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Title: The Life of Lazarillo of Tormes, Parts One and Two His Fortunes and Misfortunes as told by himself
Author: Lazarillo of Tormes
Translator: Robert Rudder
Posting Date: June 1, 2012 [EBook #437]Release Date: February, 1995
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK LIFE OF LAZARILLO OF TORMES ***
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The Life of Lazarillo of Tormes, Parts One and Two
Translated by Robert Rudder (C)1992
Copyright 1973 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.
Copyright 1995 by Robert S. Rudder
THE LIFE OF LAZARILLO OF TORMES, HIS FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES ASTOLD BY HIMSELF
Edited and Translated by Robert S. Rudder
With a Sequel by Juan de Luna
Translated by Robert S. Rudder with Carmen Criado de Rodriguez
Copyright 1973 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.
Copyright 1995 by Robert S. Rudder
This translation is for
three small picaros.
THE LIFE OF LAZARILLO OF TORMES
I Lazaro Tells about His Life and His Parents
II How Lazaro Took up with a Priest and the Things That Happenedto Him with That Man
III How Lazaro Took up with a Squire and What Happened to Him
IV How Lazaro Went to Work for a Friar of the Order of Mercy and
What Happened to Him
V How Lazaro Went to Work for a Pardoner and the Things That
Happened to Him Then
VI How Lazaro Went to Work for a Chaplain and What Happened to
VII How Lazaro Went to Work for a Constable and Then What
Happened to Him
VIII In Which Lazaro Tells of the Friendship He Struck up in
Toledo with Some Germans and What Happened to Them
THE SECOND PART OF THE LIFE OF LAZARILLO OF TORMES
Letter of Dedication
To The Reader
I Where Lazaro Tells about How He Left Toledo to Go to the War of
II How Lazaro Embarked at Cartagena
III How Lazaro Escaped from the Sea
IV How They Took Lazaro through Spain
V How They Took Lazaro to the Capital
VI How They Took Lazaro to Toledo
VII What Happened to Lazaro on the Way to the Tagus River
VIII How Lazaro Brought a Lawsuit against His Wife
IX How Lazaro Became a Baggage Carrier
X What Happened to Lazaro with an Old Bawd
XI How Lazaro Left for His Homeland and What Happened to Him onthe Way
XII What Happened to Lazaro in an Inn Three Miles outside of
XIII How Lazaro Was a Squire for Seven Women at One Time
XIV Where Lazaro Tells What Happened to Him at a Dinner
XV How Lazaro Became a Hermit
XVI How Lazaro Decided to Marry Again
Lazarillo of Tormes appeared in sixteenth-century Spain like abreath of fresh air among hundreds of insipidly sentimentalnovels of chivalry. With so many works full of knights who weremanly and brave enough to fight any adversary, but prone tobecome weak in the knees when they saw their fair lady nearby,was it any wonder that Lazarillo, whose only goal was to fill arealistically hungry stomach, should go straight to the hearts ofall Spain. The little novel sold enough copies for threedifferent editions to be issued in 1554, and then was quicklytranslated into several languages. It initiated a new genre ofwriting called the “picaresque.”
It seems certain that other editions, or at least othermanuscripts, of Lazarillo were circulating previously, but theearliest we know of were the three published in 1554. One ofthese was printed at Burgos, another at Antwerp, and the third atAlcala de Henares. They all differ somewhat in language, but itis the one from Alcala de Henares that departs most radicallyfrom the other two. It adds some episodes, not in the othereditions, which were probably written by a second author.
Because Lazarillo was so critical of the clergy, it was put onthe Index Purgatorius in 1559 and further editions wereprohibited inside Spain. Then, in 1573, an abridged version wasprinted that omitted Chapters four and five, along with otheritems displeasing to a watchful Inquisition; later additionalepisodes were suppressed. This mutilated version was reprinteduntil the nineteenth century, when Spain finally allowed itspeople to read the complete work once again.
The identity of the author of this novel has always been amystery. A few names have been suggested over the years: Juan deOrtega, a Jeronymite monk; Sebastian de Horozco, a dramatist andcollector of proverbs. But probably the most widely acceptedtheory was the attribution to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a famoushumanist. Many early editions of Lazarillo carried his name asauthor, even though there has never been any real proof of hisauthorship. Some critics, following Americo Castro’s lead, thinkthe author was a Jewish convert to Christianity because ofcertain phrases which point in that direction. And some think hewas a follower of Erasmus, despite the French critic MarcelBataillon’s emphatic statements to the contrary.
One of the first relationships we become aware of as we read thisnovel is the link of the name Lazaro (Lazarillo: little Lazaro)with the biblical Lazarus: either the figure who died and wasbrought back to life (John 16) or the beggar (Luke 16:20-31).This “historical” relationship is further compounded by the factthat many episodes of the novel are versions of materialtraditional in European folklore. There is, for instance, athirteenth century French theatrical farce, Le garcon etl’aveugle, in which a servant plays tricks on a blind man. Andthe British Museum manuscript of the Decretals of Gregory IXcontains an illustration of a boy drinking through a straw from ablind man’s bowl. The episode in which Lazarillo thinks a corpseis being brought to his house appears in the Liber facetiarum etsimilitudinum Ludovici de Pinedo, et amicorum and may be afolktale. And the story of the constable and the pardoner is tobe found in the fourth novel of Il novellino by MasuccioSalernitano, and may also be a folktale.
It has long been said that this novel is an accurate reflectionof society in sixteenth-century Spain. And to some extent, thisdoes seem to be true. The king of Spain, Charles I, becameinvolved in several foreign wars, and had gone deeply into debtto German and Italian bankers in order to finance those wars.Soon the quantities of gold and silver coming from Spain’s minesin the New World were being sent directly to the foreign bankers.The effects of inflation were to be seen everywhere, as wereother social ills. Beggars and beggars’ guilds were numerous.Men of all classes were affixing titles to their names, andrefusing any work—especially any sort of manual labor—unless itsuited their new “rank.” The clergy was sadly in need of reform.And pardoners were—often unscrupulously—selling indulgencesthat granted the forgiveness of sins in return for money to fightthe infidel in North Africa and the Mediterranean. All thesethings are to be found in Lazarillo of Tormes.
But is the book really an accurate reflection of all of Spanishsociety? If there were avaricious priests, and priests who hadmistresses, were there none with strong moral principles? Ifpoverty was felt so keenly by Lazarillo and others, was there noone who enjoyed a good meal? As another writer has suggested,the Spanish conquerors did not come to the New World on emptystomachs, nor was the Spanish Armada ill supplied. It isobvious, then, that while Lazarillo reflects Spanish society,it mirrors only one segment of that society. Its writer ignoreduncorrupted men of generosity and high moral principles who surelyexisted alongside the others. So just as the chivalresque novelsdistorted reality upward, this novel distorts reality downward andalmost invariably gives us only the negative traits of society.
