The Devil’s Rosebush

The Devil’s Rosebush
(El rosal del diablo)
by Pedro Escamilla

– I –

If we are to credit old legends and local traditions, Germany is one of the countries the devil visits most.

This is not to attack the goodness of its inhabitants; the Spirit of Darkness no doubt has his preferences, which we need to respect.

Indeed, there’s hardly a German legend without the devil playing the protagonist. And it’s said that this is a country that holds to its traditions.

In some legends, he’s seen acting out a comedy with humble mountain people; at other times, an epic romance with the inhabitants of ancient castles.

The devil is everywhere.

Some see him in the foam atop a mug of beer, in the spinners’ spinning wheels, in a blot of ink, and above all in the fog that crowns mountain peaks in the morning, later descending to the slopes to blind the eyes of travelers.

Fog is the accomplice of precipices.

Its mission is to distract people, causing them to lose their way, then leading them by the hand to the edge of the abyss.

Well then, there is the devil.

His diadem of fire enfolds the mountain peaks, and at night they glow with an opaque and phosphorescent splendor.

If it’s true that Satan plays evil games with the human race, it’s no less true that he’s one of the most maligned personages of all time. This just goes to show the malice of mankind, who, when it comes to lying, can take the devil on, and beat him handily.

This is the point I want to make in the course of my story.

Because to tell the truth, and making my profession as an old Christian beforehand, I don’t believe that the devil participates so directly in the events of our life, no matter how much he may be capable of anything.

– II –

Dick was full of these same opinions.

Ah! Who was Dick? — you ask me.

Dick was a good man, as good as he was poor, and as poor as he was unlucky.

He carried bad luck on his back, like certain hunchbacks carry their humps.

As a child, he had tripped over a chestnut and dislocated his ankle, giving him a certain resemblance to the Limping Devil.

And as an adult he had fallen in love with Federica, a girl as fair as a sheaf of grain dried by the sun; as blooming as the roses that grew in a little corner of her garden; and as cheerful as the antiphons chanted by the village sacristan on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.

For anyone else, it would be no misfortune to fall in love with such a lovely girl; but for Dick it was quite another matter. Federica had a life of ease, and the only dowry that good old Dick could offer her amounted to a good will and the twenty-four hours of the day.

A young lady in love can content herself with this, though it might be difficult; but young ladies usually have fathers, and there’s no father who doesn’t dream of his marriageable daughter taking an emperor for a husband.

Federica’s father didn’t aim so high; a Count was the limit of his aspirations. But he wouldn’t have turned down a rich commoner, either, provided he possessed a few thousand riksdalers.

All this happened in a village near the Black Forest, where Federica’s father had an inn that enjoyed a high reputation in the vicinity. Dick passed by there every day, dozens of times.

When he saw Federica peeking out a window, he doffed his cap down to his feet, saying “God keep you, miss,” a sentiment that came from the depths of his heart.

One morning Federica said to her father:

“Did you know that Dick is a very well-educated fellow?”

A month passed.

When the next month began, Federica elaborated on the previous comment:

“And he’s not ugly!”

After another twenty five days, the girl added more:

“Dick would make any young woman who accepted him very happy.”

At the end of two months, the old women in the village whispered among themselves:

“Dick spends a lot of time on Federica’s street.”

“Dick looks quite pale, and the girl from the inn blushes when he greets her.”

“Dick isn’t eating, and he sighs a lot.”

“Dick talks to himself and looks at the stars, as if he’s asking them something.”

Finally:

“Dick and Federica are in love.”

– III –

It’s a fact proven over and over again that there’s nothing in the world as impertinent as an old woman. Their gossip reached the ears of the innkeeper.

One day he picked up an olive-wood stick and placed himself at the door of the inn, at around the time that Dick was in the habit of passing down the street. It wasn’t long before the poor lad appeared.

“Good afternoon, Dick,” the innkeeper said.

“God keep you, Mr. Francisco.”

