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Biografía de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra en Albalearning
|Rinconete and Cortadillo|
(Or, Peter of the Corner and the Little Cutter)
At the Venta or hostelry of the Mulinillo, which is situate on the confines of the renowned plain of Alcudia, and on the road from Castile to Andalusia, two striplings met by chance on one of the hottest days of summer. One of them was about fourteen or fifteen years of age; the other could not have passed his seventeenth year. Both were well formed, and of comely features, but in very ragged and tattered plight. Cloaks they had none; their breeches were of linen, and their stockings were merely those bestowed on them by Nature. It is true they boasted shoes; one of them wore alpargates, or rather dragged them along at his heels; the other had what might as well have been shackles for all the good they did the wearer, being rent in the uppers, and without soles. Their respective head-dresses were a montera and a miserable sombrero, low in the crown and wide in the brim. On his shoulder, and crossing his breast like a scarf, one of them carried a shirt, the colour of chamois leather; the body of this garment was rolled up and thrust into one of its sleeves: the other, though travelling without incumbrance, bore on his chest what seemed a large pack, but which proved, on closer inspection, to be the remains of a starched ruff, now stiffened with grease instead of starch, and so worn and frayed that it looked like a bundle of hemp.
Within this collar, wrapped up and carefully treasured, was a pack of cards, excessively dirty, and reduced to an oval form by repeated paring of their dilapidated corners. The lads were both much burned by the sun, their hands were anything but clean, and their long nails were edged with black; one had a dudgeon-dagger by his side; the other a knife with a yellow handle.
These gentlemen had selected for their siesta the porch or penthouse commonly found before a Venta; and, finding themselves opposite each other, he who appeared to be the elder said to the younger, "Of what country is your worship, noble Sir, and by what road do you propose to travel?" "What is my country, Señor Cavalier," returned the other, "I know not; nor yet which way my road lies."
"Your worship, however, does not appear to have come from heaven," rejoined the elder, "and as this is not a place wherein a man can take up his abode for good, you must, of necessity, be going further." "That is true," replied the younger; "I have, nevertheless, told you only the veritable fact; for as to my country, it is mine no more, since all that belongs to me there is a father who does not consider me his child, and a step-mother who treats me like a son-in-law. With regard to my road, it is that which chance places before me, and it will end wherever I may find some one who will give me the wherewithal to sustain this miserable life of mine."
"Is your worship acquainted with any craft?" inquired the first speaker. "With none," returned the other, "except that I can run like a hare, leap like a goat, and handle a pair of scissors with great dexterity."
"These things are all very good, useful, and profitable," rejoined the elder. "You will readily find the Sacristan of some church who will give your worship the offering-bread of All Saints' Day, for cutting him his paper flowers to decorate the Monument on Holy Thursday."
"But that is not my manner of cutting," replied the younger. "My father, who, by God's mercy, is a tailor and hose maker, taught me to cut out that kind of spatterdashes properly called Polainas, which, as your worship knows, cover the fore part of the leg and come down over the instep. These I can cut out in such style, that I could pass an examination for the rank of master in the craft; but my ill luck keeps my talents in obscurity."
"The common lot, Señor, of able men," replied the first speaker, "for I have always heard that it is the way of the world to let the finest talents go to waste; but your worship is still at an age when this evil fortune may be remedied, and the rather since, if I mistake not, and my eyes do not deceive me, you have other advantageous qualities which it is your pleasure to keep secret." "It is true that I have such," returned the younger gentleman, "but they are not of a character to be publicly proclaimed, as your worship has very judiciously observed."
"But I," rejoined the elder, "may with confidence assure you, that I am one of the most discreet and prudent persons to be found within many a league. In order to induce your worship to open your heart and repose your faith on my honour, I will enlist your sympathies by first laying bare my own bosom; for I imagine that fate has not brought us together without some hidden purpose. Nay, I believe that we are to be true friends from this day to the end of our lives.
"I, then, Señor Hidalgo, am a native of Fuenfrida, a place very well known, indeed renowned for the illustrious travellers who are constantly passing through it. My name is Pedro del Rincon, my father is a person of quality, and a Minister of the Holy Crusade, since he holds the important charge of a Bulero or Buldero, as the vulgar call it. I was for some time his assistant in that office, and acquitted myself so well, that in all things concerning the sale of bulls I could hold my own with any man, though he had the right to consider himself the most accomplished in the profession. But one day, having placed my affections on the money produced by the bulls, rather than on the bulls themselves, I took a bag of crowns to my arms, and we two departed together for Madrid.
"In that city, such are the facilities that offer themselves, I soon gutted my bag, and left it with as many wrinkles as a bridegroom's pocket-handkerchief. The person who was charged with the collection of the money, hastened to track my steps; I was taken, and met with but scant indulgence; only, in consideration of my youth, their worships the judges contented themselves with introducing me to the acquaintance of the whipping-post, to have the flies whisked from my shoulders for a certain time, and commanding me to abstain from revisiting the Court and Capital during a period of four years. I took the matter coolly, bent my shoulders to the operation performed at their command, and made so much haste to begin my prescribed term of exile, that I had no time to procure sumpter mules, but contented myself with selecting from my valuables such as seemed most important and useful.
"I did not fail to include this pack of cards among them,"—here the speaker exhibited that oviform specimen already mentioned—"and with these I have gained my bread among the inns and taverns between Madrid and this place, by playing at Vingt-et-un. It is true they are somewhat soiled and worn, as your worship sees; but for him who knows how to handle them, they possess a marvellous virtue, which is, that you never cut them but you find an ace at the bottom; if your worship then is acquainted with the game, you will see what an advantage it is to know for certain that you have an ace to begin with, since you may count it either for one or eleven; and so you may be pretty sure that when the stakes are laid at twenty-one, your money will be much disposed to stay at home.
"In addition to this, I have acquired the knowledge of certain mysteries regarding Lansquenet and Reversis, from the cook of an ambassador who shall be nameless,—insomuch that, even as your worship might pass as master in the cutting of spatterdashes, so could I, too, take my degrees in the art of flat-catching.
"With all these acquirements, I am tolerably sure of not dying from hunger, since, even in the most retired farm-house I come to, there is always some one to be found who will not refuse himself the recreation of a few moments at cards. We have but to make a trial where we are; let us spread the net, and it will go hard with us if some bird out of all the Muleteers standing about do not fall into it. I mean to say, that if we two begin now to play at Vingt-et-un as though we were in earnest, some one will probably desire to make a third, and, in that case, he shall be the man to leave his money behind him."
"With all my heart," replied the younger lad: "and I consider that your excellency has done me a great favour by communicating to me the history of your life. You have thereby made it impossible for me to conceal mine, and I will hasten to relate it as briefly as possible. Here it is, then:—
"I was born at Pedroso, a village situate between Salamanca and Medina del Campo. My father is a tailor, as I have said, and taught me his trade; but from cutting with the scissors I proceeded—my natural abilities coming in aid—to the cutting of purses. The dull, mean life of the village, and the unloving conduct of my mother-in-law, were besides but little to my taste. I quitted my birthplace, therefore, repaired to Toledo to exercise my art, and succeeded in it to admiration; for there is not a reliquary suspended to the dress, not a pocket, however carefully concealed, but my fingers shall probe its contents, or my scissors snip it off, though the owner were guarded by the eyes of Argus.
"During four months I spent in Toledo, I was never trapped between two doors, nor caught in the fact, nor pursued by the runners of justice, nor blown upon by an informer. It is true that, eight days ago, a double spy did set forth my distinguished abilities to the Corregidor, and the latter, taking a fancy to me from his description, desired to make my acquaintance; but I am a modest youth, and do not wish to frequent the society of personages so important. Wherefore I took pains to excuse myself from visiting him, and departed in so much haste, that I, like yourself, had no time to procure sumpter-mules or small change,—nay, I could not even find a return-chaise, nor so much as a cart."
"Console yourself for these omissions," replied Pedro del Rincon; "and since we now know each other, let us drop these grand and stately airs, and confess frankly that we have not a blessed farthing between us, nor even shoes to our feet."
"Be it so," returned Diego Cortado, for so the younger boy called himself. "Be it so; and since our friendship, as your worship Señor Rincon is pleased to say, is to last our whole lives, let us begin it with solemn and laudable ceremonies,"—saying which, Diego rose to his feet, and embraced the Señor Rincon, who returned the compliment with equal tenderness and emotion.
They then began to play at Vingt-et-un with the cards above described, which were certainly "free from dust and straw," as we say, but by no means free from grease and knavery; and after a few deals, Cortado could turn up an ace as well as Rincon his master. When things had attained this point, it chanced that a Muleteer came out at the porch, and, as Rincon had anticipated, he soon proposed to make a third in their game.
To this they willingly agreed, and in less than half an hour they had won from him twelve reals and twenty-two maravedis, which he felt as sorely as twelve stabs with a dagger and twenty-two thousand sorrows. Presuming that the young chaps would not venture to defend themselves, he thought to get back his money by force; but the two friends laying hands promptly, the one on his dudgeon dagger and the other on his yellow handled knife, gave the Muleteer so much to do, that if his companions had not hastened to assist him, he would have come badly out of the quarrel.
At that moment there chanced to pass by a company of travellers on horseback, who were going to make their siesta at the hostelry of the Alcalde, about half a league farther on. Seeing the affray between the Muleteer with two boys, they interposed, and offered to take the latter in their company to Seville, if they were going to that city.
