Read The Dialogue of the Dogs Online

Authors: Miguel de Cervantes

The Dialogue of the Dogs

IN 1613.





       P. CM.
  eISBN: 978-1-61219-252-9
  PQ6329.C613 2008




On the soldier’s face as he limped out of Resurrection Hospital, beyond Fieldsgate in Valladolid, a yellowish pallor had set in. He emerged leaning on the haft of his broadsword, and the weakness in his limbs showed anyone who saw him that, despite the chilly weather, he had spent twenty days sweating out what it had taken him but an hour to acquire.

He had just tottered through the gate of the city when he noticed an old friend approaching, whom he hadn’t seen these last six months. “What’s this then?” the friend asked, crossing himself as if he had seen a ghost. “Are you really Ensign Campuzano? Am I really seeing you around here? I thought you were in Flanders making free with your pikestaff, not hobbling along here with your cutlass for a walking stick. How pale and scrawny you look!”

“As to whether I’m here or someplace else, my fine Peralta, the fact that you see me now is a pretty good clue,” replied Campuzano. “As for your other questions, all I can tell you is that I’ve just come out of that hospital, where I’ve been confined for a while in godawful health—all brought on me by a woman I was reckless enough to make my wife.”

“You got married?” said Peralta.

“I did.”

“So suddenly? It must’ve been for love. That love is strong medicine, and often carries a strong chaser of regret.”

“How strong the medicine is, I couldn’t say,” answered the ensign. “All I know is, I wound up with a dose all right. My marriage poisoned me, body and soul—so much that it took forty sweatbaths to purge my body, and my soul still isn’t right. But forgive me if I’m not up to a long conversation in the street. I’ll gladly tell you my misadventures, which have got to be wilder and more wondrous than anything you ever heard in all your born days, but another time, when I’m back on the beam.”

“I won’t hear of it,” said Peralta, who was a scholar. “Come to my house, and we’ll scrape together a decent meal. I know there’s some stew, which is just the thing for a sick man. It’s barely enough for two, so my servant will just have to make do with a pie, but there should be a few slices of that fine ham from Rute left if your system can take it, plus, more than anything, my heartfelt hospitality—not just now, but any time you like.”

Campuzano took him up on the invitation, but first they stopped at the church of San Llorente and attended Mass. Then Peralta took his friend home, gave him dinner as promised, made clear it was a standing invitation, and finally asked him to share his story. Campuzano didn’t need much encouragement, and so it began:

“You remember, good master Peralta, how I kipped in this city with Captain Pedro de Herrera, who’s in Flanders now?”

“I remember it well,” said Peralta.

“Well, one day when we were finishing lunch in the Posada della Solana, where we were staying, two well-turned-out women came in with two ladies-in-waiting. One huddled with the Captain over by the window, and the other sat down in a chair by me. Her veil hung low and hid her face, save what I could see through the cloth. I implored her to do me the courtesy of revealing herself, but I got nowhere, and that only inflamed my desire to see her all the more. As if to inflame my curiosity even further, whether innocently or on purpose, she had a hand as white as fine porcelain—and rings just as expensive. That day I was cutting a very dashing figure myself, with that fine chain you’ve seen me wear, and my hat with the feathered band, and my flashy dress uniform. Through the eyes of my own lunacy, I looked so sharp that no woman could resist me so I entreated her to lift the veil.

“ ‘Not now,’ she whispered. ‘I have a house. Have a servant follow me there. I’m a better woman than my reply would lead you to believe, and, if only to see
whether your discretion matches your fine physique, I’ll gladly let you see me.’

“I kissed her hands for the great favor she had granted me, in return for which I promised mountains of gold. The Captain ended his conversation too. The women took their leave, and a servant of mine followed them. The Captain told me that his lady wanted him to bear some letters to yet another captain in Flanders who she claimed was her cousin, though of course he was really her swain.

“As for me, I was all on fire for those snow-white hands I’d seen, and dying for a peek at her face, so I presented myself the next day at the door my servant pointed out to me and was ushered in. I found myself in a house very handsomely decorated and furnished, and in the presence of a lady of about thirty. There was no mistaking those hands. She didn’t quite paralyze you with her beauty, but enough that her conversation did the rest. Her voice had a plangent savor that won its way through the ears to the soul.

“I sweet-talked her till my lips went numb. I bragged and swaggered, offered and promised, and made all the professions I thought necessary to finagle myself into her inmost heart. But she had heard it all and more before, and listened to me attentively but not without a certain skepticism. In short, during the four days I continued to visit her, our intercourse remained stubbornly social, and her tantalizing fruit swayed just out of reach.

