I learned that downtown Dallas is one fucking long-ass walk!!! By the time I got home, today, my legs were somewhere between...
I learned that downtown Dallas is one fucking long-ass walk!!! By the time I got home, today, my legs were somewhere between...
Swaggering US Olympic Gymnast Sam Mikulak
I have a fairly high desk, so I can work either standing or sitting (in an elevated chair).
Today I learned that when you offer to aid somebody majorly in distress, that doesn't mean they're going o stop being flaky. I guess he's not calling tonight.
I learned that when a nurse says you need to have food in your stomach before taking medicine, you should do just that.
BOSS: I'm sorry, but I'll have to lay you and Jack off.
SUE: Can you just jack off? I feel like shit today.
"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires" - Susan B. Anthony
If Mary gave birth to Jesus, and Jesus is the Lamb of God, did Mary have a little lamb?
I can never tell who's black or brown on Radio1 unless they specifically mention it - y'all sound alike.
Last edited by belamo; March 1st, 2013 at 12:53 AM.
Did I mention that, several weeks ago, I finally decided to include Archilochus' sad remains in my Shrine of the Chosen?
I reckon The Driver's Seat it's interesting for a couple of reasons. Of course it’s easier to watch the movie rather than reading the novella (I remember how you wonderfully suggested that the Sean Connery Zardoz made an easy entry to appreciate Beethoven’s Seventh).
—and it’d be easy to assume that Liz Taylor spent most of her later years drowning in alcohol and self-delusion but she actually made quite a few movies with important British homosexuals such as Noel Coward, Emlyn Wiliams, Terence Rattigan as well as Tennessee Williams and Joseph Losey.
And the character itself is interesting. The character in this story has some fatalistic need to travel to Catholic to Italy in order to self-destruct. Muriel Spark often sniped at the Catholics who were stupid to think for themselves yet she turned to it herself in her later years.
There seems to be no copy of that book in any public access library in the BCN metro area... shocking, isn't it.
Yeas [sic], I read the synopsis on wikipaideia the other day, when we were dealing with the topic.
Last edited by belamo; March 1st, 2013 at 03:41 AM.
^ I like the short stories. This was her first—
The Seraph and the Zambesi
You may have heard of Samuel Cramer, half poet, half journalist, who had to do with a dancer called the Fanfarlo. But, as you will see, it doesn't matter if you have not. He was said to be going strong in Paris early in the nineteenth century, and when I met him in 1946 he was still going strong, but this time in a different way. He was the same man, but modified. For instance, in those days, more than a hundred years ago, Cramer had persisted for several decades, and without affectation, in being about twenty-five years old. But when I knew him he was clearly undergoing his forty-two-year-old phase.
At this time he was keeping a petrol pump some four miles south of the Zambesi River where it crashes over a precipice at the Victoria Falls. Cramer had some spare rooms where he put up visitors to the Falls when the hotel was full. I was sent to him because it was Christmas week and there was no room at the hotel. I found him trying the starter of a large, lumpy Mercedes outside his corrugated-iron garage, and at first sight I judged him to be a Belgian from the Congo. He had the look of north and south, light hair with canvas-coloured skin. Later however he told me that his father was German and his mother Chilean. It was this information rather than the 'S. Cramer' above the garage door which made me think I had heard of him.
The rains had been very poor and that December was fiercely hot. On the third night before Christmas I sat on the stoep outside my room looking through the broken mosquito-wire network at the lightning in the distance. When an atmosphere maintains an excessive temperature for a long spell something seems to happen to the natural noises of life. Sound fails to carry in its usual quantity, but comes as if bound and gagged. That night the Christmas beetles, which fall on their backs on every stoep with a high tic-tac, seemed to be shock-absorbed. I saw one fall and the little bump reached my ears a fraction behind time.
The noises of minor wild beasts from the bush were all hushed up too. In fact it wasn't until the bush noises all stopped simultaneously, as they frequently do when a leopard is about, that I knew there had been any sound at all. Overlying this general muted hum, Cramer's sundowner party progressed farther up the stoep. The heat distorted every word. The glasses made a tinkle that was not of the substance of glass, but of bottles wrapped in tissue paper. Sometimes for a moment, a shriek or a cackle would hang torpidly in space, but these were unreal sounds as if projected from a distant country, as if they were pocket-torches seen through a London fog.
Cramer came over to my end of the stoep and asked me to join his party. I said I would be glad to, and meant it, even though I had been glad to sit alone. Heat so persistent and so intense sucks up the will.
Five people sat in wicker armchairs drinking highballs and chewing salted peanuts. I recognised a red-haired trooper from Livingstone, just out from England, and two of Cramer's lodgers, a tobacco planter and his wife from Bulawayo. In the custom of those parts, the other two were introduced by their first names. Mannie, a short dark man of square face and build, I thought might be a Portuguese from the east coast. The woman, Fanny, was picking bits out of the frayed wicker chair and as she lifted her glass her hand shook a little, making her bracelets chime. She would be about fifty, a well-tended woman, very neat. Her grey hair, tinted with blue, was done in a fringe above a face puckered with malaria.
In the general way of passing the time with strangers in that countryside, I exchanged with the tobacco people the names of acquaintances who lived within a six-hundred-mile radius of where we sat, reducing this list to names mutually known to us. The trooper contributed his news from the region between Lusaka and Livingstone. Meanwhile an argument was in process between Cramer, Fanny and Mannie, of which Fanny seemed to be getting the better.
It appeared there was to be a play or concert on Christmas Eve in which the three were taking part. I several times heard the words 'troupe of angels', 'shepherds', 'ridiculous price' and 'my girls' which seemed to be key words in the argument. Suddenly on hearing the trooper mention a name, Fanny broke off her talk and turned to us. 'She was one of my girls,' she said. 'I gave her lessons for three years.' Mannie rose to leave, and before Fanny followed him she picked a card from her handbag and held it out to me between her fingernails. 'If any of your friends are interested ...' said Fanny hazily. I looked at this as she drove off with the man, and above an address about four miles up the river, I read: Mme La Fanfarlo (Paris, London) Dancing Instructress. Ballet, Ballroom. Transport provided by Arrangement.
Next day I came across Cramer still trying to locate the trouble with the Mercedes. 'Are you the man Baudelaire wrote about?' I asked him. He stared past me at the open waste veldt with a look of tried patience. 'Yes,' he replied; 'what made you think of it?' 'The name Fanfarlo on Fanny's card,' I said, 'didn't you know her in Paris?' 'Oh, yes,' said Cramer, 'but those days are finished. She married Manuela de Montaverde - that's Mannie. They settled here about twenty years ago. He keeps a kaffir store.'
I remembered then that in the Romantic age it had pleased Cramer to fluctuate between the practice of verse and that of belles lettres, together with the living up to such practices. I asked him, 'Have you given up your literary career?' 'As a career, yes,' he answered. 'It was an obsession I was glad to get rid of.' He stroked the blunt bonnet of the Mercedes and added, 'The greatest literature is the occasional kind, a mere after-thought.' Again he looked across the veldt where, unseen, a grey-crested lourie, known by its cry as the go-away bird, was piping "go away, go away.' 'Life,' Cramer continued, 'is the important thing.' 'And do you write occasional verses?' I inquired. 'When occasion demands it,' he said. 'In fact I've just written a Nativity Masque. We're giving a performance on Christmas Eve in there.' He pointed to his garage, where a few natives were already beginning to shift petrol cans and tyres.
Being members neither of the cast nor the audience, they were taking their time. A pile of folded seats had been dumped alongside. Late on the morning of Christmas Eve I returned from the Falls to find a crowd of natives quarrelling outside the garage with Cramer swearing loud and heavy in the middle. He held a sulky man by the shirt-sleeve, while with the other hand he described his vituperation on the hot air. Some mission natives had been sent over to give a hand with laying the stage, and these, with their standard-three school English, washed faces and white drill shorts, had innocently provoked Cramer's raw rag-dressed boys. Cramer's method, which ended with the word 'police,' succeeded in sending them back to work, still uttering drum-like gutterals at each other.
The stage, made of packing-cases with planks nailed across, was being put at the back of the building, where a door led to the yard, the privy and the native huts. The space between this door and the stage was closed off by a row of black Government blankets hung on a line: this was to be the dressing-room. I agreed to come round there that evening to help with the lighting, the make-up, and the pinning on of angels' wings.
The Fanfarlo's dancing pupils were to make an angel chorus with carols and dancing, while she herself, as the Virgin, was to give a representative ballet performance. Owing to her husband's very broken English, he had been given a silent role as a shepherd, supported by three other shepherds chosen for like reasons. Cramer's part was the most prominent, for he had the longest speeches, being the First Seraph. It had been agreed that, since he had written the masque he could best deliver most of it, but I gathered there had been some trouble at rehearsals over the cost of the production, with Fanny wanting elaborate scenery as being due to her girls.
The performance was set to begin at eight. I arrived behind the stage at seven-fifteen to find the angels assembled in ballet dresses with wings of crinkled paper in various shades. The Fanfarlo wore a long white transparent skirt, with a sequin top. I was helping to fix on the Wise Men's beards when I saw Cramer.
He had on a toga-like garment made up of several thicknesses of mosquito-net, but not thick enough to hide his white shorts underneath. He had put on his make-up early, and this was melting on his face in the rising heat. 'I always get nerves at this point,' he said. 'I'm going to practise my opening speech.' I heard him mount the stage and begin reciting. Above the voices of excited children I could only hear the rhythm of his voice and I was intent on helping the Fanfarlo to paint her girls' faces. It seemed impossible. As fast as we lifted the sticks of paint they turned liquid. It was really getting abnormally hot. 'Open that door,' yelled the Fanfarlo. The back door was opened and a crowd of curious natives pressed round the entrance. I left the Fanfarlo ordering them off, for I was determined to get to the front of the building for some air.
I mounted the stage and began to cross it when I was aware of a powerful radiation of heat coming from my right. Looking round I saw Cramer apparently shouting at someone, in the attitude of his dealings with the natives that morning. But he could not advance because of this current of heat. And because of the heat I could not at first make out who Cramer was rowing with; this was the sort of heat that goes for the eyes. But as I got further towards the front of the stage I saw what was standing there. This was a living body. The most noticeable thing was its constancy; it seemed not to conform to the law of perspective, but remained the same size when I approached as when I withdrew. And altogether unlike other forms of life, it had a completed look.
No part was undergoing a process; the outline lacked the signs of confusion and ferment which are commonly the signs of living things, and this was also the principle of its beauty. The eyes took up nearly the whole of the head, extending far over the cheek-bones. From the back of the head came two muscular wings which from time to time folded themselves over the eyes, making a draught of scorching air. There was hardly any neck. Another pair of wings, tough and supple, spread from below the shoulders, and a third pair extended from the calves of the legs, appearing to sustain the body. The feet looked too fragile to bear up such a concentrated degree of being.
European residents of Africa are often irresistibly prompted to speak Kitchen Kaffir to anything strange. 'Hamba' shouted Cramer, meaning 'Go away.' 'Now get off the stage and stop your noise,' said the living body peaceably. 'Who in hell are you?' said Cramer, gasping through the heat. 'The same as in Heaven,' came the reply, 'a Seraph, that's to say.' 'Tell that to someone else,' Cramer panted. 'Do I look like a fool?' 'I will. No nor a Seraph either,' said the Seraph.
The place was filling with heat from the Seraph. Cramer's paint was running into his eyes and he wiped them on his net robe. Walking backward to a less hot place he cried, 'Once and for all -' 'That's correct,' said the Seraph. '_ this is my show,' continued Cramer. 'Since when?' the Seraph said. 'Right from the start,' Cramer breathed at him. 'Well it's been mine from the Beginning,' said the Seraph, 'and the Beginning began first.' Climbing down from the hot stage, Cramer caught his seraphic robe on a nail and tore it. 'Listen here,' he said, 'I can't conceive of an abnormality like you being a true Seraph.' 'True,' said the Seraph.
By this time I had been driven by the heat to the front entrance. Cramer joined me there. A number of natives had assembled. The audience had begun to arrive in cars and the rest of the cast had come round the building from the back. It was impossible to see far inside the building owing to the Seraph's heat and impossible to re-enter. Cramer was still haranguing the Seraph from the door, and there was much speculation amongst the new arrivals as to which of the three familiar categories the present trouble came under, namely the natives, Whitehall or leopards.
'This is my propery,' cried Cramer, 'and these people have paid for their seats. They've come to see a masque.' 'In that case,' said the Seraph, 'I'll cool down and they can come and see a masque.' 'My masque' said Cramer. 'Ah, no, mine,' said the Seraph. 'Yours won't do.' 'Will you go, or shall I call the police?' said Cramer with finality. 'I have no alternative,' said the Seraph more finally still.
Word had gone round that a mad leopard was in the garage. People got back into their cars and parked at a safe distance; the tobacco planter went to fetch a gun.
A number of young troopers had the idea of blinding the mad leopard with petrol and ganged up some natives to fill petrol cans from the pump and pass them chainwise to the garage. 'This'll fix him,' said a trooper. 'That's right, let him have it,' said Cramer from his place by the door. 'I shouldn't do that,' said the Seraph. 'You'll cause a fire.' The first lot of petrol to be flung into the heat flared up. The seats caught light first, then the air itself began to burn within the metal walls till the whole interior was flame feeding on flame. Another car-load of troopers arrived just then and promptly got a gang of natives to fill petrol-cans with water. Slowly they drenched the fire.
The Fanfarlo mustered her angels a little way up the road. She was trying to reassure their parents and see what was happening at the same time, furious at losing her opportunity to dance. She aimed a hard poke at the back of one of the angels whose parents were in England. It was some hours before the fire was put out. While the corrugated metal walls still glowed twisted and furled, it was impossible to see what had happened to the Seraph, and after they had ceased to glow it was too dark and hot to see far into the wreck. 'Are you insured?' one of Cramer's friends asked him. 'Oh, yes,' Cramer replied, 'my policy covers everything except Acts of God - that means lightning or flood.' 'He's fully covered,' said Cramer's friend to another friend. Many people had gone home and the rest were going. The troopers drove off singing 'Good King Wenceslas' and the mission boys ran down the road singing 'Good Christian Men Rejoice'.
It was about midnight, and still very hot. The tobacco planters suggested a drive to the Falls where it was cool. Cramer and the Fanfarlo joined us, and we bumped along the rough path from Cramers to the main highway. There the road is tarred only in two strips to take car wheels. The thunder of the Falls reached us about two miles before we reached them.
'After all my work on the masque and everything!' Cramer was saying. 'Oh, shut up,' said the Fanfarlo. Just then, by the glare of our headlights, I saw the Seraph again, going at about seventy miles an hour and skimming the tarmac strips with two of his six wings in swift motion, two folded over his face, and two covering his feet. 'That's him!' said Cramer. 'We'll get him yet.' We left the car near the hotel and followed a track through the dense vegetation of the Rain Forest, where the spray from the Falls descends perpetually. It was like a convalescence after fever, that frail rain after the heat.
The Seraph was far ahead of us and through the trees I could see where his heat was making steam of the spray. We came to the cliff's edge, where opposite us and from the same level the full weight of the river came blasting into the gorge between. There was no sign of the Seraph. Was he far below in the heaving pit, or where? Then I noticed that along the whole mile of the waterfall's crest the spray was rising higher than usual. This I took to be steam from the Seraph's heat. I was right, for presently, by the mute flashes of summer lightning we watched him ride the Zambesi away from us among the rocks that look like crocodiles and the crocodiles that look like rocks.
© Muriel Spark and Penguin Books
Tout le monde dans la province de Candahar connaît l'aventure du jeune Rustan. Il était fils unique d'un mirza du pays: c'est comme qui dirait marquis parmi nous, ou baron chez les Allemands. Le mirza son père avait un bien honnête. On devait marier le jeune Rustan à une demoiselle, ou mirzasse de sa sorte. Les deux familles le désiraient passionnément. Il devait faire la consolation de ses parents, rendre sa femme heureuse, et l'être avec elle.
Mais par malheur il avait vu la princesse de Cachemire à la foire de Kaboul, qui est la foire la plus considérable du monde, et incomparablement plus fréquentée que celles de Bassora et d'Astrakan; et voici pourquoi le vieux prince de Cachemire était venu à la foire avec sa fille.
Il avait perdu les deux plus rares pièces de son trésor: l'une était un diamant gros comme le pouce, sur lequel sa fille était gravée par un art que les Indiens possédaient alors, et qui s'est perdu depuis; l'autre était un javelot qui allait de lui-même où l'on voulait: ce qui n'est pas une chose bien extraordinaire parmi nous, mais qui l'était à Cachemire.
Un faquir de Son Altesse lui vola ces deux bijoux; il les porta à la princesse. "Gardez soigneusement ces deux pièces, lui dit-il; votre destinée en dépend." Il partit alors, et on ne le revit plus. Le duc de Cachemire, au désespoir, résolut d'aller voir à la foire de Kaboul si de tous les marchands qui s'y rendent des quatre coins du monde il n'y en aurait pas un qui eût son diamant et son arme. Il menait sa fille avec lui dans tous ses voyages. Elle porta son diamant bien enfermé dans sa ceinture; mais pour le javelot, qu'elle ne pouvait si bien cacher, elle l'avait enfermé soigneusement à Cachemire dans son grand coffre de la Chine.
Rustan et elle se virent à Kaboul; ils s'aimèrent avec toute la bonne foi de leur âge, et toute la tendresse de leur pays. La princesse, pour gage de son amour, lui donna son diamant, et Rustan lui promit à son départ de l'aller voir secrètement à Cachemire.
Le jeune mirza avait deux favoris qui lui servaient de secrétaires, d'écuyers, de maîtres d'hôtel et de valets de chambre. L'un s'appelait Topaze: il était beau, bien fait, blanc comme une Circassienne, doux et serviable comme un Arménien, sage comme un Guèbre. L'autre se nommait Ebène: c'était un nègre fort joli, plus empressé, plus industrieux que Topaze, et qui ne trouvait rien de difficile. Il leur communiqua le projet de son voyage. Topaze tâcha de l'en détourner avec le zèle circonspect d'un serviteur qui ne voulait pas lui déplaire; il lui représenta tout ce qu'il hasardait. Comment laisser deux familles au désespoir? comment mettre le couteau dans le cœur de ses parents? Il ébranla Rustan; mais Ebène le raffermit et leva tous ses scrupules.
Le jeune homme manquait d'argent pour un si long voyage. Le sage Topaze ne lui en aurait pas fait prêter; Ebène y pourvut. Il prit adroitement le diamant de son maître, en fit faire un faux tout semblable, qu'il remit à sa place, et donna le véritable en gage à un Arménien pour quelques milliers de roupies.
Quand le marquis eut ses roupies, tout fut près pour le départ. On chargea un éléphant de son bagage; on monta à cheval. Topaze dit à son maître: "J'ai pris la liberté de vous faire des remontrances sur votre entreprise; mais, après avoir remontré, il faut obéir; je suis à vous, je vous aime, je vous suivrai jusqu'au bout du monde; mais consultons en chemin l'oracle qui est à deux parasanges d'ici." Rustan y consentit. L'oracle répondit: "Si tu vas à l'orient, tu seras à l'occident." Rustan ne comprit rien à cette réponse. Topaze soutint qu'elle ne contenait rien de bon. Ebène, toujours complaisant, lui persuada qu'elle était très favorable.
Il y avait encore un autre oracle dans Kaboul; ils y allèrent. L'oracle de Kaboul répondit en ces mots: "Si tu possèdes, tu ne posséderas pas; si tu es vainqueur, tu ne vaincras pas; si tu es Rustan, tu ne le seras pas." Cet oracle parut encore plus inintelligible que l'autre. "Prenez garde à vous, disait Topaze. - Ne redoutez rien", disait Ebène; et ce ministre, comme on peut le croire, avait toujours raison auprès de son maître, dont il encourageait la passion et l'espérance.
Au sortir de Kaboul, on marcha par une grande forêt, on s'assit sur l'herbe pour manger, on laissa les chevaux paître. On se préparait à décharger l'éléphant qui portait le dîner et le service, lorsqu'on s'aperçut que Topaze et Ebène n'étaient plus avec la petite caravane. On les appelle; la forêt retentit des noms d'Ebène et de Topaze. Les valets les cherchent de tous côtés, et remplissent la forêt de leurs cris; ils reviennent sans avoir rien vu, sans qu'on leur ait répondu. "Nous n'avons trouvé, dirent-ils à Rustan, qu'un vautour qui se battait avec un aigle, et qui lui ôtait toutes ses plumes." Le récit de ce combat piqua la curiosité de Rustan; il alla à pied sur le lieu, il n'aperçut ni vautour ni aigle; mais il vit son éléphant, encore tout chargé de son bagage, qui était assailli par un gros rhinocéros. L'un frappait de sa corne, l'autre de sa trompe. Le rhinocéros lâcha prise à la vue de Rustan; on ramena son éléphant, mais on ne trouva plus les chevaux. "Il arrive d'étranges choses dans les forêts quand on voyage!" s'écriait Rustan. Les valets étaient consternés, et le maître au désespoir d'avoir perdu à la fois ses chevaux, son cher nègre, et le sage Topaze, pour lequel il avait toujours de l'amitié, quoiqu'il ne fût jamais de son avis.
L'espérance d'être bientôt aux pieds de la belle princesse de Cachemire le consolait, quand il rencontra un grand âne rayé, à qui un rustre vigoureux et terrible donnait cent coups de bâton. Rien n'est si beau, ni si rare, ni si léger à la course que les ânes de cette espèce. Celui-ci répondait aux coups redoublés du vilain par des ruades qui auraient pu déraciner un chêne. Le jeune mirza prit, comme de raison, le parti de l'âne, qui était une créature charmante. Le rustre s'enfuit en disant à l'âne: "Tu me le payeras." L'âne remercia son libérateur en son langage, s'approcha, se laissa caresser, et caressa. Rustan monte dessus après avoir dîné, et prend le chemin de Cachemire avec ses domestiques, qui suivent, les uns à pied, les autres montés sur l'éléphant.
A peine était-il sur son âne que cet animal tourne vers Kaboul, au lieu de suivre la route de Cachemire. Son maître a beau tourner la bride, donner des saccades, serrer les genoux, appuyer des éperons, rendre la bride, tirer à lui, fouetter à droite et à gauche, l'animal opiniâtre courait toujours vers Kaboul.
Rustan suait, se démenait, se désespérait, quand il rencontra un marchand de chameaux qui lui dit: "Maître, vous avez là un âne bien malin qui vous mène où vous ne voulez pas aller; si vous voulez me le céder, je vous donnerai quatre de mes chameaux à choisir." Rustan remercia la Providence de lui avoir procuré un si bon marché. "Topaze avait grand tort, dit-il, de me dire que mon voyage serait malheureux." Il montre sur le plus beau chameau, les trois autres suivent; il rejoint sa caravane, et se voit dans le chemin de son bonheur.
A peine a-t-il marché quatre parasanges qu'il est arrêté par un torrent profond, large et impétueux, qui roulait des rochers blanchis d'écume. Les deux rivages étaient des précipices affreux qui éblouissaient la vue et glaçaient le courage; nul moyen de passer, nul d'aller à droite ou à gauche. "Je commence à craindre, dit Rustan, que Topaze n'ait eu raison de blâmer mon voyage, et moi grand tort de l'entreprendre; encore, s'il était ici, il me pourrait donner quelques bons avis. Si j'avais Ebène, il me consolerait, et il trouverait des expédients; mais tout me manque." Son embarras était augmenté par la consternation de sa troupe: la nuit était noire, on la passa à se lamenter. Enfin la fatigue et l'abattement endormirent l'amoureux voyageur. Il se réveille au point du jour, et voit un beau pont de marbre élevé sur le torrent d'une rive à l'autre.
Ce furent des exclamations, des cris d'étonnement et de joie. "Est-il possible? est-ce un songe? quel prodige! quel enchantement! oserons-nous passer?" Toute la troupe se mettait à genoux, se relevait, allait au pont, baisait la terre, regardait le ciel, étendait les mains, posait le pied en tremblant, allait, revenait, était en extase; et Rustan disait: "Pour le coup le ciel me favorise: Topaze ne savait ce qu'il disait; les oracles étaient en ma faveur; Ebène avait raison; mais pourquoi n'est-il pas ici?"
A peine la troupe fut-elle au-delà du torrent que voilà le pont qui s'abîme dans l'eau avec un fracas épouvantable. "Tant mieux! tant mieux! s'écria Rustan; Dieu soit loué! le ciel soit béni! il ne veut pas que je retourne dans mon pays, où je n'aurais été qu'un simple gentilhomme; il veut que j'épouse ce que j'aime. Je serais prince de Cachemire; c'est ainsi qu'en possédant ma maîtresse, je ne posséderai pas mon petit marquisat à Candahar. Je serai Rustan, et je ne le serai pas, puisque je deviendrai un grand prince: voilà une grande partie de l'oracle expliquée nettement en ma faveur, le reste s'expliquera de même; je suis trop heureux. Mais pourquoi Ebène n'est-il pas auprès de moi? je le regrette mille fois plus que Topaze."
Il avança encore quelques parasanges avec la plus grande allégresse; mais, sur la fin du jour, une enceinte de montagnes plus roides qu'une contrescarpe, et plus hautes que n'aurait été la tour de Babel si elle avait été achevée, barra entièrement la caravane saisie de crainte.