"That is exactly where we desire to go," exclaimed Rincon, "and we will serve your worships in all that it shall please you to command." Whereupon, without more ado, they sprang before the mules, and departed with the travellers, leaving the Muleteer despoiled of his money and furious with rage, while the hostess was in great admiration of the finished education and accomplishments of the two rogues, whose dialogue she had heard from beginning to end, while they were not aware of her presence.
When the hostess told the Muleteer that she had heard the boys say the cards they played with were false, the man tore his beard for rage, and would have followed them to the other Venta, in the hope of recovering his property; for he declared it to be a serious affront, and a matter touching his honour, that two boys should have cheated a grown man like him. But his companions dissuaded him from doing what they declared would be nothing better than publishing his own folly and incapacity; and their arguments, although they did not console the Muleteer, were sufficient to make him remain where he was.
Meanwhile Cortado and Rincon displayed so much zeal and readiness in the service of the travellers, that the latter gave them a lift behind them for the greater part of the way. They might many a time have rifled the portmanteaus of their temporary masters, but did not, lest they should thereby lose the happy opportunity of seeing Seville, in which city they greatly desired to exercise their talents. Nevertheless, as they entered Seville—which they did at the hour of evening prayer, and by the gate of the custom-house, on account of the dues to be paid, and the trunks to be examined—Cortado could not refrain from making an examination, on his own account, of the valise which a Frenchman of the company carried with him on the croup of his mule. With his yellow-handled weapon, therefore, he gave it so deep and broad a wound in the side that its very entrails were exposed to view; and he dexterously drew forth two good shirts, a sun-dial, and a memorandum book, things that did not greatly please him when he had leisure to examine them. Thinking that since the Frenchman carried that valise on his own mule, it must needs contain matters of more importance than those he had captured, Cortado would fain have looked further into it, but he abstained, as it was probable that the deficiency had been already discovered, and the remaining effects secured. Before performing this feat the friends had taken leave of those who had fed them on their journey, and the following day they sold the two shirts in the old clothes' market, which is held at the gate of the Almacen or arsenal, obtaining twenty reals for their booty.
Having despatched this business, they went to see the city, and admired the great magnificence and vast size of its principal church, and the vast concourse of people on the quays, for it happened to be the season for loading the fleet. There were also six galleys on the water, at sight of which the friends could not refrain from sighing, as they thought the day might come when they should be clapped on board one of those vessels for the remainder of their lives. They remarked the large number of basket-boys, porters, &c., who went to and fro about the ships, and inquired of one among them what sort of a trade it was—whether it was very laborious—and what were the gains.
An Asturian, of whom they made the inquiry, gave answer to the effect that the trade was a very pleasant one, since they had no harbour-dues to pay, and often found themselves at the end of the day with six or seven reals in their pocket, with which they might eat, drink, and enjoy themselves like kings. Those of his calling, he said, had no need to seek a master to whom security must be given, and you could dine when and where you please, since, in the city of Seville, there is not an eating-house, however humble, where you will not find all you want at any hour of the day.
The account given by the Asturian was by no means discouraging to the two friends, neither did his calling seem amiss to them; nay, rather, it appeared to be invented for the very purpose of enabling them to exercise their own profession in secresy and safety, on account of the facilities it offered for entering houses. They consequently determined to buy such things as were required for the instant adoption of the new trade, especially as they could enter upon it without undergoing any previous scrutiny.
In reply to their further inquiries, the Asturian told them that it would be sufficient if each had a small porter's bag of linen, either new or second-hand, so it was but clean, with three palm-baskets, two large and one small, wherein to carry the meat, fish, and fruit purchased by their employers, while the bag was to be used for carrying the bread. He took them to where all these things were sold; they supplied themselves out of the plunder of the Frenchman, and in less than two hours they might have been taken for regular graduates in their new profession, so deftly did they manage their baskets, and so jauntily carry their bags. Their instructor furthermore informed them of the different places at which they were to make their appearance daily: in the morning at the shambles, and at the market of St. Salvador; on fast-days at the fish-market; every afternoon on the quay, and on Thursdays at the fair.
All these lessons the two friends carefully stored in their memory, and the following morning both repaired in good time to the market of St. Salvador. Scarcely had they arrived before they were remarked by numbers of young fellows of the trade, who soon perceived, by the shining brightness of their bags and baskets, that they were new beginners. They were assailed with a thousand questions, to all which they replied with great presence of mind and discretion. Presently up came two customers, one of whom had the appearance of a Student, the other was a Soldier; both were attracted by the clean and new appearance of their baskets; and he who seemed to be a student beckoned Cortado, while the soldier engaged Rincon. "In God's name be it!" exclaimed both the novices in a breath—Rincon adding, "It is a good beginning of the trade, master, since it is your worship that is giving me my hansel." "The hansel shall not be a bad one," replied the soldier, "seeing that I have been lucky at cards of late, and am in love. I propose this day to regale the friends of my lady with a feast, and am come to buy the materials." "Load away, then, your worship," replied Rincon, "and lay on me as much as you please, for I feel courage enough to carry off the whole market; nay, if you should desire me to aid in cooking what I carry, it shall be done with all my heart."
The soldier was pleased with the boy's ready good-will, and told him that if he felt disposed to enter his service he would relieve him from the degrading office he then bore; but Rincon declared, that since this was the first day on which he had tried it, he was not willing to abandon the work so soon, or at least until he had seen what profit there was to be made of it; but if it did not suit him, he gave the gentleman his word that he would prefer the service offered him even to that of a Canon.
The soldier laughed, loaded him well, and showed him the house of his lady, bidding him observe it well that he might know it another time, so that he might be able to send him there again without being obliged to accompany him. Rincon promised fidelity and good conduct; the soldier gave him three quartos, and the lad returned like a shot to the market, that he might lose no opportunity by delay. Besides, he had been well advised in respect of diligence by the Asturian, who had likewise told him that when he was employed to carry small fish, such as sprats, sardines, or flounders, he might very well take a few for himself and have the first taste of them, were it only to diminish his expenses of the day, but that he must do this with infinite caution and prudence, lest the confidence of the employers should be disturbed; for to maintain confidence was above all things important in their trade.
But whatever haste Rincon had made to return, he found Cortado at his post before him. The latter instantly inquired how he had got on. Rincon opened his hand and showed the three quartos; when Cortado, thrusting his arm into his bosom, drew forth a little purse which appeared to have once been of amber-coloured silk, and was not badly filled. "It was with this," said he, "that my service to his reverence the Student has been rewarded—with this and two quartos besides. Do you take it, Rincon, for fear of what may follow."
Cortado had scarcely given the purse in secret to his companion, before the Student returned in a great heat, and looking in mortal alarm. He no sooner set eyes on Cortado, than, hastening towards him, he inquired if he had by chance seen a purse with such and such marks and tokens, and which had disappeared, together with fifteen crowns in gold pieces, three double reals, and a certain number of maravedis in quartos and octavos. "Did you take it from me yourself," he added, "while I was buying in the market, with you standing beside me?"
To this Cortado replied with perfect composure, "All I can tell you of your purse is, that it cannot be lost, unless, indeed, your worship has left it in bad hands."
"That is the very thing, sinner that I am," returned the Student. "To a certainty I must have left it in bad hands, since it has been stolen from me." "I say the same," rejoined Cortado, "but there is a remedy for every misfortune excepting death. The best thing your worship can do now is to have patience, for after all it is God who has made us, and after one day there comes another. If one hour gives us wealth, another takes it away; but it may happen that the man who has stolen your purse may in time repent, and may return it to your worship, with all the interest due on the loan."
"The interest I will forgive him," exclaimed the Student; and Cortado resumed:—"There are, besides, those letters of excommunication, the Paulinas; and there is also good diligence in seeking for the thief, which is the mother of success. Of a truth, Sir, I would not willingly be in the place of him who has stolen your purse; for if your worship have received any of the sacred orders, I should feel as if I had been guilty of some great crime—nay of sacrilege—in stealing from your person."
"Most certainly the thief has committed a sacrilege," replied the Student, in pitiable tones; "for although I am not in orders, but am only a Sacristan of certain nuns, yet the money in my purse was the third of the income due from a chapelry, which I had been commissioned to receive by a priest, who is one of my friends, so that the purse does, in fact, contain blessed and sacred money."
"Let him eat his sin with his bread," exclaimed Rincon at that moment; "I should be sorry to become bail for the profit he will obtain from it. There will be a day of judgment at the last, when all things will have to pass, as they say, through the holes of the colander, and it will then be known who was the scoundrel that has had the audacity to plunder and make off with the whole third of the revenue of a chapelry! But tell me, Mr. Sacristan, on your life, what is the amount of the whole yearly income?"
"Income to the devil, and you with it" replied the Sacristan, with more rage than was becoming; "am I in a humour to talk to you about income? Tell me, brother, if you know anything of the purse; if not, God be with you—I must go and have it cried."
"That does not seem to me so bad a remedy," remarked Cortado; "but I warn your worship not to forget the precise description of the purse, nor the exact sum that it contains; for if you commit the error of a single mite, the money will never be suffered to appear again while the world is a world, and that you may take for a prophecy."
