The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 13

Intrigues at Court — Quesada and Galiano — Dissolution of the Cortes — The Secretary — Aragonese Pertinacity — The Council of Trent — The Asturian — The Three Thieves — Benedict Mol — The Men of Lucerne — The Treasure

Mendizabal had told me to call upon him again at the end of three months, giving me hopes that he would not then oppose himself to the publication of the New Testament; before, however, the three months had elapsed, he had fallen into disgrace, and had ceased to be prime minister.

An intrigue had been formed against him, at the head of which were two quondam friends of his, and fellow-townsmen, Gaditanians, Isturitz and Alcala Galiano; both of them had been egregious liberals in their day, and indeed principal members of those cortes which, on the Angouleme invasion, had hurried Ferdinand from Madrid to Cadiz, and kept him prisoner there until that impregnable town thought proper to surrender, and both of them had been subsequently refugees in England, where they had spent a considerable number of years.

These gentlemen, however, finding themselves about this time exceedingly poor, and not seeing any immediate prospect of advantage from supporting Mendizabal; considering themselves, moreover, quite as good men as he, and as capable of governing Spain in the present emergency; determined to secede from the party of their friend, whom they had hitherto supported, and to set up for themselves.

They therefore formed an opposition to Mendizabal in the cortes; the members of this opposition assumed the name of moderados, in contradistinction to Mendizabal and his followers, who were ultra liberals. The moderados were encouraged by the Queen Regent Christina, who aimed at a little more power than the liberals were disposed to allow her, and who had a personal dislike to the minister. They were likewise encouraged by Cordova, who at that time commanded the army, and was displeased with Mendizabal, inasmuch as the latter did not supply the pecuniary demands of the general with sufficient alacrity, though it is said that the greater part of what was sent for the payment of the troops was not devoted to that purpose, but, was invested in the French funds in the name and for the use and behoof of the said Cordova.

It is, however, by no means my intention to write an account of the political events which were passing around me at this period; suffice it to say, that Mendizabal finding himself thwarted in all his projects by the regent and the general, the former of whom would adopt no measure which he recommended, whilst the latter remained inactive and refused to engage the enemy, which by this time had recovered from the check caused by the death of Zumalacarregui, and was making considerable progress, resigned and left the field for the time open to his adversaries, though he possessed an immense majority in the cortes, and had the voice of the nation, at least the liberal part of it, in his favour.

Thereupon, Isturitz became head of the cabinet, Galiano minister of marine, and a certain Duke of Rivas minister of the interior. These were the heads of the moderado government, but as they were by no means popular at Madrid, and feared the nationals, they associated with themselves one who hated the latter body and feared nothing, a man of the name of Quesada, a very stupid individual, but a great fighter, who, at one period of his life, had commanded a legion or body of men called the Army of the Faith, whose exploits both on the French and Spanish side of the Pyrenees are too well known to require recapitulation. This person was made captain general of Madrid.

By far the most clever member of this government was Galiano, whose acquaintance I had formed shortly after my arrival. He was a man of considerable literature, and particularly well versed in that of his own country. He was, moreover, a fluent, elegant, and forcible speaker, and was to the moderado party within the cortes what Quesada was without, namely, their horses and chariots. Why he was made minister of marine is difficult to say, as Spain did not possess any; perhaps, however, from his knowledge of the English language, which he spoke and wrote nearly as well as his own tongue, having indeed during his sojourn in England chiefly supported himself by writing for reviews and journals, an honourable occupation, but to which few foreign exiles in England would be qualified to devote themselves.

He was a very small and irritable man, and a bitter enemy to every person who stood in the way of his advancement. He hated Mendizabal with undisguised rancour, and never spoke of him but in terms of unmeasured contempt. “I am afraid that I shall have some difficulty in inducing Mendizabal to give me permission to print the Testament,” said I to him one day. “Mendizabal is a jackass,” replied Galiano. “Caligula made his horse consul, which I suppose induced Lord — to send over this huge burro of the Stock Exchange to be our minister.”

It would be very ungrateful on my part were I not to confess my great obligations to Galiano, who assisted me to the utmost of his power in the business which had brought me to Spain. Shortly after the ministry was formed, I went to him and said, “that now or never was the time to mike an effort in my behalf.” “I will do so,” said he, in a waspish tone; for he always spoke waspishly whether to friend or foe; “but you must have patience for a few days, we are very much occupied at present. We have been outvoted in the cortes, and this afternoon we intend to dissolve them. It is believed that the rascals will refuse to depart, but Quesada will stand at the door ready to turn them out, should they prove refractory. Come along, and you will perhaps see a funcion.”