Tout le monde s'écria: "Dieu veut que nous périssions ici! il n'a brisé le pont que pour nous ôter tout espoir de retour; il n'a élevé la montagne que pour nous priver de tout moyen d'avancer. O Rustan! ô malheureux marquis! nous ne verrons jamais Cachemire, nous ne rentrons jamais dans la terre de Candahar."
La plus cuisante douleur, l'abattement le plus accablant; succédaient dans l'âme de Rustan à la joie immodérée qu'il avait ressentie, aux espérances dont il s'était enivré. Il était bien loin d'interpréter les prophéties à son avantage. "O ciel! ô Dieu paternel! faut-il que j'aie perdu mon ami Topaze!"
Comme il prononçait ces paroles en poussant de profonds soupirs, et en versant des larmes au milieu de ses suivants désespérés, voilà la base de la montagne qui s'ouvre, une longue galerie en voûte, éclairée de cent mille flambeaux, se présente aux yeux éblouis; et Rustan de s'écrier, et ses gens de se jeter à genoux, et de tomber d'étonnement à la renverse, et de crier "miracle!" et de dire: "Rustan est le favori de Vitsnou, le bien-aimé de Brama; il sera le maître du monde." Rustan le croyait, il était hors de lui, élevé au-dessus de lui-même. "Ah! Ebène, mon cher Ebène! où êtes-vous? que n'êtes-vous témoin de toutes ces merveilles! comment vous ai-je perdu? belle princesse de Cachemire, quand reverrai-je vos charmes?"
Il avance avec ses domestiques, son éléphant, ses chameaux, sous la voûte de la montagne, au bout de laquelle il entre dans une prairie émaillée de fleurs et bordée de ruisseaux: et au bout de la prairie ce sont des allées d'arbres à perte de vue; et au bout de ces allées, une rivière, le long de laquelle sont mille maisons de plaisance, avec des jardins délicieux. Il entend partout des concerts de voix et d'instruments; il voit des danses; il se hâte de passer un des ponts de la rivière; il demande au premier homme qu'il rencontre quel est ce beau pays.
Celui auquel il s'adressait lui répondit: "Vous êtes dans la province de Cachemire; vous voyez les habitants dans la joie et dans les plaisirs; nous célébrons les noces de notre belle princesse, qui va se marier avec le seigneur Barbabou, à qui son père l'a promise; que Dieu perpétue leur félicité!" A ces paroles Rustan tomba évanoui, et le seigneur cachemirien crut qu'il était sujet à l'épilepsie; il le fit porter dans sa maison, où il fut longtemps sans connaissance. On alla chercher les deux plus habiles médecins du canton; ils tâtèrent le pouls du malade, qui, ayant repris un peu ses esprits, poussait des sanglots, roulait les yeux, et s'écriait de temps en temps: "Topaze, Topaze, vous aviez bien raison!"
L'un des deux médecins dit au seigneur cachemirien: "Je vois à son accent que c'est un jeune homme de Candahar, à qui l'air de ce pays ne vaut rien; il faut le renvoyer chez lui; je vois à ses yeux qu'il est devenu fou; confiez-le-moi, je le ramènerai dans sa patrie, et je le guérirai." L'autre médecin assura qu'il n'était malade que de chagrin, qu'il fallait le mener aux noces de la princesse, et le faire danser. Pendant qu'ils consultaient, le malade reprit ses forces; les deux médecins furent congédiés, et Rustan demeura tête à tête avec son hôte.
"Seigneur, lui dit-il, je vous demande pardon de m'être évanoui devant vous; je sais que cela n'est pas poli; je vous supplie de vouloir bien accepter mon éléphant en reconnaissance des bontés dont vous m'avez honoré." Il lui conta ensuite toutes ses aventures, en se gardant bien de lui parler de l'objet de son voyage. "Mais, au nom de Vitsnou et de Brama, lui dit-il, apprenez-moi quel est cet heureux Barbabou qui épouse la princesse de Cachemire; pourquoi son père l'a choisi pour gendre, et pourquoi la princesse l'a accepté pour son époux. - Seigneur, lui dit le Cachemirien, la princesse n'a point du tout accepté Barbabou; au contraire, elle est dans les pleurs, tandis que toute la province célèbre avec joie son mariage; elle s'est enfermée dans la tour de son palais; elle ne veut voir aucune des réjouissances qu'on fait pour elle." Rustan, en entendant ces paroles, se sentit renaître; l'éclat de ses couleurs, que la douleur avait flétries, reparut sur son visage. "Dites-moi, je vous prie, continua-t-il, pourquoi le prince de Cachemire s'obstine à donner sa fille à un Barbabou dont elle ne veut pas.
- Voici le fait, répondit le Cachemirien. Savez-vous que notre auguste prince avait perdu un gros diamant et un javelot qui lui tenaient fort au cœur? - Ah! je le sais très bien, dit Rustan. - Apprenez donc, dit l'hôte, que notre prince, au désespoir de n'avoir point de nouvelles de ses deux bijoux, après les avoir fait longtemps chercher par toute la terre, a promis sa fille à quiconque lui rapporterait l'un ou l'autre. Il est venu un seigneur Barbabou qui était muni du diamant, et il épouse demain la princesse."
Rustan pâlit, bégaya un compliment, prit congé de son hôte, et courut sur son dromadaire à la ville capitale où se devait faire la cérémonie. Il arrive au palais du prince; il dit qu'il a des choses importantes à lui communiquer; il demande une audience; on lui répond que le prince est occupé des préparatifs de la noce: "C'est pour cela même, dit-il, que je veux lui parler." Il presse tant qu'il est introduit. "Monseigneur, dit-il, que Dieu couronne tous vos jours de gloire et de magnificence! votre gendre est un fripon.
- Comment? un fripon! qu'osez-vous dire? est-ce ainsi qu'on parle à un duc de Cachemire du gendre qu'il a choisi? - Oui, un fripon, reprit Rustan; et pour le prouver à Votre Altesse, c'est que voici votre diamant que je vous rapporte."
Le duc, tout étonné; confronta les deux diamants; et comme il ne s'y connaissait guère, il ne put dire quel était le véritable. "Voilà deux diamants, dit-il, et je n'ai qu'une fille; me voilà dans un étrange embarras!" Il fit venir Barbabou, et lui demanda s'il ne l'avait point trompé. Barbabou jura qu'il avait acheté son diamant d'un Arménien; l'autre ne disait pas de qui il tenait le sien, mais il proposa un expédient: ce fut qu'il plût à Son Altesse de le faire combattre sur-le-champ contre son rival. "Ce n'est pas assez que votre gendre donne un diamant, disait-il; il faut aussi qu'il donne des preuves de valeur: ne trouvez-vous pas bon que celui qui tuera l'autre épouse la princesse? - Très bon, répondit le prince, ce sera un fort beau spectacle pour la cour; battez-vous vite tous deux: le vainqueur prendra les armes du vaincu, selon l'usage de Cachemire, et il épousera ma fille."
Les deux prétendants descendent aussitôt dans la cour. Il y avait sur l'escalier une pie et un corbeau. Le corbeau criait "Battez-vous, battez-vous"; la pie: "Ne vous battez pas". Cela fit rire le prince; les deux rivaux y prirent garde à peine: ils commencent le combat; tous les courtisans faisaient un cercle autour d'eux. La princesse, se tenant toujours renfermée dans sa tour, ne voulut point assister à ce spectacle; elle était bien loin de se douter que son amant fût à Cachemire, et elle avait tant d'horreur pour Barbabou qu'elle ne voulait rien voir. Le combat se passa le mieux du monde; Barbabou fut tué roide, et le peuple en fut charmé, parce qu'il était laid, et que Rustan était fort joli: c'est presque toujours ce qui décide de la faveur publique.
Le vainqueur revêtit la cotte de mailles, l'écharpe et le casque du vaincu, et vint, suivi de toute la cour, au son des fanfares, se présenter sous les fenêtres de sa maîtresse. Tout le monde criait: "Belle princesse, venez voir votre beau mari qui a tué son vilain rival"; ses femmes répétaient ces paroles. La princesse mit par malheur la tête à la fenêtre, et voyant l'armure d'un homme qu'elle abhorrait, elle courut en désespérée à son coffre de la Chine, et tira le javelot fatal qui alla percer son cher Rustan au défaut de la cuirasse; il jeta un grand cri, et à ce cri la princesse crut reconnaître la voix de son malheureux amant.
Elle descend échevelée, la mort dans les yeux et dans le cœur. Rustan était déjà tombé tout sanglant dans les bras de son père. Elle le voit: ô moment! ô vue! ô reconnaissance dont on ne peut exprimer ni la douleur, ni la tendresse, ni l'horreur! Elle se jette sur lui, elle l'embrasse: "Tu reçois, lui dit-elle; les premiers et les derniers baisers de ton amante et de ta meurtrière." Elle retire le dard de la plaie, l'enfonce dans son cœur, et meurt sur l'amant qu'elle adore. Le père, épouvanté, éperdu, prêt à mourir comme elle, tâche en vain de la rappeler à la vie; elle n'était plus; il maudit ce dard fatal, le brise en morceaux, jette au loin ses deux diamants funestes; et, tandis qu'on prépare les funérailles de sa fille au lieu de son mariage, il fait transporter dans son palais Rustan ensanglanté, qui avait encore un reste de vie.
On le porte dans un lit. La première chose qu'il voit aux deux côtés de ce lit mort, c'est Topaze et Ebène. Sa surprise lui rendit un peu de force. "Ah! cruels, dit-il, pourquoi m'avez-vous abandonné? Peut-être la princesse vivrait encore, si vous aviez été près du malheureux Rustan. - Je ne vous ai pas abandonné un seul moment, dit Topaze. - J'ai toujours été près de vous, dit Ebène. - Ah! que dites-vous? pourquoi insulter à mes derniers moments? répondit Rustan d'une voix languissante. - Vous pouvez m'en croire, dit Topaze; vous savez que je n'approuvai jamais ce fatal voyage dont je prévoyais les horribles suites. C'est moi qui étais l'aigle qui a combattu contre le vautour, et qu'il a déplumé; j'étais l'éléphant qui emportait le bagage pour vous forcer à retourner dans votre patrie; j'étais l'âne rayé qui vous ramenait malgré vous chez votre père; c'est moi, qui ai égaré vos chevaux; c'est moi qui ai formé le torrent qui vous empêchait de passer; c'est moi qui ai élevé la montagne qui vous fermait un chemin si funeste; j'étais le médecin qui vous conseillait l'air natal; j'étais la pie qui vous criait de ne point combattre. - Et moi, dit Ebène, j'étais le vautour qui a déplumé l'aigle, le rhinocéros qui donnait cent coups de corne à l'éléphant, le vilain qui battait l'âne rayé; le marchand qui vous donnait des chameaux pour courir à votre perte; j'ai bâti le pont sur lequel vous avez passé; j'ai creusé la caverne que vous avez traversée, je suis le médecin qui vous encourageait à marcher; le corbeau qui vous criait de vous battre.
- Hélas! souviens-toi de oracles, dit Topaze: Si tu vas à l'orient, tu seras à l'occident. - Oui, dit Ebène, on ensevelit ici les morts le visage tourné à l'occident: l'oracle était clair, que ne l'as-tu compris? Tu as possédé, et tu ne possédais pas: car tu avais le diamant, mais il était faux, et tu n'en savais rien. Tu es vainqueur, et tu meurs; tu es Rustan, et tu cesses de l'être: tout a été accompli."
Comme il parlait ainsi, quatre ailes blanches couvrirent le corps de Topaze, et quatre ailes noires celui d'Ebène. "Que vois-je?" s'écria Rustan. Topaze et Ebène répondirent ensemble: "Tu vois tes deux génies. - Eh! messieurs, leur dit le malheureux Rustan, de quoi vous mêliez-vous? et pourquoi deux génies pour un pauvre homme? - C'est la loi, dit Topaze; chaque homme a ses deux génies, c'est Platon qui l'a dit le premier, et d'autre l'on répété ensuite; tu vois que rien n'est plus véritable: moi qui te parle, je suis ton bon génie, et ma charge était de veiller auprès de toi jusqu'au dernier moment de ta vie; je m'en suis fidèlement acquitté. - Mais, dit le mourant, si ton emploi était de me servir, je suis donc d'une nature fort supérieure à la tienne; et puis comment oses-tu dire que tu es mon bon génie, quand tu m'as laissé tromper dans tout ce que j'ai entrepris, et que tu me laisses mourir, moi et ma maîtresse, misérablement? - Hélas! c'était ta destinée, dit Topaze. - Si c'est la destinée qui fait tout, dit le mourant, à quoi un génie est-il bon? Et toi, Ebène, avec tes quatre ailes noires, tu es apparemment mon mauvais génie? - Vous l'avez dit, répondit Ebène. - Mais tu étais donc aussi le mauvais génie de ma princesse? - Non, elle avait le sien, et je l'ai parfaitement secondé. - Ah! maudit Ebène, si tu es si méchant, tu n'appartiens donc pas au même maître que Topaze? vous avez été formés tous deux par deux principes différents, dont l'un est bon, et l'autre méchant de sa nature? - Ce n'est pas une conséquence, dit Ebène, mais c'est une grande difficulté. - Il n'est pas possible, reprit l'agonisant, qu'un être favorable ait fait un génie si funeste. - Possible ou non possible, repartit Ebène, la chose est comme je te le dis. - Hélas! dit Topaze, mon pauvre ami, ne vois-tu pas que ce coquin-là a encore la malice de te faire disputer pour allumer ton sang et précipiter l'heure de ta mort? - Va, je ne suis guère plus content de toi que de lui, dit le triste Rustan: il avoue du moins qu'il a voulu me faire du mal; et toi, qui prétendais me défendre, tu ne m'as servi de rien. - J'en suis bien fâché, dit le bon génie. - Et moi aussi, dit le mourant; il y a quelque chose là-dessous que je ne comprends pas. - Ni moi non plus, dit le pauvre bon génie. - J'en serai instruit dans un moment, dit Rustan. - C'est ce que nous verrons, dit Topaze." Alors tout disparut. Rustan se retrouva dans la maison de son père, dont il n'était pas sorti, et dans son lit, où il avait dormi une heure.
Il se réveille en sursaut, tout en sueur, tout égaré; il se tâte, il appelle, il crie, il sonne. Son valet de chambre, Topaze, accourt en bonnet de nuit, et tout en bâillant. "Suis-je mort, suis-je en vie? s'écria Rustan; la belle princesse de Cachemire en réchappera-t-elle?... - Monseigneur rêve-t-il? répondit froidement Topaze.
- Ah! s'écriait Rustan, qu'est donc devenu ce barbare Ebène avec ses quatre ailes noires? c'est lui qui me fait mourir d'une mort si cruelle. - Monseigneur, je l'ai laissé là-haut, qui ronfle: voulez-vous qu'on le fasse descendre? - Le scélérat! il y a six mois entiers qu'il me persécute; c'est lui qui me mena à cette fatale foire de Kaboul; c'est lui qui m'escamota le diamant que m'avait donné la princesse; il est seul la cause de mon voyage, de la mort de ma princesse, et du coup de javelot dont je meurs à la fleur de mon âge.
- Rassurez-vous, dit Topaze; vous n'avez jamais été à Kaboul; il n'y a point de princesse de Cachemire; son père n'a jamais eu que deux garçons qui sont actuellement au collège. Vous n'avez jamais eu de diamant; la princesse ne peut être morte, puisqu'elle n'est pas née; et vous vous portez à merveille.
- Comment! il n'est pas vrai que tu m'assistais à la mort dans le lit du prince de Cachemire? Ne m'as-tu pas avoué que, pour me garantir de tant de malheurs, tu avais été aigle, éléphant, âne rayé, médecin, et pie? - Monseigneur, vous avez rêvé tout cela: nos idées ne dépendent pas plus de nous dans le sommeil que dans la veille. Dieu a voulu que cette file d'idées vous ai passé par la tête, pour vous donner apparemment quelque instruction dont vous ferez votre profit.
- Tu te moques de moi, reprit Rustan; combien de temps ai-je dormi? - Monseigneur, vous n'avez encore dormi qu'une heure. - Eh bien! maudit raisonneur, comment veux-tu qu'en une heure de temps j'aie été à la foire de Kaboul il y a six mois, que j'en sois revenu, que j'aie fait le voyage de Cachemire, et que nous soyons morts, Barbabou, la princesse, et moi? - Monseigneur, il n'y a rien de plus aisé et de plus ordinaire, et vous auriez pu réellement faire le tour du monde, et avoir beaucoup plus d'aventures en bien moins de temps.
"N'est-il pas vrai que vous pouvez lire en une heure l'abrégé de l'histoire des Perses, écrite par Zoroastre? cependant cet abrégé contient huit cent mille années. Tous ces événements passent sous vos yeux l'un après l'autre en une heure; or vous m'avouerez qu'il est aussi aisé à Brama de les resserrer tous dans l'espace d'une heure que de les étendre dans l'espace de huit cent mille années; c'est précisément la même chose. Figurez-vous que le temps tourne sur une roue dont le diamètre est infini. Sous cette roue immense sont une multitude innombrable de roues les unes dans les autres; celle du centre est imperceptible, et fait un nombre infini de tours précisément dans le même temps que la grande roue n'en achève qu'un. Il est clair que tous les événements, depuis le commencement du monde jusqu'à sa fin, peuvent arriver successivement en beaucoup moins de temps que la cent millième partie d'une seconde; et on peu dire même que la chose est ainsi.
- Je n'y entends rien, dit Rustan. - Si vous voulez, dit Topaze, j'ai un perroquet qui vous le fera aisément comprendre. Il est né quelque temps avant le déluge, il a été dans l'arche; il a beaucoup vu; cependant il n'a encore qu'un an et demi: il vous contera son histoire, qui est fort intéressante.
- Allez vite chercher votre perroquet, dit Rustan; il m'amusera jusqu'à ce que je puisse me rendormir. - Il est chez ma sœur la religieuse, dit Topaze; je vais le chercher, vous en serez content; sa mémoire est fidèle, il conte simplement, sans chercher à montrer de l'esprit à tout propos, et sans faire; des phrases. - Tant mieux, dit Rustan, voilà comme j'aime les contes." On lui amena le perroquet, lequel parla ainsi.
N.B. Mademoiselle Catherine Vadé n'a jamais pu trouver l'histoire du perroquet dans le portefeuille de feu son cousin Antoine Vadé, auteur de ce conte. C'est grand dommage, vu le temps auquel vivait ce perroquet.
And yet another one:
Nous tromper dans nos entreprises,
C’est à quoi nous sommes sujets ;
Le matin je fais des projets,
Et le long du jour, des sottises.
Ces petits vers conviennent assez à un grand nombre de raisonneurs ; et c’est une chose assez plaisante de voir un grave directeur d’âmes finir par un procès criminel, conjointement avec un banqueroutier. À ce propos, nous réimprimons ici ce petit conte, qui est ailleurs ; car il est bon qu’il soit partout.
Memnon conçut un jour le projet insensé d’être parfaitement sage. Il n’y a guère d’hommes à qui cette folie n’ait quelquefois passé par la tête. Memnon se dit à lui-même : Pour être très sage, et par conséquent très heureux, il n’y a qu’à être sans passions ; et rien n’est plus aisé, comme on sait. Premièrement je n’aimerai jamais de femme ; car, en voyant une beauté parfaite, je me dirai à moi-même : Ces joues-là se rideront un jour ; ces beaux yeux seront bordés de rouge ; cette gorge ronde deviendra plate et pendante ; cette belle tête deviendra chauve. Or je n’ai qu’à la voir à présent des mêmes yeux dont je la verrai alors, et assurément cette tête ne fera pas tourner la mienne.
En second lieu je serai toujours sobre ; j’aurai beau être tenté par la bonne chère, par des vins délicieux, par la séduction de la société ; je n’aurai qu’à me représenter les suites des excès, une tête pesante, un estomac embarrassé, la perte de la raison, de la santé, et du temps, je ne mangerai alors que pour le besoin ; ma santé sera toujours égale, mes idées toujours pures et lumineuses. Tout cela est si facile qu’il n’y a aucun mérite à y parvenir.
Ensuite, disait Memnon, il faut penser un peu à ma fortune ; mes désirs sont modérés ; mon bien est solidement placé sur le receveur général des finances de Ninive ; j’ai de quoi vivre dans l’indépendance : c’est là le plus grand des biens. Je ne serai jamais dans la cruelle nécessité de faire ma cour : je n’envierai personne, et personne ne m’enviera. Voilà qui est encore très aisé. J’ai des amis, continuait-il, je les conserverai, puisqu’ils n’auront rien à me disputer. Je n’aurai jamais d’humeur avec eux, ni eux avec moi ; cela est sans difficulté.
Ayant fait ainsi son petit plan de sagesse dans sa chambre, Memnon mit la tête à la fenêtre. Il vit deux femmes qui se promenaient sous des platanes auprès de sa maison. L’une était vieille, et paraissait ne songer à rien ; l’autre était jeune, jolie, et semblait fort occupée. Elle soupirait, elle pleurait, et n’en avait que plus de grâces. Notre sage fut touché, non pas de la beauté de la dame (il était bien sûr de ne pas sentir une telle faiblesse), mais de l’affliction où il la voyait. Il descendit ; il aborda la jeune Ninivienne dans le dessein de la consoler avec sagesse. Cette belle personne lui conta, de l’air le plus naïf et le plus touchant, tout le mal que lui faisait un oncle qu’elle n’avait point ; avec quels artifices il lui avait enlevé un bien qu’elle n’avait jamais possédé, et tout ce qu’elle avait à craindre de sa violence. « Vous me paraissez un homme de si bon conseil, lui dit-elle, que si vous aviez la condescendance de venir jusque chez moi, et d’examiner mes affaires, je suis sûre que vous me tireriez du cruel embarras où je suis.» Memnon n’hésita pas à la suivre, pour examiner sagement ses affaires, et pour lui donner un bon conseil.
La dame affligée le mena dans une chambre parfumée, et le fit asseoir avec elle poliment sur un large sofa, où ils se tenaient tous deux les jambes croisées vis-à-vis l’un de l’autre. La dame parla en baissant les yeux, dont il échappait quelquefois des larmes, et qui en se relevant rencontraient toujours les regards du sage Memnon. Ses discours étaient pleins d’un attendrissement qui redoublait toutes les fois qu’ils se regardaient. Memnon prenait ses affaires extrêmement à cœur, et se sentait de moment en moment la plus grande envie d’obliger une personne si honnête et si malheureuse. Ils cessèrent insensiblement, dans la chaleur de la conversation, d’être vis-à-vis l’un de l’autre. Leurs jambes ne furent plus croisées. Memnon la conseilla de si près, et lui donna des avis si tendres, qu’ils ne pouvaient ni l’un ni l’autre parler d’affaires, et qu’ils ne savaient plus où ils en étaient.
Comme ils en étaient là, arrive l’oncle, ainsi qu’on peut bien le penser : il était armé de la tête aux pieds ; et la première chose qu’il dit fut qu’il allait tuer, comme de raison, le sage Memnon et sa nièce ; la dernière qui lui échappa fut qu’il pouvait pardonner pour beaucoup d’argent. Memnon fut obligé de donner tout ce qu’il avait. On était heureux dans ce temps-là d’en être quitte à si bon marché ; l’Amérique n’était pas encore découverte, et les dames affligées n’étaient pas à beaucoup près si dangereuses qu’elles le sont aujourd’hui.
Memnon, honteux et désespéré, rentra chez lui : il y trouva un billet qui l’invitait à dîner avec quelques uns de ses intimes amis. Si je reste seul chez moi, dit-il, j’aurai l’esprit occupé de ma triste aventure, je ne mangerai point ; je tomberai malade ; il vaut mieux aller faire avec mes amis intimes un repas frugal. J’oublierai, dans la douceur de leur société, la sottise que j’ai faite ce matin. Il va au rendez-vous ; on le trouve un peu chagrin. On le fait boire pour dissiper sa tristesse. Un peu de vin pris modérément est un remède pour l’âme et pour le corps. C’est ainsi que pense le sage Memnon ; et il s’enivre. On lui propose de jouer après le repas. Un jeu réglé avec des amis est un passe-temps honnête. Il joue ; on lui gagne tout ce qu’il a dans sa bourse, et quatre fois autant sur sa parole. Une dispute s’élève sur le jeu, on s’échauffe : l’un de ses amis intimes lui jette à la tête un cornet, et lui crève un œil. On rapporte chez lui le sage Memnon ivre, sans argent, et ayant un œil de moins.