“Do you know what’s going on, Dick?”

“No, but I hope you’ll tell me.”

“My daughter is in love with you.”

Dick let out a sigh of satisfaction strong enough to drive a windmill.

Francisco continued:

“Poor Federica thinks quite well of you; but since you don’t have so much as a kreutzer, I’m never going to give her to you as a wife.”

A new sigh from Dick, as strong as the first one, but this time a sorrowful lament.

“You’re a sensible young man, one of a kind….Do you see this lovely olive-wood stick? Well, you see, to break it, all you need to do is pass down this street again….”

Dick didn’t wait for another word; he turned the corner, and from that day on Federica never again saw his shadow beneath her window.

Parents in general and innkeepers in particular have some very effective ways to get rid of pests.

– IV –

One of the times that the devil usually makes an excursion to Germany is in June, on the eve of St. John’s Day.

Why?

I don’t know; although it’s likely that at this time of year, in certain latitudes, souls are especially receptive to transference between the realms.

If on that night you stray off your path, you might easily encounter some old woman who offers you a lovely ivory distaff, or a beautifully carved cup full of Black Forest spring water. Peddlers abound as well, who offer the villagers precious charms to adorn their necks and ears, as well as pilgrims who give you a book of prayers that you won’t understand, because they will usually be incantations, in the the gothic Latin of the legends.

Be wary of all these apparitions.

When they appear before your gaze, turn your eyes away, recite an exorcism, and hold tightly to the cross on your rosary, if you are carrying one….

Because, in the general opinion of those who claim to be experts on apparitions, these old women, and those peddler and pilgrims, are none other than manifestations of Lucifer.

The people tell terrifying tales.

A traveler worked up a thirst as he walked; on ascending the steep slope of a mountain, he saw a beautiful girl offering him a glass of cool crystal water. He succumbed to temptation and drank it. The next morning they found his charred cadaver.

More incredulous souls realize that the traveler had fallen into the mouth of a coal furnace. But there are some people who make the most of everything.

Well, Dick knew all about these things, and on the evening of the twenty-third of June (I don’t know what year), he took the road into the Black Forest.

They say that he went into the forest carrying on the following monologue:

“I don’t want Mr. Francisco’s olive-wood rod to be broken on my ribs. But at the same time, I can’t go on any longer without seeing Federica. If the innkeeper weren’t her father, I’d take good care of his sticks…. Thank God I’m not a coward… but I have to be respectful to that man. My God! Why do innkeepers have such exaggerated aspirations? Today is the twenty-third of June, St. John’s Eve. They say that the devil usually appears to the villagers and gives them all they ask for, in exchange for their souls. It’s a terrible bargain for sure! If I were to ask him for Federica’s hand! That girl…she’s worth a Christian’s soul! If I could…if I could dispose of Mr. Francisco’s soul, I’d give it with pleasure to Satan! But all this is nothing but people’s prattle! They mention so many incidents; I’ve never witnessed any. It would be curious if….”

– V –

Dick was obliged to interrupt his monologue by a strange and unusual occurrence.

Without knowing how, nor from where, he found that he was gripping something prickly in his right hand.

He emerged into a moonlit clearing, and in the light he saw that the object was a beautiful rosebush, covered with leaves and flowers, that rested on, or more accurately, had its roots wrapped around a ball of cool, moist earth, as if it had just recently been watered.

The flowers, formed like ordinary roses, were black. To Dick they appeared to give off bloody reflections.

Who had put that rosebush in his hand?

No one.

Ah, but that’s impossible!

Nonetheless, Dick later asserted that he had not seen any human form, that he had not heard the slightest murmur. The night was calm, serene, without a breeze.

At that moment, Dick remembered the devil; he hurled the rosebush far from himself and broke into a run.

But suddenly he turned and retraced his steps. The rosebush attracted him… it was like a piece of his heart.

He picked it up with a trembling hand, and walked back to the village.

