Prev | Next | Contents
COMMONLY CALLED THE DOGS OF MAHUDES.
Scip. Berganza, my friend, let us leave our watch over the hospital to-night, and retire to this lonely place and these mats, where, without being noticed, we may enjoy that unexampled favour which heaven has bestowed on us both at the same moment.
Berg. Brother Scipio, I hear you speak, and know that I am speaking to you; yet cannot I believe, so much does it seem to me to pass the bounds of nature.
Scip. That is true, Berganza; and what makes the miracle greater is, that we not only speak but hold intelligent discourse, as though we had souls capable of reason; whereas we are so far from having it, that the difference between brutes and man consists in this, that man is a rational animal and the brute is irrational.
Berg. I hear all you say, Scipio; and that you say it, and that I hear it, causes me fresh admiration and wonder. It is very true that in the course of my life I have many a time heard tell of our great endowments, insomuch that some, it appears, have been disposed to think that we possess a natural instinct, so vivid and acute in many things that it gives signs and tokens little short of demonstrating that we have a certain sort of understanding capable of reason.
Scip. What I have heard highly extolled is our strong memory, our gratitude, and great fidelity; so that it is usual to depict us as symbols of friendship. Thus you will have seen (if it has ever come under your notice) that, on the alabaster tombs, on which are represented the figures of those interred in them, when they are husband and wife, a figure of a dog is placed between the pair at their feet, in token that in life their affection and fidelity to each other was inviolable,
Berg. I know that there have been grateful dogs who have cast themselves into the same grave with the bodies of their deceased masters; others have stood over the graves in which their lords were buried without quitting them or taking food till they died. I know, likewise, that next to the elephant the dog holds the first place in the way of appearing to possess understanding, then the horse, and last the ape.
Scip. True; but you will surely confess that you never saw or heard tell of any elephant, dog, horse, or monkey having talked: hence I infer, that this fact of our coming by the gift of speech so unexpectedly falls within the list of those things which are called portents, the appearance of which indicates, as experience testifies, that some great calamity threatens the nations.
Berg. That being so I can readily enough set down as a portentous token what I heard a student say the other day as I passed through Alcala de Henares.
Scip. What was that?
Berg. That of five thousand students this year attending the university--two thousand are studying medicine.
Scip. And what do you infer from that?
Berg. I infer either that those two thousand doctors will have patients to treat, and that would be a woful thing, or that they must die of hunger.
Scip. Be that as it may, let us talk, portent or no portent; for what heaven has ordained to happen, no human diligence or wit can prevent. Nor is it needful that we should fall to disputing as to the how or the why we talk. Better will it be to make the best of this good clay or good night at home; and since we enjoy it so much on these mats, and know not how long this good fortune of ours may last, let us take advantage of it and talk all night, without suffering sleep to deprive us of a pleasure which I, for my part, have so long desired.
Berg. And I, too; for ever since I had strength enough to gnaw a bone I have longed for the power of speech, that I might utter a multitude of things I had laid up in my memory, and which lay there so long that they were growing musty or almost forgotten. Now, however, that I see myself so unexpectedly enriched with this divine gift of speech, I intend to enjoy it and avail myself of it as much as I can, taking pains to say everything I can recollect, though it be confusedly and helter-skelter, not knowing when this blessing, which I regard as a loan, shall be reclaimed from me.
Scip. Let us proceed in this manner, friend Berganza: to-night you shall relate the history of your life to me, and the perils through which you have passed to the present hour; and to-morrow night, if we still have speech, I will recount mine to you; for it will be better to spend the time in narrating our own lives than in trying to know those of others.
Berg. I have ever looked upon you, Scipio, as a discreet dog and a friend, and now I do so more than ever, since, as a friend, you desire to tell me your adventures and know mine; and, as a discreet dog, you apportion the time in which we may narrate them. But first observe whether any one overhears us.
Scip. No one, I believe; since hereabouts there is a soldier going through a sweating-course; but at this time of night he will be more disposed to sleep than to listen to anything.
Berg. Since then we can speak so securely, hearken; and if I tire you with what I say, either check me or bid me hold my tongue.
Scip. Talk till dawn, or till we are heard, and I will listen to you with very great pleasure, without interrupting you, unless I see it to be necessary.
Berg. It appears to me that the first time I saw the sun was in Seville, in its slaughter-houses, which were outside the Puerta do la Carne; wence I should imagine (were it not for what I shall afterwards tell you) that my progenitors were some of those mastiff's which are bred by those ministers of confusion who are called butchers. The first I knew for a master, was one Nicholas the Pugnosed, a stout, thick-set, passionate fellow, as all butchers are. This Nicholas taught me and other whelps to run at bulls in company with old dogs and catch them by the ears. With great ease I became an eagle among my fellows in this respect.
Scip. I do not wonder, Berganza, that ill-doing is so easily learned, since it comes by a natural obliquity.
Berg. What can I say to you, brother Scipio, of what I saw in those slaughter-houses, and the enormous things that were done in them? In the first place, you must understand that all who work in them, from the lowest to the highest, are people without conscience or humanity, fearing neither the king nor his justice; most of them living in concubinage; carrion birds of prey; maintaining themselves and their doxies by what they steal. On all flesh days, a great number of wenches and young chaps assemble in the slaughtering place before dawn, all of them with bags which come empty and go away full of pieces of meat. Not a beast is killed out of which these people do not take tithes, and that of the choicest and most savoury pickings. The masters trust implicitly in these honest folk, not with the hope that they will not rob them (for that is impossible), but that they may use their knives with some moderation. But what struck me as the worst thing of all, was that these butchers make no more of killing a man than a cow. They will quarrel for straws, and stick a knife into a person's body as readily as they would fell an ox. It is a rare thing for a day to pass without brawls and bloodshed, and even murder. They all pique themselves on being men of mettle, and they observe, too, some punctilios of the bravo; there is not one of them but has his guardian angel in the Plaza de San Francesco, whom he propitiates with sirloins, and beef tongues.
Scip. If you mean to dwell at such length, friend Berganza, on the characteristics and faults of all the masters you have had, we had better pray to heaven to grant us the gift of speech for a year; and even then I fear, at the rate you are going, you will not get through half your story. One thing I beg to remark to you, of which you will see proof when I relate my own adventures; and that is, that some stories are pleasing in themselves, and others from the manner in which they are told; I mean that there are some which give satisfaction, though they are told without preambles and verbal adornments; while others require to be decked in that way and set off by expressive play of features, hands, and voice; whereby, instead of flat and insipid, they become pointed and agreeable. Do not forget this hint, but profit by it in what you are about to say.
Berg. I will do so, if I can, and if I am not hindered by the great temptation I feel to speak; though, indeed, it appears to me that I shall have the greatest difficulty in constraining myself to moderation.
Scip. Be wary with your tongue, for from that member flow the greatest ills of human life.
Berg. Well, then, to go on with my story, my master taught me to carry a basket in my mouth, and to defend it against any one who should attempt to take it from me. He also made me acquainted with the house in which his mistress lived, and thereby spared her servant the trouble of coming to the slaughter-house, for I used to carry to her the pieces of meat he had stolen over night. Once as I was going along on this errand in the gray of the morning, I heard some one calling me by name from a window. Looking up I saw an extremely pretty girl; she came down to the street door, and began to call me again. I went up to her to see what she wanted of me; and what was it but to take away the meat I was carrying in the basket and put an old clog in its place? "Be off with you," she said, when she had done so; "and tell Nicholas the Pugnosed, your master, not to put trust in brutes." I might easily have made her give up what she had taken from me; but I would not put a cruel tooth on those delicate white hands.
Scip. You did quite right; for it is the prerogative of beauty always to be held in respect.
Berg. Well, I went back to my master without the meat and with the old clog. It struck him that I had come back very soon, and seeing the clog, he guessed the trick, snatched up a knife, and flung it at me; and if I had not leaped aside, you would not now be listening to my story. I took to my heels, and was off like a shot behind St. Bernard's, away over the fields, without stopping to think whither my luck would lead me. That night I slept under the open sky, and the following day I chanced to fall in with a flock of sheep. The moment I saw it, I felt that I had found the very thing that suited me, since it appeared to me to be the natural and proper duty of dogs to guard the fold, that being an office which involves the great virtue of protecting and defending the lowly and the weak against the proud and mighty. One of the three shepherds who were with the flock immediately called me to him, and I, who desired nothing better, went up at once to him, lowering my head and wagging my tail. He passed his hand along my back, opened my mouth, examined my fangs, ascertained my age, and told his master that I had all the works and tokens of a dog of good breed. Just then up came the owner of the flock on a gray mare with lance and surge, so that he looked more a coast-guard than a sheep master.
"What dog is that!" said he to the shepherd; "he seems a good one." "You may well say that," replied the man; "for I have examined him closely, and there is not a mark about him but shows that he must be of the right sort. He came here just now; I don't know whose he is, but I know that he does not belong to any of the flocks hereabouts."
"If that be so," said the master, "put on him the collar that belonged to the dog that is dead, and give him the same rations as the rest, treat him kindly that he may take a liking to the fold, and remain with it henceforth." So saying he went away, and the shepherd put on my neck a collar set with steel points, after first giving me a great mess of bread sopped in milk in a trough. At the same time I had a name bestowed on me, which was Barcino. I liked my second master, and my new duty very well; I was careful and diligent in watching the flock, and never quitted it except in the afternoons, when I went to repose under the shade of some tree, or rock, or bank, or by the margin of one of the many streams that watered the country. Nor did I spend those leisure hours idly, but employed them in calling many things to mind, especially the life I had led in the slaughter-house, and also that of my master and all his fellows, who were bound to satisfy the inordinate humours of their mistresses. O how many things I could tell you of that I learned in the school of that she-butcher, my master's lady; but I must pass them over, lest you should think me tedious and censorious.
Scip. I have heard that it was a saying of a great poet among the ancients, that it was a difficult thing to write satires. I consent that you put some point into your remarks, but not to the drawing of blood. You may hit lightly, but not wound or kill; for sarcasm, though it make many laugh, is not good if it mortally wounds one; and if you can please without it, I shall think you more discreet.
Berg. I will take your advice, and I earnestly long for the time when you will relate your own adventures; for seeing how judiciously you correct the faults into which I fall in my narrative, I may well expect that your own will be delivered in a manner equally instructive and delightful. But to take up the broken thread of my story, I say that in those hours of silence and solitude, it occurred to me among other things, that there could be no truth in what I had heard tell of the life of shepherds--of those, at least, about whom my master's lady used to read, when I went to her house, in certain books, all treating of shepherds and shepherdesses; and telling how they passed their whole life in singing and playing on pipes and rebecks, and other old fashioned instruments. I remember her reading how the shepherd of Anfriso sang the praises of the peerless Belisarda, and that there was not a tree on all the mountains of Arcadia on whose trunk he had not sat and sung from the moment Sol quitted the arms of Aurora, till he threw himself into those of Thetis, and that even after black night had spread its murky wings over the face of the earth, he did not cease his melodious complaints. I did not forget the shepherd Elicio, more enamoured than bold, of whom it was said, that without attending to his own loves or his flock, he entered into others' griefs; nor the great shepherd Filida, unique painter of a single portrait, who was more faithful than happy; nor the anguish of Sireno and the remorse of Diana, and how she thanked God and the sage Felicia, who, with her enchanted water, undid that maze of entanglements and difficulties. I bethought me of many other tales of the same sort, but they were not worthy of being remembered.