"I am not afraid of committing any mistake in describing the purse," returned the Sacristan, "for I remember it better than I do the ringing of my bells, and I shall not commit the error of an atom." Saying this, he drew a laced handkerchief from his pocket to wipe away the perspiration which rained down his face as from an alembic; but no sooner had Cortado set eyes on the handkerchief, than he marked it for his own.
When the Sacristan had got to a certain distance, therefore, Cortado followed, and having overtaken him as he was mounting the steps of a church, he took him apart, and poured forth so interminable a string of rigmarole, all about the theft of the purse, and the prospect of recovering it, that the poor Sacristan could do nothing but listen with open mouth, unable to make head or tail of what he said, although he made him repeat it two or three times.
Cortado meanwhile continued to look fixedly into the eyes of the Sacristan, whose own were rivetted on the face of the boy, and seemed to hang, as it were, on his words. This gave Cortado an opportunity to finish his job, and having cleverly whipped the handkerchief out of the pocket, he took leave of the Sacristan, appointing to meet him in the evening at the same place, for he suspected that a certain lad of his own height and the same occupation, who was a bit of a thief, had stolen the purse, and he should be able to ascertain the fact in a few days, more or less.
Somewhat consoled by this promise, the Sacristan took his leave of Cortado, who then returned to the place where Rincon had privily witnessed all that had passed. But a little behind him stood another basket-boy, who had also seen the whole transaction; and at the moment when Cortado passed the handkerchief to Rincon, the stranger accosted the pair.
"Tell me, gallant gentlemen," said he, "are you admitted to the Mala Entrada, or not?"
"We do not understand your meaning, noble Sir," replied Rincon.
"How! not entered, brave Murcians?" replied the other.
"We are neither of Murcia nor of Thebes," replied Cortado. "If you have anything else to say to us, speak; if not, go your ways, and God be with you."
"Oh, your worships do not understand, don't you?" said the porter; "but I will soon make you understand, and even sup up my meaning with a silver spoon. I mean to ask you, gentlemen, are your worships thieves? But why put the question, since I see well that you are thieves; and it is rather for you to tell me how it is that you have not presented yourselves at the custom-house of the Señor Monipodio."
"Do they then pay duty on the right of thieving in this country, gallant Sir?" exclaimed Rincon.
"If they do not pay duty, at least they make them register themselves with the Señor Monipodio, who is the father, master, and protector of thieves; and I recommend you to come with me and pay your respects to him forthwith, or, if you refuse to do that, make no attempt to exercise your trade without his mark and pass-word, or it will cost you dearly."
"I thought, for my part," remarked Cortado, "that the profession of thieving was a free one, exempt from all taxes and port dues; or, at least, that if we must pay, it is something to be levied in the lump, for which we give a mortgage upon our shoulders and our necks; but since it is as you say, and every land has its customs, let us pay due respect to this of yours; we are now in the first country of the world, and without doubt the customs of the place must be in the highest degree judicious. Wherefore your worship may be pleased to conduct us to the place where this gentleman of whom you have spoken is to be found. I cannot but suppose, from what you say, that he is much honoured, of great power and influence, of very generous nature, and, above all, highly accomplished in the profession."
"Honoured, generous, and accomplished! do you say?" replied the boy: "aye, that he is; so much so, that during the four years that he has held the seat of our chief and father, only four of us have suffered at Finibusterry; some thirty or so, and not more, have lost leather; and but sixty-two have been lagged."
"Truly, Sir," rejoined Rincon, "all this is Hebrew to us; we know no more about it than we do of flying."
"Let us be jogging, then," replied the new-comer, "and on the way I will explain to you these and other things, which it is requisite you should know as pat as bread to mouth;" and, accordingly, he explained to them a whole vocabulary of that thieves' Latin which they call Germanesco, or Gerigonza, and which their guide used in the course of his lecture,—by no means a short one, for the distance they had to traverse was of considerable length.
On the road, Rincon said to his new acquaintance, "Does your worship happen to be a Thief?"
"Yes," replied the lad, "I have that honour, for the service of God and of all good people; but I cannot boast of being among the most distinguished, since I am as yet but in the year of my novitiate."
"It is news to me," remarked Cortado, "that there are thieves for the service of God and of good people."
"Señor," the other replied, "I don't meddle with theology; but this I know, that every one may serve God in his vocation, the more so as daddy Monipodio keeps such good order in that respect among all his children."
"His must needs be a holy and edifying command," rejoined Rincon, "since it enjoins thieves to serve God."
"It is so holy and edifying," exclaimed the stranger, "that I don't believe a better will ever be known in our trade. His orders are that we give something by way of alms out of all we steal, to buy oil for the lamp of a highly venerated image, well known in this city; and we have really seen great things result from that good work. Not many days ago, one of our cuatreros had to take three ansias for having come the Murcian over a couple of roznos, and although he was but a poor weak fellow, and ill of the fever to boot, he bore them all without singing out, as though they had been mere trifles. This we of the profession attribute to his particular devotion to the Virgin of the Lamp, for he was so weak, that, of his own strength, he could not have endured the first desconcierto of the hangman's wrist. But now, as I guess, you will want to know the meaning of certain words just used; I will take physic before I am sick—that is to say, give you the explanation before you ask for it.
"Be pleased to know then, gentlemen, that a cuatrero is a stealer of cattle, the ansia is the question or torture. Roznos—saving your presence—are asses, and the first desconcierto is the first turn of the cord which is given by the executioner when we are on the rack. But we do more than burn oil to the Virgin. There is not one of us who does not recite his rosary carefully, dividing it into portions for each day of the week. Many will not steal at all on a Friday, and on Saturdays we never speak to any woman who is called Mary."
"All these things fill me with admiration," replied Cortado; "but may I trouble your worship to tell me, have you no other penance than this to perform? Is there no restitution to make?"
"As to restitution," returned the other, "it is a thing not to be mentioned; besides, it would be wholly impossible, on account of the numerous portions into which things stolen have to be divided before each one of the agents and contractors has received the part due to him. When all these have had their share, the original thief would find it difficult to make restitution. Moreover, there is no one to bid us do anything of that kind, seeing that we do not go to confession. And if letters of excommunication are out against us, they rarely come to our knowledge, because we take care not to go into the churches while the priests are reading them, unless, indeed, it be on the days of Jubilee, for then we do go, on account of the vast profits we make from the crowds of people assembled on that occasion."
"And proceeding in this manner," observed Cortado, "your worships think that your lives are good and holy?"
"Certainly! for what is there bad in them?" replied the other lad! "Is it not worse to be a heretic or a renegade? or to kill your father or mother?"
"Without doubt," admitted Cortado; "but now, since our fate has decided that we are to enter this brotherhood, will your worship be pleased to step out a little, for I am dying to behold this Señor Monipodio, of whose virtues you relate such fine things."
"That wish shall soon be gratified," replied the stranger, "nay even from this place we can perceive his house: but your worships must remain at the door until I have gone in to see if he be disengaged, since these are the hours at which he gives audience."
"So be it," replied Rincon; and the thief preceding them for a short distance, they saw him enter a house which, so far from being handsome, had a very mean and wretched appearance. The two friends remained at the door to await their guide, who soon reappeared, and called to them to come in. He then bade them remain for the present in a little paved court, or patio, so clean and carefully rubbed that the red bricks shone as if covered with the finest vermilion. On one side of the court was a three-legged stool, before which stood a large pitcher with the lip broken off, and on the top of the pitcher was placed a small jug equally dilapidated. On the other side lay a rush mat, and in the middle was a fragment of crockery which did service as the recipient of some sweet basil.
The two boys examined these moveables attentively while awaiting the descent of the Señor Monipodio, but finding that he delayed his appearance, Rincon ventured to put his head into one of two small rooms which opened on the court. There he saw two fencing foils, and two bucklers of cork hung upon four nails; there was also a great chest, but without a lid or anything to cover it, with three rush mats extended on the floor. On the wall in face of him was pasted a figure of Our Lady—one of the coarsest of prints—and beneath it was a small basket of straw, with a little vessel of white earthenware sunk into the wall. The basket Rincon took to be a poor box, for receiving alms, and the little basin he supposed to be a receptacle for holy water, as in truth they were.
While the friends thus waited, there came into the court two young men of some twenty years each; they were clothed as students, and were followed soon afterwards by two of the basket boys or porters, and a blind man. Neither spoke a word to the other, but all began to walk up and down in the court. No long time elapsed before there also came in two old men clothed in black serge, and with spectacles on their noses, which gave them an air of much gravity, and made them look highly respectable: each held in his hand a rosary, the beads of which made a ringing sound. Behind these men came an old woman wearing a long and ample gown, who, without uttering a word, proceeded at once to the room wherein was the figure of Our Lady. She then took holy water with the greatest devotion, placed herself on her knees before the Virgin, and after remaining there a considerable time, first kissed the soil thrice, and then rising, lifted her arms and eyes towards heaven, in which attitude she remained a certain time longer. She then dropped her alms into the little wicker case—and that done, she issued forth among the company in the patio.
Finally there were assembled in the court as many as fourteen persons of various costumes and different professions. Among the latest arrivals were two dashing and elegant youths with long moustachios, hats of immense brims, broad collars, stiffly starched, coloured stockings, garters with great bows and fringed ends, swords of a length beyond that permitted by law, and each having a pistol in his belt, with a buckler hanging on his arm. No sooner had these men entered, than they began to look askance at Rincon and Cortado, whom they were evidently surprised to see there, as persons unknown to themselves. At length the new-comers accosted the two friends, asking if they were of the brotherhood. "We are so," replied Rincon, "and the very humble servants of your worships besides."