An important point is the unity, or nonunity, of the book.Earliest critics of Lazarillo of Tormes saw it as a looselyformed novel of unconnected episodes whose only point of unityhappened to be the little rogue who told his life story, in whichhe is seen as serving one master after another. Later criticismhas changed that point of view, however, by pointing to suchunifying factors as wine, which is used as a recurring themethroughout (Lazarillo steals it; it is used for washing hiswounds; he sells it). Then there is the “initiation” in whichLazarillo’s head is slammed against a stone statue of a bull.Later the blind man smashes his own head against a stone post aspoetic justice is meted out. Finally, Lazarillo’s mother will”lie at the side—or stay on the side of good people,” and as thenovel ends Lazaro decides to do the same.
Claudio Guillen, a modern critic, has noted that time is also aunifying factor in this novel. Early incidents are told indetail, and at moments of pain specific amounts of time aremeasured (“I felt the pain from its horns for three days”). WhenLazarillo is taken in by the squire his hunger pangs become sogreat that he begins to count the hours. But as conditionsimprove for Lazarillo’s stomach, he gradually forgets about theslow passage of time. In fact, time now begins to race past:four months with the pardoner, four years with the chaplain.This slow, then swift, passage of time is used by Guillen toexplain the extreme brevity of some later chapters of the novel.It is a mature Lazaro, he says, who is telling the story andreflecting on his childhood. And we are really seeing the memoryprocess of this older Lazaro who glosses over less importantparts of his life and dwells on the moments that matter.
Other critics have responded to the question of “finality” in thework; that is, is Lazarillo an incomplete novel or not?Francisco Rico believes the novel is complete, and that there isa “circular” structure to it all. He notes that the novel isaddressed to a certain fictional character (“You”: Vuestramerced), and that Lazarillo intends to tell this character “allthe details of the matter,” the “matter” apparently being thequestionable relations between the archpriest and Lazarillo’swife. So there is a continuity from the beginning of the workthrough the details of Lazarillo’s life, until the last chapter(“right up to now”) where the “matter” itself, alluded topreviously in the Prologue, is finally given in some detail.
Another critic, Americo Castro, points out that Lazarillo ofTormes is different from other types of sixteenth century prosefiction in at least one extremely important way that pointstoward the modern novel. The knights of chivalresque novels andthe shepherds who sighed and lamented their way through pastoralnovels were flat characters with no room to grow. Not soLazarillo. Every action, every twist of fortune makes animpression on him, forms his way of looking at the world andshapes his nature. From an innocent little boy he becomes amischievous, then vengeful, blind man’s boy. He observes thehypocrisy, avarice, false pride, materialism of his masters, andwhen he marries the archpriest’s mistress for what he can gain,he applies all the lessons he has learned on the ladder to success—to the “height of all good fortune.” Americo Castro also notes thatLazarillo of Tormes is a step toward the masterpiece of Cervantes,Don Quixote of La Mancha. As this critic said: “In addition to itsintrinsic merits, the Lazarillo de Tormes is supremely importantviewed in its historic perspective. In many ways it made possiblethe Quijote. Among other things, it offered in the intimateopposition of the squire and his servant the first outline ofthe duality-unity of Don Quijote and Sancho.”
Style is another point of great importance to this novel,particularly in the use of conceits. Lazarillo’s father, forexample, “suffered persecution for righteousness’ sake,” a clearreference to the beatitudes. But in this case “righteousness” isthe law who is punishing him for being the thief that he is.Throughout the novel we see similar plays on words: the master,who “although he was blind, enlightened me;” or the squire whotried to coax certain young ladies one morning, and whose stomachwas warm, but when he discovered that his pocketbook wascold, he suffered hot-chills.
It is not surprising that sequels promptly appeared, but thewriters of these unfortunately lacked the genius of the author ofthe original Lazarillo. An anonymous sequel appeared in 1555with the title, The Second Part of Lazarillo of Tormes, HisFortunes and Misfortunes. Its beginning words are the same asthe final ones of the first Lazarillo, but there any similarityends. In this novel Lazaro makes friends with some Germans andhis wife gives birth to a daughter. Lazaro then enlists to go onan expedition to fight the Turks, his ship sinks, and he ismiraculously changed into a fish. He has many adventures in thesea, and is finally caught up in the nets of some fishermen andchanges back into a man. The novel is a fantasy, and may beallegorical. The beginning is its most realistic point, and thefirst chapter of this novel became tacked onto the end of thefirst Lazarillo.
No further sequels were printed until 1620 when Juan Cortes deTolosa’s book, Lazarillo de Manzanares, was published. Thisnovel imitates the first Lazarillo in its initial episodes, butis again far less successful than the original.
In the same year, 1620, Juan de Luna’s Second Part of the Lifeof Lazarillo of Tormes was published in Paris. (Another editionwas published simultaneously in Paris, but was marked as thoughprinted in Zaragoza to facilitate the book’s sale in Spain.)Little is definitely known about Luna. We do know that he wasborn in Spain—perhaps in Aragon. He apparently fled to Francein 1612 as a political and religious refugee: in one of his bookshe refers to himself as “a foreigner who has left behind hishomeland, his relatives, and his estate for a just and legitimatecause.” It has been speculated that Luna may have been educatedfor the priesthood but then grown dissatisfied and evenvehemently bitter toward the clergy. The reason for his flightto France has been interpreted as a flight from the SpanishInquisition. In France, in Montauban, he began to study theologyto prepare himself for the Protestant ministry. But soonafterward he became a Spanish teacher in Paris, and in 1619published a book of proverbs and phrases for Spanish students.The following year his continuation of Lazarillo was published,along with a revised version of the original Lazarillo (revisedbecause its style did not suit his tastes). Next he appeared inLondon, in 1622, attempting to have his sequel translated intoEnglish. His Spanish grammar was published there the followingyear. The last information we have of him is that he became aProtestant minister in England, and for three years deliveredsermons to his fellow Spaniards each Sunday, in Mercer’s Chapel,Cheapside, London.
Although the details of Juan de Luna’s life are rather sketchy, agreat deal more can be said about his novel. His continuation ofLazarillo was the only sequel to meet with any success. The samecharacters—Lazarillo, the archpriest, the squire, etc.—arehere, but their personalities are changed drastically. Thesquire is the one who is most noticeably different. He isno longer the sympathetic, poor, generous (when he has money)figure of the first part. Now he is a thief, a cowardly braggart,a dandy, and Lazaro has nothing but scorn for him. Lazaro himselfis now fully grown, and there is no room for his personalityto change as before. Perhaps the only character who isstill the same is Lazaro’s wife.
Other differences between the two novels are also evident. Inthe first Lazarillo we see a central protagonist who serves adifferent master or performs a different type of work in eachchapter. But in Luna’s sequel we do not have this samestructure. In the first five chapters of Luna’s book, forexample, Lazarillo’s adventures flow as they do in traditionalnovels: he goes to sea, the ship sinks, he is captured byfishermen and put on exhibition as a fish, and finally he isrescued. The following chapters, however, often divide his lifeinto segments as he goes from one position to another.
