a bill of exchange for a thousand crowns from Andalusia, as his portion of the effects of one of his uncles, who had died at Seville. On turning this bill into cash, he happened to count it over and place it in a coffer in the presence of Domingo, who took so lively an interest in the operation, that, in order to repeat it, he was tempted to appropriate, if possible, the shining gold; and resolved, if successful in so doing, to escape with it into Portugal. He related his project in confidence to Floretta, and even proposed to her that she should accompany him. Now this proposition was undoubtedly one which most people would think worthy of reflection; but the girl, as interested in the matter as the page, accepted it without a moment's hesitation. Consequently, one night, while the intendant was labouring in his cabinet to compose a touching letter to his mistress, Domingo found means to open the coffer in which the money was confined, to release it from its captivity, and to hasten with the enfranchised crowns into the street. He instantly repaired to the balcony of Luziana, and, as a signal which had been agreed upon between him and his confederate, commenced a caterwauling which disturbed the gravity of all the tabbies in the neighbourhood. The girl, ready to wander with him through the world, promptly responded to the amatory call; and in a few minutes they were on the high road from Madrid, together.
Illustration: He related his project in confidence to Floretta, and even proposed to her that she should accompany him.
They reckoned that, in the event of pursuit, they would have plenty of time to gain the frontiers of Portugal before they could be overtaken; but, unfortunately for them, Don Como discovered the theft, and the flight of his confidant, that very night. He gave immediate information to the police, whose officers were without loss of time dispersed on all sides in pursuit of the fugitives, and Domingo was taken, near Zebreros, in company with his lady. They were quickly brought back to Madrid: the girl has been sent to join our friend Marcella in las Arrepentidas, and Domingo is, as you perceive, as gay as ever within the walls of this prison.
And the intendant, added Don Cleophas, has saved his golden crowns; as of course they have been restored to him. Of course they have not, replied the Devil: the thousand pieces are the proof of the robbery, and the officers of justice understand their business too well to give them up; so that Don Como, whose loving history is spread throughout Madrid, has lost his money and his mistress, and is laughed at by every body into the bargain.
Domingo and his fellow-prisoner have for a neighbour, continued the Cripple, a young Castilian who has been arrested for having, in the presence of too many witnesses, struck his father. Oh heaven! cried Leandro, is it possible? Lives there a child, however lost to shame, who can raise his impious hand against a father? Oh yes, said the Demon: yon Castilian is not without example; and I will cite you one whose history is rather remarkable. Under the reign of Don Pedro I., surnamed the Just and the Cruel, the eighth king of Portugal, a youth of twenty fell into the hands of justice for the same crime. Don Pedro, as much surprised as yourself at the novelty of the case, was curious to interrogate the mother of the criminal, and he examined her so adroitly as to obtain from her a confession, that the real father of this child was a certain reverend prelate. If the Castilian's judges were discreet enough to interrogate his mother with equal address, it is probable that it would be attended with a similar avowal.
Cast your eyes into a large dungeon beneath the prisoners I have just pointed out to you, and observe what is passing there. Do you see those three ill-looking rascals? They are highwaymen. See! they are effecting their escape. Some one has furnished them with a dumb-file, in a loaf of bread; and they have already cut through one of the thick bars of a window, by which they may gain the courtyard, and from thence the street. They have been more than ten months in prison, and it is upwards of eight since they should have received the public recompense due to their exploits; but, thanks to the tardiness of justice, they are about to begin again their career of robbery and murder.
And now look into that low-roofed cell where you perceive twenty or thirty men, some of them stretched upon straw. They are mostly pickpockets, shoplifters, or professors of other branches of the Spartan craft. Do you observe five or six of them worrying a sort of labourer, who was introduced to their society this morning for having wounded an alguazil with a stone? And what are they thrashing him for? asked Zambullo. Why, replied Asmodeus, because he has not paid his entrance-fees. But, added he, let us leave this horrible place, and the miserable wretches it contains; they are not in my vocation: we will go elsewhere, in search of objects less disgusting.