At this moment the Señor Monipodio honoured the respectable assembly with his welcome presence. He appeared to be about five or six-and-forty years old, tall, and of dark complexion; his eyebrows met on his forehead, his black beard was very thick, and his eyes were deeply sunk in his head. He had come down in his shirt, through the opening of which was seen a hairy bosom, as rough and thick set as a forest of brushwood. Over his shoulders was thrown a serge cloak, reaching nearly to his feet, which were cased in old shoes, cut down to make slippers; his legs were covered with a kind of linen gaiters, wide and ample, which fell low upon his ankles. His hat was that worn by those of the Hampa, bell-formed in the crown, and very wide in the brim. Across his breast was a leather baldric, supporting a broad, short sword of the perrillo fashion. His hands were short and coarse, the fingers thick, and the nails much flattened: his legs were concealed by the gaiters, but his feet were of immoderate size, and the most clumsy form. In short, he was the coarsest and most repulsive barbarian ever beheld. With him came the conductor of the two friends; who, taking Rincon and Cortado each by a hand, presented them to Monipodio, saying, "These are the two good boys of whom I spoke to your worship, Señor Monipodio. May it please your worship to examine them, and you will see how well they are prepared to enter our brotherhood." "That I will do willingly," replied Monipodio.
But I had forgotten to say, that when Monipodio had first appeared, all those who were waiting for him, made a deep and long reverence, the two dashing cavaliers alone excepted, who did but just touch their hats, and then continued their walk up and down the court.
Monipodio also began to pace up and down the patio, and, as he did so, he questioned the new disciples as to their trade, their birthplace, and their parents. To this Rincon replied, "Our trade is sufficiently obvious, since we are here before your worship; as to our country, it does not appear to me essential to the matter in hand that we should declare it, any more than the names of our parents, since we are not now stating our qualifications for admission into some noble order of knighthood."
"What you say, my son, is true, as well as discreet," replied Monipodio; "and it is, without doubt, highly prudent to conceal those circumstances; for if things should turn out badly, there is no need to have placed upon the books of register, and under the sign manual of the justice-clerk, 'So and so, native of such a place, was hanged, or made to dance at the whipping-post, on such a day,' with other announcements of the like kind, which, to say the least of them, do not sound agreeable in respectable ears. Thus, I repeat, that to conceal the name and abode of your parents, and even to change your own proper appellation, are prudent measures. Between ourselves there must, nevertheless, be no concealment: for the present I will ask your names only, but these you must give me."
Rincon then told his name, and so did Cortado: whereupon Monipodio said, "Henceforward I request and desire that you, Rincon, call yourself Rinconete, and you, Cortado, Cortadillo; these being names which accord, as though made in a mould, with your age and circumstances, as well as with our ordinances, which make it needful that we should also know the names of the parents of our comrades, because it is our custom to have a certain number of masses said every year for the souls of our dead, and of the benefactors of our society; and we provide for the payment of the priests who say them, by setting apart a share of our swag for that purpose.
"These masses, thus said and paid for, are of great service to the souls aforesaid. Among our benefactors we count the Alguazil, who gives us warning; the Advocate, who defends us; the Executioner, who takes pity upon us when we have to be whipped, and the man who, when we are running along the street, and the people in full cry after us bawling 'Stop thief,' throws himself between us and our pursuers, and checks the torrent, saying, 'Let the poor wretch alone, his lot is hard enough; let him go, and his crime will be his punishment.' We also count among our benefactors the good wenches who aid us by their labours while we are in prison, or at the galleys; our fathers, and the mothers who brought us into the world; and, finally, we take care to include the Clerk of the Court, for if he befriend us, there is no crime which he will not find means to reduce to a slight fault, and no fault which he does not prevent from being punished. For all these our brotherhood causes the sanctimonies (ceremonies) I have named to be solecised (solemnised) every year, with all possible grandiloquence.
"Certainly," replied Rinconete (now confirmed in that name), "certainly that is a good work, and entirely worthy of the lofty and profound genius with which we have heard that you, Señor Monipodio, are endowed. Our parents still enjoy life; but should they precede us to the tomb, we will instantly give notice of that circumstance to this happy and highly esteemed fraternity, to the end that you may have 'sanctimonies solecised' for their souls, as your worship is pleased to say, with the customary 'grandiloquence.'"
"And so shall it be done," returned Monipodio, "if there be but a piece of me left alive to look to it."
He then called their conductor, saying, "Hallo! there, Ganchuelo! Is the watch set?" "Yes," replied the boy; "three sentinels are on guard, and there is no fear of a surprise." "Let us return to business, then," said Monipodio. "I would fain know from you, my sons, what you are able to do, that I may assign you an employment in conformity with your inclinations and accomplishments."
"I," replied Rinconete, "know a trick or two to gammon a bumpkin; I am not a bad hand at hiding what a pal has prigged; I have a good eye for a gudgeon; I play well at most games of cards, and have all the best turns of the pasteboard at my finger ends; I have cut my eye teeth, and am about as easy to lay hold of as a hedgehog; I can creep through a cat-hole or down a chimney, as I would enter the door of my father's house; and will muster a million of tricks better than I could marshal a regiment of soldiers; and flabbergast the knowingest cove a deal sooner than pay back a loan of two reals."
"These are certainly the rudiments," admitted Monipodio, "but all such things are no better than old lavender flowers, so completely worn out of all savour that there is not a novice who may not boast of being a master in them. They are good for nothing but to catch simpletons who are stupid enough to run their heads against the church steeple; but time will do much for you, and we must talk further together. On the foundation already laid you shall have half a dozen lessons; and I then trust in God that you will turn out a famous craftsman, and even, mayhap, a master."
"My abilities shall always be at your service, and that of the gentlemen who are our comrades," replied Rinconete; and Monipodio then turned towards Cortadillo.
"And you, Cortadillo, what may you be good for?" he inquired; to which Cortadillo replied, "For my part I know the trick called 'put in two, and take out five,' and I can dive to the bottom of a pocket with great precision and dexterity." "Do you know nothing more?" continued Monipodio. "Alas, no, for my sins, that is all I can do," admitted Cortadillo, "Do not afflict yourself, nevertheless," said the master; "you are arrived at a good port, where you will not be drowned, and you enter a school in which you can hardly fail to learn all that is requisite for your future welfare. And now as to courage: how do you feel yourselves provided in that respect, my children?" "How should we be provided," returned Rinconete, "but well and amply? We have courage enough to attempt whatever may be demanded in our art and profession." "But I would have you to possess a share of that sort which would enable you to suffer as well as to dare," replied Monipodio, "which would carry you, if need were, through a good half dozen of ansias without opening your lips, and without once saying 'This mouth is mine.'" "We already know what the ansias are, Señor Monipodio," replied Cortadillo, "and are prepared for all; since we are not so ignorant but that we know very well, that what the tongue says, the throat must pay for; and great is the grace heaven bestows on the bold man (not to give him a different name), in making his life or death depend upon the discretion of his tongue, as though there were more letters in a No than an Aye."
"Halt there, my son; you need say no more," exclaimed Monipodio at this point of the discourse. "The words you have just uttered suffice to convince, oblige, persuade, and constrain me at once to admit you both to full brotherhood, and dispense with your passing through the year of novitiate."
"I also am of that opinion," said one of the gaily-dressed Bravos; and this was the unanimous feeling of the whole assembly. They therefore requested that Monipodio would immediately grant the new brethren the enjoyment of all the immunities of their confraternity, seeing that their good mien and judicious discourse proved them to be entirely deserving of that distinction.
Monipodio replied, that, to satisfy the wishes of all, he at once conferred on those new-comers all the privileges desired, but he exhorted the recipients to remember that they were to hold the favour in high esteem, since it was a very great one: consisting in the exemption from payment of the media anata, or tax levied on the first theft they should commit, and rendering them free of all the inferior occupations of their office for the entire year. They were not obliged, that is to say, to bear messages to a brother of higher grade, whether in prison or at his own residence. They were permitted to drink their wine without water, and to make a feast when and where they pleased, without first demanding permission of their principal. They were, furthermore, to enter at once on a full share of whatever was brought in by the superior brethren, as one of themselves—with many other privileges, which the new comers accepted as most signal favours, and on the possession of which they were felicitated by all present, in the most polite and complimentary terms.
While these pleasing ceremonies were in course of being exchanged, a boy ran in, panting for breath, and cried out, "The Alguazil of the vagabonds is coming direct to the house, but he has none of the Marshalsea men with him."
"Let no one disturb himself," said Monipodio. "This is a friend; never does he come here for our injury. Calm your anxiety, and I will go out to speak with him." At these words all resumed their self-possession, for they had been considerably alarmed; and Monipodio went forth to the door of his house, where he found the Alguazil, with whom he remained some minutes in conversation, and then returned to the company. "Who was on guard to-day," he asked, "in the market of San Salvador?" "I was," replied the conductor of our two friends, the estimable Ganchuelo. "You!" replied Monipodio. "How then does it happen that you have not given notice of an amber-coloured purse which has gone astray there this morning, and has carried with it fifteen crowns in gold, two double reals, and I know not how many quartos?"
