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The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER VI


THE Demon now directed the Student's attention to another part of the city. You see, he continued, that house which is directly under us: contains something curious enough,—a man loaded with debt and sleeping profoundly. Of course then, said Leandro, he is a person of distinction? Precisely so, answered Asmodeus: he is a marquis, possessed of a hundred thousand ducats per annum, but whose expenses, nevertheless, exceed his income. His table and his mistresses require that he should support them with credit, but that causes him no anxiety; on the contrary, when he opens an account with a tradesman, he thinks that the latter is indebted to him. It is you, said he the other day to a draper, it is you that I shall henceforth trust with the execution of my orders; it is a preference which you owe to my esteem.

While the marquis enjoys so tranquilly the sweet repose of which he deprives his creditors, look at a man who—Stay, Signor Asmodeus, interrupted Don Cleophas hastily; I perceive a carriage in the street, and cannot let it pass without asking what it contains. Hush! said the Cripple, lowering his voice, as though he feared he should be heard:—learn that that vehicle conceals one of the most dignified personages in this kingdom, a president, who is going to amuse himself with an elderly lady of Asturia, who is devoted to his pleasures. That he may not be known, he has taken the precaution of imitating Caligula, who on a similar occasion disguised himself in a wig.

But,—to return to the picture I was about to present to your sight when you interrupted me,—observe, in the very highest part of the mansion, where sleeps the marquis, a man who is writing in a chamber filled with books and manuscripts. He is probably, said Zambullo, the steward, labouring to devise some means for discharging his master's obligations. Excellent! exclaimed the Devil; that, indeed, forms a great part of the amusement of such gentry in the service of noblemen! They seek rather to profit from derangement of their master's affairs than to put them in order. He is not, however, the steward whom you see; he is an author: the marquis keeps him in his house, to obtain the reputation of a patron of literature. This author, replied Don Cleophas, is apparently a man of eminence. Judge for yourself! replied the Demon. He is surrounded by a thousand volumes, and is composing one, on Natural History, in which there will not be a line of his own. He pillages these books and manuscripts without mercy; and, although he does nothing but arrange and connect his larcenies, he has more vanity than the most original writer upon earth.

You are not aware, continued the Spirit, who lives three doors from this mansion: it is La Chichona, the very lady who acted so honourable a part in the story of the Count de Belflor. Ah! said Leandro, I am delighted to behold her. The dear creature, so considerate for youth, is doubtless one of the two old ladies whom I perceive in that room. One of them is leaning with both her elbows on the table, looking attentively at the other, who is counting out some money. Which of them is La Chichona? Not the one who is counting, said the Demon; her name is La Pebrada, and she is a distinguished member of the same profession: they are, indeed, partners; and are at this moment dividing the profits of an adventure which, by their assistance, has terminated favourably.

La Pebrada is the more successful of the two: she has among her clients several rich widows, who subscribe to her daily register. What do you mean by her register? interrupted the Student. Why, replied Asmodeus, it contains the names of all handsome foreigners, and particularly Frenchmen, who come to Madrid. The instant La Pebrada hears of an arrival, away she posts to the hotel of the new comer, to learn every particular as to his country, birth, parentage, and education,—his age, form, and appearance, all which are duly reported to her subscribers; and if, on reflection, the heart of any of her widows is inclined to an acquaintance, she adroitly manages a speedy interview with the stranger.

That is extremely convenient, replied Zambullo smiling, and in some sort very proper; for, in truth, without these kind ladies and their agents, the youthful foreigner, who comes without introductions to Madrid, would lose an immense deal of time in gaining them. But, tell me, are there in other countries widows as generous and women as intriguing? Capital! exclaimed the Devil—if there are? Why! can you doubt it? I should be unworthy of my demonship if I neglected to provide all large towns with them in plenty.

Cast your eyes upon Chichona's neighbour,—yon printer, who is working at his press, alone. He has dismissed the devils in his employ these three hours; and he is now engaged for the night, on a work which he is printing privately. Ah! what may it be? said Leandro. It treats of insults, replied the Demon; and endeavours to prove that Religion is preferable to Honour; and that it is better to pardon than to avenge an affront. Oh! the scoundrel! exclaimed the Student. Well may he print in secret his infamous book. Its author had better not acknowledge his production: I would be one of the first to answer it with a horsewhip. What! can religion forbid the preservation of one's honour?

Let us not discuss that point, interrupted Asmodeus, with a malicious smile. It appears that you have made the most of the lectures on morality you listened to at Alcala; and I give you joy of the result. You may say what you please, interrupted Cleophas in his turn, and so may the writer of this wretched absurdity: but though his reasonings were clear as the noon-day sun, I should despise him and them. I am a Spaniard, and nothing is to me so delightful as revenge; and, by the by, since you have pledged yourself to satisfy me for the perfidy of my mistress, I call on you at once to keep your promise.

I yield with pleasure, replied the Demon, to the wrath which agitates your breast. Oh! how I love those noble spirits who follow without scruple the dictates of their passions! I will obey your will at once; and indeed, the hour to avenge your wrongs is come: but first I wish to shew you something which will amuse you vastly. Look beyond the printing office, and observe with attention what is passing in an apartment, hung with drab cloth. I perceive, said Leandro, five or six women, who are with eagerness offering phials of something to a sort of valet, and they appear desperately agitated.

