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AZARILLO DE TORMES AND THE MISER.
BY HURTADO DE MENDOZA.
[DIEGO HURTADO DE MENDOZA, one of the foremost Spanish men of letters and action at once -diplomatist, soldier, scholar, poet, novelist, historian, and collector— was born at Granada (of which his father, a noble who helped capture it, was governor) about 1503. Diego was superbly educated at the University of Salamanca, versed in philosophy and classics, then joined Charles V.'s army in Italy and shared in the battle of Pavia, where Francis I. was captured. His proficiency in letters and arms and solid judgment soon drew the king's notice ; he was made ambassador to England, to Venice, to the papal court; was imperial plenipotentiary to the Council of Trent, and governor of Siena. During Charles's reign he was in high favor and trust; in its last year but one (1554) he wrote “ Lazarillo de Tormes," the father of the “picaresque" novel, and the model for “Gil Blas." He used his influence with Sultan Solyman to obtain books and MSS. from the East, and his critical knowledge of Greek was large and sound enough for him to appraise them; he was at once a powerful statesman, a munificent patron, a strong scholar, and a creative literary force. Philip II., however, distrusted and would not employ him, and in 1564 banished him from the capital on the ostensible ground of his defending his life in the palace. He withdrew to Granada and wrote his celebrated “History of the War against the Moors," which won him the title of the Spanish Sallust." In 1574 he received permission to return to Madrid, but died at Valladolid in 1575.]
The next day, not considering myself quite safe where I was, I went to a place called Maqueda, where, as it were in punishment of my evil deeds, I fell in with a certain priest. I accosted him for alms, when he enquired whether I knew how to assist at mass. I answered that I did ; which was true, for the old man, notwithstanding his ill treatment, taught me many useful things — and this was one of them. The priest therefore engaged me on the spot.
There is an old proverb which speaks of getting out of the frying-pan into the fire, which was indeed my unhappy case in this change of masters. The old blind man, selfish as he was, seemed an Alexander the Great, in point of munificence, on comparison with this priest, who was, without exception, the most niggardly of all miserable devils I have ever met with. It seemed as though the meanness of the whole world was gathered together in his wretched person. It would be hard to say whether he inherited this disposition, or whether he had adopted it with his cassock and gown. He had a large old chest, well secured by a lock, the key of which he always carried about him, tied to a part of his clothing. When the charity
bread came from the church, he would with his own hands deposit it in the chest, and then carefully turn the key.
Throughout the whole house there was nothing to eat. Even the sight of such things as we see in other houses, such as smoked bacon, cheese, or bread, would have done my heart good, although I might have been forbidden to taste them. The only eatable we had was a string of onions, and these were locked up in a garret. Every fourth day I was allowed one; and when I asked for the key to take it, if any one chanced to be present, he would make a serious matter of it, saying, as he gave me the key, “ Take it, and return quickly; for when you go to that tempting room you never know when to come out of
- speaking as though all the sweets of Valencia were there, when I declare to you, as I said before, the devil a bit of anything was there but this string of onions hung on a nail, and of these he kept such an account that if my unlucky stars had tempted me to take more than my allowance, it would have cost me very dear.
In the end I should have died of hunger, with so little feeling did this reverend gentleman treat me, although with himself he was rather more liberal. Five farthings' worth of meat was his allowance for dinner and supper. It is true that he divided the broth with me; but my share of the meat I might have put in my eye instead of my mouth, and have been none the worse for it: but sometimes, by good luck, I got a little morsel of bread. In this part of the country it is the custom on Sundays to eat sheeps' heads, and he sent me for one that was not to come to more than three farthings. When it was cooked he ate all the tit-bits, and never left it while a morsel of the meat remained; but the dry bones he turned over to me, saying, “There, you rogue, eat that; you are in rare luck; the Pope himself has not such fare as you." him as good !” said I to myself.
At the end of the three weeks that I remained with him I arrived at such an extreme degree of exhaustion, from sheer hunger, that it was with difficulty I stood on my legs. I saw clearly that I was in the direct road to the grave, unless God and my own wit should help me out of it. For the dexterous application of my fingers there was no opportunity afforded me, seeing there was nothing to practice on; and if there were, I should never have been able to cheat the priest as I did the old man, whom God absolve if by my means it went ill with
“ God give him after his leap. The old man, though cunning, yet wanting sight, gave me now and then a chance; but as to the priest, never had any one so keen a sight as he.