"It is true," replied Ganchuelo, "that this purse has disappeared, but it was not I took it, nor can I imagine who has done so." "Let there be no tricks with me," exclaimed Monipodio; "the purse must be found, since the Alguazil demands it, and he is a friend who finds means to do us a thousand services in the course of the year." The youth again swore that he knew nothing about it, while Monipodio's choler began to rise, and in a moment flames seemed to dart from his eyes. "Let none of you dare," he shouted, "to venture on infringing the most important rule of our order, for he who does so shall pay for it with his life. Let the purse be found, and if any one has been concealing it to avoid paying the dues, let him now give it up. I will make good to him all that he would have been entitled to, and out of my own pocket too; for, come what may, the Alguazil must not be suffered to depart without satisfaction." But Ganchuelo could do no more than repeat, with all manner of oaths and imprecations, that he had neither taken the purse, nor ever set eyes on it.
All this did but lay fuel on the flame of Monipodio's anger, and the entire assembly partook of his emotions; the honourable members perceiving that their statutes were violated, and their wise ordinances infringed. Seeing, therefore, that the confusion and alarm had now got to such a height, Rinconete began to think it time to allay it, and to calm the anger of his superior, who was bursting with rage. He took counsel for a moment with Cortadillo, and receiving his assent, drew forth the purse of the Sacristan, saying:—
"Let all questions cease, gentlemen: here is the purse, from which nothing is missing that the Alguazil has described, since my comrade Cortadillo prigged it this very day, with a pocket-handkerchief into the bargain, which he borrowed from the same owner." Thereupon Cortadillo produced the handkerchief before the assembled company.
Seeing this, Monipodio exclaimed "Cortadillo the Good! for by that title and surname shall you henceforward be distinguished. Keep the handkerchief, and I take it upon myself to pay you duly for this service; as to the purse, the Alguazil must carry it away just as it is, for it belongs to a Sacristan who happens to be his relation, and we must make good in his case the proverb, which says, 'To him who gives thee the entire bird, thou canst well afford a drumstick of the same.' This good Alguazil can save us from more mischief in one day than we can do him good in a hundred."
All the brotherhood with one voice approved the spirit and gentlemanly proceeding of the two new comers, as well as the judgment and decision of their superior, who went out to restore the purse to the Alguazil. As to Cortadillo, he was confirmed in his title of the Good, much as if the matter had concerned a Don Alonzo Perez de Guzman, surnamed the Good, who from the walls of Tarifa threw down to his enemy the dagger that was to destroy the life of his only son.
When Monipodio returned to the assembly he was accompanied by two girls, with rouged faces, lips reddened with carmine, and necks plastered with white. They wore short camlet cloaks, and exhibited airs of the utmost freedom and boldness. At the first glance Rinconete and Cortadillo could see what was the profession of these women. They had no sooner entered, than they hurried with open arms, the one to Chiquiznaque, the other to Maniferro; these were the two bravos, one of whom bore the latter name because he had an iron hand, in place of one of his own, which had been cut off by the hand of justice. These two men embraced the girls with great glee, and inquired if they had brought the wherewithal to moisten their throats. "How could we think of neglecting that, old blade!" replied one of the girls, who was called Gananciosa. "Silvatillo, your scout, will be here before long with the clothes-basket, crammed with whatever good luck has sent us."
And true it was; for an instant afterwards, a boy entered with a clothes-basket covered with a sheet.
The whole company renewed their rejoicings on the arrival of Silvatillo, and Monipodio instantly ordered that one of the mats should be brought from the neighbouring chamber, and laid out in the centre of the court. Furthermore he commanded that all the brotherhood should take places around it, in order that while they were taking the wrinkles out of their stomachs, they might talk about business.
To this proposal the old woman, who had been kneeling before the image, replied, "Monipodio, my son, I am not in the humour to keep festival this morning, for during the last two days I have had a giddiness and pain in my head, that go near to make me mad; I must, besides, be at our Lady of the Waters before mid-day strikes, having to accomplish my devotions and offer my candles there, as well as at the crucifix of St. Augustin; for I would not fail to do either, even though it were to snow all day and blow a hurricane. What I came here for is to tell you, that last night the Renegade and Centipede brought to my house a basket somewhat larger than that now before us; it was as full as it could hold of fine linen, and, on my life and soul, it was still wet and covered with soap, just as they had taken it from under the nose of the washerwoman, so that the poor fellows were perspiring and breathless beneath its weight. It would have melted your heart to see them as they came in, with the water streaming from their faces, and they as red as a couple of cherubs. They told me, besides, that they were in pursuit of a cattle-dealer, who had just had some sheep weighed at the slaughter-house, and they were then hastening off to see if they could not contrive to grab a great cat which the dealer carried with him. They could not, therefore, spare time to count the linen, or take it out of the basket but they relied on the rectitude of my conscience; and so may God grant my honest desires, and preserve us all from the power of justice, as these fingers have refrained from touching the basket, which is as full as the day it was born."
"We cannot doubt it, good mother," replied Monipodio. "Let the basket remain where it is; I will come at nightfall to fetch it away, and will then ascertain the quantity and quality of its contents, giving to every one the portion, due to him, faithfully and truly, as it is my habit to do."
"Let it be as you shall command," rejoined the old woman; "and now, as it is getting late, give me something to drink, if you have it there—something that will comfort this miserable stomach, which is almost famishing for want."
"That you shall have, and enough of it, mother," exclaimed Escalanta, the companion of Gananciosa; and, uncovering the basket, she displayed a great leather bottle, containing at least two arrobas of wine, with a cup made of cork, in which you might comfortably carry off an azumbre, or honest half-gallon of the same. This Escalanta now filled, and placed it in the hands of the devout old woman, who took it in both her own, and, having blown away a little froth from the surface, she said,—
"You have poured out a large quantity, Escalanta, my daughter; but God will give me strength." Whereupon, without once taking breath, and at one draught, she poured the whole from the cup down her throat. "It is real Guadalcanal," said the old woman, when she had taken breath; "and yet it has just a tiny smack of the gypsum. God comfort you, my daughter, as you have comforted me; I am only afraid that the wine may do me some mischief, seeing that I have not yet broken my fast."
"No, mother; it will do nothing of the kind," returned Monipodio, "for it is three years old at the least."
"May the Virgin grant that I find it so," replied the old woman. Then turning to the girls, "See, children," she said "whether you have not a few maravedis to buy the candles for my offerings of devotion. I came away in so much haste, to bring the news of the basket of linen, that I forgot my purse, and left it at home."
"Yes, Dame Pipota,"—such was the name of the old woman,—"I have some," replied Gananciosa; "here are two cuartos for you, and with one of them I beg you to buy a candle for me, which you will offer in my name to the Señor St. Michael, or if you can get two with the money, you may place the other at the altar of the Señor St. Blas, for those two are my patron-saints. I also wish to give one to the Señora Santa Lucia, for whom I have a great devotion, on account of the eyes; but I have no more change to-day, so it must be put off till another time, when I will square accounts with all."
"And you will do well, daughter," replied the old woman. "Don't be niggard, mind. It is a good thing to carry one's own candles before one dies, and not to wait until they are offered by the heirs and executors of our testament."
"You speak excellently, Mother Pipota," said Escalanta; and, putting her hand into her pocket, she drew forth a cuarto, which she gave the old woman, requesting her to buy two candles for her likewise, and offer them to such saints as she considered the most useful and the most likely to be grateful. With this old Pipota departed, saying,
"Enjoy yourselves, my dears, now while you have time, for old age will come and you will then weep for the moments you may have lost in your youth, as I do now. Commend me to God in your prayers, and I will remember you, as well as myself, in mine, that he may keep us all, and preserve us in this dangerous trade of ours from all the terrors of justice." These words concluded, the old woman went her way.
Dame Pipota having disappeared, all seated themselves round the mat, which Gananciosa covered with the sheet in place of a table-cloth. The first thing she drew from the basket was an immense bunch of radishes; this was followed by a couple of dozens or more of oranges and lemons; then came a great earthen pan filled with slices of fried ling, half a Dutch cheese, a bottle of excellent olives, a plate of shrimps, and a large dish of craw-fish, with their appropriate sauce of capers, drowned in pepper-vinegar: three loaves of the whitest bread from Gandul completed the collation. The number of guests at this breakfast was fourteen, and not one of them failed to produce his yellow-handled knife, Rinconete alone excepted, who drew his dudgeon dagger instead. The two old men in serge gowns, and the lad who had been the guide of the two friends, were charged with the office of cupbearers, pouring the wine from the bottle into the cork cup.
But scarcely had the guests taken their places, before they were all startled, and sprang up in haste at the, sound of repeated knocks at the door. Bidding them remain quiet, Monipodio went into one of the lower rooms, unhooked a buckler, took his sword in his hand, and, going to the door, inquired, in a rough and threatening voice, "Who is there?"
"All right Señor! it is I, Tagarote, on sentry this morning," replied a voice from without. "I come to tell you that Juliana de Cariharta is coming, with her hair all about her face, and crying her eyes out, as though some great misfortune had happened to her."
He had scarcely spoken when the girl he had named came sobbing to the door, which Monipodio opened for her, commanding Tagarote to return to his post; and ordering him, moreover, to make less noise and uproar when he should next bring notice of what was going forward,—a command to which the boy promised attention.