They are, replied Asmodeus, devotees, who have great reason to be agitated. There is in the next room a sick inquisitor. This venerable personage, who is about thirty-five years old, is attended by two of his dearest penitents, with untiring watchfulness. One is concocting his gruel, while the other at his pillow is employed in keeping his head warm, and is covering his stomach with a kind of blanket made of at least fifty lamb-skins. What on earth is the matter with him, then? asked Zambullo. He has a cold in his head, answered the Devil; and there is danger lest the disorder should extend to his lungs.

The ladies whom you see in his antechamber have hastened, on the alarm of his indisposition, with all sorts of remedies. One brings, to allay his apprehended cough, syrups of jujubes, mallows, coral, and coltsfoot; another, to preserve the said lungs of his reverence, syrups of long-life, speedwell, amaranth, and the elixir vitæ; this one, to fortify his brain and stomach, has brought balm, cinnamon, and treacle waters, besides guttæ vitæ, and the essences of nutmegs and ambergris; that offers anacardine and bezoardic confections; while a fifth carries tinctures of cloves, gillyflowers, sunflowers, and of coral and emeralds. All these zealous penitents are boasting to the valet of the virtues of the medicines they offer; and each by turns, drawing him aside, and slipping a ducat in his hand, whispers in his ear: Laurence, my dear Laurence, manage so, I beg of you, that what I bring for the dear man may have the preference.

By Jupiter! cried Don Cleophas, it must be allowed that inquisitors—even sick inquisitors—are happy mortals. I can answer for that, replied Asmodeus; I almost envy them their lot, myself, and like the son of Philip of Macedon, who once said that he would have been Diogenes, if he had not been Alexander, I can unhesitatingly say, that, if I were not a devil I would be an inquisitor.

But, Signor Student, continued he, let us go! Let us away, to punish the ingrate who so ill-requited your tenderness. Zambullo instantly seized the end of the Demon's cloak, and a second time was whirled with him through the air, until they alighted on the house of Donna Thomasa.

This frail damsel was seated at table, with the four gentlemen who, a few hours before, had so eagerly sought the acquaintance of Don Cleophas on the roof of her house. He trembled with rage, as he beheld them feasting on a brace of partridges and a rabbit, which, with some choice wine, he had sent to the traitress for his own supper; and, to add to his mortification, he perceived that joy reigned in the repast; and that it was evident, by the deportment of the lady, that the company of these scoundrels was much more agreeable to her than that of himself. Oh! the wretches! he cried, in a perfect fury, to see them enjoying themselves at my expense! Vastly pleasant, is it not?

Why, I must confess, replied the Demon, that you have witnessed spectacles more pleasing; but he who rejoices in the favours of such fair ones must expect to share them. This sort of thing has happened a thousand times; especially in France, among the abbés, the gentlemen of the long robe, and the financiers. If I had a sword, though, said Leandro, I would fall upon the villains, and spoil their sport for them. You would be hardly matched, replied the Demon;—what were one among so many? Leave your revenge to me! I will manage it better than you could. I will soon set them together by the ears, in inspiring each of them with a fit of tenderness for your mistress: their swords will be out in no time, and you will be delighted with the uproar.

Asmodeus had no sooner spoken than he breathed forcibly, and from his mouth issued a violet-coloured vapour which descended tortuously, like a fiery serpent, and spread itself round the table of Donna Thomasa. In an instant, one of her guests, more inflammable than his companions, rose from his seat, and, approaching the lady, embraced her amorously; when the others, in whom the spirit had begun to work, hastened together to snatch from him the dainty prize. Each claimed a preference: words ensued; a jealous rage possessed them; blows succeeded, and, as the Devil had foretold, they drew their weapons and commenced a furious combat. In the meanwhile Donna Thomasa exerted her lungs, and the neighbourhood was speedily alarmed by her cries. They call for the police; the police arrive: they break open the door, and find two of the hectors extended on the floor. They seize upon the others, and take them with the Helen of the party to prison. In vain did she weep; in vain did she tear her locks, and exclaim in despair:—the tears of unfortunate beauty had no more effect on the cavaliers who conducted her, than they had on her former knight Zambullo, who almost died with laughter, in which the god of love most unnaturally joined him.

Illustration: In an instant, one of her guests, more inflammable than his companions, rose from his seat, and, approaching the lady, embraced her amorously

Well! said the Demon to the Student, are you content? No, no! replied Don Cleophas; to satisfy me in full, place me upon the prison, that I may have the pleasure of beholding in her dungeon, the miserable one who trifled with my love. I feel for her, now, a hatred which exceeds even the affection with which she formerly inspired me. Be it so! said the Devil; you shall ever find me a slave to your will, though it interfered with mine and my interests,—provided always, that it is safe to indulge you.

They flew through the air, and were on the prison before the officers arrived with their captives. The two assassins were at once consigned to one of its lowest deeps, while Thomasa was led to a bed of straw, which she was to share with three or four other abandoned women, who had fallen into the hands of justice the same day; and with whom she was destined to be transported to the colonies, which a grateful mother-country generally endows with this description of female inhabitants.

I am satisfied, said Zambullo; I have tasted a delicious revenge: my dear Thomasa will not pass the night quite so pleasantly as she had anticipated. So, now, if you please, we will continue our observations. We could not be in a better place, then, replied the Spirit. Within these walls is much to interest you. Innocent and guilty, in somewhat equal numbers, are here enclosed: it is the hell in which commences the punishment of the one, and the purgatory in which the virtue of the others may be purified,—you see I am a good Catholic, Signor Student! Of both of these species of prisoners I will shew you examples, and I will inform you why they are here enfettered.


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