Another difference to be noted is that while the first Lazarilloaddresses a certain person (“You”: Vuestra merced) who is not thereader but an acquaintance of the archpriest, in the SecondPart something quite different occurs. Luna’s Lazaro addressesthe “dear reader” but hardly with flattering terms: he humorouslysuggests that we may all be cuckolds. Then he ironically refusesto tell us about—or even let us think about—certain promiscuousdetails because they may offend our pure and pious ears. Theframework of the first novel is apparently a device whosepurpose, like the “Arabic historian” and the “translators” ofDon Quixote, is to create an atmosphere of realism, whileLuna’s “dear reader” is simply a device for humor.
Another important distinction to be made between the two books isthe extent of word-play used. Almost one hundred years elapsedbetween the times the two books were published, and literarystyles changed a great deal. While the first Lazarillo usedsome conceits, as we have previously noted, Luna’s book aboundswith them to the point where it becomes baroque. About peoplewho are being flooded with water or are drowning, it is usuallysaid that they are overcome by trifling, but watery,circumstances: “a drop in the ocean” (ahogar en tan poca agua).Lazarillo’s child is “born with the odor of saintliness abouther” (una hija ingerta a canutillo); unfortunately this refersless to her as holy than it does to the fact that her father isreally the archpriest. The use of antithesis is also evidentthroughout Luna’s novel. From the beginning in which hededicated his small work to a great princess, throughout thelength of the book, we find Lazaro esteemed by his friends andfeared by his enemies, begging from people who give money withopen hands while he does not take it with closed ones, and so on.Another trick in language is Luna’s plays on sounds: suchcombinations as sali—salte (left—leaped), comedia—comida(rituals—victuals) are abundant. Luna also uses obsceneconceits for a humorous purpose, mixing them with religiousallusions both for humor and to vent his own feelings ofhostility against the church.
Yet another important difference between the two novels lies inLuna’s emphasis on tying up loose ends. We know that in thefirst Lazarillo the protagonist leaves the blind man for dead,not knowing what happened to him, and we never do find outwhether he survived the blow or not. Later the squire runs awayfrom Lazaro, and we never see him again either. The author ofthe first Lazarillo gives us a series of vignettes in which thepsychological interplay of the characters is stressed. Thecharacters fade out of Lazaro’s life just as people fade in andout of our own lives. Luna, however, was much more interested intelling a good story—and one that has an ending. So the squireappears, and tells what happened to him after leaving Lazaro: acomplete story in itself. He steals Lazaro’s clothes and runsoff, and later we see him again—having got his just retributionalmost by pure chance. The innkeeper’s daughter runs off withher priest, and both turn up several chapters later; theiraccount amounts to another short story. The “innocent” girl andthe bawd disappear, then return to play a scene with Lazaro oncemore, and finally they fade out, presumably to live by their witsever after. Related to this stress on external action is theimportance Luna gives to descriptive rather than psychologicaldetail. His minutely detailed descriptions of clothing areespecially noteworthy: the squire’s “suit”; the gallant’sclothing as he emerges from the trunk; the costume worn by thegirl who became a gypsy. These are descriptions we do not findin the original Lazarillo because the author of that work ismuch more interested in internal motivations than externaldescription and action.
Let us move on to another point: the social satire in the twonovels. We have seen the satire against the various classes, andparticularly against the church, in the first Lazarillo. AndLuna’s satire has the same targets. The essential difference isin the way the two authors handle their darts. The firstLazarillo is fairly subtle in its attacks: men are avaricious,materialistic unscrupulous infamous—and these vices aresometimes only very loosely connected with the church. But Lunawants us to know definitely that the church is like this, so hissatire of the church is blunt and devastating. The Inquisition,he tells us plainly, is corrupt, brutal, and feared throughoutall of Spain. Priests and friars are always anxious to accept afree meal, they have mistresses, and they are less principledthan thieves. Lawyers and the entire judicial system arecorrupt. The Spaniards, Luna tells us from his position of exilein Paris, are too proud to work, and they will become beggarsrather than perform any sort of-manual labor. Lazaro himself isheld up to us as a “mirror of Spanish sobriety.” ApparentlyLuna’s anger about having to leave Spain had no opportunity tomellow before he finished his novel.
Luna’s Second Part of Lazarillo of Tormes is not the “FirstPart.” But even so, it has its merit. Luna liked to tellstories, and he was good at it. Some scenes are witty and highlyentertaining. When Lazaro meets his old friends, the bawd andthe “maiden,” at an inn, the action is hardly dull. The “quarterof kid” becomes the center of attraction from the time it appearson Lazaro’s plate until he falls and ejects it from his throat,and it is used skillfully and humorously to tell us a great dealabout each of the characters present.
Another scene worth calling to the reader’s special attention isthe chapter in which a feast is held that erupts into a brawl,after which the local constabulary arrives. Luna’s account is avery close predecessor of the modern farce. Many of theelements seem to be present: a lack of reverence, a situationused for comic effects, the chase through many rooms to find theguests, the beatings that the constable’s men are given by thepursued, being “breaded” in flour, “fried” in oil, and left outon the street where they run away, ashamed to be seen. It is asthough we are catching a glimpse of the Keystone Cops,seventeenth-century style. And the variations from seventeenthto twentieth century do not appear to amount to a great deal.
University of California at Los Angeles December 1972
ROBERT S. RUDDER
My translation of the first Lazarillo follows Foulche Delbosc’sedition, which attempts to restore the editio princeps but doesnot include the interpolations of the Alcala de Henares edition.The translation of the first chapter of the anonymous sequel of1555 follows at the end of the first part because it serves as abridge between the first novel and Luna’s sequel. For Juan deLuna’s sequel, the modern edition by Elmer Richard Sims, morefaithful to the manuscript than any other edition, has beenutilized.
A word of thanks is due to Professor Julio Rodriguez Puertolas,whose own work was so often interrupted by questions from theouter sanctum, and who nevertheless bore through it all with goodhumor, and was very helpful in clearing up certain mysteries inthe text.
The seventy-three drawings [not included in this electronic text]were prepared by Leonard Bramer, a Dutch painter who was born in1596 and died in 1674. Living most of his life in Delft, he isbest known for his drawings and for his illustrations of Ovid’swritings and of other works of literature. The original drawingsare in the keeping of the Graphische Sammlung in Munich.
THE LIFE OF LAZARILLO OF TORMES, HIS FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES ASTOLD BY HIMSELF
I think it is good that such remarkable things as these, whichmay never have been heard of or seen before, should come to theattention of many people instead of being buried away in the tombof oblivion. Because it might turn out that someone who readsabout them will like what he reads, and even people who onlyglance lightly through this book may be entertained.
Pliny says along these lines that there is no book—no matter howbad it is—that doesn’t have something good in it. And this isall the more true since all tastes are not the same: what one manwon’t even touch, another will be dying to get. And so there arethings that some people don’t care for, while others do. Thepoint is that nothing should be destroyed or thrown away unlessit is really detestable; instead, it should be shown toeverybody, especially if it won’t do any harm and they might getsome good out of it.
If this weren’t so, there would be very few people who wouldwrite for only one reader, because writing is hardly a simplething to do. But since writers go ahead with it, they want to berewarded, not with money but with people seeing and reading theirworks, and if there is something worthwhile in them, they wouldlike some praise. Along these lines too, Cicero says: “Honorpromotes the arts.”