Cariharta, a girl of the same class and profession with those already in presence, had meanwhile entered the court, her hair streaming in the wind, her eyes swollen with tears, and her face covered with contusions and bruises. She had no sooner got into the Patio, than she fell to the ground in a fainting fit. Gananciosa and Escalanta sprang to her assistance, unfastened her dress, and found her breast and shoulders blackened and covered with marks of violence. After they had thrown water on her face, she soon came to herself, crying out as she did so, "The justice of God and the king on that shameless thief, that cowardly cut-purse, and dirty scoundrel, whom I have saved from the gibbet more times than he has hairs in his beard. Alas! unhappy creature that I am! see for what I have squandered my youth, and spent the flower of my days! For an unnatural, worthless, and incorrigible villain!"
"Recover yourself, and be calm, Cariharta," said Monipodio; "I am here to render justice to you and to all. Tell me your cause of complaint, and you shall be longer in relating the story than I will be in taking vengeance. Let me know if anything has happened between you and your respeto; and if you desire to be well and duly avenged. You have but to open your mouth."
"Protector!" exclaimed the girl. "What kind of a protector is he? It were better for me to be protected in hell than to remain any longer with that lion among sheep, and sheep among men! Will I ever eat again with him at the same table, or live under the same roof? Rather would I give this flesh of mine, which he has put into the state you shall see, to be devoured alive by raging beasts." So saying, she pulled up her petticoats to her knees, and even a little higher, and showed the wheals with which she was covered. "That's the way," she cried, "that I have been treated by that ungrateful Repolido, who owes more to me than to the mother that bore him.
"And why do you suppose he has done this? Do you think I have given him any cause?—no, truly. His only reason for serving me so was, that being at play and losing his money, he sent Cabrillas, his scout, to me for thirty reals, and I could only send him twenty-four. May the pains and troubles with which I earned them be counted to me by heaven in remission of my sins! But in return for this civility and kindness, fancying that I had kept back part of what he chose to think I had got, the blackguard lured me out to the fields this morning, beyond the king's garden, and there, having stripped me among the olive trees, he took off his belt, not even removing the iron buckle—oh that I may see him clapped in irons and chains!—and with that he gave me such an unmerciful flogging, that he left me for dead; and that's a true story, as the marks you see bear witness."
Here Cariharta once more set up her pipes and craved for justice, which was again promised to her by Monipodio and all the bravos present.
The Gananciosa then tried her hand at consoling the victim; saying to her, among other things—"I would freely give my best gown that my fancy man had done as much by me; for I would have you know, sister Cariharta, if you don't know it yet, that he who loves best thrashes best; and when these scoundrels whack us and kick us, it is then they most devoutly adore us. Tell me now, on our life, after having beaten and abused you, did not Repolido make much of you, and give you more than one caress?"
"More than one!" replied the weeping girl; "he gave me more than a hundred thousand, and would have given a finger off his hand if I would only have gone with him to his posada; nay, I even think that the tears were almost starting from his eyes after he had leathered me."
"Not a doubt of it," replied Gananciosa; "and he would weep now to see the state he has put you into: for men like him have scarcely committed the fault before repentance begins. You will see, sister, if he does not come here to look for you before we leave the place; and see if he does not beg you to forgive what has passed, and behave to you as meek and as humble as a lamb."
"By my faith," observed Monipodio, "the cowardly ruffian shall not enter these doors until he has made full reparation for the offence he has committed. How dare he lay a hand on poor Cariharta, who for cleanliness and industry is a match for Gananciosa herself, and that is saying everything."
"Alas! Señor Monipodio," replied Juliana, "please do not speak too severely of the miserable fellow; for, hard as he is, I cannot but love him as I do the very folds of my heart; and the words spoken in his behalf by my friend Gananciosa have restored the soul to my body. Of a truth, if I consulted only my own wishes, I should go this moment and look for him."
"No, no," replied Gananciosa, "you shall not do so by my counsel; for to do that would make him proud; he would think too much of himself, and would make experiments upon you as on a dead body. Keep quiet, sister, and in a short time you will see him here repentant, as I have said; and if not, we will write verses on him that shall make him roar with rage."
"Let us write by all means," returned Juliana, "for I have a thousand things to say to him."
"And I will be your secretary, if need be," rejoined Monipodio, "for although I am no poet, yet a man has but to tuck up the sleeves of his shirt, set well to work, and he may turn off a couple of thousand verses in the snapping of a pair of scissors. Besides, if the rhymes should not come so readily as one might wish, I have a friend close by, a barber, who is a great poet, and will trim up the ends of the verses at an hour's notice. At present, however, let us go finish our repast; all the rest can be done afterwards."
Juliana was not unwilling to obey her superior, so they all fell to again at the O-be-joyful with so much goodwill that they soon saw the bottom of the basket and the dregs of the great leather bottle. The old ones drank sine fine, the younger men to their hearts' content, and the ladies till they could drink no more. When all was consumed, the two old men begged permission to take their leave, which Monipodio allowed them to do, but charged them to return punctually, for the purpose of reporting all they should see or hear that could be useful to the brotherhood; they assured him they would by no means fail in their duty, and then departed.
After these gentlemen had left the company, Rinconete, who was of a very inquiring disposition, begged leave to ask Monipodio in what way two persons so old, grave, and formal as those he had just seen, could be of service to their community. Monipodio replied, that such were called "Hornets" in their jargon, and that their office was to poke about all parts of the city, spying out such places as might be eligible for attempts to be afterwards made in the night-time. "They watch people who receive money from the bank or treasury," said he, "observe where they go with it, and, if possible, the very place in which it is deposited. When this is done, they make themselves acquainted with the thickness of the walls, marking out the spot where we may most conveniently make our guzpataros, which are the holes whereby we contrive to force an entrance. In a word, these persons are among the most useful of the brotherhood: and they receive a fifth of all that the community obtains by their intervention, as his majesty does, on treasure trove. They are, moreover, men of singular integrity and rectitude. They lead a respectable life, and enjoy a good reputation, fearing God and regarding the voice of their consciences, insomuch that not a day passes over their heads in which they have not heard mass with extraordinary devotion. There are, indeed, some of them so conscientious, that they content themselves with even less than by our rules would be their due. Those just gone are of this number. We have two others, whose trade it is to remove furniture; and as they are daily employed in the conveyance of articles for persons who are changing their abode, they know all the ins and outs of every house in the city, and can tell exactly where we may hope for profit and where not."
"That is all admirable," replied Rinconete, "and greatly do I desire to be of some use to so noble a confraternity."
"Heaven is always ready to favour commendable desires," replied Monipodio.
While the two were thus discoursing, a knock was heard at the door, and Monipodio went to see who might be there. "Open, Sor Monipodio—open," said a voice without; "it is I, Repolido."
Cariharta hearing this voice, began to lift up her own to heaven, and cried out, "Don't open the door, Señor Monipodio; don't let in that Tarpeian mariner—that tiger of Ocaña."
Monipodio opened the door, nevertheless, in despite of her cries; when Cariharta, starting to her feet, hurried away, and hid herself in the room where the bucklers were hung up. There, bolting the door, she bawled from her refuge, "Drive out that black-visaged coward, that murderer of innocents, that white-livered terror of house-lambs, who durst not look a man in the face."
Repolido was meanwhile kept back by Maniferro and Chiquiznaque, as he struggled with all his might to get into the room where Cariharta was hidden. But when he saw that to be impossible, he called to her from without, "Come, come, let us have done with this, my little sulky; by your life, let us have peace, as you would wish to be married." "Married!" retorted the lady, "married to you too! Don't you wish you may get it? See what kind of a string he's playing on now. I would rather be married to a dead notomy." "Oh, bother!" exclaimed Repolido; "let us have done with this, for it is getting late; take care of being too much puffed up at hearing me speak so gently, and seeing me so meek; for, by the light of heaven, if my rage should get steeple-high, the relapse will be worse than the first fit. Come down from your stilts, let us all have done with our tantrums, and not give the devil a dinner."
"I will give him a supper to boot, if he will take you from my sight to some place where I may never set eyes on you more," exclaimed the gentle Juliana from within.
"Haven't I told you once to beware, Madame Hemp-sack? By the powers, I suspect I must serve out something to you by the dozen, though I make no charge for it."
Here Monipodio interposed: "In my presence," he said, "there shall be no violence. Cariharta will come out, not for your threats, but for my sake, and all will go well. Quarrels between people who love each other are but the cause of greater joy and pleasure when peace is once made. Listen to me, Juliana, my daughter; listen to me, my Cariharta. Come out to us, for the love of your friend Monipodio, and I will make Repolido beg your pardon on his knees."
"Ah! if he will do that," exclaimed Escalanta, "we shall then be all on his side, and will entreat Juliana to come out."
"If I am asked to beg pardon in a sense of submission that would dishonour my person," replied Repolido, "an army of lansquenets would not make me consent; but if it be merely in the way of doing pleasure to Cariharta, I do not say merely that I would go on my knees, but I would drive a nail into my forehead to do her service."
At these words Chiquiznaque and Maniferro began to laugh, and Repolido, who thought they were making game of him, cried out in a transport of rage, "Whoever shall laugh or think of laughing at anything whatsoever that may pass between Cariharta and myself, I say that he lies, and that he will have lied every time he shall laugh or think of laughing."
Hearing this, Chiquiznaque and Maniferro looked at each other and scowled so sternly, that Monipodio saw things were likely to come to a crisis unless he prevented it. Throwing himself, therefore, into the midst of the group, he cried out, "No more of this, gentlemen! have done with all big words; grind them up between your teeth; and since those that have been said do not reach to the belt, let no one here apply them to himself."