“In the course of my visits Doña Estefanía de Caycedo (for that was the name of my enchantress) was
always alone, without any dubious relatives or even a real friend. A maid danced attendance, and had more of the sneak than the simpleton about her. Finally, pressing my suit like a soldier shipping out in the morning, I pushed my luck with Doña Estefanía, and she answered like this:

‘Good Ensign Campuzano, to pass myself off as a saint would be to flirt with idiocy. I have been a sinner and still am, but not so much that I occasion gossip among either strangers or my neighbors. I’ve inherited no fortune from either my parents or anyone else, but the furniture in my house is worth a good twenty-five hundred ducats. If put up for auction, it would fetch that sum in a heartbeat. With this dowry I’m looking for a man I can devote myself to with complete deference, who can help me lead a better life if only I set my mind to pleasing and serving him with all my heart. No master chef can claim a more refined palate than I, nor season a stew any better. I can be a majordomo in the household, a scullery maid in the kitchen, and a perfect lady in the parlor—in short, I know how to give an order and see it carried out. I waste nothing and save a great deal.
go much further when I’m the one spending them. I didn’t buy all my fine linens off the rack, or wholesale. My maidservants and I stitched them all, and we would have woven them at home too, if we could.

‘I’m only lavishing all this praise on myself because it would be wrong to deceive you. I just want to say that I’m looking for a husband to protect me, to command and honor me, and not some silvertongue who’ll butter me up and then run me down. All this is yours for
the asking. Here I am, ready and willing to surrender myself to you completely rather than advertise myself in the public square. To do that, I might as well hire a matchmaker, and why not eliminate the middleman?’

“My brains no longer resided in my head just then, but somewhere farther south. All this tickled me no end. I also pictured her property transformed into cash on the barrelhead—not, I hasten to assure you, that I was thinking about anything but the allure that was holding my brains hostage.

“I told her that lady luck and the lord of heaven must be smiling on me to provide, as if by some miracle, a helpmeet like her to become the mistress of my fortune. That fortune of mine wasn’t too small to hope that, what with the chain I wore around my neck and other baubles I had at home, and by selling off some of my military decorations, I could scare up at least two thousand ducats. These, alongside her twenty-five hundred, would be enough for us to settle down in my hometown where I had family and a little land. The income from that, together with our grubstake, would allow us to lead a joyful life, and no one would dare say a word against us.

“To make a long story short, we set a date that very day. We posted the necessary legal announcements on the first three available holidays (which chanced to fall together). On the fourth we celebrated our marriage with two friends of mine and a young man Doña Estefanía introduced as her cousin, whom I greeted as a kinsman with a great show of flowery language. I’d got into that habit while pitching woo at my bride—just how
dishonestly, I blush to say. Even though I’d never lie to you, you’re not my confessor either, and I prefer to husband the truth.

“My servant removed my trunk from my lodgings to my new wife’s. I put away my beloved chain and showed her three or four others, not so large but better made. Showing off my best clothes and accessories, I also gave her about four hundred
to defray the household expenses. Then, for six days, I drank the sweet wine of wedlock, lolling around like an impoverished bridegroom in the house of his rich father-in-law. I walked on deep carpets, lounged in high-thread-count sheets, lit my path with silver candlesticks, enjoyed breakfast in bed, got up at eleven, ate lunch at twelve, and at two took my siesta in the parlor.

“Doña Estefanía and her serving girl indulged my every whim. My servant, who’d always struck me as lazy, suddenly grew nimble as a deer. If Doña Estefanía left my side even once, it was only to go into the kitchen and devote all her care to preparing enticing fricassees—first to whet my appetite, and then to satisfy it.

“My shirts, collars, and handkerchiefs smelled like a florist’s shop, so drenched were they with perfumes. Those days flew by fast, just as subject to time’s hasty dominion as the years. Such devoted ministrations were even beginning to transmute my base intentions.

“Then one morning, while I was still in bed with Doña Estefanía, a loud knocking and shouting sounded at the street door. Her serving girl popped her head out the window and immediately pulled it in again, saying,
‘There she is, sure enough. She came sooner than she mentioned in her letter the other day, but who are we to turn her away?’

‘Who, girl?’ I asked.

‘Who?’ she replied. ‘Why, my lady Doña Clementa Bueso, and with her Don Lope Melendez de Almendarez, two other servants, and Hortigosa the chaperone.’

‘Run, wench, and open the door for them,’ Doña Estefanía cried. ‘And you, señor, as you love me, don’t overreact, or reply to anything you hear said against me.’

‘Who would dare say anything to offend you, especially with me here? Tell me, who are these people whose arrival’s upset you like this?’

‘Not now,’ said Doña Estefanía. ‘Just know that whatever takes place here is all part of a plan, which I’ll tell you about later.’

“Before I could answer, in walked Doña Clementa Bueso dressed in lustrous green satin richly laced with gold, a hat with green, white, and pink feathers, and a fine veil covering half her face. Don Lope came in with her, wearing a traveling suit as elegant as it was rich. Hortigosa broke the silence: ‘Saints and angels, what’s this! My lady Doña Clementa’s bed occupied, and by a man, too! I swear, Doña Estefanía has taken advantage of milady’s friendship!’

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