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The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER I


A NIGHT in the month of October covered with its thick darkness the famous city of Madrid. Already the inhabitants, retired to their homes, had left the streets free for lovers who desired to sing their woes or their delights beneath the balconies of their mistresses; already had the tinkling of guitars aroused the care of fathers, or alarmed the jealousy of husbands; in short, it was near midnight, when Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo, a student of Alcala, suddenly emerged, by the skylight, from a house into which the incautious son of the Cytherean goddess had induced him to enter. He sought to preserve his life and his honour, by endeavouring to escape from three or four hired assassins, who followed him closely, for the purpose of either killing him or compelling him to wed a lady with whom they had just surprised him.

Against such fearful odds he had for some time valiantly defended himself; and had only flown, at last, on losing his sword in the combat. The bravos followed him for some time over the roofs of the neighbouring houses; but, favoured by the darkness, he evaded their pursuit; and perceiving at some distance a light, which Love or Fortune had placed there to guide him through this perilous adventure, he hastened towards it with all his remaining strength. After having more than once endangered his neck, he at length reached a garret, whence the welcome rays proceeded, and without ceremony entered by the window; as much transported with joy as the pilot who safely steers his vessel into port when menaced with the horrors of shipwreck.

He looked cautiously around him; and, somewhat surprised to find nobody in the apartment, which was rather a singular domicile, he began to scrutinize it with much attention. A brass lamp was hanging from the ceiling; books and papers were heaped in confusion on the table; a globe and mariner's compass occupied one side of the room, and on the other were ranged phials and quadrants; all which made him conclude that he had found his way into the haunt of some astrologer, who, if he did not live there, was in the habit of resorting to this hole to make his observations.

He was reflecting on the dangers he had by good fortune escaped, and was considering whether he should remain where he was until the morning, or what other course he should pursue, when he heard a deep sigh very near him. He at first imagined it was a mere phantasy of his agitated mind, an illusion of the night; so, without troubling himself about the matter, he was in a moment again busied with his reflections.

But having distinctly heard a second sigh, he no longer doubted its reality; and, although he saw no one in the room, he nevertheless called out,—Who the devil is sighing here? It is I, Signor Student, immediately answered a voice, in which there was something rather extraordinary; I have been for the last six months enclosed in one of these phials. In this house lodges a learned astrologer, who is also a magician: he it is who, by the power of his art keeps me confined in this narrow prison. You are then a spirit? said Don Cleophas, somewhat perplexed by this new adventure. I am a demon, replied the voice; and you have come in the very nick of time to free me from slavery. I languish in idleness; for of all the devils in hell, I am the most active and indefatigable.

These words somewhat alarmed Signor Zambullo but, as he was naturally brave, he quickly recovered himself, and said in a resolute tone: Signor Diabolus, tell me, I pray you, what rank you may hold among your brethren. Are you an aristocrat, or a burgess? I am, replied the voice, a devil of importance, nay the one of highest repute in this, as in the other world. Perchance, said Don Cleophas, you are the renowned Lucifer? Bah, replied the spirit; why he is the mountebank's devil. Are you Uriel then? asked the Student. For shame! hastily interrupted the voice; no, he is the patron of tradesmen; of tailors, butchers, bakers, and other cheats of the middle classes. Well, perhaps you are Beelzebub? said Leandro. Are you joking? replied the spirit; he is the demon of duennas and footmen. That astonishes me, said Zambullo; I thought Beelzebub one of the greatest persons at your court. He is one of the meanest of its subjects, answered the Demon; I see you have no very clear notions of our hell.

There is no doubt then, said Don Cleophas, that you are either Leviathan, Belphegor, or Ashtaroth. Ah! those three now, replied the voice, are devils of the first order, veritable spirits of diplomacy. They animate the councils of princes, create factions, excite insurrections, and light the torches of war. They are not such peddling devils as the others you have named. By the bye! tell me, interrupted the Scholar, what post is assigned to Flagel? He is the soul of special pleading, and the spirit of the bar. He composes the rules of court, invented the law of libel, and that for the imprisonment of insolvent debtors; in short, he inspires pleaders, possesses barristers, and besets even the judges.

Illustration: They animate the councils of princes, create factions, excite insurrections, and light the torches of war

For myself, I have other occupations: I make absurd matches; I marry greybeards with minors, masters with servants, girls with small fortunes with tender lovers who have none. It is I who introduced into this world luxury, debauchery, games of chance, and chemistry. I am the author of the first cookery book, the inventor of festivals, of dancing, music, plays, and of the newest fashions; in a word, I am ASMODEUS, surnamed THE DEVIL ON TWO STICKS.

Illustration: I am the author of the first cookery book, the inventor of festivals, of dancing, music, plays, and of the newest fashions; in a word, I am ASMODEUS, surnamed THE DEVIL ON TWO STICKS

What do I hear, cried Don Cleophas; are you the famed Asmodeus, of whom such honourable mention is made by Agrippa and in the Clavicula Salamonis? Verily, you have not told me all your amusements; you have forgotten the best of all. I am well aware that you sometimes divert yourself by assisting unhappy lovers: by this token, last year only, a young friend of mine obtained, by your favour, the good graces of the wife of a Doctor in our university, at Alcala. That is true, said the spirit; I reserved that for my last good quality. I am the Demon of voluptuousness, or, to express it more delicately, Cupid, the god of love; that being the name for which I am indebted to the poets, who, I must confess, have painted me in very flattering colours. They say I have golden wings, a fillet bound over my eyes; that I carry a bow in my hand, a quiver full of arrows on my shoulders, and have withal inexpressible beauty. Of this, however, you may soon judge for yourself, if you will but restore me to liberty.