"We are very sure," replied Chiquiznaque, "that such admonitions neither have been nor will be uttered for our benefit; otherwise, or if it should be imagined that they were addressed to us, the tambourine is in hands that would well know how to beat it."
"We also, Sor Chiquiznaque, have our drum of Biscay," retorted Repolido, "and, in case of need, can make the bells as well as another. I have already said, that whoever jests in our matters is a liar: and whoever thinks otherwise, let him follow me; with a palm's length of my sword I will show him that what is said is said." Having uttered these words, Repolido turned towards the outer door, and proceeded to leave the place.
Cariharta had meanwhile been listening to all this, and when she found that Repolido was departing in anger, she rushed out, screaming, "Hold him, hold him,—don't let him go, or he will be showing us some more of his handiwork; can't you see that he is angry? and he is a Judas Macarelo in the matter of bravery. Come here, Hector of the world and of my eyes!" With these words, Cariharta threw herself upon the retiring bravo, and held him with all her force by his cloak. Monipodio lent her his aid, and between them they contrived to detain him.
Chiquiznaque and Maniferro, undetermined whether to resume the dispute or not, stood waiting apart to see what Repolido would do, and the latter perceiving himself to be in the hands of Monipodio and Cariharta, exclaimed, "Friends should never annoy friends, nor make game of friends, more especially when they see that friends are vexed."
"There is not a friend here," replied Maniferro, "who has any desire to vex a friend; and since we are all friends, let us give each other the hand like friends." "Your worships have all spoken like good friends," added Monipodio, "and as such friends should do; now finish by giving each other your hands like true friends."
All obeyed instantly, whereupon Escalanta, whipping off her cork-soled clog, began to play upon it as if it had been a tambourine. Gananciosa, in her turn, caught up a broom, and, scratching the rushes with her fingers, drew forth a sound which, if not soft or sweet, yet agreed very well with the beating of the slipper. Monipodio then broke a plate, the two fragments of which he rattled together in such fashion as to make a very praiseworthy accompaniment to the slipper and the broom.
Rinconete and Cortadillo stood in much admiration of that new invention of the broom, for up to that time they had seen nothing like it. Maniferro perceived their amazement, and said to them, "The broom awakens your admiration,—and well it may, since a more convenient kind of instrument was never invented in this world, nor one more readily formed, or less costly. Upon my life, I heard a student the other day affirm, that neither the man who fetched his wife out of hell—Negrofeo, Ogrofeo, or what was he called—nor that Marion who got upon a dolphin, and came out of the sea like a man riding on a hired mule—nor even that other great musician who built a city with a hundred gates and as many posterns—never a one of them invented an instrument half so easy of acquirement, so ready to the touch, so pleasing and simple as to its frets, keys, and chords, and so far from troublesome in the tuning and keeping in accord; and by all the saints, they swear that it was invented by a gallant of this very city, a perfect Hector in matters of music."
"I fully believe all you say," replied Rinconete, "but let us listen, for our musicians are about to sing. Gananciosa is blowing her nose, which is a certain sign that she means to sing."
And she was, in fact, preparing to do so. Monipodio had requested her to give the company some of the Seguidillas most in vogue at the moment. But the first to begin was Escalanta, who sang as follows, in a thin squeaking voice:—
"For a boy of Sevilla,
Red as a Dutchman,
All my heart's in flame."
To which Gananciosa replied, taking up the measure as she best might—
"For the little brown lad,
With a good bright eye,
Who would not lose her name?"
Then Monipodio, making great haste to perform a symphony with his pieces of platter, struck in—
"Two lovers dear, fall out and fight,
But soon, to make their peace, take leisure;
And all the greater was the row,
So much the greater is the pleasure."
But Cariharta had no mind to enjoy her recovered happiness in silence and fingering another clog, she also entered the dance, joining her voice to those of her friends, in the following words—
"Pause, angry lad! and do not beat me more,
For 'tis thine own dear flesh that thou dost baste,
If thou but well consider, and—"
"Fair and soft," exclaimed Repolido, at that moment, "give us no old stories, there's no good in that. Let bygones be bygones! Choose another gait, girl; we've had enough of that one."
The canticle, for a moment interrupted by these words, was about to recommence, and would not, apparently, have soon come to an end, had not the performers been disturbed by violent knocks at the door. Monipodio hastened to see who was there, and found one of his sentinels, who informed him that at the end of the street was the alcalde of criminal justice, with the little Piebald and the Kestrel (two catchpolls, who were called neutral, since they did the community of robbers neither good nor harm), marching before him.
The joyous company within heard the report of their scout, and were in a terrible fright. Escalanta and Cariharta put on their clogs in great haste, Gananciosa threw down her broom, and Monipodio his broken plate, every instrument sinking at once into silence. Chiquiznaque lost his joyous grin, and stood dumb as a fish; Repolido trembled with fear, and Maniferro looked pale with anxiety. But these various demonstrations were exhibited only for a moment,—in the next, all that goodly brotherhood had disappeared. Some rushed across a kind of terrace, and gained another court; others clambered over the roof, and so passed into a neighbouring alley. Never did the sound of a fowling piece, or a sudden peal of thunder, more effectually disperse a flock of careless pigeons, than did the news of the alcalde's arrival that select company assembled in the house of the Señor Monipodio. Rinconete and Cortadillo, not knowing whither to flee, stood in their places waiting to see what would be the end of that sudden storm, which finished simply enough by the return of the sentinel, who came to say that the alcalde had passed through the whole length of the street without seeming to have any troublesome suspicions respecting them, or even appearing to think of their house at all.
While Monipodio was in the act of receiving this last report, there came to the door a gentleman in the prime of youth, and dressed in the half-rustic manner suitable to the morning, or to one residing in the country. Monipodio caused this person to enter the house with himself; he then sent to look for Chiquiznaque, Repolido, and Maniferro, with orders that they should come forth from their hiding places, but that such others as might be with them should remain where they were.
Rinconete and Cortadillo having remained in the court, could hear all the conversation which took place between Monipodio and the gentleman who had just arrived, and who began by inquiring how it happened that the job he had ordered had been so badly done. At this point of the colloquy, Chiquiznaque appeared, and Monipodio asked him if he had accomplished the work with which he had been entrusted—namely, the knife-slash of fourteen stitches.
"Which of them was it," inquired Chiquiznaque, "that of the merchant at the Cross-ways?" "Exactly," replied the gentleman. "Then I'll tell you how the matter went," responded the bravo. "Last night, as I watched before the very door of his house, and the man appeared just before to the ringing of the Ave Maria, I got near him, and took the measure of his face with my eyes; but I perceived it was so small that it was impossible, totally impossible, to find room in it for a cut of fourteen stitches. So that, perceiving myself unable to fulfil my destructions"—"Instructions you mean," said the gentleman;—"Well, well, instructions if you will," admitted Chiquiznaque,—"seeing that I could not find room for the number of stitches I had to make, because of the narrowness, I say, and want of space in the visage of the merchant, I gave the cut to a lacquey he had with him, to the end that I might not have my journey for nothing; and certainly his allowance may pass for one of the best quality."
"I would rather you had given the master a cut of seven stitches than the servant one of fourteen," remarked the gentleman. "You have not fulfilled the promise made me, but the thirty ducats which I gave you as earnest money, will be no great loss." This said, he saluted the two ruffians and turned to depart, but Monipodio detained him by the cloak of mixed cloth which he wore on his shoulders, saying: "Be pleased to stop, Señor cavalier, and fulfil your promise, since we have kept our word with strict honour and to great advantage. Twenty ducats are still wanting to our bargain, and your worship shall not go from this place until you have paid them, or left us something of equal value in pledge."
"Do you call this keeping your word," said the gentleman, "making a cut on the servant when you should have made it on the master?"
"How well his worship understands the business," remarked Chiquiznaque. "One can easily see that he does not remember the proverb which says: 'He who loves Beltran, loves his dog likewise.'"
"But what has this proverb to do with the matter?" inquired the gentleman.
"Why, is it not the same thing as to say, 'He who loves Beltran ill, loves his dog ill too?' Now the master is Beltran, whom you love ill, and the servant is his dog; thus in giving the cut to the dog I have given it to Beltran, and our part of the agreement is fulfilled; the work has been properly done, and nothing remains but to pay for it on the spot and without further delay."
"That is just what I am ready to swear to," cried Monipodio; "and you, friend Chiquiznaque, have taken all that you have said from my mouth; wherefore let not your worship, Señor gallant, be making difficulties out of trifles with your friends and servants. Take my advice and pay us what is our due. After that, if your worship would like to have another cut given to the master, of as many stitches as the space can contain, consider that they are already sewing up the wound."
"If it be so," said the gentleman, "I will very willingly pay the whole sum."
"Make no more doubt of it than of my being a good Christian, for Chiquiznaque will set the mark on his face so neatly, that he shall seem to have been born with it."
"On this promise, then, and with this assurance," replied the gentleman, "receive this chain in pledge for the twenty ducats before agreed on, and for forty other ducats which I will give you for the cut that is to come. The chain weighs a thousand reals, and it may chance to remain with you altogether, as I have an idea that I shall want fourteen stitches more before long."