Il cuve un peu son vin ; et dès qu’il a la tête plus libre, il envoie son valet chercher de l’argent chez le receveur-général des finances de Ninive pour payer ses intimes amis : on lui dit que son débiteur a fait le matin une banqueroute frauduleuse qui met en alarme cent familles. Memnon, outré va à la cour avec un emplâtre sur l’œil et un placet à la main pour demander justice au roi contre le banqueroutier. Il rencontre dans un salon plusieurs dames qui portaient toutes d’un air aisé des cerceaux de vingt-quatre pieds de circonférence. L’une d’elles, qui le connaissait un peu, dit en le regardant de côté : « Ah, l’horreur ! » Une autre, qui le connaissait davantage, lui dit : « Bonsoir, monsieur Memnon ; mais vraiment, monsieur Memnon, je suis fort aise de vous voir ; à propos, monsieur Memnon, pourquoi avez-vous perdu un œil ? » Et elle passa sans attendre sa réponse. Memnon se cacha dans un coin, et attendit le moment où il pût se jeter aux pieds du monarque. Ce moment arriva. Il baisa trois fois la terre, et présenta son placet. Sa gracieuse majesté le reçut très favorablement, et donna le mémoire à un de ses satrapes pour lui en rendre compte. Le satrape tire Memnon à part, et lui dit d’un air de hauteur, en ricanant amèrement : « Je vous trouve un plaisant borgne, de vous adresser au roi plutôt qu’à moi, et encore plus plaisant d’oser demander justice contre un honnête banqueroutier que j’honore de ma protection, et qui est le neveu d’une femme de chambre de ma maîtresse. Abandonnez cette affaire-là, mon ami, si vous voulez conserver l’œil qui vous reste. »
Memnon, ayant ainsi renoncé le matin aux femmes, aux excès de table, au jeu, à toute querelle, et surtout à la cour, avait été avant la nuit trompé et volé par une belle dame, s’était enivré, avait joué, avait eu une querelle, s’était fait crever un œil, et avait été à la cour, où l’on s’était moqué de lui.
Pétrifié d’étonnement et navré de douleur, il s’en retourne la mort dans le cœur. Il veut rentrer chez lui ; il y trouve des huissiers qui démeublaient sa maison de la part de ses créanciers. Il reste presque évanoui sous un platane ; il y rencontre la belle dame du matin, qui se promenait avec son cher oncle, et qui éclata de rire en voyant Memnon avec son emplâtre. La nuit vint ; Memnon se coucha sur de la paille auprès des murs de sa maison. La fièvre le saisit ; il s’endormit dans l’accès, et un esprit céleste lui apparut en songe.
Il était tout resplendissant de lumière. Il avait six belles ailes, mais ni pieds, ni tête, ni queue, et ne ressemblait à rien. « Qui es-tu ? lui dit Memnon. — Ton bon génie, lui répondit l’autre. — Rends-moi donc mon œil, ma santé, ma maison, mon bien, ma sagesse, lui dit Memnon. Ensuite il lui conta comment il avait perdu tout cela en un jour. Voilà des aventures qui ne nous arrivent jamais dans le monde que nous habitons, dit l’esprit. Et quel monde habitez-vous ? dit l’homme affligé. Ma patrie, répondit-il, est à cinq cents millions de lieues du soleil, dans une petite étoile auprès de Sirius, que tu vois d’ici. Le beau pays ! dit Memnon : quoi ! vous n’avez point chez vous de coquines qui trompent un pauvre homme, point d’amis intimes qui lui gagnent son argent et qui lui crèvent un œil, point de banqueroutiers, point de satrapes qui se moquent de vous en vous refusant justice ? Non, dit l’habitant de l’étoile, rien de tout cela. Nous ne sommes jamais trompés par les femmes, parce que nous n’en avons point ; nous ne faisons point d’excès de table, parce que nous ne mangeons point ; nous n’avons point de banqueroutiers, parce qu’il n’y a chez nous ni or ni argent ; on ne peut nous crever les yeux, parce que nous n’avons point de corps à la façon des vôtres ; et les satrapes ne nous font jamais d’injustice, parce que dans notre petite étoile tout le monde est égal.
Memnon lui dit alors : Monseigneur, sans femme et sans dîner, à quoi passez-vous votre temps ? À veiller, dit le génie, sur les autres globes qui nous sont confiés : et je viens pour te consoler. Hélas ! reprit Memnon, que ne veniez-vous la nuit passée pour m’empêcher de faire tant de folies ? J’étais auprès d’Assan, ton frère aîné, dit l’être céleste. Il est plus à plaindre que toi. Sa gracieuse majesté le roi des Indes, à la cour duquel il a l’honneur d’être, lui a fait crever les deux yeux pour une petite indiscrétion, et il est actuellement dans un cachot, les fers aux pieds et aux mains. C’est bien la peine, dit Memnon, d’avoir un bon génie dans une famille, pour que de deux frères, l’un soit borgne, l’autre aveugle, l’un couché sur la paille, l’autre en prison. Ton sort changera, reprit l’animal de l’étoile. Il est vrai que tu seras toujours borgne ; mais, à cela près, tu seras assez heureux, pourvu que tu ne fasses jamais le sot projet d’être parfaitement sage. C’est donc une chose à laquelle il est impossible de parvenir ? s’écria Memnon en soupirant. Aussi impossible, lui répliqua l’autre, que d’être parfaitement habile, parfaitement fort, parfaitement puissant, parfaitement heureux. Nous-mêmes, nous en sommes bien loin. Il y a un globe où tout cela se trouve ; mais dans les cent mille millions de mondes qui sont dispersés dans l’étendue tout se suit par degrés. On a moins de sagesse et de plaisir dans le second que dans le premier, moins dans le troisième que dans le second, ainsi du reste jusqu’au dernier, où tout le monde est complètement fou. J’ai bien peur, dit Memnon, que notre petit globe terraqué ne soit précisément les Petites-Maisons de l’univers dont vous me faites l’honneur de me parler. Pas tout-à-fait, dit l’esprit ; mais il en approche : il faut que tout soit en sa place. Eh mais ! dit Memnon, certains poètes, certains philosophes, ont donc grand tort de dire que tout est bien ? Ils ont grande raison, dit le philosophe de là-haut, en considérant l’arrangement de l’univers entier. Ah ! je ne croirai cela, répliqua le pauvre Memnon, que quand je ne serai plus borgne.
Last edited by belamo; March 1st, 2013 at 01:36 PM.
I will put them through Google Translate.
I had some misgivings about reproducing Muriel Spark's first published short story in its entirety but we're all reproducing those Youtube clips without paying royalties.
Here you have the trans... vest... THE BLACK AND THE WHITE and MEMNON: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/35595...-h/35595-h.htm
^ Fair enough. I accept you with all your frailties. But bear in mind that this thread is intended for those among us who are prepared to open up their mind and learn new things.
"A novella"? This is a "novella":
It would almost seem that the Gitanos and Gitanas, or male and female gipsies, had been sent into the world for the sole purpose of thieving. Born of parents who are thieves, reared among thieves, and educated as thieves, they finally go forth perfected in their vocation, accomplished at all points, and ready for every species of roguery. In them the love of thieving, and the ability to exercise it, are qualities inseparable from their existence, and never lost until the hour of their death.
Now it chanced that an old woman of this race, one who had merited retirement on full pay as a veteran in the ranks of Cacus, brought up a girl whom she called Preciosa, and declared to be her granddaughter. To this child she imparted all her own acquirements, all the various tricks of her art. Little Preciosa became the most admired dancer in all the tribes of Gipsydom; she was the most beautiful and discreet of all their maidens; nay she shone conspicuous not only among the gipsies, but even as compared with the most lovely and accomplished damsels whose praises were at that time sounded forth by the voice of fame. Neither sun, nor wind, nor all those vicissitudes of weather, to which the gipsies are more constantly exposed than any other people, could impair the bloom of her complexion or embrown her hands; and what is more remarkable, the rude manner in which she was reared only served to reveal that she must have sprung from something better than the Gitano stock; for she was extremely pleasing and courteous in conversation, and lively though she was, yet in no wise did she display the least unseemly levity; on the contrary, amidst all her sprightliness, there was at the same time so much genuine decorum in her manner, that in the presence of Preciosa no gitana, old or young, ever dared to sing lascivious songs, or utter unbecoming words.
The grandmother fully perceived what a treasure she had in her grandchild; and the old eagle determined to set her young eaglet flying, having been careful to teach her how to live by her talons. Preciosa was rich in hymns, ballads, seguidillas, sarabands, and other ditties, especially romances, which she sang with peculiar grace; for the cunning grandmother knew by experience that such accomplishments, added to the youth and beauty of her granddaughter, were the best means of increasing her capital, and therefore she failed not to promote their cultivation in every way she could. Nor was the aid of poets wanting; for some there are who do not disdain to write for the gipsies, as there are those who invent miracles for the pretended blind, and go snacks with them in what they gain from charitable believers.
During her childhood, Preciosa lived in different parts of Castile; but in her sixteenth year her grandmother brought her to Madrid, to the usual camping-ground of the gipsies, in the fields of Santa Barbara. Madrid seemed to her the most likely place to find customers; for there everything is bought and sold. Preciosa made her first appearance in the capital on the festival of Santa Anna, the patroness of the city, when she took part in a dance performed by eight gitanas, with one gitano, an excellent dancer, to lead them. The others were all very well, but such was the elegance of Preciosa, that she fascinated the eyes of all the spectators. Amidst the sound of the tambourine and castanets, in the heat of the dance, a murmur of admiration arose for the beauty and grace of Preciosa; but when they heard her sing—for the dance was accompanied with song—the fame of the gitana reached its highest point; and by common consent the jewel offered as the prize of the best dancer in that festival was adjudged to her. After the usual dance in the church of Santa Maria, before the image of the glorious Santa Anna, Preciosa caught up a tambourine, well furnished with bells, and having cleared a wide circle around her with pirouettes of exceeding lightness, she sang a hymn to the patroness of the day. It was the admiration of all who heard her. Some said, "God bless the girl!" Others, "'Tis a pity that this maiden is a gitana: truly she deserves to be the daughter of some great lord!" Others more coarsely observed, "Let the wench grow up, and she will show you pretty tricks; she is closing the meshes of a very nice net to fish for hearts." Another more good-natured but ill-bred and stupid, seeing her foot it so lightly, "Keep it up! keep it up! Courage, darling! Grind the dust to atoms!" "Never fear," she answered, without losing a step; "I'll grind it to atoms."
At the vespers and feast of Santa Anna Preciosa was somewhat fatigued; but so celebrated had she become for beauty, wit, and discretion, as well as for her dancing, that nothing else was talked of throughout the capital. A fortnight afterwards, she returned to Madrid, with three other girls, provided with their tambourines and a new dance, besides a new stock of romances and songs, but all of a moral character; for Preciosa would never permit those in her company to sing immodest songs, nor would she ever sing them herself. The old gitana came with her, for she now watched her as closely as Argus, and never left her side, lest some one should carry her off. She called her granddaughter, and the girl believed herself to be her grandchild.
The young gitanas began their dance in the shade, in the Calle de Toledo, and were soon encircled by a crowd of spectators. Whilst they danced, the old woman gathered money among the bystanders, and they showered it down like stones on the highway; for beauty has such power that it can awaken slumbering charity. The dance over, Preciosa said, "If you will give me four quartos, I will sing by myself a beautiful romance about the churching of our lady the Queen Doña Margarita. It is a famous composition, by a poet of renown, one who may be called a captain in the battalion of poets." No sooner had she said this, than almost every one in the ring cried out, "Sing it, Preciosa; here are my four quartos;" and so many quartos were thrown down for her, that the old gitana had not hands enough to pick them up. When the gathering was ended, Preciosa resumed her tambourine, and sang the promised romance, which was loudly encored, the whole audience crying out with one voice, "Sing again, Preciosa, sing again, and dance for us, girl: thou shalt not want quartos, whilst thou hast the ground beneath thy feet."
Whilst more than two hundred persons were thus looking on at the dance, and listening to the singing of the gitana, one of the lieutenants of the city passed by; and seeing so many people together, he asked what was the occasion of the crowd. Being told that the handsome gitana was singing there, the lieutenant, who was not without curiosity, drew near also to listen, but in consideration of his dignity, he did not wait for the end of the romance. The gitanilla, however, pleased him so much, that he sent his page to tell the old crone to come to his house that evening with her troop, as he wished his wife Doña Clara to hear them. The page delivered the message, and the old gitana promised to attend.
After the performance was ended, and the performers were going elsewhere, a very well-dressed page came up to Preciosa, and giving her a folded paper, said, "Pretty Preciosa, will you sing this romance? It is a very good one, and I will give you others from time to time, by which you will acquire the fame of having the best romances in the world."
"I will learn this one with much willingness," replied Preciosa; "and be sure, señor, you bring me the others you speak of, but on condition that there is nothing improper in them. If you wish to be paid for them, we will agree for them by the dozen; but do not expect to be paid in advance; that will be impossible. When a dozen have been sung, the money for a dozen shall be forthcoming."
"If the Señora Preciosa only pays me for the paper," said the page, "I shall be content. Moreover, any romance which does not turn out so well shall not be counted."
"I will retain the right of choice," said Preciosa; and then she continued her way with her companions up the street, when some gentlemen called and beckoned to them from a latticed window. Preciosa went up and looked through the window, which was near the ground, into a cheerful, well-furnished apartment, in which several cavaliers were walking about, and others playing at various games. "Will you give me a share of your winnings, señors?" said Preciosa, in the lisping accent of the gipsies, which she spoke not by nature but from choice. At the sight of Preciosa, and at the sound of her voice, the players quitted the tables, the rest left off lounging, and all thronged to the window, for her fame had already reached them. "Come in! Let the little gipsies come in," said the cavaliers, gaily; "we will certainly give them a share of our winnings."
"But you might make it cost us dear, señors," said Preciosa.
"No, on the honour of gentlemen," said one, "you may come in, niña, in full security that no one will touch the sole of your shoe. I swear this to you by the order I wear on my breast;" and as he spoke he laid his hand on the cross of the order of Calatrava which he wore.
"If you like to go in, Preciosa," said one of the gitanillas who were with her, "do so by all means; but I do not choose to go where there are so many men."
"Look you, Christina," answered Preciosa, "what you have to beware of is one man alone; where there are so many there is nothing to fear. Of one thing you may be sure, Christina; the woman who is resolved to be upright may be so amongst an army of soldiers. It is well, indeed, to avoid occasions of temptation, but it is not in crowded rooms like this that danger lurks."
"Well then, let us go in, Preciosa," said her companion, "you know more than a witch."
The old gipsy also encouraged them to go in, and that decided the question. As soon as they had entered the room, the cavalier of the order, seeing the paper which Preciosa carried, stretched out his hand to take it. "Do not take it from me," she said: "It is a romance but just given to me, and which I have not yet had time to read."
"And do you know how to read, my girl?" said one of the cavaliers.
"Ay, and to write too," said the old woman. "I have brought up my grandchild as if she was a lawyer's daughter."
The cavalier opened the paper, and finding a gold crown inclosed in it, said, "Truly, Preciosa, the contents of this letter are worth the postage. Here is a crown inclosed in the romance."
"The poet has treated me like a beggar," said Preciosa; "but it is certainly a greater marvel for one of his trade to give a crown than for one of mine to receive it. If his romances come to me with this addition, he may transscribe the whole Romancero General and send me every piece in it one by one. I will weigh their merit; and if I find there is good matter in them, I will not reject them. Read the paper aloud, señor, that we may see if the poet is as wise as he is liberal." The cavalier accordingly read as follows:—
Sweet gipsy girl, whom envy's self
Must own of all fair maids the fairest,
Ah! well befits thy stony heart
The name thou, Preciosa,bearest.
If as in beauty, so in pride
And cruelty thou grow to sight,
Woe worth the land, woe worth the age
Which brought thy fatal charms to light.
A basilisk in thee we see,
Which fascinates our gaze and kills.
No empire mild is thine, but one
That tyrannises o'er our wills.
How grew such charms 'mid gipsy tribes,
From roughest blasts without a shield?
How such a perfect chrysolite
Could humble Manzanares yield?
River, for this thou shalt be famed,
Like Tagus with its golden show,
And more for Preciosa prized
Than Ganges with its lavish flow.
In telling fortunes who can say
What dupes to ruin thou beguilest?
Good luck thou speak'st with smiling lips.
But luckless they on whom thou smilest!
Tis said they're witches every one,
The women of the gipsy race;
And all men may too plainly see
That thou hast witchcraft in thy face.
A thousand different modes are thine
To turn the brain; for rest or move,
Speak, sing, be mute, approach, retire,
Thou kindlest still the fire of love.
The freest hearts bend to thy sway,
And lose the pride of liberty;
Bear witness mine, thy captive thrall,
Which would not, if it could, be free.
These lines, thou precious gem of love,
Whose praise all power of verse transcend,
He who for thee will live or die,
Thy poor and humble lover sends.
"The poem ends with 'poor' in the last line," said Preciosa; "and that is a bad sign. Lovers should never begin by saying that they are poor, for poverty, it strikes me, is a great enemy to love."
"Who teaches you these things, girl?" said one of the cavaliers.
"Who should teach me?" she replied. "Have I not a soul in my body? Am I not fifteen years of age? I am neither lame, nor halt, nor maimed in my understanding. The wit of a gipsy girl steers by a different compass from that which guides other people. They are always forward for their years. There is no such thing as a stupid gitano, or a silly gitana. Since it is only by being sharp and ready that they can earn a livelihood, they polish their wits at every step, and by no means let the moss grow under their feet. You see these girls, my companions, who are so silent. You may think they are simpletons, but put your fingers in their mouths to see if they have cut their wise teeth; and then you shall see what you shall see. There is not a gipsy girl of twelve who does not know as much as one of another race at five-and-twenty, for they have the devil and much practice for instructors, so that they learn in one hour what would otherwise take them a year."
The company were much amused by the gitana's chat, and all gave her money. The old woman sacked thirty reals, and went off with her flock as merry as a cricket to the house of the señor lieutenant, after promising that she would return with them another day to please such liberal gentlemen. Doña Clara, the lieutenant's lady, had been apprised of the intended visit of the gipsies, and she and her doncellas and dueñas, as well as those of another señora, her neighbour, were expecting them as eagerly as one looks for a shower in May. They had come to see Preciosa. She entered with her companions, shining among them like a torch among lesser lights, and all the ladies pressed towards her. Some kissed her, some gazed at her; others blessed her sweet face, others her graceful carriage. "This, indeed, is what you may call golden hair," cried Doña Clara; "these are truly emerald eyes." The señora, her neighbour, examined the gitanilla piecemeal. She made a pepetoria of all her joints and members, and coming at last to a dimple in her chin, she said, "Oh, what a dimple! it is a pit into which all eyes that behold it must fall." Thereupon an esquire in attendance on Doña Clara, an elderly gentleman with a long beard, exclaimed, "Call you this a dimple, señora? I know little of dimples then if this be one. It is no dimple, but a grave of living desires. I vow to God the gitanilla is such a dainty creature, she could not be better if she was made of silver or sugar paste. Do you know how to tell fortunes, niña?"
"That I do, and in three or four different manners," replied Preciosa.
"You can do that too?" exclaimed Doña Clara. "By the life of my lord the lieutenant, you must tell me mine, niña of gold, niña of silver, niña of pearls, niña of carbuncles, niña of heaven, and more than that cannot be said."
"Give the niña the palm of your hand, señora, and something to cross it with," said the old gipsy; "and you will see what things she will tell you, for she knows more than a doctor of medicine."
The señora Tenienta put her hand in her pocket, but found it empty; she asked for the loan of a quarto from her maids, but none of them had one, neither had the señora her neighbour. Preciosa seeing this, said, "For the matter of crosses all are good, but those made with silver or gold are best. As for making the sign of the cross with copper money, that, ladies, you must know lessens the luck, at least it does mine. I always like to begin by crossing the palm with a good gold crown, or a piece of eight, or at least a quarto, for, I am like the sacristans who rejoice when there is a good collection."
"How witty you are," said the lady visitor; then turning to the squire, "Do you happen to have a quarto about you, Señor Contreras? if you have, give it me, and when my husband the doctor comes you shall have it again."
"I have one," replied Contreras, "but it is pledged for two-and-twenty maravedis for my supper; give me so much and I will fly to fetch it."
"We have not a quarto amongst us all," said Doña Clara, "and you ask for two-and-twenty maravedis? Go your ways, Contreras, for a tiresome blockhead, as you always were."
One of the damsels present, seeing the penury of the house, said to Preciosa, "Niña, will it be of any use to make the cross with a silver thimble?"
"Certainly," said Preciosa; "the best crosses in the world are made with silver thimbles, provided there are plenty of them."
"I have one," said the doncella; "if that is enough, here it is, on condition that my fortune be told too."
"So many fortunes to be told for a thimble!" exclaimed the old gipsy. "Make haste, granddaughter, for it will soon be night." Preciosa took the thimble, and began her sooth saying.
Pretty lady, pretty lady,
With a hand as silver fair,
How thy husband dearly loves thee
'Tis superfluous to declare.
Thou'rt a dove, all milk of kindness;
Yet at times too thou canst be
Wrathful as a tiger, or a
Lioness of Barbary.
Thou canst show thy teeth when jealous;
Truly the lieutenant's sly;
Loves with furtive sports to vary
What a pity! One worth having
Woo'd thee when a maiden fair.
Plague upon all interlopers!
You'd have made a charming pair.
Sooth, I do not like to say it,
Yet it may as well be said;
Thou wilt be a buxom widow;
Twice again shalt thou be wed.
Do not weep, my sweet senora;
We gitanas, you must know,
Speak not always true as gospel
Weep not then sweet lady so.
If the thought is too distressing,
Losing such a tender mate,
Thou hast but to die before him,
To escape a widow's fate.
Wealth abundant thou'lt inherit,
And that quickly, never fear:
Thou shalt have a son, a canon,
—Of what church does not appear;
Not Toledo; no, that can't be;
And a daughter—let me see—
Ay, she'll rise to be an abbess;
—That is, if a nun she be.
If thy husband do not drop off
From this moment in weeks four,
Burgos him, or Salamanca,
Shall behold corregidor.
Meanwhile keep thyself from tripping:
Where thou walkest, many a snare
For the feet of pretty ladies
Naughty gallants lay: beware!
Other things still more surprising
Shall on Friday next be told,
Things to startle and delight thee,
When I've crossed thy palm with gold.
Preciosa having finished this oracular descant for the lady of the house, the rest of the company were all eager to have their fortunes told likewise, but she put them off till the next Friday, when they promised to have silver coin ready for crossing their palms. The señor lieutenant now came in, and heard a glowing account of the charms and accomplishments of the leading gitana. Having made her and her companions dance a little, he emphatically confirmed the encomiums bestowed on Preciosa; and putting his hand in his pocket he groped and rummaged about in it for a while, but at last drew his hand out empty, saying, "Upon my life I have not a doit. Give Preciosa a real, Doña Clara; I will give it you by and by."
"That is all very well, señor," the lady replied; "but where is the real to come from? Amongst us all we could not find a quarto to cross our hands with."
"Well, give her some trinket or another, that Preciosa may come another day to see us, when we will treat her better."
"No," said Doña Clara, "I will give her nothing to-day, and I shall be sure she will come again."
"On the contrary," said Preciosa, "if you give me nothing. I will never come here any more. Sell justice, señor lieutenant, sell justice, and then you will have money. Do not introduce new customs, but do as other magistrates do, or you will die of hunger. Look you, señor, I have heard say that money enough may be made of one's office to pay any mulets that may be incurred, and to help one to other appointments."
"So say and do those who have no conscience," said the lieutenant; "but the judge who does his duty will have no mulet to pay; and to have well discharged his office, will be his best help to obtain another."
"Your worship speaks like a very saint," replied Preciosa; "proceed thus, and we shall snip pieces off your old coats for relics."
"You know a great deal, Preciosa," said the lieutenant; "say no more, and I will contrive that their majesties shall see you, for you are fit to be shown to a king."
"They will want me for a court fool," said the gitanilla, "and as I never shall learn the trade, your pains will be all for nothing. If they wanted me for my cleverness, they might have me; but in some palaces fools thrive better than the wise. I am content to be a gitana, and poor, and let Heaven dispose of me as it pleases."
"Come along, niña," said the old gipsy; "say no more, you have said a great deal already, and know more than I ever taught you. Don't put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get blunted; speak of things suitable to your years; and don't set yourself on the high ropes, lest you should chance to have a fall."
"The deuce is in these gitanas," said the delighted lieutenant, as they were taking their leave. The doncella of the thimble stopped them for a moment, saying to Preciosa, "Tell me my fortune, or give me back my thimble, for I have not another to work with."
"Señora doncella," replied Preciosa, "count upon your fortune as if it were already told, and provide yourself with another; or else sew no more gussets until I come again on Friday, when I will tell you more fortunes and adventures than you could read in any book of knight errantry."
The gipsies went away, and falling in with numerous workwomen returning from Madrid to their villages as usual at the Ave Maria, they joined company with them, as they always did for the greater security; for the old gipsy lived in perpetual terror lest some one should run away with her granddaughter.
One morning after this as they were returning to Madrid to levy black mail along with other gitanas, in a little valley about five hundred yards from the city, they met a handsome young gentleman richly dressed; his sword and dagger were a blazo of gold; his hat was looped with a jewelled band, and was adorned with plumes of various colours. The gitanas stopped on seeing him, and set themselves to observe his movements at their leisure, wondering much that so fine a cavalier should be alone and on foot in such a place at that early hour. He came up to them, and addressing the eldest gitana, said, "On your life, friend, I entreat you do me the favour to let me say two words in private to you and Preciosa. It shall be for your good."