Does anyone think that the first soldier to stand up and chargethe enemy hates life? Of course not; a craving for glory is whatmakes him expose himself to danger. And the same is true in artsand letters. The young preacher gives a very good sermon and isreally interested in the improvement of people’s souls, but askhis grace if he minds when they tell him, “Oh, what an excellentsermon you gave today, Reverend!” And So-and-so was terrible injousting today, but when some rascal praised him for the way hehad handled his weapons, he gave him his armor. What would hehave done if it had really been true?
And so everything goes: I confess that I’m no more saintly thanmy neighbors, but I would not mind it at all if those people whofind some pleasure in this little trifle of mine (written in mycrude style) would get wrapped up in it and be entertained byit, and if they could see that a man who has had so much bad luckand so many misfortunes and troubles does exist.
Please take this poor effort from a person who would have likedto make it richer if only his ability had been as great as hisdesire. And since you told me that you wanted me to write downall the details of the matter, I have decided not to start outin the middle but at the beginning. That way you will have acomplete picture of me, and at the same time those people whoreceived a large inheritance will see how little they had to dowith it, since fortune favored them, and they will also see howmuch more those people accomplished whose luck was going againstthem, since they rowed hard and well and brought their shipsafely into port.
I. Lazaro Tells about His Life and His Parents
You should know first of all that I’m called Lazaro of Tormes,and that I’m the son of Tome Gonzales and Antona Perez, who wereborn in Tejares, a village near Salamanca. I was actually bornin the Tormes River, and that’s how I got my name. It happenedthis way: My father (God rest his soul) was in charge of a millon the bank of that river, and he was the miller there for morethan fifteen years. Well, one night while my mother was in themill, carrying me around in her belly, she went into labor andgave birth to me right there. So I can really say I was born inthe river.
Then when I was eight years old, they accused my father ofgutting the sacks that people were bringing to the mill. Theytook him to jail, and without a word of protest he went ahead andconfessed everything, and he suffered persecution forrighteousness’ sake. But I trust God that he’s in heaven becausethe Bible calls that kind of man blessed. At that time they weregetting together an expedition to go fight the Moors, and myfather went with them. They had exiled him because of the badluck that I’ve already told about, so he went along as a muleteerfor one of the men, and like a loyal servant, he ended his lifewith his master.
My widowed mother, finding herself without a husband or anyone totake care of her, decided to lie at the side—I mean, stay on theside—of good men and be like them. So she came to the city to live.She rented a little house and began to cook for some students.She washed clothes for some stableboys who served the Commanderof La Magdalena, too, so a lot of the time she was around the stables.She and a dark man—one of those men who took care of the animals—got to know each other. Sometimes he would come to our house andwouldn’t leave till the next morning; and other times he would cometo our door in the daytime pretending that he wanted to buy eggs,and then he would come inside.
When he first began to come I didn’t like him, he scared mebecause of the color of his skin and the way he looked. But whenI saw that with him around there the food got better, I began tolike him quite a lot. He always brought bread and pieces of meat,and in the winter he brought in firewood so we could keep warm.
So with his visits and the relationship going right along, ithappened that my mother gave me a pretty little black baby, and Iused to bounce it on my knee and help keep it warm.
I remember one time when my black stepfather was playing with thelittle fellow, the child noticed that my mother and I were whitebut that my stepfather wasn’t and he got scared. He ran to mymother and pointed his finger at him and said, “Mama, it’s thebogeyman!” And my stepfather laughed: “You little son-of-a-bitch!”
Even though I was still a young boy, I thought about the word mylittle brother had used, and I said to myself: How many peoplethere must be in the world who run away from others when theydon’t see themselves.
As luck would have it, talk about Zaide (that was my stepfather’sname) reached the ears of the foreman, and when a search was madethey found out that he’d been stealing about half of the barleythat was supposed to be given to the animals. He’d pretendedthat the bran, wool, currycombs, aprons, and the horse covers andblankets had been lost; and when there was nothing else left tosteal, he took the shoes right off the horses’ hooves. And hewas using all this to buy things for my mother so that she couldbring up my little brother.
Why should we be surprised at priests when they steal from thepoor or at friars when they take things from their monasteries togive to their lady followers, or for other things, when we seehow love can make a poor slave do what he did?
And they found him guilty of everything I’ve said and morebecause they asked me questions and threatened me too, and Ianswered them like a child. I was so frightened that I told themeverything I knew—even about some horseshoes my motherhad made me sell to a blacksmith.
They beat and tarred my poor stepfather, and they gave my mothera stiff sentence besides the usual hundred lashes: they said thatshe couldn’t go into the house of the Commander (the one I mentioned)and that she couldn’t take poor Zaide into her own house.
So that matters wouldn’t get any worse, the poor woman went aheadand carried out the sentence. And to avoid any danger and getaway from wagging tongues, she went to work as a servant for thepeople who were living at the Solano Inn then. And there, whileputting up with all kinds of indignities, she managed to raise mylittle brother until he knew how to walk. And she even raised meto be a good little boy who would take wine and candles to theguests and do whatever else they told me.
About this time a blind man came by and stayed at the inn. Hethought I would be a good guide for him, so he asked my mother ifI could serve him, and she said I could. She told him what agood man my father had been and how he’d died in the battle ofGelves for the holy faith. She said she trusted God that Iwouldn’t turn out any worse a man than my father, and she beggedhim to be good to me and look after me, since I would be anorphan now. He told her he would and said that I wouldn’t be aservant to him, but a son. And so I began to serve and guide mynew old master.
After he had been in Salamanca a few days, my master wasn’t happywith the amount of money he was taking in, and he decided to gosomewhere else. So when we were ready to leave, I went to see mymother. And with both of us crying she gave me her blessing andsaid, “Son, I know that I’ll never see you again. Try to begood, and may God be your guide. I’ve raised you and given youto a good master; take good care of yourself.”
And then I went back out to my master who was waiting for me.
We left Salamanca and we came to a bridge; and at the edge ofthis bridge there’s a stone statue of an animal that lookssomething like a bull. The blind man told me to go up next tothe animal, and when I was there he said, “Lazaro, put your earup next to this bull and you’ll hear a great sound inside of it.”
I put my ear next to it very simply, thinking he was telling thetruth. And when he felt my head near the statue, he doubled uphis fist and knocked my head into that devil of a bull so hardthat I felt the pain from its horns for three days. And he saidto me, “You fool, now learn that a blind man’s servant has to beone step ahead of the devil.” And he laughed out loud at his joke.
It seemed to me that at that very instant I woke up from mychildlike simplicity and I said to myself, “He’s right. I’ve gotto open my eyes and be on my guard. I’m alone now, and I’ve gotto think about taking care of myself.”
We started on our way again, and in just a few days he taught methe slang thieves use. When he saw what a quick mind I had hewas really happy, and he said, “I can’t give you any gold orsilver, but I can give you plenty of hints on how to stayalive.” And that’s exactly what he did; after God, it was thisfellow who gave me life and who, although he was blind,enlightened me and showed me how to live.