The habits and occupations of my masters, and the rest of the shepherds in that quarter, were very different from those of the shepherds in the books. If mine sang, it was no tuneful and finely composed strains, but very rude and vulgar songs, to the accompaniment not of pipes and rebecks, but to that of one crook knocked against another, or of bits of tile jingled between the fingers, and sung with voices not melodious and tender, but so coarse and out of tune, that whether singly or in chorus, they seemed to be howling or grunting. They passed the greater part of the day in hunting up their fleas or mending their brogues; and none of them were named Amarillis, Filida, Galatea, or Diana; nor were there any Lisardos, Lausos, Jacintos, or Riselos; but all were Antones, Domingos, Pablos, or Llorentes. This led me to conclude that all those books about pastoral life are only fictions ingeniously written for the amusement of the idle, and that there is not a word of truth in them; for, were it otherwise, there would have remained among my shepherds some trace of that happy life of yore, with its pleasant meads, spacious groves, sacred mountains, handsome gardens, clear streams and crystal fountains, its ardent but no less decorous love-descants, with here the shepherd, there the shepherdess all woe-begone, and the air made vocal everywhere with flutes and pipes and flageolets.
Scip. Enough, Berganza; get back into your road, and trot on.
Berg. I am much obliged to you, friend Scipio; for, but for your hint, I was getting so warm upon the scent, that I should not have stopped till I had given you one whole specimen of those books that had so deceived me. But a time will come when I shall discuss the whole matter more fully and more opportunely than now.
Scip. Look to your feet, and don't run after your tail, that is to say, recollect that you are an animal devoid of reason; or if you seem at present to have a little of it, we are already agreed that this is a supernatural and altogether unparalleled circumstance.
Berg. That would be all very well if I were still in my pristine state of ignorance; but now that I bethink me of what I should have mentioned to you in the beginning of our conversation, I not only cease to wonder that I speak, but I am terrified at the thought of leaving off.
Scip. Can you not tell me that something now that you recollect it?
Berg. It was a certain affair that occurred to me with a sorntess, a disciple of la Camacha de Montilla.
Scip. Let me hear it now, before you proceed with the story of your life.
Berg. No, not till the proper time. Have patience and listen to the recital of my adventures in the order they occurred, for they will afford you more pleasure in that way.
Scip. Very well; tell me what you will and how you will, but be brief.
Berg. I say, then, that I was pleased with my duty as a guardian of the flock, for it seemed to me that in that way I ate the bread of industry, and that sloth, the root and mother of all vices, came not nigh me; for if I rested by day, I never slept at night, the wolves continually assailing us and calling us to arms. The instant the shepherds said to me, "The wolf! the wolf! at him, Barcino," I dashed forward before all the other dogs, in the direction pointed out to me by the shepherds. I scoured the valleys, searched the mountains, beat the thickets, leaped the gullies, crossed the roads, and on the morning returned to the fold without having caught the wolf or seen a glimpse of him, panting, weary, all scratched and torn, and my feet cut with splinters; and I found in the fold either a ewe or a wether slaughtered and half eaten by the wolf. It vexed me desperately to see of what little avail were all my care and diligence. Then the owner of the flock would come; the shepherds would go out to meet him with the skin of the slaughtered animal: the owner would scold the shepherds for their negligence, and order the dogs to be punished for cowardice. Down would come upon us a shower of sticks and revilings; and so, finding myself punished without fault, and that my care, alertness, and courage were of no avail to keep off the wolf, I resolved to change my manner of proceeding, and not to go out to seek him, as I had been used to do, but to remain close to the fold; for since the wolf came to it, that would be the surest place to catch him. Every week we had an alarm; and one dark night I contrived to get a sight of the wolves, from which it was so impossible to guard the fold. I crouched behind a bank; the rest of the dogs ran forward; and from my lurking-place I saw and heard how two shepherds picked out one of the fattest wethers, and slaughtered it in such a manner, that it really appeared next morning as if the executioner had been a wolf. I was horror-struck, when I saw that the shepherds themselves were the wolves, and that the flock was plundered by the very men who had the keeping of it. As usual, they made known to their master the mischief done by the wolf, gave him the skin and part of the carcase, and ate the rest, and that the choicest part, themselves. As usual, they had a scolding, and the dogs a beating. Thus there were no wolves, yet the flock dwindled away, and I was dumb, all which filled me with amazement and anguish. O Lord! said I to myself, who can ever remedy this villany? Who will have the power to make known that the defence is offensive, the sentinels sleep, the trustees rob, and those who guard you kill you?
Scip. You say very true, Berganza; for there is no worse or more subtle thief than the domestic thief; and accordingly there die many more of those who are trustful than of those who are wary. But the misfortune is, that it is impossible for people to get on in the world in any tolerable way without mutual confidence. However, let us drop this subject: there is no need that we should be evermore preaching. Go on.
Berg. I determined then to quit that service, though it seemed so good a one, and to choose another, in which well-doing, if not rewarded, was at least not punished. I went back to Seville, and entered the service of a very rich merchant.
Scip. How did you set about getting yourself a master? As things are now-a-days, an honest man has great difficulty in finding an employer. Very different are the lords of the earth from the Lord of Heaven; the former, before they will accept a servant, first scrutinise his birth and parentage, examine into his qualifications, and even require to know what clothes he has got; but for entering the service of God, the poorest is the richest, the humblest is the best born; and whoso is but disposed to serve him in purity of heart is at once entered in his book of wages, and has such assigned to him as his utmost desire can hardly compass, so ample are they.
Berg. All this is preaching, Scipio.
Scip. Well, it strikes me that it is. So go on.
Berg. With respect to your question, how I set about getting a master: you are aware that humility is the base and foundation of all virtues, and that without it there are none. It smooths inconveniences, overcomes difficulties, and is a means which always conducts us to glorious ends; it makes friends of enemies, tempers the wrath of the choleric, and abates the arrogance of the proud: it is the mother of modesty, and sister of temperance. I availed myself of this virtue whenever I wanted to get a place in any house, after having first considered and carefully ascertained that it was one which could maintain a great dog. I then placed myself near the door; and whenever any one entered whom I guessed to be a stranger, I barked at him; and when the master entered, I went up to him with my head down, my tail wagging, and licked his shoes. If they drove me out with sticks, I took it patiently, and turned with the same gentleness to fawn in the same way on the person who beat me. The rest let me alone, seeing my perseverance and my generous behaviour; and after one or two turns of this kind, I got a footing in the house. I was a good servant: they took a liking to me immediately; and I was never turned out, but dismissed myself, or, to speak more properly, I ran away; and sometimes I met with such a master, that but for the persecution of fortune I should have remained with him to this day.
Scip. It was just in the same way that I got into the houses of the masters I served. It seems that we read men's thoughts.
Berg. I will tell you now what happened to me after I left the fold in the power of those reprobates. I returned, as I have said, to Seville, the asylum of the poor and refuge for the destitute, which embraces in its greatness not only the rude but the mighty and nourishing. I planted myself at the door of a large house belonging to a merchant, exerted myself as usual, and after a few trials gained admission. They kept me tied up behind the door by day, and let me loose at night. I did my duty with great care and diligence, barked at strangers, and growled at those who were not well known. I did not sleep at night, but visited the yards, and walked about the terraces, acting as general guard over our own house and those of the neighbours; and my master was so pleased with my good service, that he gave orders I should be well treated, and have a ration of bread, with the bones from his table, and the kitchen scraps. For this I showed my gratitude by no end of leaps when I saw my master, especially when he came home after being abroad; and such were my demonstrations of joy that my master ordered me to be untied, and left loose day and night. As soon as I was set free, I ran to him, and gambolled all round him, without venturing to lay my paws on him; for I bethought me of that ass in Æsop's Fables, who was ass enough to think of fondling his master in the same manner as his favourite lap-dog, and was well basted for his pains. I understood that fable to signify, that what is graceful and comely in some is not so in others. Let the ribald flout and jeer, the mountebank tumble,--let the common fellow, who has made it his business, imitate the song of birds and the gestures of animals, but not the man of quality, who can deserve no credit or renown from any skill in these things.
Scip. Enough said, Berganza; I understand you; go on.
Berg. Would that others for whom I say this understood me as well! For there is something or other in my nature which makes me feel greatly shocked when I see a cavalier make a buffoon of himself, and taking pride in being able to play at thimblerig, and in dancing the chacona to perfection, I know a cavalier who boasted, that he had, at the request of a sacristan, cut out thirty-two paper ornaments, to stick upon the black cloth over a monument; and he was so proud of his performance that he took his friends to see it, as though he were showing them pennons and trophies taken from the enemy, and hung over the tombs of his forefathers. Well, this merchant I have been telling you of had two sons, one aged twelve, the other about fourteen, who were studying the humanities in the classes of the Company of Jesus. They went in pomp to the college, accompanied by their tutor, and by pages to carry their books, and what they called their Vademecum. To see them go with such parade, on horseback in fine weather, and in a carriage when it rained, made me wonder at the plain manner in which their father went abroad upon his business, attended by no other servant than a negro, and sometimes mounted upon a sorry mule.
Scip. You must know, Berganza, that it is a customary thing with the merchants of Seville, and of other cities also, to display their wealth and importance, not in their own persons, but in those of their sons: for merchants are greater in their shadows than in themselves; and as they rarely attend to anything else than their bargains, they spend little on themselves; but as ambition and wealth burn to display themselves, they show their own in the persons of their sons, maintaining them as sumptuously as if they were sons of princes. Sometimes too they purchase titles for them, and set upon their breasts the mark that so much distinguishes men of rank from the commonalty.
Berg. It is ambition, but a generous ambition that seeks to improve one's condition without prejudice to others.
Scip. Seldom or never can ambition consist with abstinence from injury to others.
Berg. Have we not said that we are not to speak evil of any one?
Scip. Ay, but I don't speak evil of any one.
Berg. You now convince me of the truth of what I have often heard say, that a person of a malicious tongue will utter enough to blast ten families, and calumniate twenty good men; and if he is taken to task for it, he will reply that he said nothing; or, if he did, he meant nothing by it, and would not have said it if he had thought any one would take it amiss. In truth, Scipio, one had need of much wisdom and wariness to be able to entertain a conversation for two hours, without approaching the confines of evil speaking. In my own case, for instance, brute as I am, I see that with every fourth phrase I utter, words full of malice and detraction come to my tongue like flies to wine. I therefore say again that doing and speaking evil are things we inherit from our first parents, and suck in with our mother's milk. This is manifest in the fact, that hardly is a boy out of swaddling clothes before he lifts his hand to take vengeance upon those by whom he thinks himself offended; and the first words he articulates are to call his nurse or his mother a jade.
Scip. That is true. I confess my error, and beg you will forgive it, as I have forgiven you so many. Let us pitch ill-nature into the sea--as the boys say--and henceforth backbite no more. Go on with your story. You were talking of the grand style in which the sons of your master the merchant went to the college of the Company of Jesus.
Berg. I will go on then; and though I hold it a sufficient thing to abstain from ill-natured remarks, yet I propose to use a remedy, which I am told was employed by a great swearer, who repenting of his bad habit, made it a practice to pinch his arm, or kiss the ground as penance, whenever an oath escaped him; but he continued to swear for all that. In like manner, whenever I act contrary to the precept you have given me against evil speaking, and contrary to my own intention to abstain from that practice, I will bite the tip of my tongue, so that the smart may remind me of my fault, and hinder me from relapsing into it.
Scip. If that is the remedy you mean to use, I expect that you will have to bite your tongue so often, that there will be none of it left, and it will be put beyond the possibility of offending.
Berg. At least I will do my best; may heaven make up my deficiencies. Well, to resume: one day my master's sons left a note-book in the court-yard where I was; and as I had been taught to fetch and carry, I took it up, and went after them, resolved to put it into their own hands. It turned out exactly as I desired; for my masters seeing me coming with the note-book in my mouth, which I held cleverly by its string, sent a page to take it from me; but I would not let him, nor quitted it till I entered the hall with it, at which all the students fell a laughing. Going up to the elder of my masters, I put it into his hands, with all the obsequiousness I could, and went and seated myself on my haunches at the door of the hall, with my eyes fixed on the master who was lecturing in the chair. There is some strange charm in virtue; for though I know little or nothing about it, I at once took delight in seeing the loving care and industry with which the reverend fathers taught those youths, shaping their tender minds aright, and guiding them in the path of virtue, which they demonstrated to them along with letters. I observed how they reproved them with suavity, chastised them with mercy, animated them with examples, incited them with rewards, and indulged them with prudence; and how they set before them the loathsomeness of vice and the beauty of virtue, so that abhorring the one and loving the other, they might achieve the end for which they were created.