"With all my heart," said the old woman, "so you do not take us much out of our way, or delay us long;" and calling Preciosa, they withdrew to some twenty paces distance, where they stopped, and the young gentleman thus addressed them: "I am so subdued by the wit and beauty of Preciosa, that after having in vain endeavoured to overcome my admiration, I have at last found the effort impossible. I, señoras (for I shall always give you that title if heaven favours my pretensions), am a knight, as this dress may show you;" and opening his cloak he displayed the insignia of one of the highest orders in Spain; "I am the son of——" (here he mentioned a personage whose name we suppress for obvious reasons), "and am still under tutelage and command. I am an only son, and expect to inherit a considerable estate. My father is here in the capital, looking for a certain post which by all accounts he is on the point of obtaining. Being then of the rank and condition which I have declared to you, I should yet wish to be a great lord for the sake of Preciosa, that I might raise her up to my own level, and make her my equal and my lady. I do not seek to deceive; the love I bear her is too deep for any kind of deception; I only desire to serve her in whatever way shall be most agreeable to her; her will is mine; for her my heart is wax to be moulded as she pleases but enduring as marble to retain whatever impression she shall make upon it. If you believe me I shall fear no discouragement from any other quarter, but if you doubt me, I shall despond. My name is——; my father's I have already given you; he lives in such a house in such a street and you may inquire about him and me of the neighbours, and of others also; for our name and quality are not so obscure but that you may hear of us about the court, and every, where in the capital. I have here a hundred crowns in gold to present to you, as earnest of what I mean to give you hereafter; for a man will be no niggard of his wealth who has given away his very soul."
Whilst the cavalier was speaking, Preciosa watched him attentively, and doubtless she saw nothing to dislike either in his language or his person. Turning to the old woman, she said, "Pardon me, grandmother, if I take the liberty of answering this enamoured señor myself."
"Make whatever answer you please, granddaughter," said the old woman, "for I know you have sense enough for anything." So Preciosa began.
"Señor cavalier," she said, "though I am but a poor gitana and humbly born, yet I have a certain fantastic little spirit within me, which moves me to great things. Promises do not tempt me, nor presents sap my resolution, nor obsequiousness allure, nor amorous wiles ensnare me; and although by my grandmother's reckoning I shall be but fifteen next Michaelmas, I am already old in thought, and have more understanding than my years would seem to promise. This may, perhaps, be more from nature than from experience; but be that as it may, I know that the passion of love is an impetuous impulse, which violently distorts the current of the will, makes it dash furiously against all impediments, and recklessly pursue the desired object. But not unfrequently when the lover believes himself on the point of gaining the heaven of his wishes, he falls into the hell of disappointment. Or say that the object is obtained, the lover soon becomes wearied of his so much desired treasure, and opening the eyes of his understanding he finds that what before was so devoutly adored is now become abhorrent to him. The fear of such a result inspires me with so great a distrust, that I put no faith in words, and doubt many deeds. One sole jewel I have, which I prize more than life, and that is my virgin purity, which I will not sell for promises or gifts, for sold it would be in that case, and if it could be bought, small indeed would be its value. Nor is it to be filched from me by wiles or artifices; rather will I carry it with me to my grave, and perhaps to heaven, than expose it to danger by listening to specious tales and chimeras. It is a flower which nothing should be allowed to sully, even in imagination if it be possible. Nip the rose from the spray, and how soon it fades! One touches it, another smells it, a third plucks its leaves, and at last the flower perishes in vulgar hands. If you are come then, señor, for this booty, you shall never bear it away except bound in the ties of wedlock. If you desire to be my spouse, I will be yours; but first there are many conditions to be fulfilled, and many points to be ascertained.
"In the first place I must know if you are the person you declare yourself to be. Next, should I find this to be true, you must straightway quit your father's mansion, and exchange it for our tents, where, assuming the garb of a gipsy, you must pass two years in our schools, during which I shall be able to satisfy myself as to your disposition, and you will become acquainted with mine. At the end of that period, if you are pleased with me and I with you, I will give myself up to you as your wife; but till then I will be your sister and your humble servant, and nothing more. Consider, señor, that during the time of this novitiate you may recover your sight, which now seems lost, or at least disordered, and that you may then see fit to shun what now you pursue with so much ardour. You will then be glad to regain your lost liberty, and having done so, you may by sincere repentance obtain pardon of your family for your faults. If on these conditions you are willing to enlist in our ranks, the matter rests in your own hands; but if you fail in any one of them, you shall not touch a finger of mine."
The youth was astounded at Preciosa's decision, and remained as if spell-bound, with his eyes bent on the ground, apparently considering what answer he should return. Seeing this, Preciosa said to him, "This is not a matter of such light moment that it can or ought to be resolved on the spot. Return, señor, to the city, consider maturely what is best for you to do; and you may speak with me in this same place any week-day you please, as we are on our way to or from Madrid."
"When Heaven disposed me to love you, Preciosa," replied the cavalier, "I determined to do for you whatever it might be your will to require of me, though it never entered my thoughts that you would make such a demand as you have now done; but since it is your pleasure that I should comply with it, count me henceforth as a gipsy, and put me to all the trials you desire, you will always find me the same towards you as I now profess myself. Fix the time when you will have me change my garb. I will leave my family under pretext of going to Flanders, and will bring with me money for my support for some time. In about eight days I shall be able to arrange for my departure, and I will contrive some means to get rid of my attendants, so as to be free to accomplish my purpose. What I would beg of you (if I might make bold to ask any favour) is that, except to-day for the purpose of inquiring about me and my family, you go no more to Madrid, for I would not that any of the numerous occasions that present themselves there, should deprive me of the good fortune I prize so dearly."
"Not so, señor gallant," said Preciosa: "wherever I go I must be free and unfettered; my liberty must not be restrained or encumbered by jealousy. Be assured, however, that I will not use it to such excess, but that any one may see from a mile off that my honesty is equal to my freedom. The first charge, therefore, I have to impose upon you is, that you put implicit confidence in me; for lovers who begin by being jealous, are either silly or deficient in confidence."
"You must have Satan himself within you, little one," said the old gipsy; "why you talk like a bachelor of Salamanca. You know all about love and jealousy and confidence. How is this? You make me look like a fool, and I stand listening to you as to a person possessed, who talks Latin without knowing it."
"Hold your peace, grandmother," replied Preciosa; "and know that all the things you have heard me say are mere trifles to the many greater truths that remain in my breast."
All that Preciosa said, and the sound sense she displayed, added fuel to the flame that burned in the breast of the enamoured cavalier. Finally, it was arranged that they should meet in the same place on that day sennight, when he would report how matters stood with him, and they would have had time to inquire into the truth of what he had told them. The young gentleman then took out a brocaded purse in which he said there were a hundred gold crowns, and gave it to the old woman; but Preciosa would by no means consent that she should take them.
"Hold your tongue, niña," said her grandmother; "the best proof this señor has given of his submission, is in thus having yielded up his arms to us in token of surrender. To give, upon whatever occasion it may be, is always the sign of a generous heart. Moreover, I do not choose that the gitanas should lose, through my fault, the reputation they have had for long ages of being greedy of lucre. Would you have me lose a hundred crowns, Preciosa? A hundred crowns in gold that one may stitch up in the hem of a petticoat not worth two reals, and keep them there as one holds a rent-charge on the pastures of Estramadura! Suppose that any of our children, grandchildren, or relations should fall by any mischance into the hands of justice, is there any eloquence so sure to touch the ears of the judge as the music of these crowns when they fall into his purse? Three times, for three different offences, I have seen myself all but mounted on the ass to be whipped; but once I got myself off by means of a silver mug, another time by a pearl necklace, and the third time with the help of forty pieces of eight, which I exchanged for quartos, throwing twenty reals into the bargain. Look you, niña, ours is a very perilous occupation, full of risks and accidents; and there is no defence that affords us more ready shelter and succour than the invincible arms of the great Philip: nothing beats the plus ultra. For the two faces of a doubloon, a smile comes over the grim visage of the procurator and of all the other ministers of mischief, who are downright harpies to us poor gitanas, and have more mercy for highway robbers than for our poor hides. Let us be ever so ragged and wretched in appearance, they will not believe that we are poor, but say that we are like the doublets of the gavachos of Belmont, ragged and greasy and full of doubloons."
"Say no more, for heaven's sake, grandmother," said Preciosa; "do not string together so many arguments for keeping the money, but keep it, and much good may it do you. I wish to God you would bury it in a grave out of which it may never return to the light, and that there may never be any need of it. We must, however, give some of it to these companions of ours, who must be tired of waiting so long for us."
"They shall see one coin out of this purse as soon as they will see the Grand Turk," the old woman replied. "The good señor will try if he has any silver coin or a few coppers remaining, to divide amongst them, for they will be content with a little."
"Yes, I have," he said, and he took from his pocket three pieces of eight which he divided among the gitanas, with which they were more delighted than the manager of a theatre when he is placarded as victor in a contest with a rival. Finally it was settled that the party should meet there again in a week, as before mentioned, and that the young man's gipsy name should be Andrew Caballero, for that was a surname not unknown among the gipsies. Andrew (as we shall henceforth call him) could not find courage to embrace Preciosa, but darting his very soul into her with a glance, he went away without it, so to speak, and returned to Madrid. The gipsies followed soon after; and Preciosa, who already felt a certain interest in the handsome and amiable Andrew, was anxious to learn if he was really what he said.
They had not gone far before they met the page of the verses and the gold crown. "Welcome, Preciosa," he said, coming up to her. "Have you read the lines I gave you the other day?"
"Before I answer you a word," said she, "you must, by all you love best, tell me one thing truly."
"Upon that adjuration," he replied, "I could not refuse an answer to any question, though it should cost me my head."
"Well, then, what I want to know is this: are you, perchance, a poet?"
"If I were one, it would certainly be perchance," said the page; "but you must know, Preciosa, that the name of poet is one which very few deserve. Thus I am not a poet, but only a lover of poetry; yet for my own use I do not borrow of others. The verses I gave you were mine, as are these also which I give you now; but I am not a poet for all that—God forbid."
"Is it such a bad thing to be a poet?" Preciosa asked.
"It is not a bad thing," he answered; "but to be a poet and nothing else I do not hold to be very good. We should use poetry like a rich jewel, the owner of which does not wear it every day, or show it to all people, but displays it only at suitable times. Poetry is a beautiful maiden, chaste, honest, discreet, reserved, and never overstepping the limits of perfect refinement. She is fond of solitude; she finds pleasure and recreation among fountains, meadows, trees, and flowers; and she delights and instructs all who are conversant with her."
"I have heard for all that," said Preciosa, "that she is exceedingly poor; something of a beggar in short."
"It is rather the reverse," said the page, "for there is no poet who is not rich, since they all live content with their condition; and that is a piece of philosophy which few understand. But what has moved you, Preciosa, to make this inquiry?"
"I was moved to it, because, as I believe all poets, or most of them, to be poor, that crown which you gave me wrapped up with the verses caused me some surprise; but now that I know that you are not a poet, but only a lover of poetry, it may be that you are rich, though I doubt it, for your propensity is likely to make you run through all you have got. It is a well-known saying, that no poet can either keep or make a fortune."
"But the saying is not applicable to me," said the page. "I make verses, and I am neither rich nor poor; and without feeling it or making a talk about it, as the Genoese do of their invitations, I can afford to give a crown, or even two, to whom I like. Take then, precious pearl, this second paper, and this second crown enclosed in it, without troubling yourself with the question whether I am a poet or not. I only beg you to think and believe that he who gives you this would fain have the wealth of Midas to bestow upon you."
Preciosa took the paper, and feeling a crown within it, she said, "This paper bids fair to live long, for it has two souls within it, that of the crown and that of the verses, which, of course, are full of souls and hearts as usual. But please to understand, Señor Page, that I do not want so many souls; and that unless you take back one of them, I will not receive the other on any account. I like you as a poet and not as a giver of gifts; and thus we may be the longer friends, for your stock of crowns may run out sooner than your verses."
"Well," said the page, "since you will have it that I am poor, do not reject the soul I present to you in this paper, and give me back the crown, which, since it has been touched by your hand, shall remain with me as a hallowed relic as long as I live."
Preciosa gave him the crown, and kept the paper, but would not read it in the street. The page went away exulting in the belief that Preciosa's heart was touched, since she had treated him with such affability.
It being now her object to find the house of Andrew's father, she went straight to the street, which she well knew, without stopping anywhere to dance. About half way down it, she saw the gilded iron balcony which Andrew had mentioned to her, and in it a gentleman of about fifty years of age, of noble presence, with a red cross on his breast. This gentleman seeing the gitanilla, called out, "Come up here, niñas, and we will give you something." These words brought three other gentlemen to the balcony, among whom was the enamoured Andrew. The instant he cast his eyes on Preciosa he changed colour, and well nigh swooned, such was the effect her sudden appearance had upon him. The girls went up stairs, whilst the old woman remained below to pump the servants with respect to Andrew. As they entered the room, the elder gentleman was saying to the others, "This is no doubt the handsome gitanilla who is so much talked of in Madrid."
"It is," said Andrew; "and she is unquestionably the most beautiful creature that ever was seen."
"So they say," said Preciosa, who had overheard these remarks as she came in; "but indeed they must be half out in the reckoning. I believe I am pretty well, but as handsome as they say—not a bit of it!"
"By the life of Don Juanico, my son," said the elder gentleman, "you are far more so, fair gitana."
"And who is Don Juanico, your son?" said Preciosa.
"That gallant by your side," said the cavalier.
"Truly, I thought your worship had sworn by some bantling of two years old," said Preciosa. "What a pretty little pet of a Don Juanico! Why he is old enough to be married; and by certain lines on his forehead, I foresee that married he will be before three years are out, and much to his liking too, if in the meantime he be neither lost nor changed."
"Ay, ay," said one of the company; "the gitanilla can tell the meaning of a wrinkle."
During this time, the three gipsy girls, who accompanied Preciosa, had got their heads together and were whispering each other. "Girls," said Christina, "that is the gentleman that gave us the three pieces of eight this morning."
"Sure enough," said they; "but don't let us say a word about it unless he mentions it. How do we know but he may wish to keep it secret?"
Whilst the three were thus conferring together, Preciosa replied to the last remark about wrinkles. "What I see with my eyes, I divine with my fingers. Of the Señor Don Juanico, I know without lines that he is somewhat amorous, impetuous, and hasty; and a great promiser of things that seem impossible. God grant he be not a deceiver, which would be worse than all. He is now about to make a long journey; but the bay horse thinks one thing, and the man that saddles him thinks another thing. Man proposes and God disposes. Perhaps he may think he is bound for Oñez, and will find himself on the way to Gaviboa."
"In truth, gitana," said Don Juan, "you have guessed right respecting me in several points. I certainly intend, with God's will, to set out for Flanders in four or five days, though you forebode that I shall have to turn out of my road; yet I hope no obstacle will occur to frustrate my purpose."
"Say no more, señorito," the gipsy replied; "but commend yourself to God, and all will be well. Be assured I know nothing at all of what I have been saying. It is no wonder if I sometimes hit the mark, since I talk so much and always at random. I wish I could speak to such good purpose as to persuade you not to leave home, but remain quietly with your parents to comfort their old age; for I am no friend to these Flanders expeditions, especially for a youth of your tender years. Wait till you are grown a little more and better able to bear the toils of war; and the rather as you have war enough at home, considering all the amorous conflicts that are raging in your bosom. Gently, gently with you, madcap! Look what you are doing before you marry; and now give us a little dole for God's sake and for the name you bear; for truly I believe you are well born, and if along with this you are loyal and true, then I will sing jubilee for having hit the mark in all I have said to you."
"I told you before, niña," said Don Juan, otherwise Andrew Caballero, "that you were right on every point except as to the fear you entertain that I am not quite a man of my word. In that respect you are certainly mistaken. The word that I pledge in the field I fulfil in the town, or wherever I may be, without waiting to be asked; for no man can esteem himself a gentleman, who yields in the least to the vice of falsehood. My father will give you alms for God's sake and for mine; for in truth I gave all I had this morning to some ladies, of whom I would not venture to assert that they are as obliging as they are beautiful, one of them especially."
Hearing this, Christina said to her companions, "May I be hanged, girls, if he is not talking of the three pieces of eight he gave us this morning."
"No, that can't be," one of them observed; "for he said they were ladies, and we are none; and being so true-spoken as he says he is, he would not lie in this matter."
"Oh, but," said Christina, "that is not a lie of any moment that is told without injury to anybody, but for the advantage and credit of him who tells it. Be that as it may, I see he neither gives us anything, nor asks us to dance."
The old gipsy now came into the room and said, "Make haste, granddaughter; for it is late, and there is much to be done, and more to be said."
"What is it, grandmother?" said Preciosa, "A boy or a girl?"
"A boy, and a very fine one. Come along, Preciosa, and you shall hear marvels."
"God grant the mother does not die of her after pains," said the granddaughter.
"We will take all possible care of her. She has had a very good time, and the child is a perfect beauty."
"Has any lady been confined?" said Andrew's father.
"Yes, señor," replied the old Gitana: "but it is such a secret, that no one knows of it except Preciosa, myself, and one other person. So we cannot mention the lady's name."
"Well, we don't want to know it," said one of the gentlemen present; "but God help the lady who trusts her secret to your tongues, and her honour to your aid."
"We are not all bad," replied Preciosa; "perhaps there may be one among us who piques herself on being as trusty and as true as the noblest man in this room. Let us begone, grandmother; for here we are held in little esteem, though in truth we are neither thieves nor beggars."
"Do not be angry, Preciosa," said Andrew's father. "Of you at least I imagine no one can presume anything ill, for your good looks are warrant for your good conduct. Do me the favour to dance a little with your companions. I have here a doubloon for you with two faces, and neither of them as good as your own, though they are the faces of two kings."
The moment the old woman heard this she cried, "Come along, girls: tuck up your skirts, and oblige these gentlemen." Preciosa took the tambourine, and they all danced with so much grace and freedom, that the eyes of all the spectators were riveted upon their steps, especially those of Andrew, who gazed upon Preciosa as if his whole soul was centred in her; but an untoward accident turned his delight into anguish. In the exertion of the dance, Preciosa let fall the paper given her by the page. It was immediately picked up by the gentleman who had no good opinion of the gipsies. He opened it, and said, "What have we here? A madrigal? Good! Break off the dance, and listen to it; for, as far as I can judge from the beginning, it is really not bad." Preciosa was annoyed at this, as she did not know the contents of the paper; and she begged the gentleman not to read it, but give it back to her. All her entreaties, however, only made Andrew more eager to hear the lines, and his friend read them out as follows:—
Who hath Preciosa seen
Dancing like the Fairy Queen?
Ripplets on a sunlit river
Like her small feet glance and quiver.
When she strikes the timbrel featly,
When she warbles, oh how sweetly!
Pearls from her white hands she showers,
From her rosy lips drop flowers.
Not a ringlet of her hair
But doth thousand souls ensnare.
Not a glance of her bright eyes
But seems shot from Love's own skies.
He in obeisance to this sovereign maid,
His bow and quiver at her feet hath laid.
"Por dios!" exclaimed the reader, "he is a dainty poet who wrote this."
"He is not a poet, señor," said Preciosa, "but a page, and a very gallant and worthy man."
"Mind what you say, Preciosa," returned the other; "for the praises you bestow on the page are so many lance-thrusts through Andrew's heart. Look at him as he sits aghast, thrown back on his chair, with a cold perspiration breaking through all his pores. Do not imagine, maiden, that he loves you so lightly but that the least slight from you distracts him. Go to him, for God's sake, and whisper a few words in his ear, that may go straight to his heart, and recall him to himself. Go on receiving such madrigals as this every day, and just see what will come of it."
It was just as he had said. Andrew had been racked by a thousand jealousies on hearing the verses; and was so overcome that his father observed it, and cried out, "What ails you, Don Juan? You are turned quite pale, and look as if you were going to faint."
"Wait a moment," said Preciosa, "let me whisper certain words in his ear, and you will see that he will not faint." Then bending over him she said, almost without moving her lips, "A pretty sort of gitano you will make! Why, Andrew, how will you be able to bear the torture with gauze, when you are overcome by a bit of paper?" Then making half-a-dozen signs of the cross over his heart, she left him, after which Andrew breathed a little, and told his friends that Preciosa's words had done him good.
Finally, the two-faced doubloon was given to Preciosa, who told her companions that she would change it, and share the amount honourably with them. Andrew's father intreated her to leave him in writing the words she had spoken to his son, as he wished by all means to know them. She said she would repeat them with great pleasure; and that though they might appear to be mere child's play, they were of sovereign virtue to preserve from the heartache and dizziness of the head. The words were these:—
Silly pate, silly pate,
Why run on at this rate?
No tripping, or slipping, or sliding!
Have trusty assurance,
And patient endurance
And ever be frank and confiding.
To ugly suspicion
Refuse all admission,
Nor let it your better sense twist over.
All this if you do
You'll not rue,
For excellent things will ensue,
With the good help of God and St. Christopher.
"Only say these words," she continued, "over any person who has a swimming in the head, making at the same time six signs of the cross over his heart, and he will soon be as sound as an apple."
When the old woman heard the charm, she was amazed at the clever trick played by her granddaughter; and Andrew was still more so when he found that the whole was an invention of her quick wit. Preciosa left the madrigal in the hands of the gentleman, not liking to ask for it, lest she should again distress Andrew; for she knew, without any one teaching her, what it was to make a lover feel the pangs of jealousy. Before she took her leave, she said to Don Juan, "Every day of the week, señor, is lucky for beginning a journey: not one of them is black. Hasten your departure, therefore, as much as you can; for there lies before you a free life of ample range and great enjoyment, if you choose to accommodate yourself to it."
"It strikes me that a soldier's life is not so free as you say," replied Andrew, "but one of submission rather than liberty. However, I will see what I can do."
"You will see more than you think for," said Preciosa; "and may God have you in his keeping, and lead you to happiness, as your goodly presence deserves."
These farewell words filled Andrew with delight; the gitanas went away no less gratified, and shared the doubloon between them, the old woman as usual taking a part and a half, both by reason of her seniority, as because she was the compass by which they steered their course on the wide sea of their dances, pleasantry, and tricks.
At last the appointed day of meeting came, and Andrew arrived in the morning at the old trysting place, mounted on a hired mule, and without any attendant. He found Preciosa and her grandmother waiting for him, and was cordially welcomed by them. He begged they would take him at once to the rancho, before it was broad day, that he might not be recognised should he be sought for. The two gitanas, who had taken the precaution to come alone, immediately wheeled round, and soon arrived with him at their huts. Andrew entered one of them, which was the largest in the rancho, where he was forthwith assisted by ten or twelve gitanos, all handsome strapping young fellows, whom the old woman had previously informed respecting the new comrade who was about to join them. She had not thought it necessary, to enjoin them to secrecy; for, as we have already said, they habitually observed it with unexampled sagacity and strictness. Their eyes were at once on the mule, and said one of them, "We can sell this on Thursday in Toledo."
"By no means," said Andrew; "for there is not a hired mule in Madrid, or any other town, but is known to all the muleteers that tramp the roads of Spain."
"Por dios, Señor Andrew," said one of the gang, "if there were more signs and tokens upon the mule than are to precede the day of judgment, we will transform it in such a manner that it could not be known by the mother that bore it, or the master that owned it."
"That maybe," said Andrew; "but for this time you must do as I recommend. This mule must be killed, and buried where its bones shall never be seen."
"Put the innocent creature to death!" cried another gipsy. "What a sin! Don't say the word, good Andrew; only do one thing. Examine the beast well, till you have got all its marks well by heart; then let me take it away, and if in two hours from this time you are able to know, it again, let me be basted like a runaway negro."
"I must insist upon the mule's being put to death," said Andrew, "though I were ever so sure of its transformation. I am in fear of being discovered unless it is put under ground. If you object for sake of the profit to be made by selling it, I am not come so destitute to this fraternity but that I can pay my footing with more than the price of four mules."
"Well, since the Señor Andrew Caballero will have it so," said the other gitano, "let the sinless creature die, though God knows how much it goes against me, both because of its youth, for it has not yet lost mark of mouth, a rare thing among hired mules, and because it must be a good goer, for it has neither scars on its flank nor marks of the spur."
The slaughter of the mule was postponed till night, and the rest of the day was spent in the ceremonies of Andrew's initiation. They cleared out one of the best huts in the encampment, dressed it with boughs and rushes, and seating Andrew in it on the stump of a cork tree, they put a hammer and tongs in his hands, and made him cut two capers to the sound of two guitars. They then bared one of his arms, tied round it a new silk ribbon through which they passed a short stick, and gave it two turns gently, after the manner of the garotte with which criminals are strangled. Preciosa was present at all this, as were many other gitanas, old and young, some of whom gazed at Andrew with admiration, others with love, and such was his good humour, that even the gitanos took most kindly to him.
These ceremonies being ended, an old gipsy took Preciosa by the hand, and setting her opposite Andrew, spoke thus: "This girl, who is the flower and cream of all beauty among the gitanas of Spain, we give to you either for your wife or your mistress, for in that respect you may do whatever shall be most to your liking, since our free and easy life is not subject to squeamish scruples or to much ceremony. Look at her well, and see if she suits you, or if there is anything in her you dislike; if there is, choose from among the maidens here present the one you like best, and we will give her to you. But bear in mind that once your choice is made, you must not quit it for another, nor make or meddle either with the married women or the maids. We are strict observers of the law of good fellowship; none among us covets the good that belongs to another. We live free and secure from the bitter plague of jealousy; and though incest is frequent amongst us there is no adultery. If a wife or a mistress is unfaithful, we do not go ask the courts of justice to punish; but we ourselves are the judges and executioners of our wives and mistresses, and make no more ado about killing and burying them in the mountains and desert places than if they were vermin. There are no relations to avenge them, no parents to call us to account for their deaths. By reason of this fear and dread, our women learn to live chaste; and we, as I have said, feel no uneasiness about their virtue.