After an hour’s debate, the cortes were dissolved without it being necessary to call in the aid of the redoubtable Quesada, and Galiano forthwith gave me a letter to his colleague the Duke of Rivas, in whose department he told me was vested the power either of giving or refusing the permission to print the book in question. The duke was a very handsome young man, of about thirty, an Andalusian by birth, like his two colleagues. He had published several works, tragedies, I believe, and enjoyed a certain kind of literary reputation. He received me with the greatest affability; and having heard what I had to say, he replied with a most captivating bow, and a genuine Andalusian grimace: “Go to my secretary; go to my secretary — el hara por usted el gusio.” So I went to the secretary, whose name was Oliban, an Aragonese, who was not handsome, and whose manners were neither elegant nor affable. “You want permission to print the Testament?” “I do,” said I. “And you have come to His Excellency about it,” continued Oliban. “Very true,” I replied. “I suppose you intend to print it without notes.” “Yes.” “Then His Excellency cannot give you permission,” said the Aragonese secretary: “it was determined by the Council of Trent that no part of the Scripture should be printed in any Christian country without the notes of the church.” “How many years was that ago?” I demanded. “I do not know how many years ago it was,” said Oliban; “but such was the decree of the Council of Trent.” “Is Spain at present governed according to the decrees of the Council of Trent?” I inquired. “In some points she is,” answered the Aragonese, “and this is one. But tell me who are you? Are you known to the British minister?” “O yes, and he takes a great interest in the matter.” “Does he?” said Oliban; “that indeed alters the case: if you can show me that His Excellency takes in interest in this business, I certainly shall not oppose myself to it.”

The British minister performed all I could wish, and much more than I could expect; he had an interview with the Duke of Rivas, with whom he had much discourse upon my affair: the duke was all smiles and courtesy. He moreover wrote a private letter to the duke, which he advised me to present when I next paid him a visit, and, to crown all, he wrote a letter directed to myself, in which he did me the honour to say that he had a regard for me, and that nothing would afford him greater pleasure than to hear that I had obtained the permission which I was seeking. So I went to the duke, and delivered the letter. He was ten times more kind and affable than before: he read the letter, smiled most sweetly, and then, as if seized with sudden enthusiasm, he extended his arms in a manner almost theatrical, exclaiming, “Al secretario, el hara por usted el gusto.” Away I hurried to the secretary, who received me with all the coolness of an icicle: I related to him the words of his principal, and then put into his hand the letter of the British minister to myself. The secretary read it very deliberately, and then said that it was evident His Excellency did take an interest in the matter. He then asked me my name, and taking a sheet of paper, sat down as if for the purpose of writing the permission. I was in ecstasy — all of a sudden, however, he stopped, lifted up his head, seemed to consider a moment, and then putting his pen behind his ear, he said, “Amongst the decrees of the Council of Trent is one to the effect”. . . .

“Oh dear!” said I.

“A singular person is this Oliban,” said I to Galiano; “you cannot imagine what trouble he gives me: he is continually talking about the Council of Trent.”

“I wish he was in the Trent up to the middle,” said Galiano, who, as I have observed already, spoke excellent English; “I wish he was there for talking such nonsense. However,” said he, “we must not offend Oliban, he is one of us, and has done us much service; he is, moreover, a very clever man, but he is an Aragonese, and when one of that nation once gets an idea into his head, it is the most difficult thing in the world to dislodge it; however, we will go to him; he is an old friend of mine, and I have no doubt but that we shall be able to make him listen to reason.” So the next day I called upon Galiano, at his marine or admiralty office (what shall I call it?), and from thence we proceeded to the bureau of the interior, a magnificent edifice, which had formerly been the casa of the Inquisition, where we had an interview with Oliban, whom Galiano took aside to the window, and there held with him a long conversation, which, as they spoke in whispers, and the room was immensely large, I did not hear. At length Galiano came to me and said, “There is some difficulty with respect to this business of yours, but I have told Oliban that you are a friend of mine, and he says that that is sufficient; remain with him now, and he will do anything to oblige you; your affair is settled — farewell”; whereupon he departed and I remained with Oliban, who proceeded forthwith to write something, which having concluded, he took out a box of cigars, and having lighted one and offered me another, which I declined as I do not smoke, he placed his feet against the table, and thus proceeded to address me, speaking in the French language.

“It is with great pleasure that I see you in this capital, and, I may say, upon this business. I consider it a disgrace to Spain that there is no edition of the Gospel in circulation, at least such a one as would be within the reach of all classes of society, the highest or poorest; one unencumbered with notes and commentaries, human devices, swelling it to an unwieldy bulk. I have no doubt that such an edition as you propose to print, would have a most beneficial influence on the minds of the people, who, between ourselves, know nothing of pure religion; how should they? seeing that the Gospel has always been sedulously kept from them, just as if civilization could exist where the light of the Gospel beameth not. The moral regeneration of Spain depends upon the free circulation of the Scriptures; to which alone England, your own happy country, is indebted for its high state of civilization, and the unmatched prosperity which it at present enjoys; all this I admit, in fact, reason compels me to do so, but — ”

“Now for it,” thought I.

