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After some consideration, I said within myself, “ This chest is very large and old, and in some parts, though very slightly, is broken. It is not impossible to suppose that rats may have made an entrance, and gnawed the bread. To take a whole loaf would not be wise, seeing that it would be missed by my most liberal master; but the other plan he shall certainly have the benefit of.” Then I began to pick the loaves, on some table cloths which were there, not of the most costly sort, taking one loaf and leaving another, so that in the end I made up a tolerable supply of crumbs, which I ate like so many sugar plums; and with that I in some measure consoled myself and contrived to live.
The priest, when he came home to dinner and opened the chest, beheld with dismay the havoc made in his store; but he immediately supposed it to have been occasioned by rats, so well had I imitated the style of those depredators. He examined the chest narrowly, and discovered the little holes through which the rats might have entered ; and calling me he said,
Lazaro, look what havoc has been made in our bread during the night.” I seemed very much astonished, and asked “what it could possibly be?” “ What has done it ? ” quoth he,“ why, rats : confound 'em, there is no keeping anything from them.” I fared well at dinner, and had no reason to repent of the trick I played ; for he pared off all the places which he supposed the rats had nibbled at, and giving them to me, he said, “There, eat that, rats are very clean animals.” In this manner, adding what I thus gained to that acquired by the labor of my hands, or rather my nails, I managed tolerably well, though I little expected it. I was destined to receive another shock, when I beheld my miserable tormentor carefully stopping up all the holes in the chest with small pieces of wood, which he nailed over them, and which bade defiance to further depredations. “Oh, Lord !” I cried in voluntarily, “to what distress and misfortunes are we unhappy mortals reduced; and how short-lived are the pleasures of this our transitory existence. No sooner did I draw some little relief from the measure which kind fortune suggested, than it is snatched away; and this last act is like closing the door of consolation against me, and opening that of my misfortunes.”
It was thus I gave vent to my distress, while the careful workman, with abundance of wood and nails, was finishing his cruel job, saying with great glee, “ Now, you rascals of rats, we will change sides, if you please, for your future reception in this house will be right little welcome.”
The moment he left the house, I went to examine his work, and found he had not left a single hole unstopped by which even a mosquito could enter. I opened the chest, though without deriving the smallest benefit from its contents : my key was now utterly useless; but as I gazed with longing eyes on the two or three loaves which my master believed to be bitten by the rats, I rould not resist the temptation of nibbling a morsel more, though touching them in the lightest possible manner, like an experienced swordsman in a friendly assault.
Necessity is a great master, and being in this strait, I passed night and day in devising means to get out of it.
All the rascally plans that could enter the mind of man, did hunger suggest to me; for it is a saying, and a true one, as I can testify
—that hunger makes rogues, and abundance fools. One night when my master slept, (of which disposition he always gave sonorous testimony,) as I was revolving in my mind the best mode of renewing my intimacy with the contents of the chest, a thought struck me, which I forthwith put in execution. I arose very quietly, and taking an old knife, which, having some little glimmering of the same idea the day previous, I had left for an occasion of this nature, I repaired to the chest, and at the part which I considered least guarded I began to bore a hole. The antiquity of the chest seconded my endeavors; for the wood had become rotten from age, and easily yielded to the knife, so that in a short time I managed to display a hole of very respectable dimensions. I then opened the chest very gently, and taking out the bread, I treated it much in the same manner as heretofore, and then returned safe to my mattress.
The next day my worthy master soon spied my handiwork, as well as the deficiency in his bread — and began by wishing the rats at the devil. “What can it mean?” said he ; “during all the time I have been here, there have never been rats in the house before." And he might say so with truth: if ever a house in the kingdom deserved to be free from rats, it was his, as they are seldom known to visit where there is nothing to eat. He began again with nails and wood; but when night came, and he slept, I resumed my operations, and rendered nugatory
I all his ingenuity.
In this manner we went on; the moment he shut one door, I opened another: like the web of Penelope, what he spun by
day, I unraveled by night; and in the course of a few nights the old chest was so maltreated, that little remained of the original that was not covered with pieces and nailing. When the unhappy priest found his mechanical ability of no avail, he said, “ Really, this chest is in such a state, and the wood is so old and rotten, that the rats make nothing of it. The best plan I can think of, since what we have done is of no use, is to arm ourselves within, against these cursed rats.” He then borrowed a rat-trap, and baiting it with bits of cheese which he begged from the neighbors, set it under the chest. This was a piece of singular good fortune for me ; for though my hunger needed no sauce, yet I did not nibble the bread at night with less relish, because I added thereto the bait from the rat-trap. When in the morning he found not only the bread gone as usual, but the bait likewise vanished, and the trap without a tenant, he grew almost beside himself. He ran to the neighbors, and asked of them what animal it could possibly be that could positively eat the very cheese out of the trap, and yet escape untouched. The neighbors agreed that it could be no rat that could thus eat the bait, and not remain within the trap; and one more cunning than the rest observed, “I remember once seeing a snake about your premises, and depend on it that is the animal which has done you the mischief; for it could easily pick the bait from the trap without entering entirely, and thus too it might easily escape.” The rest all agreed that such must be the fact, which alarmed my master a good deal.