Scip. You say very well, Berganza; for I have heard tell of this holy fraternity, that for worldly wisdom there are none equal to them; and that as guides and leaders on the road to heaven, few come up to them. They are mirrors of integrity, catholic doctrine, rare wisdom, and profound humility, the base on which is erected the whole edifice of beatitude.
Berg. That is every word true. But to return to my story: my masters were so pleased with my carrying them the note-book, that they would have me do so every day; and thus I enjoyed the life of a king, or even better, having nothing to do but to play with the students, with whom I grew so tame, that they would put their hands in my mouth, and the smallest of them would ride on my back. They would fling their hats or caps for me to fetch, and I would put them into their hands with marks of great delight. They used to give me as much to eat as they could; and they were fond of seeing, when they gave me nuts or almonds, how I cracked them like a monkey, let fall the shells, and ate the kernels. One student, to make proof of my ability, brought me a great quantity of salad in a basket, and I ate it like a human being. It was the winter season, when manchets and mantequillas abound in Seville; and I was so well supplied with them, that many an Antonio was pawned or sold that I might breakfast. In short, I spent a student's life, without hunger or itch, and that is saying everything for it; for if hunger and itch were not identified with the student's life, there would be none more agreeable in the world; since virtue and pleasure go hand in hand through it, and it is passed in learning and taking diversion. This happy life ended too soon for me. It appeared to the professors that the students spent the half-hour between the classes not in studying their lessons, but in playing with me; and therefore they ordered my masters not to bring me any more to the college. I was left at home accordingly, at my old post behind the door; and notwithstanding the order graciously given by the head of the family, that I should be at liberty day and night, I was again confined to a small mat, with a chain round my neck. Ah, friend Scipio, did you but know how sore a thing it is to pass from a state of happiness to one of wretchedness! When sorrows and distresses flood the whole course of life, either they soon end in death, or their continuance begets a habit of endurance, which generally alleviates their greatest rigour; but when one passes suddenly and unexpectedly from a miserable and calamitous lot to one of prosperity and enjoyment, and soon after relapses into his former state of woe and suffering: this is such a poignant affliction, that if it does not extinguish life, it is only to make it a prolonged torment. Well, I returned to my ordinary rations, and to the bones which were flung to me by a negress belonging to the house; but even these were partly filched from me by two cats, who very nimbly snapped up whatever fell beyond the range of my chain. Brother Scipio, as you hope that heaven will prosper all your desires, do suffer me to philosophise a little at present; for unless I utter the reflections which have now occurred to my mind, I feel that my story will not be complete or duly edifying.
Scip. Beware, Berganza, that this inclination to philosophise is not a temptation of the fiend; for slander has no better cloak to conceal its malice than the pretence that all it utters are maxims of philosophers, that evil speaking is moral reproval, and the exposure of the faults of others is nothing but honest zeal. There is no sarcastic person whose life, if you scrutinise it closely, will not be found full of vices and improprieties. And now, after this warning, philosophise as much as you have a mind.
Berg. You may be quite at your ease on that score, Scipio. What I have to remark is, that as I was the whole day at leisure--and leisure is the mother of reflection--I conned over several of those Latin phrases I had heard when I was with my masters at college, and wherewith it seemed to me that I had somewhat improved my mind; and I determined to make use of them as occasion should arise, as if I knew how to talk, but in a different manner from that practised by some ignorant persons, who interlard their conversation with Latin apophthegms, giving those who do not understand them to believe that they are great Latinists, whereas they can hardly decline a noun or conjugate a verb.
Scip. That is not so bad as what is done by some who really understand Latin; some of whom are so absurd, that in talking with a shoemaker or a tailor, they pour out Latin like water.
Berg. On the whole we may conclude, that he who talks Latin before persons who do not understand it, and he who talks it, being himself ignorant of it, are both equally to blame.
Scip. Another thing you may remark, which is that some persons who know Latin are not the less asses for all that.
Berg. No doubt of it; and the reason is clear; for when in the time of the Romans everybody spoke Latin as his mother tongue, that did not hinder some among them from being boobies.
Scip. But to know when to keep silence in the mother tongue, and speak in Latin, is a thing that needs discretion, brother Berganza.
Berg. True; for a foolish word may be spoken in Latin as well as in the vulgar tongue; and I have seen silly literati, tedious pedants, and babblers in the vernacular, who were enough to plague one to death with their scraps of Latin.
Scip. No more of this: proceed to your philosophical remarks.
Berg. They are already delivered.
Scip. How so?
Berg. In those remarks on Latin and the vulgar tongue, which I began and you finished.
Scip. Do you call railing philosophising? Sanctify the unhallowed plague of evil speaking, Berganza, and give it any name you please, it will, nevertheless entail upon us the name of cynics, which means dogs of ill tongue. In God's name, hold your peace, and go on with your story.
Berg. How can I go on with my story, if I hold my peace?
Scip. I mean go on with it in one piece, and don't hang on so many tails to it as to make it look like a polypus.
Berg. Speak correctly, Scipio: one does not say the tails but the arms of a polypus. But to my story: my evil fortune, not content with having torn me from my studies, and from the calm and joyous life I led amid them; not content with having fastened me up behind a door, and transferred me from the liberality of the students to the stinginess of the negress, resolved to rob me of the little ease and comfort I still enjoyed. Look ye, Scipio, you may set it down with me for a certain fact, that ill luck will hunt out and find the unlucky one, though he hides in the uttermost parts of the earth. I have reason to say this; for the negress was in love with a negro, also belonging to the house, who slept in the porch between the street-door and the inner one behind which I was fastened, and they could only meet at night, to which end they had stolen the keys or got false ones. Every night the negress came down stairs, and stopping my mouth with a piece of meat or cheese, opened the door for the negro. For some days, the woman's bribes kept my conscience asleep; for but for them, I began to fear that my ribs would come together, and that I should be changed from a mastiff to a greyhound. But my better nature coming at last to my aid, I bethought me of what was due to my master, whose bread I ate; and that I ought to act as becomes not only honest dogs, but all who have masters to serve.
Scip. There now, Berganza, you have spoken what I call true philosophy; but go on. Do not make too long a yarn--not to say tail of your history.
Berg. But, first of all, pray tell me if you know what is the meaning of the word philosophy? For though I use it, I do not know what the thing really is, only I guess that it is something good.
Scip. I will tell you briefly. The word is compounded of two Greek words, philo, love, and sophia, wisdom; so that it means love of wisdom, and philosopher a lover of wisdom.
Berg. What a deal you know, Scipio. Who the deuce taught you Greek words?
Scip. Truly you are a simpleton, Berganza, to make so much of a matter that is known to every schoolboy; indeed, there are many persons who pretend to know Greek, though they are ignorant of it, just as is the case with Latin.
Berg. I believe it, Scipio; and I would have such persons put under a press, as the Portuguese do with the negroes of Guinea, and have all the juice of their knowledge well squeezed out of them, so that they might no more cheat the world with their scraps of broken Greek and Latin.
Scip. Now indeed, Berganza, you may bite your tongue, and I may do the same; for we do nothing but rail in every word.
Berg. Ay, but I am not bound to do as I have heard that one Charondas, a Tyrian, did, who published a law that no one should enter the national assembly in arms, on pain of death. Forgetting this, he one day entered the assembly girt with a sword; the fact was pointed out to him, and, on the instant, he drew his sword, plunged it into his body, and thus he was the first who made the law, broke it, and suffered its penalty. But I made no law; all I did was to promise that I would bite my tongue, if I chanced to utter an acrimonious word; but things are not so strictly managed in these times as in those of the ancients. To-day a law is made, and to-morrow it is broken, and perhaps it is fit it should be so. To-day a man promises to abandon his fault, and to-morrow he falls into a greater. It is one thing to extol discipline, and another to inflict it on one's self; and indeed there is a wide difference between saying and doing. The devil may bite himself, not I; nor have I a mind to perform heroic acts of self-denial here on this mat, where there are no witnesses to commend my honourable determination.
Scip. In that case, Berganza, were you a man you would be a hypocrite, and all your acts would be fictitious and false, though covered with the cloak of virtue, and done only that men might praise you, like the acts of all hypocrites.
Berg. I don't know what I should do if I were a man; but what I do know is that at present I shall not bite my tongue, having so many things yet to tell, and not knowing how or when I shall be able to finish them; but rather fearing that when the sun rises we shall be left groping without the power of speech.
Scip. Heaven forbid it! Go on with your story, and do not run off the road into needless digressions; in that way only you will come soon to the end of it, however long it may be.
Berg. I say, then, that having seen the thievery, impudence, and shameful conduct of the negroes, I determined, like a good servant, to put an end to their doings, if possible, and I succeeded completely in my purpose. The negress, as I have told you, used to come to amuse herself with the negro, making sure of my silence on account of the pieces of meat, bread, or cheese she threw me. Gifts have much power, Scipio.
Scip. Much. Don't digress: go on.
Berg. I remember, when I was a student, to have heard from the master a Latin phrase or adage, as they call it, which ran thus: habet bovem in lingua.
Scip. O confound your Latin! Have you so soon forgotten what we have said of those who mix up that language with ordinary conversation?
Berg. But this bit of Latin comes in here quite pat; for you must know that the Athenians had among their coin one which was stamped with the figure of an ox; and whenever a judge failed to do justice in consequence of having been corrupted, they used to say, "He has the ox on his tongue."
Scip. I do not see the application.
Berg. Is it not very manifest, since I was rendered mute many times by the negress's gifts, and was careful not to bark when she came down to meet her amorous negro? Wherefore I repeat, that great is the power of gifts.
Scip. I have already admitted it; and were it not to avoid too long a digression, I could adduce many instances in point; but I will speak of these another time, if heaven grants me an opportunity of narrating my life to you.
Berg. God grant it! meanwhile I continue. At last my natural integrity prevailed over the negress's bribes; and one very dark night, when she came down as usual, I seized her without barking, in order not to alarm the household; and in a trice I tore her shift all to pieces, and bit a piece out of her thigh. This little joke confined her for eight days to her bed, for which she accounted to her masters by some pretended illness or other. When she was recovered, she came down another night: I attacked her again; and without biting, scratched her all over as if I had been carding wool. Our battles were always noiseless, and the negress always had the worst of them; but she had her revenge. She stinted my rations and my bones, and those of my own body began to show themselves through my skin. But though she cut short my victuals, that did not hinder me from barking; so to make an end of me altogether, she threw me a sponge fried in grease. I perceived the snare, and knew that what she offered me was worse than poison, for it would swell up in the stomach, and never leave it with life. Judging then that it was impossible for me to guard against the insidious attacks of such a base enemy, I resolved to get out of her sight, and put some space between her and me. One day, I found myself at liberty, and without bidding adieu to any of the family, I went into the street; and before I had gone a hundred paces, I fell in with the alguazil I mentioned in the beginning of my story, as being a great friend of my first master Nicholas the butcher. He instantly knew me, and called me by my name. I knew him too, and went up to him with my usual ceremonies and caresses. He took hold of me by the neck, and said to his men, "This is a famous watch-dog, formerly belonging to a friend of mine: let us bring him home." The men said, if I was a watch-dog, I should be of great use to them all, and they wanted to lay hold on me to lead me along; but the alguazil said, it was not necessary, for I knew him, and would follow him. I forgot to tell you, that the spiked collar I wore when I ran away from the flock was stolen from me at an inn by a gipsy, and I went without one in Seville; but my new master put on me a collar all studded with brass. Only consider, Scipio, this change in my fortunes, Yesterday I was a student, and to-day I found myself a bailiff.