"We have few things which are not common to us all, except wives and mistresses, each of whom we require to be his alone to whom fortune has allotted her. Among us divorce takes place, because of old age as well as by death. Any man may if he likes leave a woman who is too old for him, and choose one more suitable to his years. By means of these and other laws and statutes we contrive to lead a merry life. We are lords of the plains, the corn fields, the woods, mountains, springs, and rivers. The mountains yield us wood for nothing, the orchards fruit, the vineyards grapes, the gardens vegetables, the fountains water, the rivers fish, the parks feathered game; the rocks yield us shade, the glades and valleys fresh air, and the caves shelter. For us the inclemencies of the weather are zephyrs, the snow refreshment, the rain baths, the thunder music, and the lightning torches. For us the hard ground is a bed of down; the tanned skin of our bodies is an impenetrable harness to defend us; our nimble limbs submit to no obstacle from iron bars, or trenches, or walls; our courage is not to be twisted out of us by cords, or choked by gauze, or quelled by the rack.
"Between yes and no we make no difference when it suits our convenience to confound them; we always pride ourselves more on being martyrs than confessors. For us the beasts of burden are reared in the fields, and pockets are filled in the cities. No eagle or other bird of prey pounces more swiftly on its quarry than we upon opportunities that offer us booty. And finally, we possess many qualities which promise us a happy end; for we sing in prison, are silent on the rack, work by day, and by night we thieve, or rather we take means to teach all men that they should exempt themselves from the trouble of seeing where they put their property. We are not distressed by the fear of losing our honour, or kept awake by ambition to increase it. We attach ourselves to no parties; we do not rise by day-light to attend levees and present memorials, or to swell the trains of magnates, or to solicit favours. Our gilded roofs and sumptuous palaces are these portable huts; our Flemish pictures and landscapes are those which nature presents to our eyes at every step in the rugged cliffs and snowy peaks, the spreading meads and leafy groves. We are rustic astronomers, for as we sleep almost always under the open sky, we can tell every hour by day or night. We see how Aurora extinguishes and sweeps away the stars from heaven, and how she comes forth with her companion the dawn, enlivening the air, refreshing the water, and moistening the earth; and after her appears the sun gilding the heights, as the poet sings, and making the mountains smile. We are not afraid of being left chilly by his absence, when his rays fall aslant upon us, or of being roasted when they blaze down upon us perpendicularly. We turn the same countenance to sun and frost, to dearth and plenty. In conclusion, we are people who live by our industry and our wits, without troubling ourselves with the old adage, 'The church, the sea, or the king's household.' We have all we want, for we are content with what we have.
"All these things have I told you, generous youth, that you may not be ignorant of the life to which you are come, and the manners and customs you will have to profess, which I have here sketched for you in the rough. Many other particulars, no less worthy of consideration, you will discover for yourself in process of time."
Here the eloquent old gitano closed his discourse, and the novice replied, that he congratulated himself much on having been made acquainted with such laudable statutes; that he desired to make profession of an order so based on reason and politic principles; that his only regret was that he had not sooner come to the knowledge of so pleasant a life; and that from that moment he renounced his knighthood, and the vain glory of his illustrious lineage, and placed them beneath the yoke, or beneath the laws under which they lived, forasmuch as they so magnificently recompensed the desire he had to serve them, in bestowing upon him the divine Preciosa, for whom he would surrender many crowns and wide empires, or desire them only for her sake.
Preciosa spoke next: "Whereas these señores, our lawgivers," she said, "have determined, according to their laws that I should be yours, and as such have given me up to you, I have decreed, in accordance with the law of my own will, which is the strongest of all, that I will not be so except upon the conditions heretofore concerted between us two. You must live two years in our company before you enjoy mine, so that you may neither repent through fickleness, nor I be deceived through precipitation. Conditions supersede laws; those which I have prescribed you know; if you choose to keep them, I may be yours, and you mine; if not, the mule is not dead, your clothes are whole, and not a doit of your money is spent. Your absence from home has not yet extended to the length of a day; what remains you may employ in considering what best suits you. These señores may give up my body to you, but not my soul, which is free, was born free, and shall remain free. If you remain, I shall esteem you much; if you depart, I shall do so no less; for I hold that amorous impulses run with a loose rein, until they are brought to a halt by reason or disenchantment. I would not have you be towards me like the sportsman, who when he has bagged a hare thinks no more of it, but runs after another. The eyes are sometimes deceived; at first sight tinsel looks like gold; but they soon recognise the difference between the genuine and the false metal. This beauty of mine, which you say I possess, and which you exalt above the sun, and declare more precious than gold, how do I know but that at a nearer view it will appear to you a shadow, and when tested will seem but base metal? I give you two years to weigh and ponder well what will be right to choose or reject. Before you buy a jewel, which you can only get rid of by death, you ought to take much time to examine it, and ascertain its faults or its merits. I do not assent to the barbarous licence which these kinsmen of mine have assumed, to forsake their wives or chastise them when the humour takes them; and as I do not intend to do anything which calls for punishment, I will not take for my mate one who will abandon me at his own caprice."
"You are right, Preciosa," said Andrew; "and so if you would have me quiet your fears and abate your doubts, by swearing not to depart a jot from the conditions you prescribe, choose what form of oath I shall take, or what other assurance I shall give you, and I will do exactly as you desire."
"The oaths and promises which the captive makes to obtain his liberty are seldom fulfilled when he is free," returned Preciosa; "and it is just the same, I fancy, with the lover, who to obtain his desire will promise the wings of Mercury, and the thunderbolts of Jove; and indeed a certain poet promised myself no less, and swore it by the Stygian lake. I want no oaths or promises, Señor Andrew, but to leave everything to the result of this novitiate. It will be my business to take care of myself, if at any time you should think of offending me."
"Be it so," said Andrew. "One request I have to make of these señores and comrades mine, and that is that they will not force me to steal anything for a month or so; for it strikes me that it will take a great many lessons to make me a thief."
"Never fear, my son," said the old gipsy; "for we will instruct you in such a manner that you will turn out an eagle in our craft; and when you have learned it, you will like it so much, that you will be ready to eat your hand, it will so itch after it. Yes, it is fine fun to go out empty-handed in the morning, and to return loaded at night to the rancho."
"I have seen some return with a whipping," said Andrew.
"One cannot catch trouts dry shod," the old man replied: "all things in this life have their perils: the acts of the thief are liable to the galleys, whipping, and the scragging-post; but it is not because one ship encounters a storm, or springs a leak, that others should cease to sail the seas. It would be a fine thing if there were to be no soldiers, because war consumes men and horses. Besides, a whipping by the hand of justice is for us a badge of honour, which becomes us better worn on the shoulders than on the breast. The main point is to avoid having to dance upon nothing in our young days and for our first offences; but as for having our shoulders dusted, or thrashing the water in a galley, we don't mind that a nutshell. For the present, Andrew, my son, keep snug in the nest under the shelter of our wings; in duo time, we will take you out to fly, and that where you will not return without a prey; and the short and the long of it is, that by and by you will lick your fingers after every theft."
"Meanwhile," said Andrew, "as a compensation for what I might bring in by thieving during the vacation allowed me, I will divide two hundred gold crowns among all the members of the rancho."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth, than several gitanos caught him up in their arms, hoisted him upon their shoulders, and bore him along, shouting, "Long life to the great Andrew, and long life to Preciosa his beloved!" The gitanas did the same with Preciosa, not without exciting the envy of Christina, and the other gitanillas present; for envy dwells alike in the tents of barbarians, the huts of shepherds, and the palaces of princes; and to see another thrive who seems no better than oneself is a great weariness to the spirit.
This done, they ate a hearty dinner, made an equitable division of the gift money, repeated their praises of Andrew, and exalted Preciosa's beauty to the skies. When night fell, they broke the mule's neck, and buried it, so as to relieve Andrew of all fear of its leading to his discovery; they likewise buried with it the trappings, saddle, bridle, girths and all, after the manner of the Indians, whose chief ornaments are laid in the grave with them.
Andrew was in no small astonishment at all he had seen and heard, and resolved to pursue his enterprise without meddling at all with the customs of his new companions, so far as that might be possible. Especially he hoped to exempt himself, at the cost of his purse, from participating with them in any acts of injustice. On the following day, Andrew requested the gipsies to break up the camp, and remove to a distance from Madrid; for he feared that he should be recognised if he remained there. They told him they had already made up their minds to go to the mountains of Toledo, and thence to scour all the surrounding country, and lay it under contribution. Accordingly they struck their tents, and departed, offering Andrew an ass to ride; but he chose rather to travel on foot, and serve as attendant to Preciosa, who rode triumphantly another ass, rejoicing in her gallant esquire; whilst he was equally delighted at finding himself close to her whom he had made the mistress of his freedom.
O potent force of him who is called the sweet god of bitterness—a title given him by our idleness and weakness—how effectually dost thou enslave us! Here was Andrew, a knight, a youth of excellent parts, brought up at court, and maintained in affluence by his noble parents; and yet since yesterday such a change has been wrought in him that he has deceived his servants and friends; disappointed the hopes of his parents; abandoned the road to Flanders, where he was to have exercised his valour and increased the honours of his line; and he has prostrated himself at the feet of a girl, made himself the lackey of one who, though exquisitely beautiful, is after all a gitana! Wondrous prerogative of beauty, which brings down the strongest will to its feet, in spite of all its resistance!
In four days' march, the gipsies arrived at a pleasant village, within two leagues of the great Toledo, where they pitched their camp, having first given some articles of silver to the alcalde of the district, as a pledge that they would steal nothing within all his bounds, nor do any other damage that might give cause of complaint against them. This done, all the old gitanas, some young ones, and the men, spread themselves all over the country, to the distance of four or five leagues from the encampment. Andrew went with them to take his first lesson in thievery; but though they gave him many in that expedition, he did not profit by any of them. On the contrary, as was natural in a man of gentle blood, every theft committed by his masters wrung his very soul, and sometimes he paid for them out of his own pocket, being moved by the tears of the poor people who had been despoiled. The gipsies were in despair at this behavior: it was in contravention, they said, of their statutes and ordinances, which prohibited the admission of compassion into their hearts; because if they had any they must cease to be thieves,—a thing which was not to be thought of on any account. Seeing this, Andrew said he would go thieving by himself; for he was nimble enough to run from danger, and did not lack courage to encounter it; so that the prize or the penalty of his thieving would be exclusively his own.
The gipsies tried to dissuade him from this good purpose, telling him that occasions might occur in which he would have need of companions, as well to attack as to defend; and that one person alone could not make any great booty. But in spite of all they could say, Andrew was determined to be a solitary robber; intending to separate from the gang, and purchase for money something which he might say he had stolen, and thus burden his conscience as little as possible. Proceeding in this way, in less than a month, he brought more gain to the gang than four of the most accomplished thieves in it. Preciosa rejoiced not a little to see her tender lover become such a smart and handy thief; but for all that she was sorely afraid of some mischance, and would not have seen him in the hands of justice for all the treasures of Venice; such was the good feeling towards him which she could not help entertaining, in return for his many good offices and presents. After remaining about a month in the Toledan district, where they reaped a good harvest, the gipsies entered the wealthy region of Estramadura.
Meanwhile Andrew frequently held honourable and loving converse with Preciosa, who was gradually becoming enamoured of his good qualities; while, in like manner, his love for her went on increasing, if that were possible: such were the virtues, the good sense and beauty of his Preciosa. Whenever the gipsies engaged in athletic games, he carried off the prize for running and leaping: he played admirably at skittles and at ball, and pitched the bar with singular strength and dexterity. In a short while, his fame spread through all Estramadura, and there was no part of it where they did not speak of the smart young gitano Andrew, and his graces and accomplishments. As his fame extended, so did that of Preciosa's beauty; and there was no town, village, or hamlet, to which they were not invited, to enliven their patron saints' days, or other festivities. The tribe consequently became rich, prosperous, and contented, and the lovers were happy in the mere sight of each other.
It happened one night, when the camp was pitched among some evergreen oaks, a little off the highway, they heard their dogs barking about the middle watch, with unusual vehemence. Andrew and some others got up to see what was the matter, and found a man dressed in white battling with them, whilst one of them held him by the leg. "What the devil brought you here, man," said one of the gipsies, after they had released him, "at such an hour, away from the high road? Did you come to thieve? If so, you have come to the right door?"
"I do not come to thieve; and I don't know whether or not I am off the road, though I see well enough that I am gone astray," said the wounded man. "But tell me, señores, is there any venta or place of entertainment where I can get a night's lodging, and dress the wounds which these dogs have given me?"
"There is no venta or public place to which we can take you," replied Andrew; "but as for a night's lodging, and dressing your wounds, that you can have at our ranchos. Come along with us; for though we are gipsies, we are not devoid of humanity."
"God reward you!" said the man: "take me whither you please, for my leg pains me greatly." Andrew lifted him up, and carried him along with the help of some of the other compassionate gipsies; for even among the fiends there are some worse than others, and among many bad men you may find one good.
It was a clear moonlight night, so that they could see that the person they carried was a youth of handsome face and figure. He was dressed all in white linen, with a sort of frock of the same material belted round his waist. They arrived at Andrew's hut or shed, quickly kindled a fire, and fetched Preciosa's grandmother to attend to the young man's hurts. She took some of the dogs' hairs, fried them in oil, and after washing with wine the two bites she found on the patient's left leg, she put the hairs and the oil upon them, and over this dressing a little chewed green rosemary. She then bound the leg up carefully with clean bandages, made the sign of the cross over it, and said, "Now go to sleep, friend and with the help of God your hurts will not signify."
Whilst they were attending to the wounded man, Preciosa stood by, eyeing him with great curiosity, whilst he did the same by her, insomuch that Andrew took notice of the eagerness with which he gazed; but he attributed this to the extraordinary beauty of Preciosa, which naturally attracted all eyes. Finally, having done all that was needful for the youth, they left him alone on a bed of dry hay, not caring to question him then as to his road, or any other matter.
As soon as all the others were gone, Preciosa called Andrew aside, and said to him, "Do you remember, Andrew, a paper I let fall in your house, when I was dancing with my companions, and which caused you, I think, some uneasiness?"
"I remember it well," said Andrew; "it was a madrigal in your praise, and no bad one either."
"Well, you must know, Andrew, that the person who wrote those verses is no other than the wounded youth we have left in the hut. I cannot be mistaken, for he spoke to me two or three times in Madrid, and gave me too a very good romance. He was then dressed, I think, as a page,—not an ordinary one, but like a favourite of some prince. I assure you, Andrew, he is a youth of excellent understanding, and remarkably well behaved; and I cannot imagine what can have brought him hither, and in such a garb."
"What should you imagine, Preciosa, but that the same power which has made me a gitano, has made him put on the dress of a miller, and come in search of you? Ah, Preciosa! Preciosa! how plain it begins to be that you pride yourself on having more than one adorer. If this be so, finish me first, and then kill off this other, but do not sacrifice both at the same time to your perfidy."
"God's mercy, Andrew, how thin-skinned you are! On how fine a thread you make your hopes and my reputation hang, since you let the cruel sword of jealousy so easily pierce your soul. Tell me, Andrew, if there were any artifice or deceit in this case, could I not have held my tongue about this youth, and concealed all knowledge of him? Am I such a fool that I cannot help telling you what should make you doubt my integrity and good behaviour? Hold your tongue, Andrew, in God's name, and try to-morrow to extract from this cause of your alarm whither he is bound, and why he is come hither. It may be that you are mistaken in your suspicion, though I am not mistaken in what I told you of the stranger. And now for your greater satisfaction—since it is come to that pass with me that I seek to satisfy you—whatever be the reason of this youth's coming, send him away at once. All our people obey you, and none of them will care to receive him into their huts against your wish. But if this fails, I give you my word not to quit mine, or let myself be seen by him, or by anybody else from whom you would have me concealed. Look you, Andrew, I am not vexed at seeing you jealous, but it would vex me much to see you indiscreet."
"Unless you see me mad, Preciosa," said Andrew, "any other demonstration would be far short of showing you what desperate havoc jealousy can make of a man's feelings. However, I will do as you bid me, and find out what this señor page-poet wants, whither he is going, and whom he is in search of. It may be, that unawares he may let me get hold of some end of thread which shall lead to the discovery of the whole snare which I fear he is come to set for me."
"Jealousy, I imagine," said Preciosa, "never leaves the understanding clear to apprehend things as they really are. Jealousy always looks through magnifying glasses, which make mountains of molehills, and realities of mere suspicions. On your life, Andrew, and on mine, I charge you to proceed in this matter, and all that touches our concerns, with prudence and discretion; and if you do, I know that you will have to concede the palm to me, as honest, upright, and true to the very utmost."
With these words she quitted Andrew, leaving him impatient for daylight, that he might receive the confession of the wounded man, and distracted in mind by a thousand various surmises. He could not believe but that this page had come thither attracted by Preciosa's beauty; for the thief believes that all men are such as himself. On the other hand, the pledge voluntarily made to him by Preciosa appeared so highly satisfactory, that he ought to set his mind quite at ease, and commit all his happiness implicitly to the keeping of her good faith. At last day appeared: he visited the wounded man; and after inquiring how he was, and did his bites pain him, he asked what was his name, whither he was going, and how it was he travelled so late and so far off the road. The youth replied that he was better, and felt no pain so that he was able to resume his journey. His name was Alonzo Hurtado; he was going to our Lady of the Peña de Francia, on a certain business; he travelled by night for the greater speed; and having missed his way, he had come upon the encampment, and been worried by the dogs that guarded it. Andrew did not by any means consider this a straightforward statement: his suspicions returned to plague him; and, said he, "Brother, if I were a judge, and you had been brought before me upon any charge which would render necessary such questions as those I have put to you, the reply you have given would oblige me to apply the thumb-screw. It is nothing to me who you are, what is your name, or whither you are going: I only warn you, that if it suits your convenience to lie on this journey, you should lie with more appearance of truth. You say you are going to La Peña de Francia, and you leave it on the right hand more than thirty leagues behind this place. You travel by night for sake of speed, and you quit the high road, and strike into thickets and woods where there is scarcely a footpath. Get up, friend, learn to lie better, and go your ways, in God's name. But in return for this good advice I give you, will you not tell me one truth? I know you will, you are such a bad hand at lying. Tell me, are you not one I have often seen in the capital, something between a page and a gentleman? One who has the reputation of being a great poet, and who wrote a romance and a sonnet upon a gitanilla who some time ago went about Madrid, and was celebrated for her surpassing beauty? Tell me, and I promise you, on the honour of a gentleman gipsy, to keep secret whatever you may wish to be so kept. Mind you, no denial that you are the person I say will go down with me; for the face I see before me is unquestionably the same I saw in Madrid. The fame of your talents made me often stop to gaze at you as a distinguished man, and therefore your features are so strongly impressed on my memory, though your dress is very different from that in which I formerly saw you. Don't be alarmed, cheer up, and don't suppose you have fallen in with a tribe of robbers, but with an asylum, where you may be guarded and defended from all the world. A thought strikes me; and if it be as I conjecture, you have been lucky in meeting me above all men. What I conjecture is, that being in love with Preciosa—that beautiful young gipsy, to whom you addressed the verses—you have come in search of her; for which I don't think a bit the worse of you, but quite the reverse: for gipsy though I am, experience has shown me how far the potent force of love reaches, and the transformations it makes those undergo whom it brings beneath its sway and jurisdiction. If this be so, as I verily believe it is, the fair gitanilla is here."
"Yes, she is here; I saw her last night," said the stranger. This was like a death-blow to Andrew; for it seemed at once to confirm all his suspicions.
"I saw her last night," the young man repeated; "but I did not venture to tell her who I was, for it did not suit my purpose."
"So, then," said Andrew, "you are indeed the poet of whom I spoke."
"I am: I neither can nor will deny it. Possibly it may be that where I thought myself lost I have come right to port, if, as you say, there is fidelity in the forests, and hospitality in the mountains."
"That there is, beyond doubt," said Andrew; "and among us gipsies the strictest secrecy in the world. On that assurance, señor, you may unburden your breast to me: you will find in mine no duplicity whatever. The gitanilla is my relation, and entirely under my control. If you desire her for a wife, myself and all other relations will be quite willing; and if for a mistress, we will not make any squeamish objections, provided you have money, for covetousness never departs from our ranchos."
"I have money," the youth replied; "in the bands of this frock, which I wear girt round my body, there are four hundred gold crowns."
This was another mortal blow for Andrew, who assumed that the stranger could carry so large a sum about him for no other purpose than to purchase possession of the beloved object. With a faltering tongue he replied, "That is a good lump of money; you have only to discover yourself, and go to work: the girl is no fool, and will see what a good thing it will be for her to be yours."
"O friend," exclaimed the youth, "I would have you know that the power which has made me change my garb is not that of love, as you say, nor any longing for Preciosa; for Madrid has beauties who know how to steal hearts and subdue souls as well as the handsomest gitanas, and better; though I confess that the beauty of your kinswoman surpasses any I have ever seen. The cause of my being in this dress, on foot, and bitten by dogs, is not love but my ill luck."
Upon this explanation, Andrew's downcast spirit began to rise again; for it was plain that the wind was in quite a different quarter from what he had supposed. Eager to escape from this confusion, he renewed his assurances of secrecy, and the stranger proceeded thus:—
"I was in Madrid, in the house of a nobleman, whom I served not as a master but as a relation. He had an only son and heir, who treated me with great familiarity and friendship, both on account of our relationship, and because we were both of the same age and disposition. This young gentleman fell in love with a young lady of rank, whom he would most gladly have made his wife, had it not been for his dutiful submission to the will of his parents, who desired him to marry into a higher family. Nevertheless, he continued furtively to pay court to the lady of his choice, carefully concealing his proceedings from all eyes but mine. One night, which ill luck must have especially selected for the adventure I am about to relate to you, as we were passing by the lady's house, we saw ranged against it two men of good figure apparently. My kinsman wished to reconnoitre them, but no sooner had he made a step towards them than their swords were out, their bucklers ready, and they made at us, whilst we did the same on our side, and engaged them with equal arms. The fight did not last long, neither did the lives of our two opponents; for two thrusts, urged home by my kinsman's jealousy and my zeal in his defence, laid them both low—an extraordinary occurrence, and such as is rarely witnessed. Thus involuntarily victorious, we returned home, and taking all the money we could, set off secretly to the church of San Geronimo, waiting to see what would happen when the event was discovered next day, and what might be the conjectures as to the persons of the homicides.
"We learned that no trace of our presence on the scene had been discovered, and the prudent monks advised us to return home, so as not by our absence to arouse any suspicion against us. We had already resolved to follow their advice, when we were informed that the alcaldes of the court had arrested the young lady and her parents; and that among their domestics, whom they examined, one person, the young lady's attendant, had stated that my kinsman visited her mistress by night and by day. Upon this evidence they had sent in search of us; and the officers not finding us, but many indications of our flight, it became a confirmed opinion throughout the whole city, that we were the very men who had slain the two cavaliers, for such they were, and of very good quality. Finally, by the advice of the count, my relation, and of the monks, after remaining hid a fortnight in the monastery, my comrade departed in company with a monk, himself disguised as one, and took the road to Aragon, intending to pass over to Italy, and thence to Flanders, until he should see what might be the upshot of the matter. For my part, thinking it well to divide our fortunes, I set out on foot, in a different direction, and in the habit of a lay brother, along with a monk, who quitted me at Talavera. From that city I travelled alone, and missed my way, till last night I reached this wood, when I met with the mishap you know. If I asked for La Peña de Francia, it was only by way of making some answer to the questions put to me; for I know that it lies beyond Salamanca."
"True," observed Andrew, "you left it on your right, about twenty leagues from this. So you see what a straight road you were taking, if you were going thither."
"The road I did intend to take was that to Seville; for there I should find a Genoese gentleman, a great friend of the count my relation, who is in the habit of exporting large quantities of silver ingots to Genoa; and my design is, that he should send me with his carriers, as one of themselves, by which means I may safely reach Carthagena, and thence pass over to Italy; for two galleys are expected shortly to ship some silver. This is my story, good friend: was I not right in saying it is the result of pure ill luck, rather than disappointed love? Now if these señores gitanos will take me in their company to Seville, supposing they are bound thither, I will pay them handsomely; for I believe that I should travel more safely with them, and have some respite from the fear that haunts me."
"Yes, they will take you," said Andrew; "or if you cannot go with our band—for as yet I know not that we are for Andalusia—you can go with another which we shall fall in with in a couple of days; and if you give them some of the money you have about you, they will be able and willing to help you out of still worse difficulties." He then left the young man, and reported to the other gipsies what the stranger desired, and the offer he had made of good payment for their services.