When we were at mass, no money came to the plate at the offering that he did not observe: he had one eye on the people and the other on my fingers. His eyes danced about the money box as though they were quicksilver. When offerings were given he kept an account, and when it was finished, that instant he would take the plate from my hands and put it on the altar. I was not able to rob him of a single maravedi in all the time I lived with him, or rather all the time I starved with him. I never fetched him any wine from the tavern, but the little that was left at church he locked up in his chest, and he would make that serve all the week. In order to excuse all this covetousness he said. to me, “You see, my boy, that priests ought to be very abstemious in their food. For my part, I think it a great scandal to indulge in viands and wine as many do.” But the curmudgeon lied most grossly, for at convents or at funerals, when we went to pray, he would eat like a wolf, and drink like a mountebank; and now I speak of funerals God forgive me, I was never an enemy to the human race but at that unhappy period of my life, and the reason was solely that on those occasions I obtained a meal of victuals. Every day I did hope, and even pray, that God would be pleased to take his own. Whenever we were sent for to administer the sacrament to the sick, the priest would of course desire all present to join in prayer. You
be certain I was not the last in these devout exercises, and I prayed with all my heart that the Lord would compassionate the afflicted, not by restoring him to the vanities of life, but by relieving him from the sins of this world : and when any of these unfortunates recovered the Lord forgive me in the anguish of my heart I wished him a thousand times in perdition ; but if he died, no one was more sincere in his blessings than myself.
During all the time I was in this service, which was nearly six months, only twenty persons paid the debt of nature, and these I verily believe that I killed, or rather that they died, by the incessant importunity of my particular prayers. Such was my extreme suffering, as to make me think that the Lord, compassionating my unhappy and languishing condition, visited some with death to give me life. But for my present necessity there was no remedy: if on the days of funerals I lived well, the return to my old allowance of an onion every fourth day seemed doubly hard ; so that I may truly say, I took delight in nothing but death, and oftentimes I have invoked it for myself as well as for others. To me, however, it did not arrive, although continually hovering about me in the ugly shape of famine and short commons. I thought many times of leaving my brute of a master, but two reflections disconcerted me; the first was, the doubt whether I could make my way by reason of the extreme weakness to which hunger had reduced me; and the second suggested that, my first master having done his best to starve me, and my next having succeeded so far in the same humane object as to bring me to the brink of the grave, whether the third might not, by pursuing the same course, actually thrust me into it.
These considerations made me now pause, lest by venturing a step further it might be my certain fate to fall a point lower in fortune, and then the world might truly say, “Farewell, Lazaro.”
It was during this trying and afflicting time, when, seeing things going from bad to worse, without any one to advise with, I was praying with all Christian humility that I might be released from such misery, that one day, when my wretched, miserable, covetous thief of a master had gone out, an angel, in the likeness of a tinker, knocked at the door-for I verily believe he was directed by Providence to assume that habit and employment — and enquired whether I had anything to mend ? Suddenly a light flashed upon me, as though imparted by an invisible and unknown power. — “Uncle,” said I, “ I have unfortunately lost the key of this great chest, and I'm sadly afraid my master will beat me; for God's sake, try if you can fit it, and I will reward you.” The angelic tinker drew forth a large bunch of keys, and began to try them, while I assisted his endeavors with my feeble prayers; when, lo and behold! when least I thought it, the lid of the chest arose, and I almost fancied I beheld the divine essence therein in the shape of loaves of bread. “ I have no money,” said I to my preserver, “but give me the key and help yourself.” He took some of the whitest and best bread he could find, and went away well pleased, though not half so well as myself. I refrained from taking any for the present, lest the deficiency might be noticed ; and contented myself with the hope that on seeing so much in my power, hunger would hardly dare to approach me.
My wretched master returned, and it pleased God that the offering my angel had been pleased to accept remained undiscovered by him. The next day, when he went out, I went to my farinaceous paradise, and taking a loaf between my hands and teeth, in a twinkling it became invisible; then, not forgetting to lock the treasure, I capered about the house for joy to think that my miserable life was about to change, and for some days following I was as happy as a king. But it was not predestined for me that such good luck should continue long ; on the third day symptoms of my old complaint began to show themselves, for I beheld my murderer in the act of examining our chest, turning and counting the loaves over and over again. Of course I dissimulated my terror, but it was not for want of my prayers and invocations that he was not struck stone-blind like my old master — but he retained his eyesight.
After he had been some time considering and counting, he said, “If I were not well assured of the security of this chest, I should say that somebody had stolen my bread; but however, to remove all suspicion, from this day I shall count the loaves : there remain now exactly nine and a piece.
May nine curses light upon you, you miserable beggar, said I to myself - for his words went like an arrow to my heart, and hunger already began to attack me, seeing a return to my former scanty fare now inevitable.
No sooner did the priest go out, than I opened the chest to console myself even with the sight of food, and as I gazed on the nice white loaves, a sort of adoration arose within me, which the sight of such tempting morsels could alone inspire. I counted them carefully, to see if perchance the curmudgeon had mistaken the number; but, alas ! I found he was a much better reckoner than I could have desired. The utmost I dared do was to bestow on these objects of my affection a thousand kisses, and, in the most delicate manner possible, to nibble here and there a morsel of the crust. With this I passed the day, and not quite so jovially as the former, you may suppose.
But as hunger increased, and more so in proportion as I had fared better the few days previously, I was reduced to the last extremity. Yet all I could do was to open and shut the chest, and contemplate the divine image within. Providence, however, who does not neglect mortals in such an extreme crisis, suggested to me a slight palliation of my present distress.