Scip. So wags the world, and you need not exaggerate the vicissitudes of fortune, as if there were any difference between the service of a butcher and that of a bailiff. I have no patience when I hear some persons rail at fortune, whose highest hopes never aspired beyond the life of a stable-boy. How they curse their ill-luck, and all to make the hearers believe that they have known better days, and have fallen from some high estate.
Berg. Just so. Now you must know that this alguazil was on intimate terms with an attorney; and the two were connected with a pair of wenches not a bit better than they ought to be, but quite the reverse. They were rather good looking, but full of meretricious arts and impudence. These two served their male associates as baits to fish with. Their dress and deportment was such that you might recognise them for what they were at the distance of a musket shot; they frequented the houses of entertainment for strangers, and the period of the fairs in Cadiz and Seville was their harvest time, for there was not a Breton with whom they did not grapple. Whenever a bumpkin fell into their snares they apprised the alguazil and the attorney to what inn they were going, and the latter then seized the party as lewd persons, but never took them to prison, for the strangers always paid money to get out of the scrape.
One day it happened that Colendres--this was the name of the alguazil's mistress--picked up a Breton, and made an appointment with him for the night, whereof she informed her friend; and they were hardly undressed before the alguazil, the attorney, two bailiffs, and myself entered the room. The amorous pair were sorely disconcerted, and the alguazil, inveighing against the enormity of their conduct, ordered them to dress with all speed, and go with him to prison. The Breton was dismayed, the attorney interceded from motives of compassion, and prevailed on the alguazil to commute the penalty for only a hundred reals. The Breton called for a pair of leather breeches he had laid on a chair at the end of the room, and in which there was money to pay his ransom, but the breeches were not to be seen. The fact was, that when I entered the room, my nostrils were saluted by a delightful odour of ham. I followed the scent, and found a great piece of ham in one of the pockets of the breeches, which I carried off into the street, in order to enjoy the contents without molestation. Having done so, I returned to the house, where I found the Breton vociferating in his barbarous jargon, and calling for his breeches, in one of the pockets of which he said he had fifty gold crowns. The attorney suspected that either Colendres or the bailiffs had stolen the money; the alguazil was of the same opinion, took them aside, and questioned them. None of them knew anything, and they all swore at each other like troopers. Seeing the hubbub, I went back to the street where I had left the breeches, having no use for the money in them; but I could not find them, for some one passing by had no doubt picked them up.
The alguazil, in despair at finding that the Breton had no money to bribe with, thought to indemnify himself by extorting something from the mistress of the house. He called for her, and in she came half dressed, and when she saw and heard the Breton bawling for his money, Colindres crying in her shift, the alguazil storming, the attorney in a passion, and the bailiffs ransacking the room, she was in no very good humour. The alguazil ordered her to put on her clothes and be off with him to prison, for allowing men and women to meet for bad purposes in her house. Then indeed the row grew more furious than ever. "Señor Alguazil and Señor Attorney," said the hostess, "none of your tricks upon me, for I know a thing or two, I tell you. Give me none of your blustering, but shut your mouth, and go your ways in God's name, otherwise by my faith I'll pitch the house out of the windows, and blow upon you all; for I am well acquainted with the Señora Colendres, and I know moreover that for many months past she has been kept by the Señor Alguazil; so don't provoke me to let out any more, but give this gentleman back his money, and let us all part good friends, for I am a respectable woman, and I have a husband with his patent of nobility with its leaden seals all hanging to it, God be thanked! and I carry on this business with the greatest propriety. I have the table of charges hung up where everybody may see it, so don't meddle with me, or by the Lord I'll soon settle your business. It is no affair of mine if women come in with my lodgers; they have the keys of their rooms, and I am not a lynx to see through seven walls."
My masters were astounded at the harangue of the landlady, and at finding how well acquainted she was with the story of their lives; but seeing there was nobody else from whom they could squeeze money, they still pretended that they meant to drag her to prison. She appealed to heaven against the unreasonableness and injustice of their behaving in that manner when her husband was absent, and he too a man of such quality. The Breton bellowed for his fifty crowns; the bailiffs persisted in declaring that they had never set eyes on the breeches, God forbid! The attorney privately urged the alguazil to search Colindres' clothes, for he suspected she must have possessed herself of the fifty crowns, since it was her custom to grope in the pockets of those who took up with her company. Colindres declared that the Breton was drunk, and that it was all a lie about his money. All in short was confusion, oaths, and bawling, and there would have been no end to the uproar if the lieutenant corregidor had not just then entered the room, having heard the noise as he was going his rounds. He asked what it was all about, and the landlady replied with great copiousness of detail. She told him who was the damsel Colindres (who by this time had got her clothes on), made known the connection between her and the alguazil, and exposed her plundering tricks; protested her own innocence, and that it was never with her consent that a woman of bad repute had entered her house; cried herself up for a saint, and her husband for a pattern of excellence; and called out to a servant wench to run and fetch her husband's patent of nobility out of the chest, that she might show it to the Señor Lieutenant. He would then be able to judge whether the wife of so respectable a man was capable of anything but what was quite correct. If she did keep a lodging-house, it was because she could not help it. God knows if she would not rather have some comfortable independence to live upon at her ease. The lieutenant, tired of her volubility and her bouncing about the patent of gentility, said to her, "Sister hostess, I am willing to believe that your husband is a gentleman, but then you must allow he is only a gentleman innkeeper." The landlady replied with great dignity, "And where is the family in the world, however good its blood may be, but you may pick some holes in its coat?" "Well, all I have to say, sister, is, that you must put on your clothes, and come away to prison." This brought her down from her high flights at once; she tore her hair, cried, screamed, and prayed, but all in vain; the inexorable lieutenant carried the whole party off to prison, that is to say, the Breton, Colindres, and the landlady. I learned afterwards that the Breton lost his fifty crowns, and was condemned besides to pay costs; the landlady had to pay as much more. Colindres was let off scot free, and the very day she was liberated she picked up a sailor, out of whom she made good her disappointment in the affair of the Breton. Thus you see, Scipio, what serious troubles arose from my gluttony.
Scip. Say rather from the rascality of your master.
Berg. Nay but listen, for worse remains to be told, since I am loth to speak ill of alguazil and attorneys.
Scip. Ay, but speaking ill of one is not speaking ill of all. There is many and many an attorney who is honest and upright. They do not all take fees from both parties in a suit; nor extort more than their right; nor go prying about into other people's business in order to entangle them in the webs of the law; nor league with the justice to fleece one side and skin the other. It is not every alguazil that is in collusion with thieves and vagabonds, or keeps a decoy-duck in the shape of a mistress, as your master did. Very many of them are gentlemen in feeling and conduct; neither arrogant nor insolent, nor rogues and knaves, like those who go about inns, measuring the length of strangers' swords, and ruining their owners if they find them a hair's breadth longer than the law allows.
Berg. My master hawked at higher game. He set himself up for a man of valour, piqued himself on making famous captures, and sustained his reputation for courage without risk to his person, but at the cost of his purse. One day at the Puerta de Xeres he fell in, single-handed, with six famous bravoes, whilst I could not render him any assistance, having a muzzle on my mouth, which he made me wear by day and took off at night. I was amazed at his intrepidity and headlong valour. He dashed in and out between the six swords of the ruffians, and made as light of them as if they were so many osier wands. It was wonderful to behold the agility with which he assaulted, his thrusts and parries, and with what judgment and quickness of eye he prevented his enemies from attacking him from behind. In short, in my opinion and that of all the spectators of the fight, he was a very Rhodomont, having fought his men all the way from the Puerta de Xeres to the statues of the college of Maese Rodrigo, a good hundred paces and more. Having put them to flight, he returned to collect the trophies of the battle, consisting of three sheaths, and these he carried to the corregidor, who was then, if I mistake not, the licentiate Sarmiento de Valladares, renowned for the destruction of the Sauceda. As my master walked through the streets, people pointed to him and said, "There goes the valiant man who ventured, singly, to encounter the flower of the bravoes of Andalusia."
He spent the remainder of the day in walking about the city, to let himself be seen, and at night we went to the suburb of Triana, to a street near the powder-mill, where my master, looking about to see if any one observed him, entered a house, myself following him, and in the court-yard we found the six rogues he had fought with, all untrussed, and without cloaks or swords. One fellow, who appeared to be the landlord, had a big jar of wine in one hand and a great tavern goblet in the other, and, filling a sparkling bumper, he drank to all the company. No sooner had they set eyes on my master than they all ran to him with open arms. They all drank his health, and he returned the compliment in every instance, and would have done it in as many more had there been occasion--so affable he was and so averse to disoblige any one for trifles. Were I to recount all that took place there--the supper that was served up, the fights and the robberies they related, the ladies of their acquaintance whom they praised or disparaged, the encomiums they bestowed on each other, the absent bravoes whom they named, the clever tricks they played, jumping up from supper to exhibit their sleight of hand, the picked words they used, and, finally, the figure of the host, whom all respected as their lord and father,--were I to attempt this, I should entangle myself in a maze, from which I could never extricate myself. I ascertained that the master of the house, whose name was Monipodio, was a regular fence, and that my master's battle of the morning had been preconcerted between him and his opponents, with all its circumstances, including the dropping of the sword-sheaths, which my master now delivered, in lieu of his share of the reckoning. The entertainment was continued almost till breakfast time; and, by way of a final treat, they gave my master information of a foreign bravo, an out-and-outer, just arrived in the city. In all probability he was an abler blade than themselves, and they denounced him from envy. My master captured him the next night as he lay in bed; but had he been up and armed, there was that in his face and figure which told me that he would not have allowed himself to be taken so quietly. This capture, coming close upon the heels of the pretended fight, enhanced the fame of my poltroon of a master, who had no more courage than a hare, but sustained his valorous reputation by treating and feasting; so that all the gains of his office, both fair and foul, were frittered away upon his false renown.
I am afraid I weary you, Scipio, but have patience and listen to another affair that befel him, which I will tell you without a tittle more or less than the truth. Two thieves stole a fine horse in Antequera, brought him to Seville, and in order to sell him without risk, adopted what struck me as being a very ingenious stratagem. They put up at two different inns, and one of them entered a plaint in the courts of law, to the effect that Pedro de Losada owed him four hundred reals, money lent, as appeared by a note of hand, signed by the said Pedro, which he produced in evidence. The lieutenant corregidor directed that Losada should be called upon to state whether or not he acknowledged the note as his own, and if he did, that he should be compelled to pay the amount by seizure of his goods, or go to prison. My master and his friend the attorney were employed in this business. One of the thieves took them to the lodgings of the other, who at once acknowledged his note of hand, admitted the debt, and offered his horse in satisfaction of the amount. My master was greatly taken with the animal, and resolved to have it if it should be sold. The time prescribed by the law being expired, the horse was put up for sale; my master employed a friend to bid for it, and it was knocked down to him for five hundred reals, though well worth twelve or thirteen hundred. Thus one thief obtained payment of the debt which was not due to him, the other a quittance of which he had no need, and my master became possessed of the horse, which was as fatal to him as the famous Sejanus was to his owners.
The thieves decamped at once; and two days afterwards my master, after having repaired the horse's trappings, appeared on his back in the Plaza de San Francisco, as proud and conceited as a bumpkin in his holiday clothes. Everybody complimented him on his bargain, declaring the horse was worth a hundred and fifty ducats as surely as an egg was worth a maravedi. But whilst he was caracolling and curvetting, and showing off his own person and his horse's paces, two men of good figure and very well dressed entered the square, one of whom cried out, "Why, bless my soul! that is my horse Ironfoot, that was stolen from me a few days ago in Antequera." Four servants, who accompanied him, said the same thing. My master was greatly chopfallen; the gentleman appealed to justice, produced his proofs, and they were so satisfactory that sentence was given in his favour, and my master was dispossessed of the horse. The imposture was exposed; and it came out how, through the hands of justice itself, the thieves had sold what they had stolen; and almost everybody rejoiced that my master's covetousness had made him burn his fingers.