I like to tell you these silly things to show what virtue thereis in men being able to raise themselves up from the depths, andwhat a vice it is for them to let themselves slip down fromhigh stations.
Well, getting back to my dear blind man and telling about hisways, you should know that from the time God created the worldthere’s no one He made smarter or sharper than that man. At hisjob he was sly as a fox. He knew over a hundred prayers byheart. He would use a low tone, calm and very sonorous, thatwould make the church where he was praying echo. And whenever heprayed, he would put on a humble and pious expression—somethinghe did very well. And he wouldn’t make faces or grimaces withhis mouth or eyes the way others do.
Besides this he had thousands of other ways of getting money. Hetold everyone that he knew prayers for lots of different things:for women who couldn’t have children or who were in labor; forthose women who weren’t happy in their marriage—so that theirhusbands would love them more. He would give predictions toexpectant mothers about whether they would have a boy or a girl.And as far as medicine was concerned, he said that Galen neverknew the half of what he did about toothaches, fainting spells,and female illnesses. In fact, there was no one who would tellhim they were sick that he couldn’t immediately say to them: “Dothis, and then is; take this herb, or take that root.”
And so everyone came to him—especially women—and they believedeverything he told them. He got a lot out of them with these waysI’ve been telling about; in fact, he earned more in a month thana hundred ordinary blind men earn in a year.
But I want you to know, too, that even with all he got and allthat he had, I’ve never seen a more greedy, miserly man. He wasstarving me to death. He didn’t even give me enough to keep mealive! I’m telling the truth: If I hadn’t known how to helpmyself with my wily ways and some pretty clever tricks, I wouldhave died of hunger lots of times. But with all his know-how andcarefulness I outwitted him, so that I always—or usually—reallygot the better of him. The way I did this was I played somedevilish tricks on him, and I’ll tell about some of them, eventhough I didn’t come out on top every time.
He carried the bread and all the other things in a cloth bag, andhe kept the neck of it closed with an iron ring that had apadlock and key. And when he put things in or took them out, hedid it so carefully and counted everything so well that no onein the world could have gotten a crumb from him. So I’d takewhat little he gave me, and in less than two mouthfuls it wouldbe gone.
After he had closed the lock and forgotten about it, thinkingthat I was busy with other things, I would begin to bleed themiserly bag dry. There was a little seam on the side of the bagthat I’d rip open and sew up again. And I would take out bread—not little crumbs, either, but big hunks—and I’d get bacon andsausage too. And so I was always looking for the right time toscore, not on a ball field, but on the food in that blasted bagthat the tyrant of a blind man kept away from me.
And then, every time I had a chance I’d steal half copper coins.And when someone gave him a copper to say a prayer for them—andsince he couldn’t see—they’d no sooner have offered it than Iwould pop it into my mouth and have a half-copper ready. And assoon as he stuck out his hand, there was my coin reduced to halfprice. Then the old blind man would start growling at me. Assoon as he felt it and realized that it wasn’t a whole copperhe’d say, “How the devil is it that now that you’re with me theynever give me anything but half coppers, when they almost alwaysused to give me a copper or a two-copper piece? I’d swear thatthis is all your fault.”
He used to cut his prayers short, too; he wouldn’t even gethalfway through them. He told me to pull on the end of his cloakwhenever the person who asked for the prayer had gone. So that’swhat I did. Then he’d begin to call out again with his cry, “Whowould like to have me say a prayer for him?” in his usual way.
And he always put a little jug of wine next to him when we ate.I would grab it quickly and give it a couple of quiet kissesbefore I put it back in its place. But that didn’t go on forvery long: he could tell by the number of nips he took that somewas missing. So to keep his wine safe he never let the jug outof reach; he’d always hold on to the handle. But not even amagnet could attract the way I could with a long rye straw that Ihad made for that very purpose. And I’d stick it in the mouth ofthe jug and suck until—good-bye, wine! But the old traitor wasso wary that I think he must have sensed me, because from then onhe stopped that and put the jug between his legs. And even thenhe kept his hand over the top to make sure.
But I got so used to drinking wine that I was dying for it. Andwhen I saw that my straw trick wouldn’t work, I decided to make aspout by carving a little hole in the bottom of the jug and thensealing it off neatly with a little thin strip of wax. When itwas mealtime, I’d pretend I was cold and get in between the legsof the miserable blind man to warm up by the little fire we had.And the heat of it would melt the wax, since it was such a tinypiece. Then the wine would begin to trickle from the spout intomy mouth, and I got into a position so that I wouldn’t miss ablasted drop. When the poor fellow went to drink he wouldn’tfind a thing. He’d draw back, astonished, then he’d curse anddamn the jar and the wine, not knowing what could have happened.
“You can’t say that I drank it, Sir,” I said, “since you neverlet it out of your hand.”
But he kept turning the jug around and feeling it, until hefinally discovered the hole and saw through my trick. But hepretended that he hadn’t found out.
Then one day I was tippling on my jug as usual, without realizingwhat was in store for me or even that the blind man had found meout. I was sitting the same as always, taking in those sweetsips, my face turned toward the sky and my eyes slightly closedso I could really savor the delicious liquor. The dirty blindman saw that now was the time to take out his revenge on me, andhe raised that sweet and bitter jug with both his hands andsmashed it down on my mouth with all his might. As I say, heused all his strength, and poor Lazaro hadn’t been expectinganything like this; in fact, I was drowsy and happy as always.So it seemed like the sky and everything in it had really fallendown on top of me. The little tap sent me reeling and knocked meunconscious, and that enormous jug was so huge that pieces of itstuck in my face, cutting me in several places and knocking outmy teeth, so that I don’t have them to this very day.
From that minute I began to hate that old blind man.Because, even though he took care of me and treated me all rightand fixed me up, I saw that he had really enjoyed his dirtytrick. He used wine to wash the places where the pieces of thejug had cut me, and he smiled and said, “How about that, Lazaro?The very thing that hurt you is helping to cure you.” And hemade other witty remarks that I didn’t particularly care for.
When I had about recovered from the beating and the black andblue marks were nearly gone, I realized that with a few moreblows like that the blind man would have gotten rid of me. So Idecided to be rid of him. But I didn’t run away right then; Iwaited until I could do it in a safer and better way. Andalthough I wanted to be kind and forgive the blind man forhitting me with the jug, I couldn’t because of the harshtreatment he gave me from then on. Without any reason he wouldhit me on the head and yank on my hair. And if anyone asked himwhy he beat me so much, he would tell them about the incidentwith the jug: “Do you think this boy of mine is just someinnocent little fellow? Well, listen and see if you think thedevil himself would try anything like this.”
After they’d heard about it, they would cross themselves and say,”Well—who would ever think that such a little boy would doanything like that!”
Then they’d laugh at the prank and tell him, “Go on, beat him.
God will give you your reward.”
And this advice he followed to the letter.