The next day everyone went to his house to contemplate this new species of rose, a black rose unknown to Linnaeus and all the most celebrated naturalists.

But, so what?

Could it, or anything else, help advance Dick and Federica’s love?

– VI –

Soon after, Dick and Mr. Francisco held the following conversation at the former’s house, in front of the lush and extraordinary rosebush.

“Ah, my good Dick… It’s been so long since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you!”

“As you wished, Mr. Francisco; I respect you and esteem myself too much to make acquaintance with your olive-wood sticks.”

“Ah! But…didn’t you know? I’ve given up the sticks.”

“Really?”

“Yes, by God! I don’t think they’re good for anything except to watch them spark and crackle in the fire on winter evenings. Federica is of the same opinion. Hasn’t it been a while since you’ve seen my daughter? Though her complexion is pale, she’s as lovely as the saints that surround our Heavenly Father’s throne, so says the good pastor. Did you know she’s now of marriageable age?”

“Mr. Francisco, there’s talk that….”

“Getting back to the sticks; I gave them up them in favor of rosebushes.”

“Ah! Mr. Francisco, how glad I am to hear that! You’re the only innkeeper to make such decisions. Have you set out to improve your class?”

“Devil take it! The good things of life aren’t at odds with my profession… Tell me young man, do you still love my daughter?”

Dick shot an odd glance at Francisco; if it had taken physical form, it would have impaled the other man like a dagger.

He thought the innkeeper was mocking him.

Francisco, as Dick stated later, ran a grave danger of being pounded to a pulp.

Finally, with the gesture of a king offended by a noble, he pointed to the garden gate, saying in a hoarse voice:

“Get out!”

But Francisco, instead of obeying the order, sat down on a nearby rock.

“Shall we make a deal?” he said as if he hadn’t just been warned off. “You deliver me this rosebush in exchange for Federica’s hand.”

Dick drew back, startled.

In his opinion, Francisco wasn’t mocking him now; he’d gone crazy.

The innkeeper repeated his proposition a third time.

“Are you serious?” asked Dick, full of amazement.

“Say the word and my daughter’s hand is yours.”

Dick said the word wholeheartedly, and the exchange was made: the rosebush passed into the innkeeper’s hands on the same day the young couple’s marriage took place.

– VII –

A short time later, Mr. Francisco sold the inn and made a voyage to England, to London, I believe. He returned to Germany the possessor of a fortune of five million pounds.

– Epilogue –

The English have truly original ideas.

For instance, the last will and testament of one Mr. Brake, a wealthy property owner in the City, contained no more than this clause:


Being a proven fact that in the vegetable kingdom, as in the animal kingdom, all the known colors exist, I leave my fortune, consisting of five million pounds, to whomever presents to my executors a black rose, which shall be planted upon my grave. If ten years pass without the realization of my lifelong desire, the above-mentioned sum shall be distributed among all the gardeners of London. This my last will and testament shall be reproduced in all the periodicals of Europe for the maximum publicity.

— William Brake

When Mr. Francisco died, that immense fortune naturally fell to his daughter and son-in-law; and so their happiness was due to the devil’s rosebush.

The moral of the story: all innkeepers should devote themselves to reading English periodicals, for as long as the eccentricities of the sons of Great Britain exist.


the Limping Devil… El Diablo Cojuelo is a figure from Spanish folklore, dating back to the 16th century or earlier. Legend says he was one of the first angels to revolt in heaven. When he fell into hell, the other fallen angels landed on top of him, injuring him and giving him a slight limp. (Article at Spanish Wikipedia)

St. John’s Day… The feast day of St. John the Baptist, a prophet and the cousin of Jesus. His feast is on June 24, the Summer Solstice. In many old traditions, the summer solstice is a time when spirits, possibly evil ones, appear to roam the earth.


First published in El Periódico para Todos, circa June 1875 (Año IV, Num. 26).
Text sourced from Ganso y Pulpo

Translated by Nina Zumel

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