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.

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A Ripper of Yesteryear (Parts III and IV)

A Ripper of Yesteryear
(Un destripador de antaño)
Parts III and IV
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

(Read Part II here)

– III –

In that back room of the apothecary shop, where, according to the authoritative account of Jacoba de Alberte, no human being entered, Don Custodio was in the habit most nights of having a chat with a canon of the Holy Metropolitan Church, a fellow student of pharmaceutical arts, an older man, dry as a piece of kindling, with a ready smile and a great fondness for tobacco. He was the constant friend and intimate confidant of Don Custodio, and if the horrendous crimes that the common people attributed to the apothecary were true, no one would be more appropriate to keep the secret of such abominations than the Canon Don Lucas Llorente, who was the quintessence of mystery and of concealment from the masses.

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A Ripper of Yesteryear (Part II)

A Ripper of Yesteryear
(Un destripador de antaño)
Part II
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

(Read Part I here)

– II –

One day more dismay than ever fell upon the millers’ shack. The fatal deadline had come: the end of the lease, and either they paid the landlord, or they would see themselves evicted from the property, with neither a roof to shelter them nor land to cultivate the cabbage for their soup. And both the good-for-nothing Juan Ramon and the diligent Pepona alike professed for that parcel of land the mindless affection that they would hardly profess for their son, the fruit of their loins. To leave that place seemed to them worse than going to the grave; for the latter, in the end, must happen to all mortals, while the former doesn’t occur save for the unforeseen hardships of bad luck. Where would they find the money? There probably wasn’t in all the region the two onzas that amounted to the rent for the place. In that year of misery, Pepona calculated, one wouldn’t find two onzas except in the poor box or St. Minia’s collection plate. But the priest surely would have two onzas, and plenty more, sewn into his mattress or buried in the vegetable garden.

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A Ripper of Yesteryear (Part I)

A Ripper of Yesteryear
(Un destripador de antaño)
Part I
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

The legend of “The Ripper,” the half-sage, half-sorcerer assassin, is a very old one in my homeland. I heard it at a tender age, whispered or chanted in frightful refrains, perhaps by my old nursemaid at the edge of my cradle, perhaps in the rustic kitchen, in the gathering of the farmhands, who told it with shudders of fear or dark laughter. It appeared to me again, like one of Hoffman’s phantasmagoric creations, in the dark and twisted alleys of a town that until recently remained tinged with medieval colors, as if there were still pilgrims in the world, and the hymn of Ultreja still resounded below the vaults of the cathedral. Later, the clamor of the newspapers, the vile panic of the ignorant multitude, made the story spring forth again in my imagination, tragic and ridiculous as Quasimodo, hunchbacked with all the humps that disfigure blind Terror and infamous Superstition. I will tell it to you. Enter valiantly with me into the shadowy regions of the soul.

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The Convalescents’ Tea

The Convalescents’ Tea
(El té de las convalecientes)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

They were still a bit frail, with a touch of haze in their dull eyes; but already they were eager to jump back in the ring and enjoy their youth. They had seen the terror of death up close, and it seemed miraculous to have escaped its clutches.

They were young ladies of the best society, with laughing and lively futures of unlimited promise, surprised in the middle of their lives of pleasant frivolities and hopes of love and happiness by the terrible epidemic, which chose its victims from those in the prime of life, as if it scorned the elderly, death’s sure and soon prey. Some had suffered bronchopneumonia, with its delirium and cruel suffocation; others had vomited blood by the mouthful; yet others began to show symptoms of meningitis….

And just as it seemed they were about to cross the black door and the mysterious river that sleeps between banks lined with asphodel and henbane, whose waters fall from the oar without any echo, the evil began to recede, normality was reappearing. The interesting little patients bloomed again, so to speak — not with all the vitality that one would want, but like those languid and drooping roses that slowly revive in a tall glass of water.

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Godmother Death

Godmother Death
(La madrina)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

When his second son was born, puny and barely breathing, the father looked down at the child in fury, for he had dreamed of a lineage of sturdy sons. And when the boy’s mother exclaimed — optimistic, as all mothers are — “We must find him a godmother,” the father growled:

“Godmother! Godmother! Death will be his godmother… if he lives!”

Convinced the baby would not survive, the father allowed the baptism day to arrive without stopping his wife from bringing their son to the font. In such cases, it’s good luck to invite the first person who comes along to be the godparent. So that’s what they did, when at dusk of a December day they went to the parish church.

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Die and You’ll See

Die and You’ll See
(Muérete y verás)
by Pedro Escamilla

I

What in this world can be more terrible than doubt? What crueler torment could be invented to slowly destroy humanity?

I don’t know how the multitudes endorse so many facts in spite of the evidence that seems to destroy them.

This is about the testimony of a physician and a priest, of those who in such extreme and solemn circumstances should not—I will say more—cannot lie. This is about destroying an absurdity, a thing implausibly implausible, if you will allow me to use this phrase. This is, finally, about the most momentous event in the history of a mortal.

A man can live without virtue and without shoes, without a cloak in the winter and almost without a shirt.

But to live without life!

In what tolerably organized society do they admit a fact of nature so strange? What philosophical system admits the material existence of a dead person? Because now it’s not a question of the soul, of the spirit; it is no longer about the uncreated part, of the moral entity.

No.

It’s a much more intricate and arduous question…Damn it!

For at the end of the day I can’t find words to express this absurdity.

Read on, and judge.

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Exculpation

Exculpation
(Eximente)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán

Federico Molina’s suicide was one no one could explain. Hypotheses were advanced, taking into account the usual causes of these sorts of acts, so tragically frequent that they have their own section in the Press. People spoke, as they always speak, of green baize, dark eyes, incurable disease, money lost and unrecovered; in short, of all the usual things. But no one could settle on any of these reasons, and Federico took his secret to the forgotten niche in which his remains rest, while his poor soul….

Don’t you think about the destiny of souls after they emerge from their clay, like an electric spark from coal? Do you truly never think about what is never spoken of? Do you believe so firmly, like Espronceda, in the peace of the grave?

Prince Hamlet didn’t believe, and so preferred to suffer the evils that surrounded him, rather than seek out unknown ones in the undiscovered country from which no traveler returns.

Perhaps Federico Molina didn’t consider this serious drawback of his somber decision. We don’t know, we will never know, what Federico believed–not even what he doubted–because Hamlet, traumatized by the apparition of that vengeful shade, wasn’t saved from taking his own life by his faith, but by his doubt: the possibility of “perchance to dream”….

A coincidence of the kind that seems contrived, but couldn’t be made up, brought into my hands something resembling a journal: notes jotted down by Federico, bearing on the first page the date of a year just before the drama. The key to his misfortune was enclosed in an elegant album bound in Russian leather, with the intertwined initials F. M. in gold. It was sold to an antiques dealer at auction, then acquired by a bookbinding enthusiast, who carefully tears out the written or printed contents of his acquisitions and keeps only the covers, having amassed a superb–shall I say library?–of book bindings, and whom I have begged to give me what was inside, since he values only the outside—and perhaps he’s a wise man. Thus, I was able to penetrate into the psyche of the suicide, and I don’t believe anyone can interpret the evidence that I have uncovered and compiled any differently than I have.

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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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