The Talisman

The Talisman
(El talismán)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

The present account, though it is a true story, cannot be read in the bright sun. I advise you, reader, make no mistake: turn on a light, but not an electric one, nor gaslight, nor even an oil lamp, but one of those nice ordinary candles of such pretty design, the kind that hardly sheds light, leaving the better part of the room in shadow. Or better yet: don’t light anything; pop out to the garden, near the pond, where the magnolias emanate intoxicating perfume and the moon silvery shimmers, and listen to the tale of the mandrake and the Baron Helynagy.

I met this foreigner (and I don’t say this to lend color to the story, but because I actually met him) in the simplest and least romantic way in the world: I was introduced to him at one of the many parties given by the Austrian ambassador. The baron was First Secretary of the embassy; but neither the post he occupied, nor his figure, nor his conversation, similar to that of the majority of the people to whom one is presented, really justified the mysterious tone and the reticent phrases with which they announced that they would introduce him to me, in the manner with which you announce some important event.

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Herbs and Pins

Herbs and Pins
(Yerbas y alfileres)
by Juana Manuela Gorriti

“Doctor, do you believe in curses?” I said one day to my old friend, the illustrious Professor Passaman. I liked to ask him such questions, because his answers always elicited a lesson, or an interesting story.

“What if I do believe in curses?” he answered. “In those of diabolical origin, no; in those of a natural order, yes.”

“And without the devil having a part in them, can’t they be the work of a supernatural power?”

“Nature is the glimmer of divine power; and as such, it contains within itself mysteries that confound the ignorance of humankind, whose pride leads it to seek solutions in chimerical delusions.”

“And what would you say if you saw, as I have, a woman, after three months confinement a hospital bed, spitting spiders and toad’s bones?”

“I’d say she had them hidden in her mouth.”

“Ah, ah, ah! And those who are tortured through effigies?”

“Nonsense! That ‘torture’ is one of the many diseases that afflict humanity, which occurs by coincidence simultaneously with some enmity, some hatred to whose sinister influence superstition then attributes the disease.

“I have been a witness and participant in a story that must be told to you to disabuse you of these absurd beliefs…. But, bah! you love them, they are like candy for your spirit, and you will insist on holding to them. It’s useless.”

“Oh no, dear doctor, do tell the story, by God! Who knows? Maybe I’ll convert!”

“I don’t think so,” he said, and continued.

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Vampire

Vampire
(Vampiro)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

No one in the region talked of anything else. What a miracle! Does it happen every day that a septuagenarian goes to the altar with a girl of fifteen?

Or, to be exact: Inesiña, the niece of the parish priest of Gondelle, had just passed the age of fifteen years and two months when her own uncle, in the church of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Plomo, three leagues from Vilamorta, presided over her union with Don Fortunato Gayoso, age seventy seven and a half, according to his baptismal certificate.

Inesiña’s only request had been to be married in the Sanctuary; she was devoted to the Virgin and always wore the scapular of Our Lady of Plomo, of white flannel and blue silk. And as her groom could not climb the steep slope that led to the church from the highway between Cebre and Vilamorta on foot, nor could he support himself astride a horse (how could he, the shriveled old man!), they devised a way that two strapping young men from Gondelle, with the help of an enormous grape harvesting basket, could convey Don Fortunato as by sedan chair up to the church. What a laugh!

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The Revolver

The Revolver
(El revólver)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

In an outburst of confidence, of the type brought about by the familiarity and conviviality of health spas, the woman with heart disease recounted her illness to me, with all the details of shortness of breath, violent palpitations, vertigo, fainting, collapses, in which one could see the approach of one’s final hour. While we spoke, I watched her attentively. She was a woman of about thirty five or thirty six, worn out by her ailment; at least so I believed, although, on examining her longer, I began to suspect that there was something beyond the physical in her decline. Indeed, she spoke and expressed herself like someone who had suffered much, and I know that bodily afflictions, when they aren’t immediately pressing, are generally not enough to produce that wasting away, that radical depression. And noticing how the broad leaves of the plane tree, touched with crimson by the artistic hand of autumn, fell to earth majestically and lay stretched out like severed hands, I called her attention, in order to draw forth more confidences, to the fleetingness of everything, the melancholy passage of all things…

“All is nothing,” she answered me, understanding instantly that I knocked at the doors of her soul not out of curiosity, but out of compassion. “All is nothing…unless we ourselves transform this nothing into something. If only we regarded everything with the gentle, but sad, emotion caused by the fall of those leaves on the sand.”

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The Rearisen

The Rearisen
(La resucitada)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

The four tapers burned, dripping droplets of wax. A bat, dropping down from the vaulted ceiling, began to describe awkward curves in the air. A compact, shadowy form slipped across the flagstones and climbed with somber caution over a fold of the pall. In the same instant, Dorotea de Guevara opened her eyes, recumbent in her tomb.