So, for revenge, I’d lead him down all the worst roads on purposeto see if he wouldn’t get hurt somehow. If there were rocks, I’dtake him right over them; if there was mud, I’d lead him throughthe deepest part. Because even though I didn’t keep dry myself,I would have given an eye if I could have hurt two eyes of thatman who didn’t even have one. Because of this, he was alwaysbeating me with the end of his cane so that my head was full ofbumps, and with him always pulling on my hair a lot of it wasgone. I told him I wasn’t doing it on purpose and that I justcouldn’t find any better roads, but that didn’t do any good. Theold traitor saw through everything and was so wary that hewouldn’t believe me any more.
So that you can see how smart this shrewd blind man was, I’lltell you about one of the many times when I was with him that hereally seemed to show a lot of perception. When we left Salamanca,his plan was to go to Toledo because the people were supposed to bericher there, although not very free with their money. But he pinnedhis hopes on this saying: “You’ll get more water from a narrowflowing stream than you will from a deep dry well.” And we’d passthrough the best places as we went along. Where we were welcomedand were able to get something, we stayed; where this didn’t happen,we’d move on after a few days.
And it happened that as we were coming to a place called Almoroxwhen they were gathering the grapes, a grape picker gave him abunch as alms. And since the baskets are usually handled prettyroughly and the grapes were very ripe at the time, the bunchstarted to fall apart in his hand. If we had thrown it in thesack, it and everything it touched would have spoiled. Hedecided that we’d have a picnic so that it wouldn’t go to waste—and he did it to please me, too, since he’d kicked and beat mequite a bit that day. So we sat down on a low wall, and he said:”Now I want to be generous with you: we’ll share this bunch ofgrapes, and you can eat as many as I do. We’ll divide it likethis: you take one, then I’ll take one. But you have to promiseme that you won’t take more than one at a time. I’ll do the sameuntil we finish, and that way there won’t be any cheating.”
The agreement was made, and we began. But on his second turn,the traitor changed his mind and began to take two at a time,evidently thinking that I was doing the same. But when I sawthat he had broken our agreement, I wasn’t satisfied with goingat his rate of speed. Instead, I went even further: I took twoat a time, or three at a time—in fact, I ate them as fast as Icould. And when there weren’t any grapes left, he just sat therefor a while with the stem in his hand, and then he shook his headand said, “Lazaro, you tricked me. I’ll swear to God that youate these grapes three at a time.”
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “But why do you think so?”
That wise old blind man answered, “Do you know how I see that youate them three at a time? Because I was eating them two at atime, and you didn’t say a word.”
I laughed to myself, and even though I was only a boy, I was verymuch aware of the sharpness of that blind man.
But, so that I won’t talk too much, I won’t tell about a lot ofhumorous and interesting things that happened to me with my firstmaster. I just want to tell about how we separated, and be donewith him.
We were in Escalona, a town owned by the duke of that name, at aninn, and the blind man gave me a piece of sausage to roast forhim. When the sausage had been basted and he had sopped up andeaten the drippings with a piece of bread, he took a coin out ofhis purse and told me to go get him some wine from the tavern.Then the devil put an idea in my head, just like they say he doesto thieves. It so happened that near the fire there was a littleturnip, kind of long and beat up; it had probably been thrownthere because it wasn’t good enough for stew.
At that moment he and I were there all alone, and when I whiffedthe delicious odor of the sausage, I suddenly got a huge appetite—and I knew that all I would get of it would be the smell. But thethought of eating that sausage made me lose all my fear: I didn’tthink for a minute what would happen to me. So while the blind manwas getting the money out of his purse, I took the sausage off thespit and quickly put the turnip on. Then the blind man gave me themoney for the wine and took hold of the spit, turning it over the fire,trying to cook the very thing that hadn’t been cooked before becauseit was so bad.
I went for the wine, and on the way I downed the sausage. When Icame back I found that sinner of a blind man holding the turnipbetween two slices of bread. He didn’t know what it was yet,because he hadn’t felt of it. But when he took the bread andbit into it, thinking he would get part of the sausage too, hewas suddenly stopped cold by the taste of the cold turnip. Hegot mad then, and said, “What is this, Lazarillo?”
“You mean, ‘Lacerated,'” I said. “Are you trying to pinsomething on me? Didn’t I just come back from getting the wine?Someone must have been here and played a joke on you.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “I haven’t let the spit out of my hand. Noone could have done that.”
I kept swearing that I hadn’t done any switching around. But itdidn’t do me any good—I couldn’t hide anything from thesharpness of that miserable blind man. He got up and grabbed meby the head and got close so he could smell me. And he musthave smelled my breath like a good hound. Really being anxiousto find out if he was right, he held on tight and opened my mouthwider than he should have. Then, not very wisely, he stuck inhis nose. And it was long and sharp. And his anger had made itswell a bit, so that the point of it hit me in the throat. Sowith all this and my being really frightened, along with the factthat the black sausage hadn’t had time to settle in my stomach,and especially with the sudden poking in of his very large nose,half choking me—all these things went together and made thecrime and the snack show themselves, and the owner got back whatbelonged to him. What happened was that before the blind mancould take his beak out of my mouth, my stomach got so upset thatit hit his nose with what I had stolen. So his nose and theblack, half-chewed sausage both left my mouth at the same time.
Oh, Almighty God! I was wishing I’d been buried at that verymoment, because I was already dead. The perverse blind man wasso mad that if people hadn’t come at the noise, I think he wouldhave killed me. They pulled me out of his hands, and he was leftwith what few hairs had still been in my head. My face was allscratched up, and my neck and throat were clawed. But my throatreally deserved its rough treatment because it was only onaccount of what it had done that I’d been beaten. Then thatrotten blind man told everyone there about the things I’d done,and he told them over and over about the jug and the grapes andthis last incident.
They laughed so hard that all the people who were going by in thestreet came in to see the fun. But the blind man told them aboutmy tricks with such wit and cleverness that, even though I washurt and crying, I felt that it would have been wrong for me notto laugh too.
And while this was going on I suddenly remembered that I’d beennegligent and cowardly, and I began to swear at myself: I shouldhave bitten off his nose. I’d had the opportunity to do it; infact, half of the work had already been done for me. If only I’dclamped down with my teeth, I’d have had it trapped. Even thoughit belonged to that skunk, my stomach would probably have held itbetter than it held the sausage; and since there wouldn’t havebeen any evidence, I could have denied the crime. I wish to GodI’d have done it. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea at all!
The lady running the inn and the others there made us stop ourfighting, and they washed my face and throat with the wine I’dbrought for him to drink. Then the dirty blind man made up jokesabout it, saying things like: “The truth of the matter is I usemore wine washing this boy in one year than I drink in two.”And: “At least, Lazaro, you owe more to wine than you do to yourfather—he only gave you life once, but wine has brought you tolife a thousand times.”
Then he told about all the times he’d beaten me and scratched myface and then doctored me up with wine.
“I tell you,” he said, “if there’s one man in the world who willbe blessed by wine, it’s you.”
And the people who were washing me laughed out loud, while I wasswearing.
But the blind man’s prophecy wasn’t wrong, and since then I’veoften thought about that man who must have had a gift for tellingthe future. And I feel sorry about the bad things I did to him,although I really paid him back, since what he told me that dayhappened just like he said it would, as you’ll see later on.