They were all for having their guest remain in the camp; but Preciosa was against it; and her grandmother said, that she could not go to Seville or its neighbourhood, on account of a hoax she had once played off upon a capmaker named Truxillo, well known in Seville. She had persuaded him to put himself up to his neck in a butt of water, stark naked, with a crown of cypress on his head, there to remain till midnight, when he was to step out, and look for a great treasure, which she had made him believe was concealed in a certain part of his house. When the good cap-maker heard matins ring, he made such haste to get out of the butt, lest he should lose his chance, that it fell with him, bruising his flesh, and deluging the floor with water, in which he fell to swimming with might and main, roaring out that he was drowning. His wife and his neighbours ran to him with lights, and found him striking out lustily with his legs and arms. "Help! help!" he cried; "I am suffocating;" and he really was not far from it, such was the effect of his excessive fright. They seized and rescued him from his deadly peril. When he had recovered a little, he told them the trick the gipsy woman had played him; and yet for all that, he dug a hole, more than a fathom deep, in the place pointed out to him, in spite of all his neighbours could say; and had he not been forcibly prevented by one of them, when he was beginning to undermine the foundations of the house, he would have brought the whole of it down about his ears. The story spread all over the city; so that the little boys in the streets used to point their fingers at him, and shout in his ears the story of the gipsy's trick, and his own credulity. Such was the tale told by the old gitana, in explanation of her unwillingness to go to Seville.
The gipsies, knowing from Andrew that the youth had a sum of money about him, readily assented to his accompanying them, and promised to guard and conceal him as long as he pleased. They determined to make a bend to the left, and enter La Mancha and the kingdom of Murcia. The youth thanked them cordially, and gave them on the spot a hundred gold crowns to divide amongst them, whereupon they became as pliant as washed leather. Preciosa, however, was not pleased with the continuance among them of Don Sancho, for that was the youth's name, but the gipsies changed it to Clement. Andrew too was rather annoyed at this arrangement; for it seemed to him that Clement had given up his original intention upon very slight grounds; but the latter, as if he read his thoughts, told him that he was glad to go to Murcia, because it was near Carthagena, whence, if galleys arrived there, as he expected, he could easily pass over to Italy. Finally, in order to have him more under his own eye, to watch his acts, and scrutinise his thoughts, Andrew desired to have Clement for his own comrade, and the latter accepted this friendly offer as a signal favour. They were always together, both spent largely, their crowns came down like rain; they ran, leaped, danced, and pitched the bar better than any of their companions, and were more than commonly liked by the women of the tribe, and held in the highest respect by the men.
Leaving Estramadura they entered La Mancha, and gradually traversed the kingdom of Murcia. In all the villages and towns they passed through, they had matches at ball-playing, fencing, running, leaping, and pitching the bar; and in all these trials of strength, skill, and agility Andrew and Clement were victorious, as Andrew alone had been before. During the whole journey, which occupied six weeks, Clement neither found nor sought an opportunity to speak alone with Preciosa, until one day when she and Andrew were conversing together, they called him to them, and Preciosa said, "The first time you came to our camp I recognised you, Clement, and remembered the verses you gave me in Madrid; but I would not say a word, not knowing with what intention you had come among us. When I became acquainted with your misfortune, it grieved me to the soul, though at the same time it was a relief to me; for I had been much disturbed, thinking that as there was a Don Juan in the world who had become a gipsy, a Don Sancho might undergo transformation in like manner. I speak this to you, because Andrew tells me he has made known to you who he is, and with what intention he turned gipsy." (And so it was, for Andrew had acquainted Clement with his whole story, that he might be able to converse with him on the subject nearest to his thoughts.) "Do not think that my knowing you was of little advantage to you, since for my sake, and in consequence of what I said of you, our people the more readily admitted you amongst them, where I trust in God you may find things turn out according to your best wishes. You will repay me, I hope, for this good will on my part, by not making Andrew ashamed of having set his mind so low, or representing to him how ill he does in persevering in his present way of life; for though I imagine that his will is enthralled to mine, still it would grieve me to see him show signs, however slight, of repenting what he has done."
"Do not suppose, peerless Preciosa," replied Clement, "that Don Juan acted lightly in revealing himself to me. I found him out beforehand: his eyes first disclosed to me the nature of his feelings; I first told him who I was, and detected that enthralment of his will which you speak of; and he, reposing a just confidence in me, made his secret mine. He can witness whether I applauded his determination and his choice; for I am not so dull of understanding, Preciosa, as not to know how omnipotent is beauty; and yours, which surpasses all bounds of loveliness, is a sufficient excuse for all errors, if error that can be called for which there is so irresistible a cause. I am grateful to you, señora, for what you have said in my favour; and I hope to repay you by hearty good wishes that you may find a happy issue out of your perplexities, and that you may enjoy the love of your Andrew, and Andrew that of his Preciosa, with the consent of his parents; so that from so beautiful a couple there may come into the world the finest progeny which nature can form in her happiest mood. This is what I shall always desire, Preciosa; and this is what I shall always say to your Andrew, and not anything which could tend to turn him from his well-placed affections."
With such emotion did Clement utter these words, that Andrew was in doubt whether they were spoken in courtesy only, or from love; for the infernal plague of jealousy is so susceptible that it will take offence at the motes in the sunbeams; and the lover finds matter for self-torment in everything that concerns the beloved object. Nevertheless, he did not give way to confirmed jealousy; for he relied more on the good faith of his Preciosa than on his own fortune, which, in common with all lovers, he regarded as luckless, so long as he had not obtained the object of his desires. In fine, Andrew and Clement continued to be comrades and friends, their mutual good understanding being secured by Clement's upright intentions, and by the modesty and prudence of Preciosa, who never gave Andrew an excuse for jealousy. Clement was somewhat of a poet, Andrew played the guitar a little, and both were fond of music. One night, when the camp was pitched in a valley four leagues from Murcia, Andrew seated himself at the foot of a cork-tree, and Clement near him under an evergreen oak. Each of them had a guitar; and invited by the stillness of the night, they sang alternately, Andrew beginning the descant, and Clement responding.
Ten thousand golden lamps are lit on high,
Making this chilly night
Rival the noon-day's light;
Look, Clement, on yon star-bespangled sky,
And in that image see,
If so divine thy fancy be,
That lovely radiant face,
Where centres all of beauty and of grace.
Where centres all of beauty and of grace,
And where in concord sweet
Goodness and beauty meet,
And purity hath fixed its dwelling-place.
Creature so heavenly fair,
May any mortal genius dare,
Or less than tongue divine,
To praise in lofty, rare, and sounding line?
To praise in lofty, rare, and sounding line
Thy name, gitana bright!
Earth's wonder and delight,
Worthy above the empyrean vault to shine;
Fain would I snatch from Fame
The trump and voice, whose loud acclaim
Should startle every ear,
And lift Preciosa's name to the eighth sphere.
To lift Preciosa's fame to the eighth sphere
Were meet and fit, that so
The heavens new joy might know
Through all their shining courts that name to hear,
Which on this earth doth sound
Like music spreading gladness round,
Breathing with charm intense
Peace to the soul and rapture to the sense.
It seemed as though the freeman and the captive were in no haste to bring their tuneful contest to conclusion, had not the voice of Preciosa, who had overheard them, sounded from behind in response to theirs. They stopped instantly, and remained listening to her in breathless attention. Whether her words were delivered impromptu, or had been composed some time before, I know not; however that may be, she sang the following lines with infinite grace, as though they were made for the occasion.
While in this amorous emprise
An equal conflict I maintain,
'Tis higher glory to remain
Pure maid, than boast the brightest eyes.
The humblest plant on which we tread,
If sound and straight it grows apace,
By aid of nature or of grace
May rear aloft towards heaven its head.
In this my lowly poor estate,
By maiden honour dignified,
No good wish rests unsatisfied;
Their wealth I envy not the great.
I find not any grief or pain
In lack of love or of esteem;
For I myself can shape, I deem,
My fortunes happy in the main.
Let me but do what in me lies
The path of rectitude to tread;
And then be welcomed on this head
Whatever fate may please the skies.
I fain would know if beauty hath
Such high prerogative, to raise
My mind above the common ways,
And set me on a loftier path.
If equal in their souls they be,
The humblest hind on earth may vie
In honest worth and virtue high
With one of loftiest degree.
What inwardly I feel of mine
Doth raise me all that's base above;
For majesty, be sure, and love
Do not on common soil recline.
Preciosa having ended her song, Andrew and Clement rose to meet her. An animated conversation ensued between the three; and Preciosa displayed so much intelligence, modesty, and acuteness, as fully excused, in Clement's opinion, the extraordinary determination of Andrew, which he had before attributed more to his youth than his judgment. The next morning the camp was broken up, and they proceeded to a place in the jurisdiction of Murcia, three leagues from the city, where a mischance befel Andrew, which went near to cost him his life.
After they had given security in that place, according to custom, by the deposit of some silver vessels and ornaments, Preciosa and her grandmother, Christina and two other gitanillas, Clement, and Andrew, took up their quarters in an inn, kept by a rich widow, who had a daughter aged about seventeen or eighteen, rather more forward than handsome. Her name was Juana Carducha. This girl having seen the gipsies dance, the devil possessed her to fall in love with Andrew to that degree that she proposed to tell him of it, and take him for a husband, if he would have her, in spite of all her relations. Watching for an opportunity to speak to him, she found it in a cattle-yard, which Andrew had entered in search of two young asses, when she said to him, hurriedly, "Andrew" (she already knew his name), "I am single and wealthy. My mother has no other child: this inn is her own; and besides it she has large vineyards, and several other houses. You have taken my fancy; and if you will have me for a wife, only say the word. Answer me quickly, and if you are a man of sense, only wait, and you shall see what a life we shall lead."
Astonished as he was at Carducha's boldness, Andrew nevertheless answered her with the promptitude she desired, "Señora doncella, I am under promise to marry, and we gitanos intermarry only with gitanas. Many thanks for the favour you would confer on me, of which I am not worthy."
Carducha was within two inches of dropping dead at this unwelcome reply, to which she would have rejoined, but that she saw some of the gitanos come into the yard. She rushed from the spot, athirst for vengeance. Andrew, like a wise man, determined to get out of her way, for he read in her eyes that she would willingly give herself to him with matrimonial bonds, and he had no wish to find himself engaged foot to foot and alone in such an encounter; accordingly, he requested his comrades to quit the place that night. Complying with his wishes as they always did, they set to work at once, took up their securities again that evening, and decamped. Carducha, seeing that Andrew was going away and half her soul with him, and that she should not have time to obtain the fulfilment of her desires, resolved to make him stop by force, since he would not do so of good will. With all the cunning and secrecy suggested to her by her wicked intentions, she put among Andrew's baggage, which she knew to be his, a valuable coral necklace, two silver medals, and other trinkets belonging to her family. No sooner had the gipsies left the inn than she made a great outcry, declaring that the gipsies had robbed her, till she brought about her the officers of justice and all the people of the place. The gipsies halted, and all swore that they had no stolen property with them, offering at the same time to let all their baggage be searched. This made the old gipsy woman very uneasy, lest the proposed scrutiny should lead to the discovery of Preciosa's trinkets and Andrew's clothes, which she preserved with great care. But the good wench Carducha quickly put an end to her fears on that head, for before they had turned over two packages, she said to the men, "Ask which of these bundles belongs to that gipsy who is such a great dancer. I saw him enter my room twice, and probably he is the thief."
Andrew knew it was himself she meant, and answered with a laugh, "Señora doncella, this is my bundle, and that is my ass. If you find in or upon either of them what you miss, I will pay you the value sevenfold, beside submitting to the punishment which the law awards for theft."
The officers of justice immediately unloaded the ass, and in the turn of a hand discovered the stolen property, whereat Andrew was so shocked and confounded that he stood like a stone statue. "I was not out in my suspicions," said Carducha; "see with what a good looking face the rogue covers his villany." The alcalde, who was present, began to abuse Andrew and the rest of the gipsies, calling them common thieves and highwaymen. Andrew said not a word, but stood pondering in the utmost perplexity, for he had no surmise of Carducha's treachery. At last, an insolent soldier, nephew to the alcalde, stepped up to him, saying "Look at the dirty gipsy thief! I will lay a wager he will give himself airs as if he were an honest man, and deny the robbery, though the goods have been found in his hands. Good luck to whoever sends the whole pack of you to the galleys. A fitter place it will be for this scoundrel, where he may serve his Majesty, instead of going about dancing from place to place, and thieving from venta to mountain. On the faith of a soldier, I have a mind to lay him at my feet with a blow."
So saying, without more ado he raised his hand, and gave Andrew such a buffet as roused him from his stupor, and made him recollect that he was not Andrew Caballero but Don Juan and a gentleman; therefore, flinging himself upon the soldier with sudden fury, he snatched his sword from its sheath, buried it in his body, and laid him dead at his feet. The people shouted and yelled; the dead man's uncle, the alcalde, was frantic with rage; Preciosa fainted, and Andrew, regardless of his own defence, thought only of succouring her. As ill luck would have it, Clement was not on the spot, having gone forward with some baggage, and Andrew was set upon, by so many, that they overpowered him, and loaded him with heavy chains. The alcalde would gladly have hanged him on the spot, but was obliged to send him to Murcia, as he belonged to the jurisdiction of that city. It was not, however, till the next day that he was removed thither, and meanwhile he was loaded with abuse and maltreatment by the alcalde and all the people of the place. The alcalde, moreover, arrested all the rest of the gipsies he could lay hands on, but most of them had made their escape, among others Clement, who was afraid of being seized and discovered. On the following morning the alcalde, with his officers and a great many other armed men, entered Murcia with a caravan of gipsy captives, among whom were Preciosa and poor Andrew, who was chained on the back of a mule, and was handcuffed and had a fork fixed under his chin. All Murcia flocked to see the prisoners, for the news of the soldier's death had been received there; but so great was Preciosa's beauty that no one looked upon her that day without blessing her. The news of her loveliness reached the corregidor's lady, who being curious to see her, prevailed on her husband to give orders that she should not enter the prison to which all the rest of the gipsies were committed. Andrew was thrust into a dark narrow dungeon, where, deprived of the light of the sun and of that which Preciosa's presence diffused, he felt as though he should leave it only for his grave. Preciosa and her grand-mother were taken to the corregidor's lady, who at once exclaiming, "Well might they praise her beauty," embraced her tenderly, and never was tired of looking at her. She asked the old woman what was the girl's age. "Fifteen, within a month or two, more or less," was the reply. "That would be the age of my poor Constantia," observed the lady. "Ah, amigas! how the sight of this young girl has brought my bereavement back afresh to my mind."
Upon this, Preciosa took hold of the corregidora's bands, kissed them repeatedly, bathed them with tears, and said, "Señora mia, the gitano who is in custody is not in fault, for he had provocation. They called him a thief, and he is none; they gave him a blow on the face, though his is such a face that you can read in it the goodness of his soul. I entreat you, señora, to see that justice is done him, and that the señor corregidor is not too hasty in executing upon him the penalty of the law. If my beauty has given you any pleasure, preserve it for me by preserving the life of the prisoner, for with it mine ends too. He is to be my husband, but just and proper impediments have hitherto prevented our union. If money would avail to obtain his pardon, all the goods of our tribe should be sold by auction, and we would give even more than was asked of us. My lady, if you know what love is, and have felt and still feel it for your dear husband, have pity on me who love mine tenderly and honestly."
All the while Preciosa was thus speaking she kept fast hold of the corregidora's hands, and kept her tearful eyes fixed on her face, whilst the lady gazed on her with no less wistfulness, and wept as she did. Just then the corregidor entered, and seeing his wife and Preciosa thus mingling their tears, he was surprised as much by the scene as by the gitanilla's beauty. On his asking the cause of her affliction, Preciosa let go the lady's hands, and threw herself at the corregidor's feet, crying, "Mercy, mercy, señor! If my husband dies, I die too. He is not guilty; if he is, let me bear the punishment; or if that cannot be, at least let the trial be delayed until means be sought which may save him; for as he did not sin through malice, it may be that heaven in its grace will send him safety." The corregidor was still more surprised to hear such language from the gitanilla's lips, and but that he would not betray signs of weakness, he could have wept with her.
While all this was passing, the old gitana was busily turning over a great many things in her mind, and after all this cogitation, she said, "Wait a little, your honour, and I will turn these lamentations into joy, though it should cost me my life;" and she stepped briskly out of the room. Until she returned, Preciosa never desisted from her tears and entreaties that they would entertain the cause of her betrothed, being inwardly resolved that she would send to his father that he might come and interfere in his behalf.
The old gipsy woman returned with a little box under her arm, and requested that the corregidor and his lady would retire with her into another room, for she had important things to communicate to them in secret. The corregidor imagined she meant to give him information respecting some thefts committed by the gipsies, in order to bespeak his favour for the prisoner, and he instantly withdrew with her and his lady to his closet, where the gipsy, throwing herself on her knees before them both, began thus:
"If the good news I have to give to your honours be not worth forgiveness for a great crime I have committed, I am here to receive the punishment I deserve. But before I make my confession, I beg your honours will tell me if you know these trinkets;" and she put the box which contained those belonging to Preciosa into the corregidor's hands. He opened it, and saw those childish gewgaws, but had no idea what they could mean. The corregidora looked at them, too, with as little consciousness as her husband, and merely observed that they were the ornaments of some little child. "That is true," replied the gipsy, "and to what child they belonged is written in this folded paper." The corregidor hastily opened the paper, and read as follows:—
"The child's name was Doña Constanza de Acevedo y de Menesis; her mother's, Doña Guiomar de Menesis; and her father's, D. Fernando de Acevedo, knight of the order of Calatrava. She disappeared on the day of the Lord's Ascension, at eight in the morning, in the year one thousand five hundred and ninety-five. The child had upon her the trinkets which are contained in this box."
Instantly, on hearing the contents of the paper, the corregidora recognised the trinkets, put them to her lips, kissed them again and again, and swooned away; and the corregidor was too much occupied in assisting her to ask the gitana for his daughter. "Good woman, angel rather than gitana," cried the lady when she came to herself, "where is the owner of these baubles?"
"Where, señora?" was the reply. "She is in your own house. That young gipsy who drew tears from your eyes is their owner, and is indubitably your own daughter, whom I stole from your house in Madrid on the day and hour named in this paper."
On hearing this, the agitated lady threw off her clogs, and rushed with open arms into the sala, where she found Preciosa surrounded by her doncellas and servants, and still weeping and wailing. Without a word she caught her hurriedly in her arms, and examined if she had under her left breast a mark in the shape of a little white mole with which she was born, and she found it there enlarged by time. Then, with the same haste, she took off the girl's shoe, uncovered a snowy foot, smooth as polished marble, and found what she sought; for the two smaller toes of the right foot were joined together by a thin membrane, which the tender parents could not bring themselves to let the surgeon cut when she was an infant. The mole on the bosom, the foot, the trinkets, the day assigned for the kidnapping, the confession of the gitana, and the joy and emotion which her parents felt when they first beheld her, confirmed with the voice of truth in the corregidora's soul that Preciosa was her own daughter: clasping her therefore in her arms, she returned with her to the room where she had left the corregidor and the old gipsy. Preciosa was bewildered, not knowing why she had made all those investigations, and was still more surprised when the lady raised her in her arms, and gave her not one kiss, but a hundred.
Doña Guiomar at last appeared with her precious burthen in her husband's presence, and transferring the maiden from her own arms to his, "Receive, Señor, your daughter Constanza," she said; "for your daughter she is without any doubt, since I have seen the marks on the foot and the bosom; and stronger even than these proofs is the voice of my own heart ever since I set eyes on her."
"I doubt it not," replied the corregidor, folding Preciosa in his arms, "for the same sensations have passed through my heart as through yours; and how could so many strange particulars combine together unless it were by a miracle?"
The people of the house were now lost in wonder, going about and asking each other, "What is all this?" but erring widely in their conjectures; for who would have imagined that the gitanilla was the daughter of their lord? The corregidor told his wife and daughter and the old gipsy that he desired the matter should be kept secret until he should himself think fit to divulge it. As for the old gipsy, he assured her that he forgave the injury she had done him in stealing his treasure, since she had more than made atonement by restoring it. The only thing that grieved him was that, knowing Preciosa's quality, she should have betrothed her to a gipsy, and worse than that, to a thief and murderer. "Alas, señor mio," said Preciosa, "he is neither a gipsy nor a thief, although he has killed a man, but then it was one who had wounded his honour, and he could not do less than show who he was, and kill him."
"What! he is not a gipsy, my child?" said Doña Guiomar.
"Certainly not," said the old gitana; and she related the story of Andrew Caballero, that he was the son of Don Francisco de Cárcamo, knight of Santiago; that his name was Don Juan de Cárcamo, of the same order; and that she had kept his clothes after he had changed them for those of a gipsy. She likewise stated the agreement which Preciosa and Don Juan had made not to marry until after two years of mutual trial; and she put in their true light the honourable conduct of both, and the suitable condition of Don Juan.
The parents were as much surprised at this as at the recovery of their daughter. The corregidor sent the gitana for Don Juan's clothes, and she came back with them accompanied by a gipsy who carried them. Previously to her return, Preciosa's parents put a thousand questions to her, and she replied with so much discretion and grace, that even though they had not recognised her for their child, they must have loved her. To their inquiry whether she had any affection for Don Juan, she replied, not more than that to which she was bound in gratitude towards one who had humbled himself to become a gipsy for her sake; but even this should not extend farther than her parents desired. "Say no more, daughter Preciosa," said her father; "(for I wish you to retain this name of Preciosa in memory of your loss and your recovery); as your father, I take it upon myself to establish you in a position not derogatory to your birth."
Preciosa sighed, and her mother shrewdly suspecting that the sigh was prompted by love for Don Juan, said to the corregidor, "Since Don Juan is a person of such rank, and is so much attached to our daughter, I think, señor, it would not be amiss to bestow her upon him."
"Hardly have we found her to-day," he replied, "and already would you have us lose her? Let us enjoy her company for a while at least, for when she marries she will be ours no longer but her husband's."
"You are right, señor," said the lady, "but give orders to bring out Don Juan, for he is probably lying in some filthy dungeon."
"No doubt he is," said Preciosa, "for as a thief and homicide, and above all as a gipsy, they will have given him no better lodging."
"I will go see him," said the corregidor, "as if for the purpose of taking his confession. Meanwhile, señora, I again charge you not to let any one know this history until I choose to divulge it, for so it behoves my office." Then embracing Preciosa he went to the prison where Don Juan was confined, and entered his cell, not allowing any one to accompany him.
He found the prisoner with both legs in fetters, handcuffed, and with the iron fork not yet removed from beneath his chin. The cell was dark, only a scanty gleam of light passing into it from a loop-hole near the top of the wall. "How goes it, sorry knave?" said the corregidor, as he entered. "I would I had all the gipsies in Spain leashed here together to finish them all at once, as Nero would have beheaded all Rome at a single blow. Know, thou thief, who art so sensitive on the point of honour, that I am the corregidor of this city, and come to know from thee if thy betrothed is a gitanilla who is here with the rest of you?"
Hearing this Andrew imagined that the corregidor had surely fallen in love with Preciosa; for jealousy is a subtle thing, and enters other bodies without breaking or dividing them. He replied, however, "If she has said that I am her betrothed, it is very true; and, if she has said I am not her betrothed, she has also spoken the truth; for it is not possible that Preciosa should utter a falsehood."
"Is she so truthful then?" said the corregidor. "It is no slight thing to be so and be a gitana. Well, my lad, she has said that she is your betrothed, but that she has not yet given you her hand; she knows that you must die for your crime, and she has entreated me to marry her to you before you die, that she may have the honour of being the widow of so great a thief as yourself."
"Then, let your worship do as she has requested," said Andrew; "for so I be married to her, I will go content to the other world, leaving this one with the name of being hers."
"You must love her very much?"
"So much," replied the prisoner, "that whatever I could say of it would be nothing to the truth. In a word, señor corregidor, let my business be despatched. I killed the man who insulted me; I adore this young gitana; I shall die content if I die in her grace, and God's I know will not be wanting to us, for we have both observed honourably and strictly the promise we made each other."
"This night then I will send for you," said the corregidor, "and you shall marry Preciosa in my house, and to-morrow morning you shall be on the gallows. In this way I shall have complied with the demands of justice and with the desire of you both." Andrew thanked him; the corregidor returned home, and told his wife what had passed between them.
During his absence Preciosa had related to her mother the whole course of her life; and how she had always believed she was a gipsy and the old woman's grand-daughter; but that at the same time she had always esteemed herself much more than might have been expected of a gitana. Her mother bade her say truly, was she very fond of Don Juan? With great bashfulness and with downcast eyes she replied that, having considered herself a gipsy, and that she should better her condition by marrying a knight of Santiago, and one of such station as Don Juan de Cárcamo, and having, moreover, learned by experience his good disposition and honourable conduct, she had sometimes looked upon him with the eyes of affection; but that as she had said once for all, she had no other will than that which her parents might approve.
Night arrived; and about ten they took Andrew out of prison without handcuffs and fetters, but not without a great chain with which his body was bound from head to foot. In this way he arrived, unseen by any but those who had charge of him, in the corregidor's house, was silently and cautiously admitted into a room, and there left alone. A confessor presently entered and bade him confess, as he was to die next day. "With great pleasure I will confess," replied Andrew; "but why do they not marry me first? And if I am to be married, truly it is a sad bridal chamber that awaits me."