“But” — and then he began to talk once more of the wearisome Council of Trent, and I found that his writing in the paper, the offer of the cigar, and the long and prosy harangue were — what shall I call it? — mere [Greek text].

By this time the spring was far advanced, the sides though not the tops of the Guadarama hills had long since lost their snows; the trees of the Prado had donned their full foliage, and all the Campina in the neighbourhood of Madrid smiled and was happy: the summer heats had not commenced, and the weather was truly delicious.

Towards the west, at the foot of the hill on which stands Madrid, is a canal running parallel with the Manzanares for some leagues, from which it is separated by pleasant and fertile meadows. The banks of this canal, which was begun by Carlos Tercero, and has never been completed, are planted with beautiful trees, and form the most delightful walk in the neighbourhood of the capital. Here I would loiter for hours looking at the shoals of gold and silver fish which basked on the surface of the green sunny waters, or listening, not to the warbling of birds — for Spain is not the land of feathered choristers — but to the prattle of the narangero or man who sold oranges and water by a little deserted watch tower just opposite the wooden bridge that crosses the canal, which situation he had chosen as favourable for his trade, and there had placed his stall. He was an Asturian by birth, about fifty years of age, and about five feet high. As I purchased freely of his fruit, he soon conceived a great friendship for me, and told me his history; it contained, however, nothing very remarkable, the leading incident being an adventure which had befallen him amidst the mountains of Granada, where, falling into the hands of certain Gypsies, they stripped him naked, and then dismissed him with a sound cudgelling. “I have wandered throughout Spain,” said he, “and I have come to the conclusion that there are but two places worth living in, Malaga and Madrid. At Malaga everything is very cheap, and there is such an abundance of fish, that I have frequently seen them piled in heaps on the sea-shore: and as for Madrid, money is always stirring at the Corte, and I never go supperless to bed; my only care is to sell my oranges, and my only hope that when I die I shall be buried yonder.”

And he pointed across the Manzanares, where, on the declivity of a gentle hill, at about a league’s distance, shone brightly in the sunshine the white walls of the Campo Santo, or common burying ground of Madrid.

He was a fellow of infinite drollery, and, though he could scarcely read or write, by no means ignorant of the ways of the world; his knowledge of individuals was curious and extensive, few people passing his stall with whose names, character, and history he was not acquainted. “Those two gentry,” said he, pointing to a magnificently dressed cavalier and lady, who had dismounted from a carriage, and arm in arm were coming across the wooden bridge, followed by two attendants; “those gentry are the Infante Francisco Paulo, and his wife the Neapolitana, sister of our Christina; he is a very good subject, but as for his wife — vaya — the veriest scold in Madrid; she can say carrajo with the most ill-conditioned carrier of La Mancha, giving the true emphasis and genuine pronunciation. Don’t take off your hat to her, amigo — she has neither formality nor politeness — I once saluted her, and she took no more notice of me than if I had not been what I am, an Asturian and a gentleman, of better blood than herself. Good day, Senor Don Francisco. Que tal (how goes it)? very fine weather this — vaya su merced con Dios. Those three fellows who just stopped to drink water are great thieves, true sons of the prison; I am always civil to them, for it would not do to be on ill terms; they pay me or not, just as they think proper. I have been in some trouble on their account: about a year ago they robbed a man a little farther on beyond the second bridge. By the way, I counsel you, brother, not to go there, as I believe you often do — it is a dangerous place. They robbed a gentleman and ill-treated him, but his brother, who was an escribano, was soon upon their trail, and had them arrested; but he wanted someone to identify them, and it chanced that they had stopped to drink water at my stall, just as they did now. This the escribano heard of, and forthwith had me away to the prison to confront me with them. I knew them well enough, but I had learnt in my travels when to close my eyes and when to open them; so I told the escribano that I could not say that I had ever seen them before. He was in a great rage and threatened to imprison me; I told him he might and that I cared not. Vaya, I was not going to expose myself to the resentment of those three and to that of their friends; I live too near the Hay Market for that. Good day, my young masters. — Murcian oranges, as you see; the genuine dragon’s blood. Water sweet and cold. Those two boys are the children of Gabiria, comptroller of the queen’s household, and the richest man in Madrid; they are nice boys, and buy much fruit. It is said their father loves them more than all his possessions. The old woman who is lying beneath yon tree is the Tia Lucilla; she has committed murders, and as she owes me money, I hope one day to see her executed. This man was of the Walloon guard; — Senor Don Benito Mol, how do you do?”