Because of this and the dirty tricks the blind man played on me,I decided to leave him for good. And since I had thought aboutit and really had my mind set on it, this last trick of his onlymade me more determined. So the next day we went into town tobeg. It had rained quite a bit the night before, and since itwas still raining that day, he went around praying under thearcades in the town so we wouldn’t get wet. But with nightcoming on and there still being no let up, the blind man said tome, “Lazaro, this rain isn’t going to stop, and the later it getsthe harder it’s coming down. Let’s go inside the inn beforethere’s a real downpour.”
To get there we had to cross over a ditch that was full of waterfrom the rain. And I said to him; “Sir, the water’s too wide tocross here, but if you’d like, I see an easier place to getacross, and we won’t get wet either. It’s very narrow there, andif we jump we’ll keep our feet dry.”
That seemed like a good idea to him, and he said, “You’re prettyclever. That’s why I like you so much. Take me to the placewhere the ditch is narrow. It’s winter now, and I don’t care forwater any time, and especially not when I get my feet wet.”
Seeing that the time was ripe, I led him under the arcades, to aspot right in front of a sort of pillar or stone post that was inthe plaza—one of those that hold up the overhanging arches ofthe houses. And I said to him, “Sir, this is the narrowestplace along the whole ditch.”
It was really raining hard and the poor man was getting wet.This, along with the fact that we were in a hurry to get out ofthe water that was pouring down on us—and especially becauseGod clouded his mind so I could get revenge—made him believe me,and he said, “Point me in the right direction, and you jump overthe water.”
I put him right in front of the pillar. Then I jumped and gotbehind the post like someone waiting for a bull to charge, and Isaid to him, “Come on, jump as far as you can so you’ll miss thewater.”
As soon as I’d said that, the poor blind man charged like an oldgoat. First he took one step back to get a running start, andthen he hurled himself forward with all his might. His head hitthe post with a hollow sound like a pumpkin. Then he fell overbackward, half dead, with his head split open.
“What? You mean to say you smelled the sausage but not the post?Smell it, smell it!” I said, and I left him in the hands of allthe people who had run to help him.
I reached the village gate on the run, and before night fell Imade it to Torrijos. I didn’t know what God had done with him,and I never made any attempt to find out.
II. How Lazaro Took up with a Priest and the Things That
Happened to Him with That Man
I didn’t feel very safe in that town, so the next day I went to aplace named Maqueda. There I met up with a priest (it must havebeen because of all my sins). I started to beg from him, and heasked me if I knew how to assist at mass. I told him I did, andit was the truth: even though that sinner of a blind man beat me,he’d taught me all kinds of good things, too, and this was one ofthem. So the priest took me in, and I was out of the frying panand into the fire. Because even though the blind man was thevery picture of greed, as I’ve said, he was an Alexander theGreat compared to this fellow. I won’t say any more, except thatall the miserliness in the world was in this man. I don’t knowif he’d been born that way, or if it came along with his priest’sfrock.
He had an old chest that he kept locked, and he kept the key tiedto his cassock with a leather cord. When the holy bread wasbrought from church, he’d throw it in the chest and lock it upagain. And there wasn’t a thing to eat in the whole place, theway there is in most houses: a bit of bacon hanging from thechimney, some cheese lying on the table or in the cupboard, abasket with some slices of bread left over from dinner. Itseemed to me that even if I hadn’t eaten any of it, I would havefelt a lot better just being able to look at it.
The only thing around was a string of onions, and that was keptlocked in a room upstairs. I was rationed out one onion everyfour days. And if anyone else was around when I asked him forthe key to get it, he’d reach into his breast pocket and untiethe key with great airs, and he’d hand it to me and say, “Here.Take it, but bring it back as soon as you’re through, and don’tstuff yourself.” And this as if all the oranges in Valencia wereup there, while there really wasn’t a damned thing, as I said,besides the onions hanging from a nail. And he had those countedso well that if I (being the sinner that I am) had taken even oneextra onion, I would really have been in for it.
So there I was, dying of hunger. But if he wasn’t verycharitable to me, he was to himself. A good five coppers’ worthof meat was his usual fare for supper. I have to admit that hedid give me some of the soup, but as for the meat—I didn’t evenget a whiff of it. All I got was a little bread: that blastedman wouldn’t give me half of what I really needed! And onSaturdays everyone around here eats head of mutton, and he sentme for one that cost six coppers. He cooked it and ate the eyes,the tongue, the neck, the brains and the meat in the jaws. Thenhe gave me the chewed-over bones; he put them on a plate andsaid, “Here, eat this and be happy. It’s a meal fit for a king.In fact, you’re living better than the Pope.”
“May God grant you this kind of life,” I said under my breath.
After I had been with him for three weeks, I got so skinny thatmy legs wouldn’t hold me up out of sheer hunger. I saw that Iwas heading right straight for the grave if God and my witsdidn’t come to my rescue. But there was no way I could trick himbecause there wasn’t a thing I could steal. And even if therehad been something, I couldn’t blind him the way I did the otherone (may he rest in peace if that blow on the head finished himoff). Because even though the other fellow was smart, withoutthat valuable fifth sense he couldn’t tell what I was doing. Butthis new guy—there isn’t anyone whose sight was as good ashis was.
When we were passing around the offering plate, not a penny fellinto the basket that he didn’t have it spotted. He kept one eyeon the people and the other on my hands. His eyes danced intheir sockets like quicksilver. Every cent that was put in wasticked off in his mind. And as soon as the offering was over, hewould take the plate away from me and put it on the altar.
I wasn’t able to get a penny away from him all the time I livedwith him—or, to be more precise, all the time I died with him.He never sent me to the tavern for even a drop of wine: what littlehe brought back from the offering and put in the chest he rationedout so that it lasted him a whole week. And to cover up his terriblestinginess, he would say to me, “Look, son, we priests have to bevery moderate in our eating and drinking, and that’s why I don’tindulge the way other people do.” But that old miser was reallylying, because when we prayed at meetings or at funerals andother people were paying for the food, he ate like a wolf anddrank more than any old, thirsty quack doctor.
Speaking of funerals, God forgive me but I was never an enemy ofmankind except during them. This was because we really ate welland I was able to gorge myself. I used to hope and pray that Godwould kill off someone every day. We’d give the sacraments tothe sick people, and the priest would ask everyone there to pray.And I was certainly not the last to begin—especially at extremeunction. With all my heart and soul I prayed to God—not thatHis will be done, as they say, but that He take the person fromthis world.
And when one of them escaped (God forgive me), I damned him tohell a thousand times. But when one died, I blessed him just asmuch. Because in all the time that I was there—which must havebeen nearly six months—only twenty people died. AndI really think that I killed them; I mean, they died at myrequest. Because I think that the Lord must have seen my ownendless and awful dying, and He was glad to kill them so that Icould live. But at that time I couldn’t find any relief for mymisery. If I came to life on the days that we buried someone, Ireally felt the pangs of hunger when there wasn’t any funeral.Because I would get used to filling myself up, and then I wouldhave to go back to my usual hunger again. So I couldn’t thinkof any way out except to die: I wanted death for myself sometimesjust as much as for the others. But I never saw it, even thoughit was always inside of me.