Doña Guiomar, who heard all this, told her husband that the terrors he was inflicting on Don Juan were excessive, and begged he would moderate them, lest they should cost him his life. The corregidor assented, and called out to the confessor that he should first marry the gipsy to Preciosa, after which the prisoner would confess, and commend himself with all his heart to God, who often rains down his mercies at the moment when hope is most parched and withering. Andrew was then removed to a room where there was no one but Doña Guiomar, the corregidor, Preciosa, and two servants of the family. But when Preciosa saw Don Juan in chains, his face all bloodless, and his eyes dimmed with recent weeping, her heart sank within her, and she clutched her mother's arm for support. "Cheer up, my child," said the corregidora, kissing her, "for all you now see will turn to your pleasure and advantage." Knowing nothing of what was intended, Preciosa could not console herself; the old gipsy was sorely disturbed, and the bystanders awaited the issue in anxious suspense.
"Señor Vicar," said the corregidor, "this gitano and gitana are the persons whom your reverence is to marry."
"That I cannot do," replied the priest, "unless the ceremony be preceded by the formalities required in such cases. Where have the banns been published? Where is the license of my superior, authorising the espousals?"
"The inadvertance has been mine," said the corregidor; "but I will undertake to get the license from the bishop's deputy."
"Until it comes then, your worships will excuse me," said the priest, and without another word, to avoid scandal, he quitted the house, leaving them all in confusion.
"The padre has done quite right," said the corregidor, "and it may be that it was by heaven's providence, to the end that Andrew's execution might be postponed; for married to Preciosa he shall assuredly be, but first the banns must be published, and thus time will be gained, and time often works a happy issue out of the worst difficulties. Now I want to know from Andrew, should matters take such a turn, that without any more of those shocks and perturbations, he should become the husband of Preciosa, would he consider himself a happy man, whether as Andrew Caballero, or as Don Juan de Cárcamo?"
As soon as Don Juan heard himself called by his true name, he said, "Since Preciosa has not chosen to confine herself to silence, and has discovered to you who I am, I say to you, that though my good fortune should make me monarch of the world, she would still be the sole object of my desires; nor would I aspire to have any blessing besides, save that of heaven."
"Now for this good spirit you have shown, Señor Don Juan de Cárcamo, I will in fitting time make Preciosa your lawful wife, and at present I bestow her upon you in that expectation, as the richest jewel of my house, my life, and my soul; for in her I bestow upon you Doña Constanza de Acevedo Menesis, my only daughter, who, if she equals you in love, is nowise inferior to you in birth."
Andrew was speechless with astonishment, while in a few words Doña Guiomar related the loss of her daughter, her recovery, and the indisputable proofs which the old gipsy woman had given of the kidnapping. More amazed than ever, but filled with immeasurable joy, Don Juan embraced his father and mother-in-law, called them his parents and señores, and kissed Preciosa's hands, whose tears called forth his own. The secret was no longer kept; the news was spread abroad by the servants who had been present, and reached the ears of the alcalde, the dead man's uncle, who saw himself debarred of all hope of vengeance, since the rigour of justice could not be inflicted on the corregidor's son-in-law. Don Juan put on the travelling dress which the old woman had preserved; his prison and his iron chain were exchanged for liberty and chains of gold; and the sadness of the incarcerated gipsies was turned into joy, for they were all bailed out on the following day. The uncle of the dead man received a promise of two thousand ducats on condition of his abandoning the suit and forgiving Don Juan. The latter, not forgetting his comrade Clement, sent at once in quest of him, but he was not to be found, nor could anything be learned of him until four days after, when authentic intelligence was obtained that he had embarked in one of two Genoese galleys that lay in the port of Cartagena, and had already sailed. The corregidor informed Don Juan, that he had ascertained that his father, Don Francisco de Cárcanio, had been appointed corregidor of that city, and that it would be well to wait until the nuptials could be celebrated with his consent and approbation. Don Juan was desirous to conform to the corregidor's wishes, but said that before all things he must be made one with Preciosa. The archbishop granted his license, requiring that the banns should be published only once.
The city made a festival on the wedding-day, the corregidor being much liked, and there were illuminations, bullfights, and tournaments. The old woman remained in the house of her pretended grandchild, not choosing to part from Preciosa. The news reached Madrid, and Don Francisco de Cárcamo learned that the gipsy bridegroom was his son, and that Preciosa was the gitanilla he had seen in his house. Her beauty was an excuse in his eyes for the levity of his son, whom he had supposed to be lost, having ascertained that he had not gone to Flanders. Besides, he was the more reconciled when he found what a good match Don Juan had made with the daughter of so great and wealthy a cavalier as was Don Fernando de Acevedo. He hastened his departure in order to see his children, and within twenty days he was in Murcia. His arrival renewed the general joy; the lives of the pair were related, and the poets of that city, which numbers some very good ones, took it upon them to celebrate the extraordinary event along with the incomparable beauty of the gitanilla; and the licentiate Pozo wrote in such wise, that Preciosa's fame will endure in his verses whilst the world lasts. I forgot to mention that the enamoured damsel of the inn owned that the charge of theft she had preferred against Andrew was not true, and confessed her love and her crime, for which she was not visited with any punishment, because the joyous occasion extinguished revenge and resuscitated clemency.
I shall look forward to enjoying that novella this evening as I sip my sherry and prepare for slumber
THERE was a card party at the rooms of Narumov of the Horse Guards. The long winter night passed away imperceptibly, and it was five o'clock in the morning before the company sat down to supper. Those who had won, ate with a good appetite; the others sat staring absently at their empty plates. When the champagne appeared, however, the conversation became more animated, and all took a part in it.
"And how did you fare, Surin?" asked the host.
"Oh, I lost, as usual. I must confess that I am unlucky: I play mirandole, I always keep cool, I never allow anything to put me out, and yet I always lose!"
"And you did not once allow yourself to be tempted to back the red? . . . Your firmness astonishes me."
"But what do you think of Hermann?" said one of the guests, pointing to a young Engineer: "he has never had a card in his hand in his life, he has never in his life laid a wager, and yet he sits here till five o'clock in the morning watching our play."
"Play interests me very much," said Hermann: "but I am not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous."
"Hermann is a German: he is economical—that is all!" observed Tomsky. "But if there is one person that I cannot understand, it is my grandmother, the Countess Anna Fedotovna."
"How so?" inquired the guests.
"I cannot understand," continued Tomsky, "how it is that my grandmother does not punt."
"What is there remarkable about an old lady of eighty not punting?" said Narumov.
"Then you do not know the reason why?"
"No, really; haven't the faintest idea."
"Oh! then listen. About sixty years ago, my grandmother went to Paris, where she created quite a sensation. People used to run after her to catch a glimpse of the 'Muscovite Venus.' Richelieu made love to her, and my grandmother maintains that he almost blew out his brains in consequence of her cruelty. At that time ladies used to play at faro. On one occasion at the Court, she lost a very considerable sum to the Duke of Orleans. On returning home, my grandmother removed the patches from her face, took off her hoops, informed my grandfather of her loss at the gaming-table, and ordered him to pay the money. My deceased grandfather, as far as I remember, was a sort of house-steward to my grandmother. He dreaded her like fire; but, on hearing of such a heavy loss, he almost went out of his mind; he calculated the various sums she had lost, and pointed out to her that in six months she had spent half a million francs, that neither their Moscow nor Saratov estates were in Paris, and finally refused point blank to pay the debt. My grandmother gave him a box on the ear and slept by herself as a sign of her displeasure. The next day she sent for her husband, hoping that this domestic punishment had produced an effect upon him, but she found him inflexible. For the first time in her life, she entered into reasonings and explanations with him, thinking to be able to convince him by pointing out to him that there are debts and debts, and that there is a great difference between a Prince and a coachmaker. But it was all in vain, my grandfather still remained obdurate. But the matter did not rest there. My grandmother did not know what to do. She had shortly before become acquainted with a very remarkable man. You have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvellous stories are told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; but Casanova, in his memoirs, says that he was a spy. But be that as it may, St. Germain, in spite of the mystery surrounding him, was a very fascinating person, and was much sought after in the best circles of society. Even to this day my grandmother retains an affectionate recollection of him, and becomes quite angry if any one speaks disrespectfully of him. My grandmother knew that St. Germain had large sums of money at his disposal. She resolved to have recourse to him, and she wrote a letter to him asking him to come to her without delay. The queer old man immediately waited upon her and found her overwhelmed with grief. She described to him in the blackest colours the barbarity of her husband, and ended by declaring that her whole hope depended upon his friendship and amiability.
"St. Germain reflected.
"'I could advance you the sum you want,' said he; 'but I know that you would not rest easy until you had paid me back, and I should not like to bring fresh troubles upon you. But there is another way of getting out of your difficulty: you can win back your money.'
"'But, my dear Count,' replied my grandmother, 'I tell you that I haven't any money left.'
"'Money is not necessary,' replied St. Germain: 'be pleased to listen to me.'
"Then he revealed to her a secret, for which each of us would give a good deal . . ."
The young officers listened with increased attention. Tomsky lit his pipe, puffed away for a moment and then continued:
"That same evening my grandmother went to Versailles to the jeu de la reine. The Duke of Orleans kept the bank; my grandmother excused herself in an off-hand manner for not having yet paid her debt, by inventing some little story, and then began to play against him. She chose three cards and played them one after the other: all three won sonika, and my grandmother recovered every farthing that she had lost."
"Mere chance!" said one of the guests.
"A tale!" observed Hermann.
"Perhaps they were marked cards!" said a third.
"I do not think so," replied Tomsky gravely.
"What!" said Narumov, "you have a grandmother who knows how to hit upon three lucky cards in succession, and you have never yet succeeded in getting the secret of it out of her?"
"That's the deuce of it!" replied Tomsky: "she had four sons, one of whom was my father; all four were determined gamblers, and yet not to one of them did she ever reveal her secret, although it would not have been a bad thing either for them or for me. But this is what I heard from my uncle, Count Ivan Ilyich, and he assured me, on his honour, that it was true. The late Chaplitzky—the same who died in poverty after having squandered millions—once lost, in his youth, about three hundred thousand roubles—to Zorich, if I remember rightly. He was in despair. My grandmother, who was always very severe upon the extravagance of young men, took pity, however, upon Chaplitzky. She gave him three cards, telling him to play them one after the other, at the same time exacting from him a solemn promise that he would never play at cards again as long as he lived. Chaplitzky then went to his victorious opponent, and they began a fresh game. On the first card he staked fifty thousand rubles and won sonika; he doubled the stake and won again, till at last, by pursuing the same tactics, he won back more than he had lost . . .
"But it is time to go to bed: it is a quarter to six already."
And indeed it was already beginning to dawn: the young men emptied their glasses and then took leave of each other.
THE old Countess A—— was seated in her dressing-room in front of her looking-glass. Three waiting maids stood around her. One held a small pot of rouge, another a box of hair-pins, and the third a tall can with bright red ribbons. The Countess had no longer the slightest pretensions to beauty, but she still preserved the habits of her youth, dressed in strict accordance with the fashion of seventy years before, and made as long and as careful a toilette as she would have done sixty years previously. Near the window, at an embroidery frame, sat a young lady, her ward.
"Good morning, grandmamma," said a young officer, entering the room. "Bonjour, Mademoiselle Lise. Grandmamma, I want to ask you something."
"What is it, Paul?"
"I want you to let me introduce one of my friends to you, and to allow me to bring him to the ball on Friday."
"Bring him direct to the ball and introduce him to me there. Were you at B——'s yesterday?"
"Yes; everything went off very pleasantly, and dancing was kept up until five o'clock. How charming Yeletzkaya was!"
"But, my dear, what is there charming about her? Isn't she like her grandmother, the Princess Daria Petrovna? By the way, she must be very old, the Princess Daria Petrovna."
"How do you mean, old?" cried Tomsky thoughtlessly; "she died seven years ago."
The young lady raised her head and made a sign to the young officer. He then remembered that the old Countess was never to be informed of the death of any of her contemporaries, and he bit his lips. But the old Countess heard the news with the greatest indifference.
"Dead!" said she; "and I did not know it. We were appointed maids of honour at the same time, and when we were presented to the Empress. . . ."
And the Countess for the hundredth time related to her grandson one of her anecdotes.
"Come, Paul," said she, when she had finished her story, "help me to get up. Lizanka, where is my snuff-box?"
And the Countess with her three maids went behind a screen to finish her toilette. Tomsky was left alone with the young lady.
"Who is the gentleman you wish to introduce to the Countess?" asked Lizaveta Ivanovna in a whisper.
"Narumov. Do you know him?"
"No. Is he a soldier or a civilian?"
"Is he in the Engineers?"
"No, in the Cavalry. What made you think that he was in the Engineers?"
The young lady smiled, but made no reply.
"Paul," cried the Countess from behind the screen, "send me some new novel, only pray don't let it be one of the present day style."
"What do you mean, grandmother?"
"That is, a novel, in which the hero strangles neither his father nor his mother, and in which there are no drowned bodies. I have a great horror of drowned persons."
"There are no such novels nowadays. Would you like a Russian one?"
"Are there any Russian novels? Send me one, my dear, pray send me one!"
"Good-bye, grandmother: I am in a hurry. . . . Good-bye, Lizaveta Ivanovna. What made you think that Narumov was in the Engineers?"
And Tomsky left the boudoir.
Lizaveta Ivanovna was left alone: she laid aside her work and began to look out of the window. A few moments afterwards, at a corner house on the other side of the street, a young officer appeared. A deep blush covered her cheeks; she took up her work again and bent her head down over the frame. At the same moment the Countess returned completely dressed.
"Order the carriage, Lizaveta," said she; "we will go out for a drive."
Lizaveta arose from the frame and began to arrange her work.
"What is the matter with you, my child, are you deaf?" cried the Countess. "Order the carriage to be got ready at once."
"I will do so this moment," replied the young lady, hastening into the ante-room.
A servant entered and gave the Countess some books from Prince Paul Aleksandrovich.
"Tell him that I am much obliged to him," said the Countess. "Lizaveta! Lizaveta! where are you running to?"
"I am going to dress."
"There is plenty of time, my dear. Sit down here. Open the first volume and read to me aloud."
Her companion took the book and read a few lines.
"Louder," said the Countess. "What is the matter with you, my child? Have you lost your voice? Wait—give me that footstool—a little nearer—that will do."
Lizaveta read two more pages. The Countess yawned.
"Put the book down," said she: "what a lot of nonsense! Send it back to Prince Paul with my thanks. . . . But where is the carriage?"
"The carriage is ready," said Lizaveta, looking out into the street.
"How is it that you are not dressed?" said the Countess: "I must always wait for you. It is intolerable, my dear!"
Liza hastened to her room. She had not been there two minutes, before the Countess began to ring with all her might. The three waiting-maids came running in at one door and the valet at another.
"How is it that you cannot hear me when I ring for you?" said the Countess. "Tell Lizaveta Ivanovna that I am waiting for her."
Lizaveta returned with her hat and cloak on.
"At last you are here!" said the Countess. "But why such an elaborate toilette? Whom do you intend to captivate? What sort of weather is it? It seems rather windy."
"No, your Ladyship, it is very calm," replied the valet.
"You never think of what you are talking about. Open the window. So it is: windy and bitterly cold. Unharness the horses. Lizaveta, we won't go out—there was no need for you to deck yourself like that."
"What a life is mine!" thought Lizaveta Ivanovna.
And, in truth, Lizaveta Ivanovna was a very unfortunate creature. "The bread of the stranger is bitter," says Dante, "and his staircase hard to climb." But who can know what the bitterness of dependence is so well as the poor companion of an old lady of quality? The Countess A—— had by no means a bad heart, but she was capricious, like a woman who had been spoilt by the world, as well as being avaricious and egotistical, like all old people who have seen their best days, and whose thoughts are with the past and not the present. She participated in all the vanities of the great world, went to balls, where she sat in a corner, painted and dressed in old-fashioned style, like a deformed but indispensable ornament of the ball-room; all the guests on entering approached her and made a profound bow, as if in accordance with a set ceremony, but after that nobody took any further notice of her. She received the whole town at her house, and observed the strictest etiquette, although she could no longer recognise the faces of people. Her numerous domestics, growing fat and old in her ante-chamber and servants' hall, did just as they liked, and vied with each other in robbing the aged Countess in the most bare-faced manner. Lizaveta Ivanovna was the martyr of the household. She made tea, and was reproached with using too much sugar; she read novels aloud to the Countess, and the faults of the author were visited upon her head; she accompanied the Countess in her walks, and was held answerable for the weather or the state of the pavement. A salary was attached to the post, but she very rarely received it, although she was expected to dress like everybody else, that is to say, like very few indeed. In society she played the most pitiable rôle. Everybody knew her, and nobody paid her any attention. At balls she danced only when a partner was wanted, and ladies would only take hold of her arm when it was necessary to lead her out of the room to attend to their dresses. She was very self-conscious, and felt her position keenly, and she looked about her with impatience for a deliverer to come to her rescue; but the young men, calculating in their giddiness, honoured her with but very little attention, although Lizaveta Ivanovna was a hundred times prettier than the bare-faced and cold-hearted marriageable girls around whom they hovered. Many a time did she quietly slink away from the glittering but wearisome drawing-room, to go and cry in her own poor little room, in which stood a screen, a chest of drawers, a looking-glass and a painted bedstead, and where a tallow candle burnt feebly in a copper candle-stick.
One morning—this was about two days after the evening party described at the beginning of this story, and a week previous to the scene at which we have just assisted—Lizaveta Ivanova was seated near the window at her embroidery frame, when, happening to look out into the street, she caught sight of a young Engineer officer, standing motionless with his eyes fixed upon her window. She lowered her head and went on again with her work. About five minutes afterwards she looked out again—the young officer was still standing in the same place. Not being in the habit of coquetting with passing officers, she did not continue to gaze out into the street, but went on sewing for a couple of hours, without raising her head. Dinner was announced. She rose up and began to put her embroidery away, but glancing casually out of the window, she perceived the officer again. This seemed to her very strange. After dinner she went to the window with a certain feeling of uneasiness, but the officer was no longer there—and she thought no more about him.
A couple of days afterwards, just as she was stepping into the carriage with the Countess, she saw him again. He was standing close behind the door, with his face half-concealed by his fur collar, but his dark eyes sparkled beneath his cap. Lizaveta felt alarmed, though she knew not why, and she trembled as she seated herself in the carriage.
On returning home, she hastened to the window—the officer was standing in his accustomed place, with his eyes fixed upon her. She drew back, a prey to curiosity and agitated by a feeling which was quite new to her.
From that time forward not a day passed without the young officer making his appearance under the window at the customary hour, and between him and her there was established a sort of mute acquaintance. Sitting in her place at work, she used to feel his approach; and raising her head, she would look at him longer and longer each day. The young man seemed to be very grateful to her: she saw with the sharp eye of youth, how a sudden flush covered his pale cheeks each time that their glances met. After about a week she commenced to smile at him....
When Tomsky asked permission of his grandmother the Countess to present one of his friends to her, the young girl's heart beat violently. But hearing that Narumov was not an Engineer, she regretted that by her thoughtless question, she had betrayed her secret to the volatile Tomsky.
Hermann was the son of a German who had become a naturatised Russian, and from whom he had inherited a small capital. Being firmly convinced of the necessity of preserving his independence, Hermann did not touch his private income, but lived on his pay, without allowing himself the slightest luxury. Moreover, he was reserved and ambitious, and his companions rarely had an opportunity of making merry at the expense of his extreme parsimony. He had strong passions and an ardent imagination, but his firmness of disposition preserved him from the ordinary errors of young men. Thus, though a gamester at heart, he never touched a card, for he considered his position did not allow him—as he said—"to risk the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous," yet he would sit for nights together at the card table and follow with feverish anxiety the different turns of the game.
The story of the three cards had produced a powerful impression upon his imagination, and all night long he could think of nothing else. "If," he thought to himself the following evening, as he walked along the streets of St. Petersburg, "if the old Countess would but reveal her secret to me! if she would only tell me the names of the three winning cards. Why should I not try my fortune? I must get introduced to her and win her favour—become her lover.... But all that will take time, and she is eighty-seven years old: she might be dead in a week, in a couple of days even! ... But the story itself: can it really be true? ... No! Economy, temperance and industry: those are my three winning cards; by means of them I shall be able to double my capital—increase it sevenfold, and procure for myself ease and independence."
Musing in this manner, he walked on until he found himself in one of the principal streets of St. Petersburg, in front of a house of antiquated architecture. The street was blocked with equipages; carriages one after the other drew up in front of the brilliantly illuminated doorway. At one moment there stepped out on to the pavement the well-shaped little foot of some young beauty, at another the heavy boot of a cavalry officer, and then the silk stockings and shoes of a member of the diplomatic world. Furs and cloaks passed in rapid succession before the gigantic porter at the entrance.
Hermann stopped. "Who's house is this?" he asked of the watchman at the corner.
"The Countess A——'s," replied the watchman.
Hermann started. The strange story of the three cards again presented itself to his imagination. He began walking up and down before the house, thinking of its owner and her strange secret. Returning late to his modest lodging, he could not go to sleep for a long time, and when at last he did doze off, he could dream of nothing but cards, green tables, piles of banknotes and heaps of ducats. He played one card after the other, winning uninterruptedly, and then he gathered up the gold and filled his pockets with the notes. When he woke up late the next morning, he sighed over the loss of his imaginary wealth, and then sallying out into the town, he found himself once more in front of the Countess's residence. Some unknown power seemed to have attracted him thither. He stopped and looked up at the windows. At one of these he saw a head with luxuriant black hair, which was bent down probably over some book or an embroidery frame. The head was raised. Hermann saw a fresh complexion and a pair of dark eyes. That moment decided his fate.
LIZAVETA IVANOVNA had scarcely taken off her hat and cloak, when the Countess sent for her and again ordered her to get the carriage ready. The vehicle drew up before the door, and they prepared to take their seats. Just at the moment when two footmen were assisting the old lady to enter the carriage, Lizaveta saw her Engineer standing close beside the wheel; he grasped her hand; alarm caused her to lose her presence of mind, and the young man disappeared—but not before he had left a letter between her fingers. She concealed it in her glove, and during the whole of the drive she neither saw nor heard anything. It was the custom of the Countess, when out for an airing in her carriage, to be constantly asking such questions as: "Who was that person that met us just now? What is the name of this bridge? What is written on that signboard?" On this occasion, however, Lizaveta returned such vague and absurd answers, that the Countess became angry with her.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she exclaimed. "Have you taken leave of your senses, or what is it? Do you not hear me or understand what. I say? . . . Heaven be thanked, I am still in my right mind and speak plainly enough!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna did not hear her. On returning home she ran to her room, and drew the letter out of her glove: it was not sealed. Lizaveta read it. The letter contained a declaration of love; it was tender, respectful, and copied word for word from a German novel. But Lizaveta did not know anything of the German language, and she was quite delighted.
For all that, the letter caused her to feel exceedingly uneasy. For the first time in her life she was entering into secret and confidential relations with a young man. His boldness alarmed her. She reproached herself for her imprudent behaviour, and knew not what to do. Should she cease to sit at the window and, by assuming an appearance of indifference towards him, put a check upon the young officer's desire for further acquaintance with her? Should she send his letter back to him, or should she answer him in a cold and decided manner? There was nobody to whom she could turn in her perplexity, for she had neither female friend nor adviser. . . . At length she resolved to reply to him.
She sat down at her little writing-table, took pen and paper, and began to think. Several times she began her letter, and then tore it up: the way she had expressed herself seemed to her either too inviting or too cold and decisive. At last she succeeded in writing a few lînes with which she felt satisfied.
"I am convinced," she wrote, "that your intentions are honourable, and that you do not wish to offend me by any imprudent behaviour, but our acquaintance must not begin in such a manner. I return you your letter, and I hope that I shall never have any cause to complain of this undeserved slight."
The next day, as soon as Hermann made his appearance, Lizaveta rose from her embroidery, went into the drawing-room, opened the ventilator and threw the letter into the street, trusting that the young officer would have the perception to pick it up.
Hermann hastened forward, picked it up and then repaired to a confectioner's shop. Breaking the seal of the envelope, he found inside it his own letter and Lizaveta's reply. He had expected this, and he returned home, his mind deeply occupied with his intrigue.
Three days afterwards, a bright-eyed young girl from a milliner's establishment brought Lizaveta a letter. Lizaveta opened it with great uneasiness, fearing that it was a demand for money, when suddenly she recognised Hermann's hand-writing.
"You have made a mistake, my dear," said she: "this letter is not for me."
"Oh, yes, it is for you," replied the girl, smiling very knowingly. "Have the goodness to read it."
Lizaveta glanced at the letter. Hermann requested an interview.
"It cannot be," she cried, alarmed at the audacious request, and the manner in which it was made. "This letter is certainly not for me."
And she tore it into fragments.
"If the letter was not for you, why have you torn it up?" said the girl. "I should have given it back to the person who sent it."
"Be good enough, my dear," said Lizaveta, disconcerted by this remark, "not to bring me any more letters for the future, and tell the person who sent you that he ought to be ashamed. . . ."