He now slept not near so soundly as before; and at every little noise, thinking it was the snake biting the chest, he would get up, and taking a cudgel which he kept at his bed's head for the purpose, begin to belabor the poor chest with all his might, so that the noise might frighten the reptile from his unthrifty proceedings. He even awoke the neighbors with such prodigious clamor, and I could not get a single minute's rest. He turned me out of bed, and looked amongst the straw, and about the blanket, to see if the creature was concealed anywhere ; for, as he observed, at night they seek warm places, and not infrequently injure people by biting them in bed.
When he came, I always pretended to be very heavy with sleep, and he would say to me in the morning, “ Did you hear nothing last night, boy? The snake was about, and I think I heard him at your bed, for they are very cold creatures, and love warmth.” “I hope to God he will not bite me,” returned I, “ for I am very
much afraid.” He was so watchful at night, that by my faith the snake could not continue his operations as usual; but in the morning, when the priest was at church, he resumed them pretty steadily as usual.
Looking with dismay at the damage done to his store, and the little redress he was likely to have for it, the poor priest became quite uneasy from fretting, and wandered about all night like a hobgoblin. I began very much to fear that during one of these fits of watchfulness, he might discover my key, which I placed for security under the straw of my bed. I therefore, with a caution peculiar to my nature, determined in future to keep this treasure by night safe in my mouth; and this was an ancient custom of mine, for during the time I lived with the blind man, my mouth was my purse, in which I could retain ten or twelve maravedis in farthings, without the slightest inconvenience in any way. Indeed, had I not possessed this faculty, I should never have had a single farthing of my own, for I had neither pocket nor bag that the old man did not continually search. Every night I slept with the key in my mouth without fear of discovery; but, alas! when misfortune is our lot, ingenuity can be of little avail.
It was decreed, by my evil destiny, or rather, I ought to say, as a punishment for my evil doings, that one night, when I was fast asleep, my mouth being somewhat open, the key became placed in such a position therein, that my breath came in contact with the hollow of the key, and caused — the worse luck for me! — a loud whistling noise. On this my watchful master pricked up his ears, and thought it must be the hissing of the snake which had done him all the damage, and certainly he was not altogether wrong in his conjectures. He arose very quietly, with his club in his hand, and stealing towards the place whence the hissing sound proceeded, thinking at once to put an end to his enemy, he lifted his club, and with all his force discharged such a blow on my unfortunate head, that it needed not another to deprive me of all sense and motion. The moment the blow was delivered, he felt it was no snake that had received it; and guessing what he had done, called out to me in a loud voice, endeavoring to recall me to my senses.
Then touching me with his hands, he felt the blood, which was by this time in great profusion about my face, and ran quickly to procure a light. On his return, he found me moaning, yet still holding the key in my mouth, and partly visible, being in the same situation which caused the whistling noise he had mistaken for the snake. Without thinking much of me, the attention of the slayer of snakes was attracted by the appearance of the key ; and drawing it from my mouth, he soon discovered what it was, for of course the wards were precisely similar to his own. He ran to prove it, and with that, at once, found out the extent of my ingenuity.
“Thank God," exclaimed this cruel snake hunter, “that the rats and the snakes which have so long made war upon me, and devoured my substance, are both at last discovered.” '
Of what passed for three days afterwards, I can give no account; but that which I have related I heard my master recount to those who came there to see me. At the end, however, of the third day, I began to have some consciousness of what was passing around me, and found myself extended on my straw, my head bound up, and covered with ointment and plasters.
“What is the meaning of all this?” I cried, in extreme alarm. The heartless priest replied, " I have only been hunting the rats and the snakes, which have almost ruined me. Seeing the condition in which I was, I then guessed what had happened to me. At this time an old nurse entered, with some of the neighbors, who dressed the wounds on my head, which had assumed a favorable appearance; and as they found my senses were restored to me, they anticipated but little danger, and began to amuse themselves with my exploits, while I, unhappy sinner, could only deplore their effects.
With all this, however, they gave me something to eat, for I was almost dying with hunger; and at the end of fourteen or fifteen days I was able to rise from my bed without danger, though not even then without hunger, and only half cured. The day after I got up, my worthy and truly respectable master took my hand, and opening the door, put me into the street, saying, “ Lazaro, from this day look out for yourself; seek another master, and fare you well. No one will ever doubt that you have served a blind man; but for me I do not require so diligent nor so clever a servant.” Then shaking me off, as though I was in league with the Evil One, he went back into his house and shut the door.