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The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER XI


IN the street beneath them nothing was to be heard but a confused noise, arising from cries of fire from one half of the crowd, and the more appropriate one of water from the other. As soon as Leandro was able to comprehend the scene, he saw that the grand staircase, which led to the principal apartments of Don Pedro's mansion, was all in flames, which also were issuing, with clouds of smoke, from every window in the house.

The fire is at its height, said the Demon: it has just reached the roof, and its thousand tongues are spitting in the air millions of brilliant sparks. It is a magnificent sight; so much so, that the persons who have flocked from all parts around it, to assist in extinguishing the flames, are awed into helpless amazement. You may discern in the crowd of spectators an old man in a dressing-gown: it is the Signor de Escolano. Do you not hear his cries and lamentations? He is addressing the men who surround him, and conjuring them to rescue his child. But in vain does he implore them,—in vain does he offer all his wealth,—none dares expose his life to save the ill-fated lady, who is only sixteen, and whose beauty is incomparable. The old man is in despair: he accuses them of cowardice; he tears his hair and beard; he beats his breast; the excess of his grief has made him almost mad. Seraphina, poor girl, abandoned by her attendants, has just swooned with terror in her own apartment, where, in a few minutes, a dense smoke will stifle her. She is lost to him for ever: no mortal can save her.

Illustration: In a few minutes, a dense smoke will stifle her.

Ah! signor Asmodeus, exclaimed Leandro Perez, prompted by feelings of generous compassion, if you love me, yield to the pity which desolates my heart: reject not my humble prayer when I entreat you to save this lovely girl from the horrid death which threatens her. I demand it, as the price of the service I rendered but now to you. Do not, this time, oppose yourself to my desires: I shall die with grief if you refuse me.

The Devil smiled on witnessing the profound emotion of the Student. The fire warms you, Signor Zambullo, said he. Verily! you would have made an exquisite knight-errant: you are courageous, compassionate for the sufferings of others, and particularly prompt in the service of sorrowing damsels. You would be just the man, now, to throw yourself in the midst of the furnace yonder, like an Amadis, to attempt the deliverance of the beauteous Seraphina, and to restore her safe and sound to her disconsolate father. Would to Heaven! replied Don Cleophas, that it were possible. I would undertake the task without hesitation. Pity that your death, resumed the Cripple, would be the sole reward of so noble an exploit! I have already told you that human courage can avail nothing on the occasion. Well! I suppose, to gratify you, I must meddle in the matter; so observe how I shall set about it: you can watch from hence all my operations.

He had no sooner spoken these words than, borrowing the form of Leandro Perez, to the great astonishment of the Student, he alighted unobserved amid the crowd, which he elbowed without ceremony, and quickly passing through it, rushed into the fire as into his natural element. The spectators who beheld him, alarmed at the apparent madness of the attempt, uttered a cry of horror. What insanity! said one; is it possible that interest can blind a man to such an extent as this? None but a downright idiot could have been tempted by any proffered recompence to dare such certain death. The rash youth, said another, must be the lover of Don Pedro's daughter; and in the desperation of his grief has resolved to save his mistress or to perish with her.

In short, they predicted for him the fate of Empedocles,* when, a minute afterwards, they saw him emerge from the flames with Seraphina in his arms. The air resounded with acclamations, and the people were loud in their praises of the brave cavalier who had performed so noble a feat. When rashness ends in success, critics are silent; and so this prodigy now appeared to the assembled multitude as a very natural result of a Spaniard's daring.

*[Note: Empedocles was a Sicilian poet and philosopher, who threw himself into the crater of Mount Etna.]

As the lady was still insensible, her father did not dare to give himself up to joy: he feared that, although thus miraculously delivered from the fire, she would die before his eyes, from the terrible impression made upon her mind by the peril she had encountered. He was, however, soon reassured, when, recovering from her swoon, her eyes opened, and looking on the old man, she said to him with an affectionate voice: Signor, I should have had more occasion for affliction than rejoicing at the preservation of my life, were not yours also in safety. Ah! my child, replied her father, embracing her, nothing is lost since you are saved. But let us thank, exclaimed he, presenting to her the double of Cleophas,—let us testify our gratitude to this young cavalier. He is your preserver; it is to him you owe your life. How can we repay that debt? Not all that I possess would suffice to cancel the obligation he has conferred upon us.

To these observations the Devil replied, with an air which would have done Don Cleophas credit: Signor, I am noble, and a Castilian. I seek no other reward for the service I have had the happiness to render you than the pleasure of having dried your tears, and of having saved from the flames the lovely object which they threatened to devour;—surely such a service is its own reward.

The disinterestedness and generosity of their benefactor raised for him the highest feelings of admiration and esteem in the breast of the Signor de Escolano, who entreated him to call upon them, and offered him his warmest friendship. The Devil replied in fitting terms to the frank advances of the old man; and, after many other compliments had passed, the father and daughter retired to a small building, which remained uninjured, at the bottom of the garden. The Demon then rejoined the Student, who, seeing him return under his former guise, said to him: Signor Asmodeus, have my eyes deceived me? Were you not but now in my shape and figure? Excuse the liberty, replied the Cripple; and I will tell you the motive for this metamorphosis. I have formed a grand design: I intend that you should marry Seraphina, and, under your form, I have already inspired her with a violent passion for your lordship. Don Pedro, also, is highly satisfied with you, because I told him that in rescuing his daughter I had no other object than to render them both happy, and that the honour of having happily terminated so perilous an adventure was a sufficient reward for a Spanish gentleman. The good man has a noble soul, and will not easily be outdone in generosity; and he is at this moment deliberating within himself whether he shall not give you his daughter, as the most worthy return he can make to you for having saved her life.

Well! while he is hesitating, added the Cripple, let us get out of this smother into a place more favourable for continuing our observations. And so saying, away he flew with the Student to the top of a high church filled with splendid tombs.


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