His disasters did not end there. That night the lieutenant going his rounds, was informed that there were robbers abroad as far as San Julian's wards. Passing a cross-road he saw a man running away, and taking me by the collar, "At him, good dog!" he said, "At him, boy!" Disgusted as I was with my master's villanies, and eager to obey the lieutenant's orders, I made no hesitation to seize my own master and pull him down to the ground, where I would have torn him to pieces if the thief-takers had not with great difficulty separated us. They wanted to punish me, and even to beat me to death with sticks; and they would have done so if the lieutenant had not bade them let me alone, for I had only done what he ordered me. The warning was not lost upon me, so without taking my leave of anybody, I leaped through an opening in the wall, and before daybreak I was in Mayrena, a place about four leagues from Seville.
There by good luck I fell in with a party of soldiers, who, as I heard, were going to embark at Cartagena. Among them were four of my late master's ruffian friends; one of them was the drummer, who had been a catchpole and a great buffoon, as drummers frequently are. They all knew me and spoke to me, asking after my master as if I could reply; but the one who showed the greatest liking for me was the drummer, and so I determined to attach myself to him, if he would let me, and to accompany the expedition whether they were bound for Italy or Flanders. For in spite of the proverb, a blockhead at home is a blockhead all the world over, you must agree with me that travelling and sojourning among various people makes men wise.
Scip. That is so true that I remember to have heard from a master of mine, a very clever man, that the famous Greek, Ulysses, was renowned as wise solely because he had travelled and seen many men and nations. I therefore applaud your determination to go with the soldiers, wherever they might take you.
Berg. To help him in the display of his jugglery, the drummer began to teach me to dance to the sound of the drum, and to play other monkey tricks such as no other dog than myself could ever have acquired. The detachment marched by very short stages; we had no commissary to control us; the captain was a mere lad, but a perfect gentleman, and a great christian; the ensign had but just left the page's hall at the court; the serjeant was a knowing blade, and a great conductor of companies from the place where they were raised to the port of embarkation. The detachment was full of ruffians whose insolent behaviour, in the places through which we passed, redounded in curses directed to a quarter where they were not deserved. It is the misfortune of the good prince to be blamed by some of his subjects, for faults committed by others of them, which he could not remedy if he would, for the circumstances attendant on war are for the most part inevitably harsh, oppressive, and untoward.
In the course of a fortnight, what with my own cleverness, and the diligence of him I had chosen for my patron, I learned to jump for the king of France, and not to jump for the good-for-nothing landlady; he taught me to curvet like a Neapolitan courser, to move in a ring like a mill horse, and other things which might have made one suspect that they were performed by a demon in the shape of a dog. The drummer gave me the name of the wise dog, and no sooner were we arrived at a halting place, than he went about, beating his drum, and giving notice to all who desired to behold the marvellous graces and performances of the wise dog, that they were to be seen at such a house, for four or eight maravedis a head, according to the greater or less wealth of the place. After these encomiums everybody ran to see me, and no one went away without wonder and delight. My master exulted in the gains I brought him, which enabled him to maintain six of his comrades like princes. The envy and covetousness of the rogues was excited, and they were always watching for an opportunity to steal me, for any way of making money by sport has great charms for many. This is why there are so many puppet showmen in Spain, so many who go about with peep shows, so many others who hawk pens and ballads, though their stock, if they sold it all, would not be enough to keep them for a day; and yet they are to be found in taverns and drinking-shops all the year round, whence I infer that the cost of their guzzling is defrayed by other means than the profits of their business. They are all good-for-nothing vagabonds, bread weevils and winesponges.
Scip. No more of that, Berganza; let us not go over the same ground again. Continue your story, for the night is waning, and I should not like, when the sun rises, that we should be left in the shades of silence.
Berg. Keep it and listen. As it is an easy thing to extend and improve our inventions, my master, seeing how well I imitated a Neapolitan courser, made me housings of gilt leather, and a little saddle, which he fitted on my back; he put on it a little figure of a man, with lance in hand, and taught me to run straight at a ring fixed between two stakes. As soon as I was perfect in that performance, my master announced that on that day the wise dog would run at the ring, and exhibit other new and incomparable feats, which, indeed, I drew from my own invention, not to give my master the lie. We next marched to Montilla, a town belonging to the famous and great christian, Marquis of Priego, head of the house of Aguilar and Montilla. My master was quartered, at his own request, in a hospital; he made his usual proclamation, and as my great fame had already reached the town, the court-yard was filled with spectators in less than an hour. My master rejoiced to see such a plenteous harvest, and resolved to show himself that day a first-rate conjuror. The entertainment began with my leaping through a hoop. He had a willow switch in his hand, and when he lowered it, that was a signal for me to leap; and when he kept it raised, I was not to budge.
On that day (for ever memorable in my life) he began by saying, "Come, my friend, jump for that juvenile old gentleman, you know, who blacks his beard; or, if you won't, jump for the pomp and grandeur of Donna Pimpinela de Plafagonia, who was the fellow servant of the Galician kitchen wench at Valdeastillas. Don't you like that, my boy? Then jump for the bachelor Pasillas, who signs himself licentiate without having any degree. How lazy you are! Why don't you jump? Oh! I understand! I am up to your roguery! Jump, then, for the wine of Esquivias, a match for that of Ciudad Real, St. Martin, and Rivadavia." He lowered the switch, and I jumped in accordance with the signal. Then, addressing the audience, "Do not imagine, worshipful senate," he said, "that it is any laughing matter what this dog knows. I have taught him four-and-twenty performances, the least of which is worth going thirty leagues to see. He can dance the zaraband and the chacona better than their inventor; he tosses off a pint of wine without spilling a drop; he intones a sol, fa, mi, re, as well as any sacristan. All these things, and many others which remain to be told, your worships shall witness during the time the company remains here. At present, our wise one will give another jump, and then we will enter upon the main business."
Having inflamed the curiosity of the audience, or senate, as he called them, with this harangue, he turned to me and said, "Come now, my lad, and go through all your jumps with your usual grace and agility; but this time it shall be for the sake of the famous witch who is said to belong to this place." The words were hardly out of his mouth, when the matron of the hospital, an old woman, who seemed upwards of seventy, screamed out, "Rogue, charlatan, swindler, there is no witch here. If you mean Camacha, she has paid the penalty of her sin, and is where God only knows; if you mean me, you juggling cheat, I am no witch, and never was one in my life; and if I ever was reputed to be a witch, I may thank false witnesses, and the injustice of the law, and a presumptuous and ignorant judge. All the world knows the life of penance I lead, not for any acts of witchcraft, which I have never done, but for other great sins which I have committed as a poor sinner. So get out of the hospital, you rascally sheep-skin thumper, or by all the saints I'll make you glad to quit it at a run." And with that she began to screech at such a rate, and pour such a furious torrent of abuse upon my master, that he was utterly confounded. In fine, she would not allow the entertainment to proceed on any account. My master did not care much about the row, as he had his money in his pocket, and he announced that he would give the performance next day in another hospital. The people went away cursing the old woman, and calling her a witch, and a bearded hag into the bargain. We remained for all that in the hospital that night, and the old woman meeting me alone in the yard, said, "Is that you, Montiel, my son? Is that you?" I looked up as she spoke, and gazed steadily at her, seeing which, she came to me with tears in her eyes, threw her arms round my neck, and would have kissed my mouth if I had allowed her; but I was disgusted, and would not endure it.
Scip. You were quite right, for it is no treat, but quite the reverse, to kiss or be kissed by an old woman.
Berg. What I am now going to relate I should have told you at the beginning of my story, as it would have served to diminish the surprise we felt at finding ourselves endowed with speech. Said the old woman to me, "Follow me, Montiel, my son, that you may know my room; and be sure you come to me to-night, that we may be alone together, for I have many things to tell you of great importance for you to know." I drooped my head in token of obedience, which confirmed her in her belief that I was the dog Montiel whom she had been long looking for, as she afterwards told me. I remained bewildered with surprise, longing for the night to see what might be the meaning of this mystery or prodigy, and as I had heard her called a witch, I expected wonderful things from the interview. At last the time came, and I entered the room, which was small, and low, and dimly lighted by an earthenware lamp. The old woman trimmed it, sat down on a chest, drew me to her, and without speaking a word, fell to embracing me, and I to taking care that she did not kiss me.
"I did always hope in heaven," the old woman began, "that I should see my son before my eyes were closed in the last sleep; and now that I have seen you, let death come when it will, and release me from this life of sorrow. You must know, my son, that there lived in this city the most famous witch in the world, called Camacha de Montilla. She was so perfect in her art, that the Erichtheas, Circes, and Medeas, of whom old histories, I am told, are full, were not to be compared to her. She congealed the clouds when she pleased, and covered the face of the sun with them; and when the whim seized her, she made the murkiest sky clear up at once. She fetched men in an instant from remote lands; admirably relieved the distresses of damsels who had forgot themselves for a moment; enabled widows to console themselves without loss of reputation; unmarried wives, and married those she pleased. She had roses in her garden in December, and gathered wheat in January. To make watercresses grow in a handbasin was a trifle to her, or to show any persons whom you wanted to see, either dead or alive, in a looking-glass, or on the nail of a newborn infant. It was reported that she turned men into brutes, and that she made an ass of a sacristan, and used him really and truly in that form for six years. I never could make out how this was done; for as for what is related of those ancient sorceresses, that they turned men into beasts, the learned are of opinion that this means only that by their great beauty and their fascinations, they so captivated men and subjected them to their humours, as to make them seem unreasoning animals. But in you, my son, I have a living instance to the contrary, for I know that you are a rational being, and I see you in the form of a dog; unless indeed this is done through that art which they call Tropelia, which makes people mistake appearances and take one thing for another.
"Be this as it may, what mortifies me is that neither your mother nor myself, who were disciples of the great Camacha, ever came to know as much as she did, and that not for want of capacity, but through her inordinate selfishness, which could never endure that we should learn the higher mysteries of her art, and be as wise as herself. Your mother, my son, was called Montiela, and next to Camacha, she was the most famous of witches. My name is Cañizares; and, if not equal in proficiency to either of these two, at least I do not yield to them in good will to the art. It is true that in boldness of spirit, in the intrepidity with which she entered a circle, and remained enclosed in it with a legion of fiends, your mother was in no wise inferior to Camacha herself; while, for my part, I was always somewhat timid, and contented myself with conjuring half a legion; but though I say it that should not, in the matter of compounding witches' ointment, I would not turn my back upon either of them, no, nor upon any living who follow our rules. But you must know, my son, ever since I have felt how fast my life is hastening away upon the light wings of time, I have sought to withdraw from all the wickedness of witchcraft in which I was plunged for many years, and I have only amused myself with white magic, a practice so engaging that it is most difficult to forego it. Your mother acted in the same manner; she abandoned many evil practices, and performed many righteous works; but she would not relinquish white magic to the hour of her death. She had no malady, but died by the sorrow brought upon her by her mistress, Camacha, who hated her because she saw that in a short time Montiela would know as much as herself, unless indeed she had some other cause of jealousy not known to me.
"Your mother was pregnant, and her time being come, Camacha was her midwife. She received in her hands what your mother brought forth, and showed her that she had borne two puppy dogs. 'This is a bad business,' said Camacha; 'there is some knavery here. But, sister Montiela, I am your friend, and I will conceal this unfortunate birth; so have patience and get well, and be assured that your misfortune shall remain an inviolable secret.' I was present at this extraordinary occurrence, and was not less astounded than your mother. Camacha went away taking the whelps with her, and I remained to comfort the lying-in woman, who could not bring herself to believe what had happened. At last Camacha's end drew near, and when she felt herself at the point of death, she sent for her and told her how she had turned her sons into dogs on account of a certain grudge she bore her, but that she need not distress herself, for they would return to their natural forms when it was least expected; but this would not happen 'until they shall see the exalted quickly brought low, and the lowly exalted by an arm that is mighty to do it.'