Lots of times I thought about running away from that penny-pinching master, but I didn’t for two reasons. First, I didn’ttrust my legs: lack of food had made them so skinny that I wasafraid they wouldn’t hold me up. Second, I thought a while, andI said: “I’ve had two masters: the first one nearly starved me todeath, and when I left him I met up with this one; and he givesme so little to eat that I’ve already got one foot in the grave.Well, if I leave this one and find a master who is one steplower, how could it possibly end except with my death?” So Ididn’t dare to move an inch. I really thought that each stepwould just get worse. And if I were to go down one more step,Lazaro wouldn’t make another peep and no one would ever hear ofhim again.
So there I was, in a terrible state (and God help any trueChristian who finds himself in those circumstances), not knowingwhat to do and seeing that I was going from bad to worse. Thenone day when that miserable, tightfisted master of mine had goneout, a tinker came to my door. I think he must have been anangel in disguise, sent down by the hand of God. He asked me ifthere was anything I wanted fixed. “You could fix me up, and youwouldn’t be doing half bad,” I said softly but not so he couldhear me. But there wasn’t enough time so I could waste it onwitty sayings and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, I said to him,”Sir, I’ve lost the key to this chest, and I’m afraid my masterwill beat me. Please look and see if one of those keys you havewill fit. I’ll pay you for it.”
The angelic tinker began to try out the keys on his chain, oneafter the other, and I was helping him with my feeble prayers.Then, when I least expected it, I saw the face of God, as theysay, formed by the loaves of bread inside that chest. When itwas all the way open I said to him, “I don’t have any money togive you for the key, but take your payment from what’s inthere.”
He took the loaf of bread that looked best to him, and he gave methe key and went away happy, leaving me even happier. But Ididn’t touch a thing right then so that the loss wouldn’t benoticeable. And, too, when I saw that I was the Lord of allthat, I didn’t think my hunger would dare come near me. Then mymiserly old master came back, and—thank God—he didn’t noticethe missing loaf of bread that the angel had carried off.
The next day, when he left the house, I opened my breadlyparadise and sank my hands and teeth into a loaf, and in a flashI made it invisible. And, of course, I didn’t forget to lock upthe chest again. Then I began to sweep the house very happily,thinking that from now on my sad life would change. And so thatday and the next I was happy. But it wasn’t meant for that peaceto last very long because on the third day real tertian fever struck.
It happened that I suddenly saw that man who was starving me todeath standing over our chest, moving the loaves of bread fromone side to the other, counting and recounting them. I pretendednot to notice, and silently I was praying, hoping, and begging,”Saint John, blind him!” After he had stood there quite a while,counting the days and the loaves on his fingers, he said, “If Iweren’t so careful about keeping this chest closed, I’d swearthat someone had taken some of the loaves of bread. But from nowon, just to close the door on all suspicion, I’m going to keepclose track of them. There are nine and a half in there now.”
“May God send you nine pieces of bad news, too,” I said under mybreath. It seemed to me that what he said went into my heartlike a hunter’s arrow, and my stomach began to rumble when it sawthat it would be going back to its old diet. Then he left thehouse. To console myself I opened the chest, and when I saw thebread I began to worship it—but I was afraid to “take any inremembrance of Him.” Then I counted the loaves to see if the oldmiser had made a mistake, but he had counted them much betterthan I’d have liked. The best I could do was to kiss them overand over, and as delicately as I could, I peeled a little off thehalf-loaf on the side where it was already cut. And so I gotthrough that day but not as happily as the one before.
But my hunger kept growing, mainly because my stomach had gottenused to more bread during those previous two or three days. Iwas dying a slow death, and finally I got to the point that whenI was alone the only thing I did was open and close the chest andlook at the face of God inside (or at least that’s how childrenput it). But God Himself—who aids the afflicted—seeing me insuch straits, put a little thought into my head that would helpme. Thinking to myself, I said: This chest is big and old, andit’s got some holes in it, although they’re small. But he mightbe led to believe that mice are getting into it and are eatingthe bread. It wouldn’t do to take out a whole loaf: he’d noticethat it was missing right away, since he hardly gives me any foodat all to live on. But he’ll believe this all right.
And I began to break off crumbs over some cheap tablecloths hehad there. I would pick up one loaf and put another one down, sothat I broke a few little pieces off of three or four of them.Then I ate those up just as if they were bonbons, and I felt alittle better. But when he came home to eat and opened thechest, he saw the mess. And he really thought that mice had donethe damage because I’d done my job to perfection, and it lookedjust like the work of mice. He looked the chest over from top tobottom, and he saw the holes where he suspected they’d gotten in.Then he called me over and said, “Lazaro, look! Look at what aterrible thing happened to our bread this evening!”
And I put on a very astonished face and asked him what it couldhave been.
“What else,” he said, “but mice? They get into everything.”
We began to eat, and—thank God—I came out all right in this,too. I got more bread than the miserable little bit he usuallygave me because he sliced off the parts he thought the mice hadchewed on, and said, “Eat this. The mouse is a very cleananimal.”
So that day, with the extra that I got by the work of my hands—orof my fingernails, to be exact—we finished our meal, although Inever really got started.
And then I got another shock: I saw him walking around carefully,pulling nails out of the walls and looking for little pieces ofwood. And he used these to board up all the holes in the oldchest.
“Oh, Lord!” I said then. “What a life full of misery, trials,and bad luck we’re born into! How short the pleasures of thishard life of ours are! Here I was, thinking that this pitifullittle cure of mine would get me through this miserablesituation, and I was happy, thinking I was doing pretty well.Then along came my bad luck and woke up this miser of a master ofmine and made him even more careful than usual (and misers arehardly ever not careful). Now, by closing up the holes in thechest, he’s closing the door to my happiness, too, and openingthe one to my troubles.”
That’s what I kept sighing while my conscientious carpenterfinished up his job with nails and little boards, and said, “Now,my dear treacherous mice, you’d better think about changing yourways. You won’t get anywhere in this house.”
As soon as he left, I went to see his work. And I found that hedidn’t leave a hole where even a mosquito could get into thesorry old chest. I opened it up with my useless key, without ahope of getting anything. And there I saw the two or threeloaves that I’d started to eat and that my master thought themice had chewed on, and I still got a little bit off of them bytouching them very lightly like an expert swordsman.
Since necessity is the father of invention and I always had somuch of it, day and night I kept thinking about how I was goingto keep myself alive. And I think that hunger lit up my path tothese black solutions: they say that hunger sharpens your witsand that stuffing yourself dulls them, and that’s just the way itworked with me.
Well, while I was lying awake one night thinking about this—howI could manage to start using the chest again—I saw that mymaster was asleep: it was obvious from thesnoring and loud wheezing he always made while he slept. I gotup very, very quietly, and since during the day I had planned outwhat I would do and had left an old knife lying where I’d findit, I went over to the sorry-looking chest, and in the placewhere it looked most defenseless, I attacked it with the knife,using it like a boring tool.