Signor Asmodeus, replied Leandro Perez, it is, as you know, long since I have been devoted to you: the perils I have just escaped will prove to you how entirely. I am rejoiced to have an opportunity of serving you; but the vessel in which you are confined is undoubtedly enchanted, and I should vainly strive to open, or to break it: so I do not see clearly in what manner I can deliver you from your bondage. I am not much used to these sorts of disenchantments; and, between ourselves, if, cunning devil as you are, you know not how to gain your freedom, what probability is there that a poor mortal like myself can effect it? Mankind has this power, answered the Demon. The phial which encloses me is but a mere glass bottle, easy to break. You have only to throw it on the ground, and I shall appear before you in human form. In that case, said the Student, the matter is easier of accomplishment than I imagined. But tell me in which of the phials you are; I see a great number of them, and all so like one another, that there may be a devil in each, for aught I know. It is the fourth from the window, replied the spirit. There is the impress of a magical seal on its mouth; but the bottle will break, nevertheless. Enough, said Don Cleophas; I am ready to do your bidding. There is, however, one little difficulty which deters me: when I shall have rendered you the service you require, how know I that I shall not have to pay the magician, in my precious person, for the mischief I have done? No harm shall befall you, replied the Demon: on the contrary, I promise to content you with the fruits of my gratitude. I will teach you all you can desire to know; I will discover to you the shifting scenes of this world's great stage; I will exhibit to you the follies and the vices of mankind; in short, I will be your tutelary demon: and, more wise than the Genius of Socrates, I undertake to render you a greater sage than that unfortunate philosopher. In a word, I am yours, with all my good and bad qualities; and they shall be to you equally useful.

Fine promises, doubtless, replied the Student; but if report speak truly, you devils are accused of not being religiously scrupulous in the performance of your undertakings. Report is not always a liar, said Asmodeus, and this is an instance to the contrary. The greater part of my brethren think no more of breaking their word than a minister of state; but for myself, not to mention the service you are about to render me, and which I can never sufficiently repay, I am a slave to my engagements; and I swear by all a devil holds sacred, that I will not deceive you. Rely on my word, and the assurances I offer: and what must be peculiarly pleasing to you, I engage, this night, to avenge your wrongs on Donna Thomasa, the perfidious woman who had concealed within her house the four scoundrels who surprised you, that she might compel you to espouse her, and patch up her damaged reputation.

The young Zambullo was especially delighted with this last promise. To hasten its accomplishment, he seized the phial; and, without further thought on the event, he dashed it on the floor. It broke into a thousand pieces, inundating the apartment with a blackish liquor: this, evaporating by degrees, was converted into a thick vapour, which, suddenly dissipating, revealed to the astonished sight of the Student the figure of a man in a cloak, about two feet six inches high, and supported by two crutches. This little monster had the legs of a goat, a long visage, pointed chin, a dark sallow complexion, and a very flat nose; his eyes, to all appearance very small, resembled two burning coals; his enormous mouth was surmounted by a pair of red mustachios, and ornamented with two lips of unequalled ugliness.

The head of this graceful Cupid was enveloped in a sort of turban of red crape, relieved by a plume of cock's and peacock's feathers. Round his neck was a collar of yellow cloth, upon which were embroidered divers patterns of necklaces and earrings. He wore a short white satin gown, or tunic, encircled about the middle by a large band of parchment of the same colour, covered with talismanic characters. On the gown, also, were painted various bodices, beautifully adapted for the display of the fair wearers' necks; scarfs of different patterns, worked or coloured aprons, and head-dresses of the newest fashion;—all so extravagant, that it was impossible to admire one more than another.

But all this was nothing as compared with his cloak, the foundation of which was also white satin. Its exterior presented an infinity of figures delicately tinted in Indian ink, and yet with so much freedom and expression that you would have wondered who the devil could have painted it. On one side appeared a Spanish lady covered with her mantilla, and leering at a stranger on the promenade; and on the other a Parisian grisette, who before her mirror was studying new airs to victimize a young abbé, at that moment opening the door. Here, the gay Italian was singing to the guitar beneath the balcony of his mistress; and there, the sottish German, with vest unbuttoned, stupefied with wine, and more begrimed with snuff than a French petit-maître, was sitting, surrounded by his companions, at a table covered with the filthy remnants of their debauch. In one place could be perceived a Turkish bashaw coming from the bath, attended by all the houris of his seraglio, each watchful for the handkerchief; and in another an English gentleman, who was gallantly presenting to his ladylove a pipe and a glass of porter.

Besides these there were gamesters, marvellously well portrayed; some, elated with joy, filling their hats with pieces of gold and silver; and others, who had lost all but their honour, and willing to stake on that, now turning their sacrilegious eyes to heaven, and now gnawing the very cards in despair. In short, there were as many curious things to be seen on this cloak as on the admirable shield which Vulcan forged for Achilles, at the prayer of his mother Thetis; with this difference however,—the subjects on the buckler of the Grecian hero had no relation to his own exploits, while those on the mantle of Asmodeus were lively images of all that is done in this world at his suggestion.


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