"Your mother wrote down this prophecy, and deeply engraved it in her memory, and so did I, that I might impart it to one of you if ever the opportunity should present itself. And in hopes to recognise you, I have made it a practice to call every dog of your colour by your mother's name, to see if any of them would answer to one so unlike those usually given to dogs; and, this evening, when I saw you do so many things, and they called you the wise dog, and also when you looked up at me upon my calling to you in the yard, I believed that you were really the son of Montiela. It is with extreme pleasure I acquaint you with the history of your birth, and the manner in which you are to recover your original form. I wish it was as easy as it was for the golden ass of Apuleius, who had only to eat a rose for his restoration; but yours depends upon the actions of others, and not upon your own efforts. What you have to do meanwhile, my son, is to commend yourself heartily to God, and hope for the speedy and prosperous fulfilment of the prophecy; for since it was pronounced by Camacha it will be accomplished without any doubt, and you and your brother, if he is alive, will see yourselves as you would wish to be. All that grieves me is that I am so near my end, that I can have no hope of witnessing the joyful event.
"I have often longed to ask my goat how matters would turn out with you at last; but I had not the courage to do so, for he never gives a straightforward answer, but as crooked and perplexing as possible. That is always the way with our lord and master; there is no use in asking him anything, for with one truth he mingles a thousand lies, and from what I have noted of his replies it appears that he knows nothing for certain of the future, but only by way of conjecture. At the same time he so be-fools us that, in spite of a thousand treacherous tricks he plays us, we cannot shake off his influence. We go to see him a long way from here in a great field, where we meet a multitude of warlocks and witches, and are feasted without measure, and other things take place which, indeed and in truth, I cannot bring myself to mention, nor will I offend your chaste ears by repeating things so filthy and abominable. Many are of opinion that we frequent these assemblies only in imagination, wherein the demon presents to us the images of all those things which we afterwards relate as having occurred to us in reality; others, on the contrary, believe that we actually go to them in body and soul; and for my part I believe that both opinions are true, since we know not when we go in the one manner or in the other; for all that happens to us in imagination does so with such intensity, that it is impossible to distinguish between it and reality. Their worships the inquisitors have had sundry opportunities of investigating this matter, in the cases of some of us whom they have had under their hands, and I believe that they have ascertained the truth of what I state.
"I should like, my son, to shake off this sin, and I have exerted myself to that end. I have got myself appointed matron to this hospital; I tend the poor, and some die who afford me a livelihood either by what they leave me, or by what I find among their rags, through the great care I always take to examine them well. I say but few prayers, and only in public, but grumble a good deal in secret. It is better for me to be a hypocrite than an open sinner; for my present good works efface from the memory of those who know me the bad ones of my past life. After all, pretended sanctity injures no one but the person who practises it. Look you, Montiel, my son, my advice to you is this: be good all you can; but if you must be wicked, contrive all you can not to appear so. I am a witch, I do not deny it, and your mother was one likewise; but the appearances we put on were always enough to maintain our credit in the eyes of the whole world. Three days before she died, we were both present at a grand sabbath of witches in a valley of the Pyrenees; and yet when she died it was with such calmness and serenity, that were it not for some grimaces she made a quarter of an hour before she gave up the ghost, you would have thought she lay upon a bed of flowers. But her two children lay heavy at her heart, and even to her last gasp she never would forgive Camacha, such a resolute spirit she had. I closed her eyes and followed her to the grave, and there took my last look at her; though, indeed, I have not lost the hope of seeing her again before I die, for they say that several persons have met her going about the churchyards and the cross-roads in various forms, and who knows but I may fall in with her some time or other, and be able to ask her whether I can do anything for the relief of her conscience?"
Every word that the old hag uttered in praise of her she called my mother went like a knife to my heart; I longed to fall upon her and tear her to pieces, and only refrained from unwillingness that death should find her in such a wicked state. Finally she told me that she intended to anoint herself that night and go to one of their customary assemblies, and inquire of her master as to what was yet to befal me. I should have liked to ask her what were the ointments she made use of; and it seemed as though she read my thoughts, for she replied to my question as though it had been uttered.
"This ointment," she said, "is composed of the juices of exceedingly cold herbs, and not, as the vulgar assert, of the blood of children whom we strangle. And here you may be inclined to ask what pleasure or profit can it be to the devil to make us murder little innocents, since he knows that being baptised they go as sinless creatures to heaven, and every Christian soul that escapes him is to him a source of poignant anguish. I know not what answer to give to this except by quoting the old saying, that some people would give both their eyes to make their enemy lose one. He may do it for sake of the grief beyond imagination which the parents suffer from the murder of their children; but what is still more important to him is to accustom us to the repeated commission of such a cruel and perverse sin. And all this God allows by reason of our sinfulness; for without his permission, as I know by experience, the devil has not the power to hurt a pismire; and so true is this, that one day when I requested him to destroy a vineyard belonging to an enemy of mine, he told me that he could not hurt a leaf of it, for God would not allow him. Hence you may understand when you come to be a man, that all the casual evils that befal men, kingdoms, and cities, and peoples, sudden deaths, shipwrecks, devastations, and all sorts of losses and disasters, come from the hand of the Almighty, and by his sovereign permission; and the evils which fall under the denomination of crime, are caused by ourselves. God is without sin, whence it follows that we ourselves are the authors of sin, forming it in thought, word, and deed; God permitting all this by reason of our sinfulness, as I have already said.
"Possibly you will ask, my son, if so be you understand me, who made me a theologian? And mayhap you will say to yourself, Confound the old hag! why does not she leave off being a witch since she knows so much? Why does not she turn to God, since she knows that he is readier to forgive sin than to permit it? To this I reply, as though you had put the question to me, that the habit of sinning becomes a second nature, and that of being a witch transforms itself into flesh and blood; and amidst all its ardour, which is great, it brings with it a chilling influence which so overcomes the soul as to freeze and benumb its faith, whence follows a forgetfulness of itself, and it remembers neither the terrors with which God threatens it, nor the glories with which he allures it. In fact, as sin is fleshly and sensual, it must exhaust and stupefy all the feelings, and render the soul incapable of rising to embrace any good thought, or to clasp the hand which God in his mercy continually holds out to it. I have one of those souls I have described; I see it clearly; but the empire of the senses enchains my will, and I have ever been and ever shall be bad.
"But let us quit this subject, and go back to that of our unguents. They are of so cold a nature that they take away all our senses when we anoint ourselves with them; we remain stretched on the ground, and then they say we experience all those things in imagination which we suppose to occur to us in reality. Sometimes after we have anointed and changed ourselves into fowls, foals, or deer, we go to the place where our master awaits us. There we recover our own forms and enjoy pleasures which I will not describe, for they are such as the memory is ashamed to recal, and the tongue refuses to relate. The short and the long of it is, I am a witch, and cover my many delinquencies with the cloak of hypocrisy. It is true that if some esteem and honour me as a good woman, there are many who bawl in my ear the name imprinted upon your mother and me by order of an ill-tempered judge, who committed his wrath to the hands of the hangman; and the latter, not being bribed, used his plenary power upon our shoulders. But that is past and gone; and all things pass, memories wear out, lives do not renew themselves, tongues grow tired, and new events make their predecessors forgotten. I am matron of a hospital; my behaviour is plausible in appearance; my unguents procure me some pleasant moments, and I am not so old but that I may live another year, my age being seventy-five. I cannot fast on account of my years, nor pray on account of the swimming in my head, nor go on pilgrimages for the weakness of my legs, nor give alms because I am poor, nor think rightly because I am given to back-biting, and to be able to backbite one must first think evil. I know for all that that God is good and merciful, and that he knows what is in store for me, and that is enough; so let us drop this conversation which really makes me melancholy. Come, my son, and see me anoint myself; for there is a cure for every sorrow; and though the pleasures which the devil affords us are illusive and fictitious, yet they appear to us to be pleasures; and sensual delight is much greater in imagination than in actual fruition, though it is otherwise with true joys."
After this long harangue she got up, and taking the lamp went into another and smaller room. I followed her, filled with a thousand conflicting thoughts, and amazed at what I had heard and what I expected to see. Cañizares hung the lamp against the wall, hastily stripped herself to her shift, took a jug from a corner, put her hand into it, and, muttering between her teeth, anointed herself from her feet to the crown of her head. Before she had finished she said to me, that whether her body remained senseless in that room, or whether it quitted it, I was not to be frightened, nor fail to wait there till morning, when she would bring me word of what was to befal me until I should be a man. I signified my assent by drooping my head; and she finished her unction, and stretched herself on the floor like a corpse. I put my mouth to hers, and perceived that she did not breathe at all. One thing I must own to you, friend Scipio, that I was terribly frightened at seeing myself shut up in that narrow room with that figure before me, which I will describe to you as well as I can.
She was more than six feet high, a mere skeleton covered with a black wrinkled skin. Her dugs were like two dried and puckered ox-bladders; her lips were blackened; her long teeth locked together; her nose was hooked; her eyes starting from her head; her hair hung in elf-locks on her hollow wrinkled cheeks;--in short, she was all over diabolically hideous. I remained gazing on her for a while, and felt myself overcome with horror as I contemplated the hideous spectacle of her body, and the worse occupation of her soul. I wanted to bite her to see if she would come to herself, but I could not find a spot on her whole body that did not fill me with disgust. Nevertheless, I seized her by one heel, and dragged her to the yard, without her ever giving any sign of feeling. There seeing myself at large with the sky above me, my fear left me, or at least abated, so much as to give me courage to await the result of that wicked woman's expedition, and the news she was to bring me. Meanwhile, I asked myself, how comes this old woman to be at once so knowing and so wicked? How is it that she can so well distinguish between casual and culpable evils? How is it that she understands and speaks so much about God, and acts so much from the prompting of the devil? How is it that she sins so much from choice, not having the excuse of ignorance?
In these reflections I passed the night. The day dawned and found us both in the court, she lying still insensible, and I on my haunches beside her, attentively watching her hideous countenance. The people of the hospital came out, and seeing this spectacle, some of them exclaimed, "The pious Cañizares is dead! See how emaciated she is with fasting and penance." Others felt her pulse, and finding that she was not dead, concluded that she was in a trance of holy ecstacy; whilst others said, "This old hag is unquestionably a witch, and is no doubt anointed, for saints are never seen in such an indecent condition when they are lost in religious ecstacy; and among us who know her, she has hitherto had the reputation of a witch rather than a saint." Some curious inquirers went so far as to stick pins in her flesh up to the head, yet without ever awaking her. It was not till seven o'clock that she came to herself; and then finding how she was stuck over with pins, bitten in the heels, and her back flayed by being dragged from her room, and seeing so many eyes intently fixed upon her, she rightly concluded that I had been the cause of her exposure. "What, you thankless, ignorant, malicious villain," she cried, "is this my reward for the acts I did for your mother and those I intended to do for you?" Finding myself in peril of my life under the talons of that ferocious harpy, I shook her off, and seizing her by her wrinkled flank, I worried and dragged her all about the yard, whilst she shrieked for help from the fangs of that evil spirit. At these words, most present believed that I must be one of those fiends who are continually at enmity with good Christians. Some were for sprinkling me with holy water, some were for pulling me off the old woman, but durst not; others bawled out words to exorcise me. The witch howled, I tightened my grip with my teeth, the confusion increased, and my master was in despair, hearing it said that I was a fiend. A few who knew nothing of exorcisms caught up three or four sticks and began to baste me. Not liking the joke, I let go the old woman; in three bounds I was in the street, and in a few more I was outside the town, pursued by a host of boys, shouting, "Out of the way! the wise dog is gone mad." Others said "he is not mad, but he is the devil in the form of a dog." The people of the place were confirmed in their belief that I was a devil by the tricks they had seen me perform, by the words spoken by the old woman when she woke out of her infernal trance, and by the extraordinary speed with which I shot away from them, so that I seemed to vanish from before them like a being of the other world. In six hours I cleared twelve leagues; and arrived at a camp of gipsies in a field near Granada. There I rested awhile, for some of the gipsies who recognised me as the wise dog, received me with great delight, and hid me in a cave, that I might not be found if any one came in search of me; their intention being, as I afterwards learned, to make money by me as my master the drummer had done. I remained twenty days among them, during which I observed their habits and ways of life; and these are so remarkable that I must give you an account of them.