Saying this, he took a chain from his neck, and put it into the hands of Monipodio, who found immediately by the weight and touch that it was not gold made by the chemist, but the true metal. He received it accordingly with great pleasure and much courtesy, for Monipodio was particularly well-bred. The execution of the work to be done for it was committed to Chiquiznaque, who declared that it should be delayed no longer than till the arrival of night. The gentleman then departed, well satisfied with his bargain.
Monipodio now summoned the confraternity from the hiding places into which their terror had driven them. When all had entered, he placed himself in the midst of them, drew forth a memorandum book from the hood of his cloak, and as he himself could not read, he handed it to Rinconete, who opened it, and read as follows:—
"Memoranda of the cuts to be given this week.
"The first is to the merchant at the Cross-ways, and is worth fifty crowns, thirty of which have been received on account. Secutor, Chiquiznaque.
"I believe there are no others, my son," said Monipodio; "go on and look for the place where it is written, 'Memoranda of blows with a cudgel.'" Rinconete turned to that heading, and found under it this entry:—"To the keeper of the pot-house called the Trefoil, twelve blows, to be laid on in the best style, at a crown a-piece, eight of which crowns have been received; time of execution, within six days. Secutor, Maniferro."
"That article may be scratched out of the account," remarked Maniferro, "for to-night I shall give the gentleman his due."
"Is there not another, my son?" asked Monipodio.
"There is," replied Rinconete, and he read as follows:—
"To the hunch-backed Tailor, called by the nick-name Silguero, six blows of the best sort for the lady whom he compelled to leave her necklace in pledge with him. Secutor, the Desmochado."
"I am surprised to find this article still on the account," observed Monipodio, "seeing that two days have elapsed since it ought to have been taken off the book; and yet the secutor has not done his work. Desmochado must be indisposed."
"I met him yesterday," said Maniferro. "He is not ill himself, but the Hunchback has been so, and being confined to the house on that account, the Desmochado has been unable to encounter him."
"I make no doubt of it," rejoined Monipodio, "for I consider the Desmochado to be so good a workman, that but for some such reasonable impediment he would certainly before this have finished a job of much greater importance. Is there any more, my boy?" "No, Señor," replied Rinconete. "Turn over, then, till you find the 'Memorandum of miscellaneous damages.'"
Rinconete found the page inscribed "Memorandum of miscellaneous damages," namely, Radomagos, greasing with oil of juniper, clapping on sanbenitos and horns, false alarms, threatened stabbings, befoolings, calomels, &c. &c.
"What do you find lower down?" inquired Monipodio. "I find, 'Greasing with oil of juniper at the house in—'" "Don't read the place or name of the house," interrupted Monipodio, "for we know where it is, and I am myself the tuautem and secutor of this trifling matter; four crowns have already been given on account, and the total is eight." "That is exactly what is here written," replied Rinconete. "A little lower down," continued the boy, "I find, 'Horns to be attached to the house—'" "Read neither the name nor the place where," interrupted Monipodio. "It is quite enough that we offer this outrage to the people in question; we need not make it public in our community, for that would be an unnecessary load on your consciences. I would rather nail a hundred horns, and as many sanbenitos, on a man's door, provided I were paid for my work, than once tell that I had done so, were it to the mother that bore me." "The executor of this is Nariqueta," resumed Rinconete. "It is already done and paid for," said Monipodio; "see if there be not something else, for if my memory is not at fault, there ought to be a fright of the value of twenty crowns. One half the money has already been paid, and the work is to be done by the whole community, the time within which it is to come off being all the current month. Nor will we fail in our duty; the commission shall be fulfilled to the very letter without missing a tilde, and it will be one of the finest things that has been executed in this city for many years. Give me the book, boy, I know there is nothing more, and it is certain that business is very slack with us just now; but times will mend, and we shall perhaps have more to do than we want. There is not a leaf on the tree that moves without the will of God, and we cannot force people to avenge themselves, whether they will or not. Besides, many a man has the habit of being brave in his own cause, and does not care to pay for the execution of work which he can do as well with his own hands."
"That is true," said Repolido; "but will your worship, Señor Monipodio, see what you have for us to do, as it is getting late, and the heat is coming on at more than a foot-pace."
"What you have now to do is this," rejoined Monipodio: "Every one is to return to his post of the week, and is not to change it until Sunday. We will then meet here again, and make the distribution of all that shall have come in, without defrauding any one. To Rinconete and Cortadillo I assign for their district, until Sunday, from the Tower of Gold, all without the city, and to the postern of the Alcazar, where they can work with their fine flowers. I have known those who were much less clever than they appear to be, come home daily with more than twenty reals in small money, to say nothing of silver, all made with a single pack, and that four cards short. Ganchuelo will show them the limits of their district, and even though they should extend it as far as to San Sebastian, or Santelmo, there will be no great harm done, although it is perhaps of more equal justice that none should enter on the domain of another."
The two boys kissed his hand in acknowledgment of the favour he was doing them; and promised to perform their parts zealously and faithfully, and with all possible caution and prudence.
Monipodio then drew from the hood of his cloak a folded paper, on which was the list of the brotherhood, desiring Rinconete to inscribe his name thereon, with that of Cortadillo; but as there was no escritoire in the place, he gave them the paper to take with them, bidding them enter the first apothecary's shop they could find, and there write what was needful: "Rinconete, and Cortadillo," namely, "comrades; novitiate, none; Rinconete, a florist; Cortadillo, a bassoon-player." To this was to be added the year, month, and day, but not the parents or birthplace.
At this moment one of the old hornets came in and said, "I come to tell your worships that I have just now met on the steps, Lobillo of Malaga, who tells me that he has made such progress in his art as to be capable of cheating Satan himself out of his money, if he have but clean cards. He is so ragged and out of condition at this moment, that he dares not instantly make his appearance to register himself, and pay his respects as usual, but will be here without fail on Sunday."
"I have always been convinced," said Monipodio, "that Lobillo would some day become supereminent in his art, for he has the best hands for the purpose that have ever been seen; and to be a good workman in his trade, a man should be possessed of good tools, as well as capacity for learning."
"I have also met the Jew," returned the hornet; "he wears the garb of a priest, and is at a tavern in the Street of the Dyers, because he has learned that two Peruleros are now stopping there. He wishes to try if he cannot do business with them, even though it should be but in a trifling way to begin; for from small endeavours often come great achievements. He, too, will be here on Sunday, and will then give an account of himself."
"The Jew is a keen hawk too," observed Monipodio, "but it is long since I have set eyes on him, and he does not do well in staying away, for, by my faith, if he do not mend, I will cut his crown for him. The scoundrel has received orders as much as the Grand Turk, and knows no more Latin than my grandmother. Have you anything further to report?"
The old man replied that he had not. "Very well," said Monipodio; "Take this trifle among you," distributing at the same time some forty reals among those assembled, "and do not fail to be here on Sunday, when there shall be nothing wanting of the booty." All returned him thanks. Repolido and Cariharta embraced each other; so did Maniferro and Escalanta, and Chiquiznaque and Gananciosa; and all agreed that they would meet that same evening, when they left off work at the house of Dame Pipota, whither Monipodio likewise promised to repair, for the examination of the linen announced in the morning, before he went to his job with the juniper oil.
The master finally embraced Rinconete and Cortadillo, giving them his benediction; he then dismissed them, exhorting them to have no fixed dwelling or known habitation, since that was a precaution most important to the safety of all. Ganchuelo accompanied the friends for the purpose of guiding them to their districts, and pointing out the limits thereof. He warned them on no account to miss the assembly on Sunday, when it seemed that Monipodio intended to give them a lecture on matters concerning their profession. That done, the lad went away, leaving the two novices in great astonishment at all they had seen.
Now Rinconete, although very young, had a good understanding, and much intelligence. Having often accompanied his father in the sale of his bulls, he had acquired the knowledge of a more refined language than that they had just been hearing, and laughed with all his heart as he recalled the expressions used by Monipodio, and the other members of the respectable community they had entered. He was especially entertained by the solecising sanctimonies; and by Cariharta calling Repolido a Tarpeian Mariner, and a Tiger of Ocaña. He was also mightily edified by the expectation of Cariharta that the pains she had taken to earn the twenty-four reals would be accepted in heaven as a set-off against her sins, and was amazed to see with what security they all counted on going to heaven by means of the devotions they performed, notwithstanding the many thefts, homicides, and other offences against God and their neighbour which they were daily committing. The boy laughed too with all his heart, as he thought of the good old woman Pipota, who suffered the basket of stolen linen to be concealed in her house, and then went to place her little wax candles before the images of the saints, expecting thereby to enter heaven full dressed in her mantle and clogs.
But he was most surprised at the respect and deference which all these people paid to Monipodio, whom he saw to be nothing better than a coarse and brutal barbarian. He recalled the various entries which he had read in the singular memorandum-book of the burly thief, and thought over all the various occupations in which that goodly company was hourly engaged. Pondering all these things, he could not but marvel at the carelessness with which justice was administered in that renowned city of Seville, since such pernicious hordes and inhuman ruffians were permitted to live there almost openly.
He determined to dissuade his companion from continuing long in such a reprobate course of life. Nevertheless, led away by his extreme youth, and want of experience, he remained with these people for some months, during which there happened to him adventures which would require much writing to detail them; wherefore I propose to remit the description of his life and adventures to some other occasion, when I will also relate those of his master, Monipodio, with other circumstances connected with the members of that infamous academy, which may serve as warnings to those who read them.
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