This last named personage instantly engrossed my attention; he was a bulky old man, somewhat above the middle height, with white hair and ruddy features; his eyes were large and blue, and whenever he fixed them on any one’s countenance, were full of an expression of great eagerness, as if he were expecting the communication of some important tidings. He was dressed commonly enough, in a jacket and trousers of coarse cloth of a russet colour, on his head was an immense sombrero, the brim of which had been much cut and mutilated, so as in some places to resemble the jags or denticles of a saw. He returned the salutation of the orange-man, and bowing to me, forthwith produced two scented wash-balls which he offered for sale in a rough dissonant jargon, intended for Spanish, but which seemed more like the Valencian or Catalan.

Upon my asking him who he was, the following conversation ensued between us:

“I am a Swiss of Lucerne, Benedict Mol by name, once a soldier in the Walloon guard, and now a soap-boiler, at your service.”

“You speak the language of Spain very imperfectly,” said I; “how long have you been in the country?”

“Forty-five years,” replied Benedict; “but when the guard was broken up, I went to Minorca, where I lost the Spanish language without acquiring the Catalan.”

“You have been a soldier of the king of Spain,” said I; “how did you like the service?”

“Not so well, but that I should have been glad to leave it forty years ago; the pay was bad, and the treatment worse. I will now speak Swiss to you, for, if I am not much mistaken, you are a German man, and understand the speech of Lucerne; I should soon have deserted from the service of Spain, as I did from that of the Pope, whose soldier I was in my early youth before I came here; but I had married a woman of Minorca, by whom I had two children; it was this that detained me in those parts so long; before, however, I left Minorca, my wife died, and as for my children, one went east, the other west, and I know not what became of them; I intend shortly to return to Lucerne, and live there like a duke.”

“Have you, then, realized a large capital in Spain?” said I, glancing at his hat and the rest of his apparel.

“Not a cuart, not a cuart; these two wash-balls are all that I possess.”

“Perhaps you are the son of good parents, and have lands and money in your own country wherewith to support yourself.”

“Not a heller, not a heller; my father was hangman of Lucerne, and when he died, his body was seized to pay his debts.”

“Then doubtless,” said I, “you intend to ply your trade of soap-boiling at Lucerne; you are quite right, my friend, I know of no occupation more honourable or useful.”

“I have no thoughts of plying my trade at Lucerne,” replied Bennet; “and now, as I see you are a German man, Lieber Herr, and as I like your countenance and your manner of speaking, I will tell you in confidence that I know very little of my trade, and have already been turned out of several fabriques as an evil workman; the two wash-balls that I carry in my pocket are not of my own making. In kurtzen, I know little more of soap-boiling than I do of tailoring, horse-farriery, or shoe-making, all of which I have practised.”

“Then I know not how you can hope to live like a hertzog in your native canton, unless you expect that the men of Lucerne, in consideration of your services to the Pope and to the king of Spain, will maintain you in splendour at the public expense.”

“Lieber Herr,” said Benedict, “the men of Lucerne are by no means fond of maintaining the soldiers of the Pope and the king of Spain at their own expense; many of the guard who have returned thither beg their bread in the streets, but when I go, it shall be in a coach drawn by six mules, with a treasure, a mighty schatz which lies in the church of Saint James of Compostella, in Galicia.”

“I hope you do not intend to rob the church,” said I; “if you do, however, I believe you will be disappointed. Mendizabal and the liberals have been beforehand with you. I am informed that at present no other treasure is to be found in the cathedrals of Spain than a few paltry ornaments and plated utensils.”

“My good German Herr,” said Benedict, “it is no church schatz, and no person living, save myself, knows of its existence: nearly thirty years ago, amongst the sick soldiers who were brought to Madrid, was one of my comrades of the Walloon Guard, who had accompanied the French to Portugal; he was very sick and shortly died. Before, however, he breathed his last, he sent for me, and upon his deathbed told me that himself and two other soldiers, both of whom had since been killed, had buried in a certain church at Compostella a great booty which they had made in Portugal: it consisted of gold moidores and of a packet of huge diamonds from the Brazils; the whole was contained in a large copper kettle. I listened with greedy ears, and from that moment, I may say, I have known no rest, neither by day nor night, thinking of the schatz. It is very easy to find, for the dying man was so exact in his description of the place where it lies, that were I once at Compostella, I should have no difficulty in putting my hand upon it; several times I have been on the point of setting out on the journey, but something has always happened to stop me. When my wife died, I left Minorca with a determination to go to Saint James, but on reaching Madrid, I fell into the hands of a Basque woman, who persuaded me to live with her, which I have done for several years; she is a great hax, 9 and says that if I desert her she will breathe a spell which shall cling to me for ever. Dem Got sey dank, — she is now in the hospital, and daily expected to die. This is my history, Lieber Herr.”

I have been the more careful in relating the above conversation, as I shall have frequent occasion to mention the Swiss in the course of these journals; his subsequent adventures were highly extraordinary, and the closing one caused a great sensation in Spain.

9 Witch. Ger. Hexe.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32