Scip. Before you go any further, Berganza, we had better consider what the witch said to you, and see if there can possibly be a grain of truth in the great lie to which you give credit. Now, what an enormous absurdity it would be to believe that Camacha could change human beings into brutes, or that the sacristan served her for years under the form of an ass. All these things, and the like, are cheats, lies, or illusions of the devil; and if it now seems to ourselves that we have some understanding and reason--since we speak, though we are really dogs or bear that form--we have already said that this is a portentous and unparalleled case; and though it is palpably before us, yet we must suspend our belief until the event determines what it should be. Shall I make this more plain to you? Consider upon what frivolous things Camacha declared our restoration to depend, and that what seems a prophecy to you is nothing but a fable, or one of those old woman's tales, such as the headless horse, and the wand of virtues, which are told by the fireside in the long winter nights; for were it anything else it would already have been accomplished, unless, indeed, it is to be taken in what I have heard called an allegorical sense: that is to say, a sense which is not the same as that which the letter imports, but which, though differing from it, yet resembles it. Now for your prophecy:--"They are to recover their true forms when they shall see the exalted quickly brought low, and the lowly exalted by a hand that is mighty to do it." If we take this in the sense I have mentioned, it seems to me to mean that we shall recover our forms when we shall see those who yesterday were at the top of fortune's wheel, to-day cast down in the mire, and held of little account by those who most esteemed them; so, likewise, when we shall see others who, but two hours ago, seemed sent into the world only to figure as units in the sum of its population, and now are lifted up to the very summit of prosperity. Now, if our return, as you say, to human form, were to depend on this, why we have already seen it, and we see it every hour. I infer, then, that Camacha's words are to be taken, not in an allegorical, but in a literal, sense; but this will help us out no better, since we have many times seen what they say, and we are still dogs, as you see. And so Carnacha was a cheat, Cañizares an artful hag, and Montiela a fool and a rogue--be it said without offence, if by chance she was the mother of us both, or yours, for I won't have her for mine. Furthermore, I say that the true meaning is a game of nine-pins, in which those that stand up are quickly knocked down, and the fallen are set up again, and that by a hand that is able to do it. Now think whether or not in the course of our lives we have ever seen a game of nine-pins, or having seen it, have therefore been changed into men.
Berg. I quite agree with you Scipio, and have a higher opinion of your judgment than ever. From all you have said, I am come to think and believe that all that has happened to us hitherto, and that is now happening, is a dream; but let us not therefore fail to enjoy this blessing of speech, and the great excellence of holding human discourse all the time we may; and so let it not weary you to hear me relate what befel me with the gipsies who hid me in the cave.
Scip. With great pleasure. I will listen to you, that you in your turn may listen to me, when I relate, if heaven pleases, the events of my life.
Berg. My occupation among the gipsies was to contemplate their numberless tricks and frauds, and the thefts they all commit from the time they are out of leading-strings and can walk alone. You know what a multitude there is of them dispersed all over Spain. They all know each other, keep up a constant intelligence among themselves, and reciprocally pass off and carry away the articles they have purloined. They render less obedience to their king than to one of their own people whom they style count, and who bears the surname of Maldonado, as do all his descendants. This is not because they come of that noble line, but because a page belonging to a cavalier of that name fell in love with a beautiful gipsy, who would not yield to his wishes unless he became a gipsy and made her his wife. The page did so, and was so much liked by the other gipsies, that they chose him for their lord, yielded him obedience, and in token of vassalage rendered to him a portion of everything they stole, whatever it might be.
To give a colour to their idleness the gipsies employ themselves in working in iron, and you may always see them hawking pincers, tongs, hammers, fire-shovels, and so forth, the sale of which facilitates their thefts. The women are all midwives, and in this they have the advantage over others, for they bring forth without cost or attendants. They wash their new-born infants in cold water, and accustom them from birth to death to endure every inclemency of weather. Hence they are all strong, robust, nimble leapers, runners, and dancers. They always marry among themselves, in order that their bad practices may not come to be known, except by their own people. The women are well behaved to their husbands, and few of them intrigue except with persons of their own race. When they seek for alms, it is rather by tricks and juggling than by appeals to charity; and as no one puts faith in them, they keep none, but own themselves downright vagabonds; nor do I remember to have ever seen a gipsy-woman taking the sacrament, though I have often been in the churches. The only thoughts of their minds are how to cheat and steal. They are fond of talking about their thefts and how they effected them. A gipsy, for instance, related one day in my presence how he had swindled a countryman as you shall hear:
The gipsy had an ass with a docked tail, and he fitted a false tail to the stump so well that it seemed quite natural. Then he took the ass to market and sold it to a countryman for ten ducats. Having pocketed the money, he told the countryman that if he wanted another ass, own brother to the one he had bought, and every bit as good, he might have it a bargain. The countryman told him to go and fetch it, and meanwhile he would drive that one home. Away went the purchaser; the gipsy followed him, and some how or other, it was not long before he had stolen the ass, from which he immediately whipped off the false tail, leaving only a bare stump. He then changed the halter and saddle, and had the audacity to go and offer the animal for sale to the countryman, before the latter had discovered his loss. The bargain was soon made; the purchaser went into his house to fetch the money to pay for the second ass, and there he discovered the loss of the first. Stupid as he was, he suspected that the gipsy had stolen the animal, and he refused to pay him. The gipsy brought forward as witness the man who had received the alcabala on the first transaction, and who swore that he had sold the countryman an ass with a very bushy tail, quite different from the second one; and an alguazil, who was present, took the gipsy's part so strongly that the countryman was forced to pay for the ass twice over. Many other stories they told, all about stealing beasts of burden, in which art they are consummate masters. In short, they are a thoroughly bad race, and though many able magistrates have taken them in hand, they have always remained incorrigible.
After I had remained with them twenty days, they set out for Murcia, taking me with them. We passed through Granada, where the company was quartered to which my master the drummer belonged. As the gipsies were aware of this, they shut me up in the place where they were lodged. I overheard them talking about their journey, and thinking that no good would come of it, I contrived to give them the slip, quitted Granada, and entered the garden of a Morisco, who gladly received me. I was quite willing to remain with him and watch his garden,--a much less fatiguing business in my opinion than guarding a flock of sheep; and as there was no need to discuss the question of wages, the Morisco soon had a servant and I a master. I remained with him more than a month, not that the life I led with him was much to my liking, but because it gave me opportunities of observing that of my master, which was like that of all the other Moriscoes in Spain. O what curious things I could tell you, friend Scipio, about that half Paynim rabble, if I were not afraid that I should not get to the end of my story in a fortnight! Nay, if I were to go into particulars, two months would not be enough. Some few specimens, however, you shall hear.
Hardly will you find among the whole race one man who is a sincere believer in the holy law of Christianity. Their only thought is how to scrape up money and keep it; and to this end they toil incessantly and spend nothing. The moment a real falls into their clutches, they condemn it to perpetual imprisonment; so that by dint of perpetually accumulating and never spending, they have got the greater part of the money of Spain into their hands. They are the grubs, the magpies, the weasels of the nation. Consider how numerous they are, and that every day they add much or little to their hoards, and that as they increase in number so the amount of their hoarded wealth must increase without end. None of them of either sex make monastic vows, but all marry and multiply, for thrifty living is a great promoter of fecundity. They are not wasted by war or excessive toil; they plunder us in a quiet way, and enrich themselves with the fruits of our patrimonies which they sell back to us. They have no servants, for they all wait upon themselves. They are at no expense for the education of their sons, for all their lore is but how to rob us. From the twelve sons of Jacob, who entered Egypt, as I have heard, there had sprung, when Moses freed them from captivity, six hundred thousand fighting men, besides women and children. From this we may infer how much the Moriscoes have multiplied, and how incomparably greater must be their numbers.
Scip. Means have been sought for remedying the mischiefs you have mentioned and hinted at; and, indeed, I am sure that those which you have passed over in silence, are even more serious than those which you have touched upon. But our commonwealth has most wise and zealous champions, who, considering that Spain produces and retains in her bosom such vipers as the Moriscoes, will, with God's help, provide a sure and prompt remedy for so great an evil. Go on.
Berg. My master being a stingy hunks, like all his caste, I lived like himself chiefly on maize bread and buckwheat porridge; but this penury helped me to gain paradise, in the strange manner you shall hear. Every morning, by daybreak, a young man used to seat himself at the foot of one of the many pomegranate trees. He had the look of a student, being dressed in a rusty suit of threadbare baize, and was occupied in writing in a note book, slapping his forehead from time to time, biting his nails, and gazing up at the sky. Sometimes he was so immersed in reverie, that he neither moved hand nor foot, nor even winked his eyes. One day I drew near him unperceived, and heard him muttering between his teeth. At last, after a long silence, he cried out aloud, "Glorious! The very best verse I ever composed in my life!" and down went something in his note book. From all this, it was plain that the luckless wight was a poet. I approached him with my ordinary courtesies, and when I had convinced him of my gentleness, he let me lie down at his feet, and resumed the course of his thoughts, scratching his head, falling into ecstacies, and then writing as before.
Meanwhile there came into the garden another young man, handsome and well dressed, with papers in his hand, at which he glanced from time to time. The new comer walked up to the pomegranate tree, and said to the poet, "Have you finished the first act?"
"I have just this moment finished it in the happiest manner possible," was the reply.
"How is that?"
"I will tell you! His Holiness the Pope comes forth in his pontificals, with twelve cardinals in purple canonicals--for the action of my comedy is supposed to take place at the season of mutatio caparum, when their eminences are not dressed in scarlet but in purple--therefore propriety absolutely requires that my cardinals should wear purple. This is a capital point, and one on which your common run of writers would be sure to blunder; but as for me I could not go wrong, for I have read the whole Roman ceremonial through, merely that I might be exact as to these dresses."
"But where do you suppose," said the other, "that our manager is to find purple robes for twelve cardinals?"
"If a single one is wanting," cried the poet, "I would as soon think of flying, as of letting my comedy be represented without it. Zounds! is the public to lose that magnificent spectacle! Just imagine the splendid effect on the stage of a supreme Pontiff and twelve grave cardinals, with all the other dignitaries, who will of course accompany them! By heavens, it will be one of the grandest things ever seen on the stage, not excepting even the nosegay of Duraja!"
I now perceived that one of these young men was a poet, and the other a comedian. The latter advised the former that he should cut out a few of his cardinals, if he did not want to make it impossible for the manager to produce the piece. The poet would not listen to this, but said they might be thankful that he had not brought in the whole conclave, to be present at the memorable event which he proposed to immortalise in his brilliant comedy. The player laughed, left him to his occupation, and returned to his own, which was studying a part in a new play. The poet, after having committed to writing some verses of his magnificent comedy, slowly and gravely drew from his pocket some morsels of bread, and about twenty raisins, or perhaps not so many, for there were some crumbs of bread among them, which increased their apparent number. He blew the crumbs from the raisins, and ate them one by one, stalks and all, for I did not see him throw anything away, adding to them the pieces of bread, which had got such a colour from the lining of his pocket, that they looked mouldy, and were so hard that he could not get them down, though he chewed them over and over again. This was lucky for me, for he threw them to me, saying, "Catch, dog, and much good may it do you." Look, said I to myself, what nectar and ambrosia this poet gives me; for that is the food on which they say these sons of Apollo are nourished. In short, great for the most part is the penury of poets; but greater was my need, since it obliged me to eat what he left.