She was well aware that she was not dead; but a leaden veil, a bronze padlock prevented her from seeing and speaking. She heard, yes, and perceived–as one perceives within dreams–what had been done to her when they washed and enshrouded her. She heard the sobs of her husband, and felt her children’s tears on her rigid white cheeks. And now, in the solitude of the closed up church, she had recovered her senses, and was overcome with great fear. This was no nightmare, but reality. There, the coffin; there, the candles… and she herself wrapped in a white shroud, with the scapular of Our Lady of Mercy on her breast.

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The Ghost of a Grudge

The Ghost of a Grudge
(El fantasma de un rencor)
by Juana Manuela Gorriti

Translator’s note: this story directly follows “El emparedado” (In the Wall). Canon B. contributes his own story of a coincidence to the group of ten people trapped together by a winter storm.


Eight years ago I was the curate of Lurin, and I was called to administer the sacraments to a young woman dying of consumption. They had brought her to Lima in the hope of a cure; but the inexorable illness continued its fatal course, and carried her away.

Such an angel of candor, virtue, and resignation! She withdrew from life with a serene spirit, regretting only the pain of those who wept over her.

But there was one black spot on her immaculate soul: resentment.

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In the Wall

In the Wall
(El emparedado)
by Juana Manuela Gorriti

There were ten of us. The strongest downpour of last winter had brought us together by chance, trapped in a parlor around an improvised stove.

In that heterogenous circle doubly illuminated by gaslight and the embers of the fire, time was represented in its broadest sweep. Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the present, and even the promises of a smiling future, in the lovely eyes of four pretty and restless young ladies, who grew impatient, annoyed with the monotony of the evening.

The piano actually stood open, and the music desk held lovely sheet music and waltzes to choose from; but we had among us two men of the church; and their presence intimidated the young women, and prevented them from surrendering to the rhythms of Strauss and the melodies of Verdi. Nor did they even dare appeal to the supreme recourse of the bored: to pass arm in arm along the length of the room; and so they whispered among themselves, smothering prolonged yawns.

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The Nocturnal Laundresses or Washerwomen of the Night

The Nocturnal Laundresses or Washerwomen of the Night
(Les Laveuses de Nuit ou Lavandières)
by George Sand

During the full moon, we see, on the path to the Font de Fonts (Fountain of Fountains), strange washerwomen; the spectres of sinful mothers who are condemned to wash, until Judgment Day, the swaddling clothes and corpses of their victims.

— Maurice Sand

This is, in our opinion, the most sinister of the visions of fear. It is also the most widespread, as I believe it is found in every region.

Around stagnant pools and limpid springs, in the moors and on the edges of shaded founts; in the sunken paths below the old willows or on the sun-scorched plains, during the night one hears the hurried beating and the furious splashing of these fantastical washerwomen. In certain provinces it’s believed that they evoke rain and attract storms by making the water of the springs and swamps fly up to the clouds with their agile laundry paddles. But here there is a confusion. The evocation of storms is the monopoly of witches known as “cloud herders.” The authentic washerwomen are the souls of infanticidal mothers. They beat and wring incessantly an object that resembles wet laundry, but which, seen up close, is nothing other than a child’s corpse. Each one has her own child, or children, if they have committed the crime multiple times. You must avoid observing them or bothering them; because, though you may be six feet tall and muscular, they would seize you, pummel you into the water and wring you about as if you were no more and no less than a pair of stockings.

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Juan Holgado and Death

Juan Holgado and Death
(Juan Holgado y La Muerte)
by Fernán Caballero (Cecilia Böhl de Faber)

Once upon a time there was a certain man named Juan Holgado (i.e., John Well-off); and truly nobody could have less deserved such a name, for morning nor evening, as a rule, could the poor fellow get enough to satisfy his hunger. Moreover he had a heap of youngsters with gullets like sharks.

One day Juan Holgado said to his wife:

“These brats are a pack of gluttons, and are capable of swallowing oilcloth itself. I should like to eat a hare by myself, at my pleasure, and without these young mastiffs to take it out of my mouth.”

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The Stickpin

The Stickpin
(El alfiler)
by José María Barreto

It was ten at night. With the raised collars of the elegant capes that hid our broad and immaculate shoulders, and irreproachable tailcoats with large silk lapels, we waited impatiently in the newsroom for the typesetters to bring us the final proofs of the articles that were to go out the next day in the newspaper columns, so that we might leave immediately for the dance being given that night in the aristocratic salon of a notable public figure.

With us was Bonardi, a valiant soldier who from time to time contributed to the paper scientific studies on the organization of the military, and whom we loved dearly, for his wit was matched by few people, and his exceptional memory by none, and he always had something new and entertaining to relate to us.

That night, he had a tale to tell.

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