Chapter 1 - Lazaro Tells about His Parents (part 1 of 3)
You —your Grace— should know first of all that I'm called Lazaro of Tormes, and that I'm the son of Tome Gonzales and Antona Perez, natives of Tejares, a village near Salamanca. I was actually born in the Tormes River, and that's how I got my name. It happened this way: my father (God rest his soul) was in charge of a watermill on the bank of that river, and he was the miller there for more than fifteen years. Well, one night while my mother was in the mill, pregnant with me, she went into labor and gave birth to me right there. So I can really say I was born in the river.
When I was eight years old, they accused my father of gutting the sacks that people were bringing to the mill. They took him to jail, and without denying anything he confessed everything, suffering persecution for justice’s sake. But I trust God that dad is in heaven because the Bible calls that kind of man blessed. At that time they were gathering an army to go fight the Moors, and my father —having been exiled for the disaster mentioned— went with them as a muleteer for an officer. Loyal servants they were, both he and his master lost their lives.
My widowed mother, finding herself without shelter and without husband, decided to move in with some good people —being good herself— coming to live in the city. Renting a little house there, she began to cook for some students, and to wash clothes for some stable boys who served the Commander of La Magdalena, spending a lot of the time around the stables. Soon she and a dark man —one of those men who took care of the animals— got to know each other.
Sometimes this man would come to our house and wouldn't leave till the next morning. And other times he would come to our door during the day pretending to buy eggs and then he would come inside. When he first began to come I didn't like him, and was afraid of him because of the color of his skin and his bad looks. But when I saw that with him around we ate better, I began to like him quite a lot. He always brought bread, pieces of meat, and in the winter he brought in firewood so we could keep warm.
So with his visits and their snuggles moving right along, it happened that my mother gave me a pretty little black baby, a dark tiny baby I used to bounce it on my knee, helping to keep him warm. I remember one time when my black stepfather was playing with the little fellow, the child noticed that my mother and I were white but that my stepfather wasn't, he got scared. Running to my mother he pointed his finger at his father, and said,
"Mama—he's the bogeyman!" And my stepfather laughing, responded:
"You little son-of-a-gun!"
Even though I was still a young boy, I thought about the word my little brother had used, and I said to myself: “How many people there must be in the world that discriminate others, not seeing in themselves what they see in others.”
As luck would have it, ill-talk about Zaide (that was my stepfather's name) reached the ears of the foreman, and when a search was made they found out that he'd been stealing about half of the barley that was supposed to be given to the animals. He'd pretended that the bran, wool, currycombs, aprons, and the horse covers and blankets had been lost; and when there was nothing else left to steal, he took the shoes right off the horses' hooves. All this he used to help my mother bring up my little brother. Let’s marvel not at either priest or friar when one steals from the poor and the other takes things from monasteries to give to their lady followers or others; we can see how love can make a poor slave do what he did.
And they found my stepfather guilty of every count, and even more because when they asked me questions and threatened me—I answered them like a frightened child. Even about some horseshoes my mother had asked me to sell to a blacksmith. They beat and tarred my sorry stepfather, and they gave my mother a stiff sentence besides the usual hundred lashes, saying that she couldn't go into the house of the Commander (the one I mentioned) and that she couldn't take the hurt pitiful Zaide into her own house either.
Resigned, the poor woman went ahead and carried out the sentence. And to avoid danger and get away from wagging tongues, she went to work as a servant for the people living at the Solano Inn. And there, while suffering all kinds of indignities, she managed to raise my little brother until he knew how to walk. And she even raised me to be a good little boy who would take wine and candles to the guests and do whatever else they told me.
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