As long as he was busy with the composition of his comedy he did not fail to visit the garden, nor did I want crusts, for he shared them with me very liberally; and then we went to the well, where we satisfied our thirst like monarchs, I lapping, and he drinking out of a pitcher. But at last the poet came no more, and my hunger became so intolerable, that I resolved to quit the Morisco and seek my fortune in the city. As I entered it, I saw my poet coming out of the famous monastery of San Geronimo. He came to me with open arms, and I was no less delighted to see him. He immediately began to empty his pockets of pieces of bread, softer than those he used to, carry to the garden, and to put them between my teeth without passing them through his own. From the softness of the bits of bread, and my having seen my poet come out of the monastery, I surmised that his muse, like that of many of his brethren, was a bashful beggar. He walked into the city, and I followed him, intending to take him for my master if he would let me, thinking that the crumbs from his table might serve to support me, since there is no better or ampler purse than charity, whose liberal hands are never poor.
After some time, we arrived at the house of a theatrical manager, called Angulo the Bad, to distinguish him from another Angulo, not a manager but a player, one of the best ever seen. The whole company was assembled to hear my master's comedy read; but before the first act was half finished, all had vanished, one by one, except the manager and myself, who formed the whole audience. The comedy was such that to me, who am but an ass in such matters, it seemed as though Satan himself had composed it for the utter ruin and perdition of the poet; and I actually shivered with vexation to see the solitude in which his audience had left him. I wonder did his prophetic soul presage to him the disgrace impending over him; for all the players--and there were more than twelve of them--came back, laid hold on the poet, without saying a word, and, had it not been for the authoritative interference of the manager, they would have tossed him in a blanket. I was confounded by this sad turn of affairs, the manager was incensed, the players very merry; and the poor forlorn poet, with great patience, but a somewhat wry face, took the comedy, thrust it into his bosom, muttering, "It is not right to cast pearls before swine," and sadly quitted the place without another word. I was so mortified and ashamed that I could not follow him, and the manager caressed me so much that I was obliged to remain; and within a month I became an excellent performer in interludes and pantomimes. Interludes, you know, usually end with a cudgelling bout, but in my master's theatre they ended with setting me at the characters of the piece, whom I worried and tumbled one over the other, to the huge delight of the ignorant spectators, and my master's great gain.
Oh, Scipio! what things I could tell you that I saw among these players, and two other companies to which I belonged; but I must leave them for another day, for it would be impossible to compress them within moderate limits. All you have heard is nothing to what I could relate to you about these people and their ways, their work and their idleness, their ignorance and their cleverness, and other matters without end, which might serve to disenchant many who idolise these fictitious divinities.
Scip. I see clearly, Berganza, that the field is large; but leave it now, and go on.
Berg. I arrived with a company of players in this city of Valladolid, where they gave me a wound in an interlude that was near being the death of me. I could not revenge myself then, because I was muzzled, and I had no mind to do so afterwards in cold blood; for deliberate vengeance argues a cruel and malicious disposition. I grew weary of this employment, not because it was laborious, but because I saw in it many things which called for amendment and castigation; and, as it was not in my power to remedy them, I resolved to see them no more, but to take refuge in an abode of holiness, as those do who forsake their vices when they can no longer practise them; but better late than never. Well, then, seeing you one night carrying the lantern with that good Christian Mahudes, I noticed how contented you were, how righteous and holy was your occupation. Filled with honest emulation, I longed to follow your steps; and, with that laudable intention, I placed myself before Mahudes, who immediately elected me your companion, and brought me to this hospital. What has occurred to me since I have been here would take some time to relate. I will just mention a conversation I heard between four invalids, who lay in four beds next each other. It will not take long to tell, and it fits in here quite pat.
Scip. Very well; but be quick, for, to the best of my belief, it cannot be far from daylight.
Berg. The four beds were at the end of the infirmary, and in them lay an alchemist, a poet, a mathematician, and one of those persons who are called projectors.
Scip. I recollect these good people well.
Berg. One afternoon, last summer, the windows being closed, I lay panting under one of their beds, when the poet began piteously to bewail his ill fortune. The mathematician asked him what he complained of.
"Have I not good cause for complaint?" he replied. "I have strictly observed the rule laid down by Horace in his Art of Poetry, not to bring to light any work until ten years after it has been composed. Now, I have a work on which I was engaged for twenty years, and which has lain by me for twelve. The subject is sublime, the invention perfectly novel, the episodes singularly happy, the versification noble, and the arrangement admirable, for the beginning is in perfect correspondence with the middle and the end. Altogether it is a lofty, sonorous, heroic poem, delectable and full of matter; and yet I cannot find a prince to whom I may dedicate it--a prince, I say, who is intelligent, liberal, and magnanimous. Wretched and depraved age this of ours!"
"What is the subject of the work?" inquired the alchemist.
"It treats," said the poet, "of that part of the history of king Arthur of England which archbishop Turpin left unwritten, together with the history of the quest of the Sangreal, the whole in heroic measure,--part rhymes, part blank-verse; and in dactyles moreover, that is to say, in dactylic noun substantives, without any admission of verbs."
"For my part, I am not much of a judge in matters of poetry," returned the alchemist, "and therefore I cannot precisely estimate the misfortune you complain of; but in any case it cannot equal my own in wanting means, or a prince to back me and supply me with the requisites, for prosecuting the science of alchemy; but for which want alone I should now be rolling in gold, and richer than ever was Midas, Crassus, or Croesus."
"Have you ever succeeded, Señor Alchemist," said the mathematician, "in extracting gold from the other metals?"
"I have not yet extracted it," the alchemist replied, "but I know for certain that the thing is to be done, and that in less than two months more I could complete the discovery of the philosopher's stone, by means of which gold can be made even out of pebbles."
"Your worships," rejoined the mathematician, "have both of you made a great deal of your misfortunes; but after all, one of you has a book to dedicate, and the other is on the point of discovering the philosopher's stone, by means of which he will be as rich as all those who have followed that course. But what will you say of my misfortune, which is great beyond compare? For two and twenty years I have been in pursuit of the fixed point; here I miss it, there I get sight of it again, and just when it seems that I am down upon it so that it can by no means escape me, I find myself on a sudden so far away from it that I am utterly amazed. It is just the same with the quadrature of the circle. I have been within such a hair's breadth of it, that I cannot conceive how it is that I have not got it in my pocket. Thus I suffer a torment like that of Tantalus, who starves with fruits all round him, and burns with thirst with water at his lip. At one moment I seem to grasp the truth, at another it is far away from me; and, like another Sisyphus, I begin again to climb the hill which I have just rolled down, along with all the mass of my labours."
The projector, who had hitherto kept silence, now struck in. "Here we are," he said, "four complainants, brought together by poverty under the roof of this hospital. To the devil with such callings and employments, as give neither pleasure nor bread to those who exercise them! I, gentlemen, am a projector, and have at various times offered sundry valuable projects to his majesty, all to his advantage, and without prejudice to the realm; and I have now a memorial in which I supplicate his majesty to appoint a person to whom I may communicate a new project of mine, which will be the means of entirely liquidating all his debts. But from the fate which all my other memorials have had, I foresee that this one also will be thrown into the dust-hole. Lest, however, your worships should think me crack-brained, I will explain my project to you, though this be in some degree a publication of my secret.
"I propose that all his majesty's vassals, from the age of fourteen to sixty, be bound once a month, on a certain appointed day, to fast on bread and water; and that the whole expenditure, which would otherwise be made on that day for food, including fruit, meat, fish, wine, eggs, and vegetables, be turned into money, and the amount paid to his majesty, without defrauding him of a doit, as each shall declare on oath. By this means, in the course of twenty years the king will be freed from all debts and incumbrances. The calculation is easily made. There are in Spain more than three millions of persons of the specified age, exclusive of invalids, old, and young, and there is not one of these but spends at least a real and a half daily; however, I am willing to put it at a real only, and less it cannot be, even were they to eat nothing but leeks. Now does it not strike your worships that it would be no bad thing to realise every month three millions of reals, all net and clear as if they were winnowed and sifted? The plan, moreover, instead of a loss to his majesty's subjects, would be a real advantage to them; for by means of their fasts they would make themselves acceptable to God and would serve their king, and some of them even might find it beneficial to their health. The project is in every way admirable, as you must confess; the money too might be collected by parishes, without the cost of tax gatherers and receivers, those plagues and bloodsuckers of the realm."
The others all laughed at the projector's scheme, and even he himself joined in the laugh at last. For my part I found much matter for reflection in the strange conversation I had heard, and in the fact that people such as these usually end their days in a hospital.
Scip. That is true, Berganza. Have you anything more to say?
Berg. Two things more and then I shall have done, for I think day is beginning to dawn. One day I accompanied Mahudes to ask for alms in the house of the corregidor of this city, who is a great cavalier and a very great Christian. We found him alone, and I thought fit to take advantage of that opportunity to give him certain counsels which I had gathered from the lips of an old invalid in this hospital, who was discussing the means of saving from perdition those vagabond girls who take to a life of vice to avoid labour,--an intolerable evil demanding an immediate and effectual remedy. Wishing to impart what I had heard to the corregidor, I lifted up my voice, thinking to speak; but instead of articulate speech I barked so loudly that the corregidor called out in a passion to his servants to drive me out of the room with sticks; whereupon one of them caught up a copper syphon, which Was the nearest thing at hand, and thrashed me with it so, that I feel it in my ribs to this hour.
Scip. And do you complain of that, Berganza?
Berg. Nay; have I not reason to complain, since I feel the pain even now; and since it appears to me that my good intentions merited no such chastisement?
Scip. Look you, Berganza, no one should interfere where he is not wanted, nor take upon himself a business that in no wise is his concern. Besides, you ought to know, that the advice of the poor, however good it may be, is never taken; nor should the lowly presume to offer advice to the great, who fancy they know everything. Wisdom in a poor man lies under a cloud, and cannot be seen; or if by chance it shines through it, people mistake it for folly, and treat it with contempt.
Berg. You are right, Scipio; and having had the lesson well beaten into me, I will henceforth act accordingly. That same night I entered the house of a lady of quality, who had in her arms a little lap-dog, so very diminutive that she could have hid it in her bosom. The instant it saw me, it flew at me out of its mistress's arms, barking with all its might, and even went so far as to bite my leg. I looked at it with disgust, and said to myself, "If I met you in the street, paltry little animal, either I would take no notice of you at all, or I would make mince meat of you." The little wretch was an example of the common rule--that mean-souled persons when they are in favour are always insolent, and ready to offend those who are much better than themselves, though inferior to them in fortune.
Scip. We have many instances of this in worthless fellows, who are insolent enough under cover of their masters' protection; but if death or any other chance brings down the tree against which they leaned, their true value becomes apparent, since they have no other merit than that borrowed from their patrons; whilst virtue and good sense are always the same, whether clothed or naked, alone or accompanied. But let us break off now; for the light beaming in through those chinks shows that the dawn is far advanced.
Berg. Be it so; and I trust in heaven that to-night we shall find ourselves in a condition to renew our conversation.
The licentiate finished the reading of this dialogue, and the Alferez his nap, both at the same time. "Although this colloquy is manifestly fictitious," said the licentiate, "it is, in my opinion, so well composed, that the Señor Alferez may well proceed with the second part."
"Since you give me such encouragement, I will do so," replied the alferez, "without further discussing the question with you, whether the dogs spoke or not."
"There is no need that we should go over that ground again," said the licentiate. "I admire the art and the invention you have displayed in the dialogue, and that is enough. Let us go to the Espolon, and recreate our bodily eyes, as we have gratified those of our minds."
"With all my heart," said the alferez, and away they went.
Prev | Next | Contents
You can read more about Cervantes as well as his most famous novel Don Quixote here.