The Devil’s Catch

The Devil’s Catch
(La pesca del diablo)
by Pedro Escamilla

I

Gil was rightly considered one of the unluckiest fishermen on the entire Cantibrian coast. No one knew the cause of the misfortune that kept him imprisoned in its nets, since he was quite able to discern and appreciate the difference between an oyster and a turbot.

The silvery scales of the sardines, the speckled trout, the barbel and the slender elusive eels fled from his tasty bait and well constructed nets, only to break the nets of his companions with their weight. Gil gave himself over to all the devils known in the incantations of the Church, on seeing that while the novice fishermen were flush with money and enjoying themselves in the taverns of the port, he had hardly enough to buy the brown and bitter bread of the desperate, and to repair all the damage to his boat, which was always one of those that suffered the most in every storm.

It’s true that he had never once drowned, which perhaps would have been a blessing that would have saved him much sorrow.

This situation had a deplorable effect on his self-esteem: namely, that having reached the age of thirty there wasn’t a single young woman in the village who would accept his affection under such conditions, because then, as now, a fisherman was only worth as much as the fish that he caught.

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Lucifer

Lucifer
by Pedro Escamilla

I

There was in the village of … a poor young man named Antero, who was about to wed Marcelina, one of the comeliest girls in the region.

The event–I speak of the marriage–was taking place against the wishes of Auntie Ursula, a sort of village witch; for until quite recently all remote villages and sparsely inhabited neighborhoods enjoyed the odd privilege of a resident witch.

Auntie Ursula didn’t tell fortunes, or predict the future, or even give the evil eye. Yet she was considered a witch; everyone in the village thought so, because (and this is serious) she couldn’t remain in the church “while the missal was open,” an ailment peculiar to those caught in the flagrant offense of witchcraft.

Why did Marcelina and Antero’s wedding displease the good old woman? Who knows?

“Look,” Auntie Ursula would say when speaking to anyone about the matter, “that marriage, which seems so auspicious, will bring unhappiness to both parties. Marcelina, who is blonde, has a mole with black hair on the upper part of her throat; this is a contradiction, for in general the color of a person’s mole tends to match their hair color. And besides, Antero was promised to Lucifer by his mother; I know for a fact that she made this desperate vow so she could have a son. A marriage that takes place under such strange circumstances can’t have anything but a disastrous end.”

The vow by Antero’s mother was hypothetical; nobody except Auntie Ursula knew a word about it. As for the mole, that was true, but until then no one had ever noticed that blondes with black moles were doomed to misfortune.

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The Spell

The Spell
(El conjuro)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

The philosopher heard the slow tolling, descending from the tall English clock crowned by bronze figurines: midnight of the last day of the year. After each peal, the dull, resonating clock case remained vibrating, as if shuddering in a mysterious terror.

The philosopher arose from his ancient leather armchair, burnished by the rubbing of his arms and shoulders over long periods of diligent and solitary study; and like one who adopts a definitive resolution, approached the burning hearth. Either now, or never, was the suitable time for the spell.

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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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