But Hermann was not the man to be thus put off. Every day Lizaveta received from him a letter, sent now in this way, now in that. They were no longer translated from the German. Hermann wrote them under the inspiration of passion, and spoke in his own language, and they bore full testimony to the inflexibility of his desire and the disordered condition of his uncontrollable imagination. Lizaveta no longer thought of sending them back to him: she became intoxicated with them and began to reply to them, and little by little her answers became longer and more affectionate. At last she threw out of the window to him the following letter:
"This evening there is going to be a ball at the Embassy. The Countess will be there. We shall remain until two o'clock. You have now an opportunity of seeing me alone. As soon as the Countess is gone, the servants will very probably go out, and there will be nobody left but the Swiss, but he usually goes to sleep in his lodge. Come about half-past eleven. Walk straight upstairs. If you meet anybody in the ante-room, ask if the Countess is at home. You will be told 'No,' in which case there will be nothing left for you to do but to go away again. But it is most probable that you will meet nobody. The maidservants will all be together in one room. On leaving the ante-room, turn to the left, and walk straight on until you reach the Countess's bedroom. In the bedroom, behind a screen, you will find two doors: the one on the right leads to a cabinet, which the Countess never enters; the one on the left leads to a corridor, at the end of which is a little winding staircase; this leads to my room."
Hermann trembled like a tiger, as he waited for the appointed time to arrive. At ten o'clock in the evening he was already in front of the Countess's house. The weather was terrible; the wind blew with great violence; the sleety snow fell in large flakes; the lamps emitted a feeble light, the streets were deserted; from time to time a sledge, drawn by a sorry-looking hack, passed by, on the look-out for a belated passenger. Hermann was enveloped in a thick overcoat, and felt neither wind nor snow.
At last the Countess's carriage drew up. Hermann saw two footmen carry out in their arms the bent form of the old lady, wrapped in sable fur, and immediately behind her clad in a warm mantle, and with her head ornamented with a wreath of fresh flowers, followed Lizaveta. The door was closed. The carriage rolled away heavily through the yielding snow. The porter shut the street-door; the windows became dark.
Hermann began walking up and down near the deserted house; at length he stopped under a lamp, and glanced at his watch: it was twenty minutes past eleven. He remained standing under the lamp, his eyes fixed upon the watch, impatiently waiting for the remaining minutes to pass. At half-past eleven precisely, Hermann ascended the steps of the house, and made his way into the brightly-illuminated vestibule. The porter was not there. Hermann hastily ascended the staircase, opened the door of the ante-room and saw a footman sitting asleep in an antique chair by the side of a lamp. With a light firm step Hermann passed by him. The drawing-room and dining-room were in darkness, but a feeble reflection penetrated thither from the lamp in the ante-room.
Hermann reached the Countess's bedroom. Before a shrine, which was full of old images, a golden lamp was burning. Faded stuffed chairs and divans with soft cushions stood in melancholy symmetry around the room, the walls of which were hung with China silk. On one side of the room hung two portraits painted in Paris by Madame Lebrun. One of these represented a stout, red-faced man of about forty years of age in a bright-green uniform and with a star upon his breast; the other—a beautiful young woman, with an aquiline nose, forehead curls and a rose in her powdered hair. In the corners stood porcelain shepherds and shepherdesses, dining-room clocks from the workshop of the celebrated Lefroy, bandboxes, roulettes, fans and the various playthings for the amusement of ladies that were in vogue at the end of the last century, when Montgolfier's balloons and Mesmer's magnetism were the rage. Hermann stepped behind the screen. At the back of it stood a little iron bedstead; on the right was the door which led to the cabinet; on the left—the other which led to the corridor. He opened the latter, and saw the little winding staircase which led to the room of the poor companion. . . . But he retraced his steps and entered the dark cabinet.
The time passed slowly. All was still. The clock in the drawing-room struck twelve; the strokes echoed through the room one after the other, and everything was quiet again. Hermann stood leaning against the cold stove. He was calm; his heart beat regularly, like that of a man resolved upon a dangerous but inevitable undertaking. One o'clock in the morning struck; then two; and he heard the distant noise of carriage-wheels. An involuntary agitation took possession of him. The carriage drew near and stopped. He heard the sound of the carriage-steps being let down. All was bustle within the house. The servants were running hither and thither, there was a confusion of voices, and the rooms were lit up. Three antiquated chamber-maids entered the bedroom, and they were shortly afterwards followed by the Countess who, more dead than alive, sank into a Voltaire armchair. Hermann peeped through a chink. Lizaveta Ivanovna passed close by him, and he heard her hurried steps as she hastened up the little spiral staircase. For a moment his heart was assailed by something like a pricking of conscience, but the emotion was only transitory, and his heart became petrified as before.
The Countess began to undress before her looking-glass. Her rose-bedecked cap was taken off, and then her powdered wig was removed from off her white and closely-cut hair. Hairpins fell in showers around her. Her yellow satin dress, brocaded with silver, fell down at her swollen feet.
Hermann was a witness of the repugnant mysteries of her toilette; at last the Countess was in her night-cap and dressing-gown, and in this costume, more suitable to her age, she appeared less hideous and deformed.
Like all old people in general, the Countess suffered from sleeplessness. Having undressed, she seated herself at the window in a Voltaire armchair and dismissed her maids. The candles were taken away, and once more the room was left with only one lamp burning in it. The Countess sat there looking quite yellow, mumbling with her flaccid lips and swaying to and fro. Her dull eyes expressed complete vacancy of mind, and, looking at her, one would have thought that the rocking of her body was not a voluntary action of her own, but was produced by the action of some concealed galvanic mechanism.
Suddenly the death-like face assumed an inexplicable expression. The lips ceased to tremble, the eyes became animated: before the Countess stood an unknown man.
"Do not be alarmed, for Heaven's sake, do not be alarmed!" said he in a low but distinct voice. "I have no intention of doing you any harm, I have only come to ask a favour of you."
The old woman looked at him in silence, as if she had not heard what he had said. Hermann thought that she was deaf, and, bending down towards her ear, he repeated what he had said. The aged Countess remained silent as before.
"You can insure the happiness of my llfe," continued Hermann, "and it will cost you nothing. I know that you can name three cards in order——"
Hermann stopped. The Countess appeared now to understand what he wanted; she seemed as if seeking words to reply.
"It was a joke," she replied at last: "I assure you it was only a joke."
"There is no joking about the matter," replied Hermann angrily. "Remember Chaplitzky, whom you helped to win."
The Countess became visibly uneasy. Her features expressed strong emotion, but they quickly resumed their former immobility.
"Can you not name me these three winning cards?" continued Hermann.
The Countess remained silent; Hermann continued:
"For whom are you preserving your secret? For your grandsons? They are rich enough without it; they do not know the worth of money. Your cards would be of no use to a spendthrift. He who cannot preserve his paternal inheritance, will die in want, even though he had a demon at his service. I am not a man of that sort; I know the value of money. Your three cards will not be thrown away upon me. Come!" . . .
He paused and tremblingly awaited her reply. The Countess remained silent; Hermann fell upon his knees.
"If your heart has ever known the feeling of love," said he, "if you remember its rapture, if you have ever smiled at the cry of your new-born child, if any human feeling has ever entered into your breast, I entreat you by the feelings of a wife, a lover, a mother, by all that is most sacred in life, not to reject my prayer. Reveal to me your secret. Of what use is it to you? . . . May be if is connected with some terrible sin, with the loss of eternal salvation, with some bargain with the devil. . . . Reflect,—you are old; you have not long to live—I am ready to take your sins upon my soul. Only reveal to me your secret. Remember that the happiness of a man is in your hands, that not only I, but my children, and grandchildren will bless your memory and reverence you as a saint. . . ."
The old Countess answered not a word.
Hermann rose to his feet.
"You old hag!" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth, "then I will make you answer!"
With these words he drew a pistol from his pocket.
At the sight of the pistol, the Countess for the second time exhibited strong emotion. She shook her head and raised her hands as if to protect herself from the shot. . . . then she fell backwards and remained motionless.
"Come, an end to this childish nonsense!" said Hermann, taking hold of her hand. "I ask you for the last time: will you tell me the names of your three cards, or will you not?"
The Countess made no reply. Hermann perceived that she was dead.
LIZAVETA IVANOVNA was sitting in her room, still in her ball dress, lost in deep thought. On returning home, she had hastily dismissed the chambermaid who very reluctantly came forward to assist her, saying that she would undress hersef, and with a trembling heart had gone up to her own room, expecting to find Hermann there, but yet hoping not to find him. At the first glance she convinced herself that he was not there, and she thanked her fate for having prevented him keeping the appointment. She sat down without undressing, and began to recall to mind all the circumstances which in so short a time had carried her so far. It was not three weeks since the time when she first saw the young officer from the window—and yet she was already in correspondence with him, and he had succeeded in inducing her to grant him a nocturnal interview! She knew his name only through his having written it at the bottom of some of his letters; she had never spoken to him, had never heard his voice, and had never heard him spoken of until that evening. But, strange to say, that very evening at the ball, Tomsky, being piqued with the young Princess Pauline N——, who, contrary to her usual custom, did not flirt with him, wished to revenge hîmself by assuming an air of indifference: he therefore engaged Lizaveta Ivanovna and danced an endless mazurka with her. During the whole of the time he kept teasing, her about her partiality for Engineer officers; he assured her that he knew far more than she imagined, and some of his jests wer so happily aimed, that Lizaveta thought several times that her secret was known to him.
"From whom have you learnt all this?" she asked, smiling.
"From a friend of a person very wel1 known to you," replied Tomsky, "from a very distinguished man."
"And who is this distinguished man?"
"His name is Hermann."
Lizaveta made no reply; but her hands and feet lost all sense of feeling.
"This Hermann," continued Tomsky, "is a man of romantic personality. He has the profile of a Napoleon, and the soul of a Mephistopheles. I believe that he has at least three crimes upon his conscience. . . . How pale you have become!"
"I have a headache . . . But what did this Hermann—or whatever his name is—tell you?"
"Hermann is very much dissatisfied with his friend: he says that in his place he would act very differently . . . I even think that Hermann himself has designs upon you; at least, he listens very attentively to all that his friend has to say about you."
"And where has he seen me?"
"In church, perhaps; or on the parade—God alone knows where. It may have been in your room, while you were asleep, for there is nothing that he——"
Three ladies approaching him with the question: "oubli ou regret?" interrupted the conversation, which had become so tantalisingly interesting to Lizaveta.
The lady chosen by Tomsky was the Princess Pauline herself. She succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with him during the numerous turns of the dance, after which he conducted her to her chair. On returning to his place, Tomsky thought no more either of Hermann or Lizaveta. She longed to renew the interrupted conversation, but the mazurka came to an end, and shortly afterwards the old Countess took her departure.
Tomsky's words were nothing more than the customary small talk of the dance, but they sank deep into the soul of the young dreamer. The portrait, sketched by Tomsky, coincided with the picture she had formed within her own mind, and thanks to the latest romances, the ordinary countenance of her admirer became invested with attributes capable of alarming her and fascinating her imagination at the same time. She was now sitting with her bare arms crossed and with her head, still adorned with flowers, sunk upon her uncovered bosom. Suddenly the door opened and Hermann entered. She shuddered.
"Where were you?" she asked in a terrified whisper.
"In the old Countess's bedroom," replied Hermann: "I have just left her. The Countess is dead."
"My God! What do you say?"
"And I am afraid," added Hermann, "that I am the cause of her death."
Lizaveta looked at him, and Tomsky's words found an echo in her soul: "This man has at least three crimes upon his conscience!" Hermann sat down by the window near her, and related all that had happened.
Lizaveta listened to him in terror. So all those passionate letters, those ardent desires, this bold obstinate pursuit—all this was not love! Money—that was what his soul yearned for! She could not satisfy his desire and make him happy! The poor girl had been nothing but the blind tool of a robber, of the murderer of her aged benefactress! . . . She wept bitter tears of agonised repentance. Hermann gazed at her in silence: his heart, too, was a prey to violent emotion, but neither the tears of the poor girl, nor the wonderful charm of her beauty, enhanced by her grief, could produce any impression upon his hardened soul. He felt no pricking of conscience at the thought of the dead old woman. One thing only grieved him: the irreparable loss of the secret from which he had expected to obtain great wealth.
"You are a monster!" said Lîzaveta at last.
"I did not wish for her death," replied Hermann: "my pistol was not loaded."
Both remained silent.
The day began to dawn. Lizaveta extinguished her candle: a pale light illumined her room. She wiped her tearstained eyes and raised them towards Hermann: he was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed and with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance struck Lizaveta even.
"How shall I get you out of the house?" said she at last. "I thought of conducting you down the secret staircase, but in that case it would be necessary to go through the Countess's bedroom, and I am afraid."
"Tell me how to find this secret staircase—I will go alone."
Lizaveta arose, took from her drawer a key, handed it to Hermann and gave him the necessary instructions. Hermann pressed her cold, limp hand, kissed her bowed head, and left the room.
He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the Countess's bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified; her face expressed profound tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her, and gazed long and earnestly at her, as if he wished to convince himself of the terrible reality; at last he entered the cabinet, felt behind the tapestry for the door, and then began to descend the dark staircase, filled with strange emotions. "Down this very staircase," thought he, "perhaps coming from the very same room, and at this very same hour sixty years ago, there may have glided, in an embroidered coat, with his hair dressed à l'oiseau royal and pressing to his heart his three-cornered hat, some young gallant, who has long been mouldering in the grave, but the heart of his aged mistress has only to-day ceased to beat. . . ."
At the bottom of the staircase Hermann found a door, which he opened with a key; and then traversed a corridor which conducted him into the street.
THREE days after the fatal night, at nine o'clock in the morning, Hermann repaired to the Convent of ——, where the last honours were to be paid to the mortal remains of the old Countess. Although feeling no remorse, he could not altogether stifle the voice of conscience, which said to him: "You are the murderer of the old woman!" In spite of his entertaining very little religious belief, he was exceedingly superstitious; and believing that the dead Countess might exercise an evil influence on his life, he resolved to be present at her obsequies in order to implore her pardon.
The church was full. It was with difficulty that Hermann made his way through the crowd of people. The coffin was placed upon a rich catafalque beneath a velvet baldachin. The deceased Countess lay within it, with her hands crossed upon her breast, with a lace cap upon her head and dressed in a white satin robe. Around the catafalque stood the members of her household: the servants in black caftans, with armorial ribbons upon their shoulders, and candles in their hands; the relatives—children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren—in deep mourning.
Nobody wept; tears would have been une affectation. The Countess was so old, that her death could have surprised nobody, and her relatives had long looked upon her as being out of the world. A famous preacher pronounced the funeral sermon. In simple and touching words he described the peaceful passing away of the righteous, who had passed long years in calm preparation for a Christian end. "The angel of death found her," said the orator, "engaged in pious meditation and waiting for the midnight bridegroom."
The service concluded amidst profound silence. The relatives went forward first to take farewell of the corpse. Then followed the numerous guests, who had come to render the last homage to her who for so many years had been a participator in their frivolous amusements. After these followed the members of the Countess's household. The last of these was an old woman of the same age as the deceased. Two young women led her forward by the hand. She had not strength enough to bow down to the ground—she merely shed a few tears and kissed the cold hand of her mistress.
Hermann now resolved to approach the coffin. He knelt down upon the cold stones and remained in that position for some minutes; at last he arose, as pale as the deceased Countess herself; he ascended the steps of the catafalque and bent over the corpse. . . . At that moment it seemed to him that the dead woman darted a mocking look at him and winked with one eye. Hermann started back, took a false step and fell to the ground. Several persons hurried forward and raised him up. At the same moment Lizaveta Ivanovna was borne fainting into the porch of the church. This episode disturbed for some minutes the solemnity of the gloomy ceremony. Among the congregation arose a deep murmur, and a tall thin chamberlain, a near relative of the deceased, whispered in the ear of an Englishman who was standing near him, that the young officer was a natural son of the Countess, to which the Englishman coldly replied: "Oh!"
During the whole of that day, Hermann was strangely excited. Repairing to an out-of-the-way restaurant to dine, he drank a great deal of wine, contrary to his usual custom, in the hope of deadening his inward agitation. But the wine only served to excite his imagination still more. On returnîng home, he threw himself upon his bed without undressing, and fell into a deep steep.
When he woke up it was already night, and the moon was shining into the room. He looked at his watch: it was a quarter to three. Sleep had left him; he sat down upon his bed and thought of the funeral of the old Countess.
At that moment somebody in the street looked in at his window, and immediately passed on again. Hermann paid no attention to this incident. A few moments afterwards he heard the door of his ante-room open. Hermann thought that it was his orderly, drunk as usual, returning from some nocturnal expedition, but presently he heard footsteps that were unknown to him: somebody was walking softly over the floor in slippers. The door opened, and a woman dressed in white, entered the room: Hermann mistook her for his old nurse, and wondered what could bring her there at that hour of the night. But the white woman glided rapidly across the room and stood before him—and Hermann recognised the Countess!
"I have come to you against my wish," she said in a firm voice: "but I have been ordered to grant your request. Three, seven, ace, will win for you if played in succession, but only on these conditions: that you do not play more than one card in twenty-four hours, and that you never play again during the rest of your life. I forgive you my death, on condition that you marry my companion, Lizaveta Ivanovna."
With these words she turned round very quietly, walked with a shuffling gait towards the door and disappeared. Hermann heard the street-door open and shut, and again he saw some one look in at him through the window.
For a long time Hermann could not recover himself. He then rose up and entered the next room. His orderly was lying asleep upon the floor, and he had much difficulty in waking him. The orderly was drunk as usual, and no information could be obtained from him. The street-door was locked. Hermann returned to his room, lit his candle, and wrote down all the details of his vision.
TWO fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical world. "Three, seven, ace," soon drove out of Hermann's mind the thought of the dead Countess. "Three, seven, ace," were perpetually running through his head and continually being repeated by his lips. If he saw a young girl, he would say: "How slender she is! quite like the three of hearts." If anybody asked: "What is the time?" he would reply: "Five minutes to seven." Every stout man that he saw reminded him of the ace. "Three, seven, ace" haunted him in his sleep, and assumed all possible shapes. The threes bloomed before him in te forms of magnificent flowers, the sevens were represented by Gothic portals, and the aces became transformed into gigantic spiders. One thought alone occupied his whole mind—to make a profitable use of the secret which he had purchased so dearly. He thought of applying for a furlough so as to travel abroad. He wanted to go to Paris and tempt fortune in some of the public gambling-houses that abounded there. Chance spared him all this trouble.
There was in Moscow a society of rich gamesters, presided over by the celebrated Chekalinsky, who had passed all his life at the card-table and had amassed millions, accepting bills of exchange for his winnings and paying his losses in ready money. His long experience secured for him the confidence of his companions, and his open house, his famous cook, and his agreeable and fascinating manners gained for him the respect of the public. He came to St. Petersburg. The young men of the capital flocked to his rooms, forgetting balls for cards, and preferring the emotions of faro to the seductions of flirting. Narumov conducted Hermann to Chekalinsky's residence.
They passed through a suite of magnificent rooms, filled with attentive domestics. The place was crowded. Generals and Privy Counsellors were playing at whist; young men were lolling carelessly upon the velvet-covered sofas, eating ices and smoking pipes. In the drawing-room, at the head of a long table, around which were assembled about a score of players, sat the master of the house keeping the bank. He was a man of about sixty years of age, of a very dignified appearance; his head was covered with silvery-white hair; his full, florid countenance expressed good-nature, and his eyes twinkled with a perpetual smile. Narumov introduced Hermann to him. Chekalinsky shook him by the hand in a friendly manner, requested him not to stand on ceremony, and then went on dealing.
The game occupied some time. On the table lay more than thirty cards. Chekalinsky paused after each throw, in order to give the players time to arrange their cards and note down their losses, listened politely to their requests, and more politely still, put straight the corners of cards that some player's hand had chanced to bend. At last the game was finished. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards and prepared to deal again.
"Will you allow me to take a card?" said Hermann, stretching out his hand from behind a stout gentleman who was punting.
Chekalinsky smiled and bowed silently, as a sign of acquiescence. Narumov laughingly congratulated Hermann on his abjuration of that abstention from cards which he had practised for so long a period, and wished him a lucky beginning.
"Stake!" said Hermann, writing some figures with chalk on the back of his card.
"How much?" asked the banker, contracting the muscles of his eyes; "excuse me, I cannot see quite clearly."
"Forty-seven thousand rubles," replied Hermann. At these words every head in the room turned suddenly round, and all eyes were fixed upon Hermann.
"He has taken leave of his senses!" thought Narumov.
"Allow me to inform you," said Chekalinsky, with his eternal smile, "that you are playing very high; nobody here has ever staked more than two hundred and seventy-five rubles at once."
"Very well," replied Hermann; "but do you accept my card or not?"
Chekalinsky bowed in token of consent.
"I only wish to observe," said he, "that although I have the greatest confidence in my friends, I can only play against ready money. For my own part, I am quite convinced that your word is sufficient, but for the sake of the order of the game, and to facilitate the reckoning up, I must ask you to put the money on your card."
Hermann drew from his pocket a bank-note and handed it to Chekalinsky, who, after examining it in a cursory manner, placed it on Hermann's card.
He began to deal. On the right a nine turned up, and on the left a three.
"I have won!" said Hermann, showing his card.
A murmur of astonishment arose among the players. Chekalinsky frowned, but the smile quickly returned to his face.
"Do you wish me to settle with you?" he said to Hermann.
"If you please," replied the latter.
Chekalinsky drew from his pocket a number of banknotes and paid at once. Hermann took up his money and left the table. Narumov could not recover from his astonishment. Hermann drank a glass of lemonade and returned home.
The next evening he again repaired to Chekalinsky's. The host was dealing. Hermann walked up to the table; the punters immediately made room for him. Chekalinsky greeted him with a gracious bow.
Hermann waited for the next deal, took a card and placed upon it his forty-seven thousand roubles, together with his winnings of the previous evening.
Chekalinsky began to deal. A knave turned up on the right, a seven on the left.
Hermann showed his seven.
There was a general exclamation. Chekalinsky was evidently ill at ease, but he counted out the ninety-four thousand rubles and handed them over to Hermann, who pocketed them in the coolest manner possible and imediately left the house.
The next evening Hermann appeared again at the table. Every one was expecting him. The generals and Privy Counsellors left their whist in order to watch such extraordinary play. The young officers quitted their sofas, and even the servants crowded into the room. All pressed round Hermann. The other players left off punting, impatient to see how it would end. Hermann stood at the table and prepared to play alone against the pale, but still smiling Chekalinsky. Each opened a pack of cards. Chekalinsky shuffled. Hermann took a card and covered it with a pile of bank-notes. It was like a duel. Deep silence reigned around.
Chekalinsky began to deal; his hands trembled. On the right a queen turned up, and on the left an ace.
"Ace has won!" cried Hermann, showing his card.
"Your queen has lost," said Chekalinsky, politely.
Hermann started; instead of an ace, there lay before him the queen of spades! He could not believe his eyes, nor could he understand how he had made such a mistake.
At that moment it seemed to him that the queen of spades smiled ironically and winked her eye at him. He was struck by her remarkable resemblance. . . .
"The old Countess!" he exclaimed, seized with terror.
Chekalinsky gathered up his winnings. For some time, Hermann remained perfectly motionless. When at last he left the table, there was a general commotion in the room.
"Splendidly punted!" said the players. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards afresh, and the game went on as usual.
. . . . . . .
Hermann went out of his mind, and is now confined in room Number 17 of the Obukhov Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace!" "Three, seven, queen!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very amiable young man, a son of the former steward of the old Countess. He is in the service of the State somewhere, and is in receipt of a good income. Lizaveta is also supporting a poor relative.
Tomsky has been promoted to the rank of captain and has become the husband of the Princess Pauline.
But for your slumbering you may keep Cervantes
Last edited by belamo; March 1st, 2013 at 03:32 PM.
I learnt that Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers. That explains so much (except why anybody would want to hunt a badger... they make good brushes, but you'd think they'd be easier to trap than hunt). Now I wonder what pugs and French bulldogs and other adorably absurd-looking dogs were bred for.
Made an error....
Chrome is worse than ever....
I learned that bit about dachshunds and badgers from a book I was reading, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, by Diana Gabaldon. I learn much of my trivia from historical novels.
Last edited by Swellegant; March 2nd, 2013 at 01:54 PM.
I SHOULD have learnt that my posts in Palatino, size 3, do not apppear on Explorer the way they do on Firefox
I have learned [sic ] about...
I think I have learned to appreaciate the verses in the remains of the works of Menander... more books, damn it!
I had, of course, HEARD the songs before, but today I happened to LISTEN TO them and was somewhat... surprised? that Debbie (she was so back then) had such a crappy weak voice here:
and how in this legendary tune the voice was on some sort of auto-tune roids like today they comment on successful singers considered trashy, overrated, with no talent:
Also noticed how poor and wooden, childish was their whole act, like in some Spanish barrio fiesta, compared to the whole show that, at least, we have to admit that other "less talented" put on for their public today.
Last edited by belamo; March 3rd, 2013 at 05:53 PM.
The shortest book in the Library...
"2,000 Years of German Humour"
and I learnt that this thread is being nominated for the
prestigeous Kindle Fire designation.
From an interview with a German guy who raised a wolf cub I learnt the other day that wolves don't like to hear the German language..I think he said because it sounds too aggressive to them.
Last edited by purina; March 3rd, 2013 at 11:05 PM.