Soon after we left Salamanca we came to a bridge where at the edge there's a stone statue of an animal that looks like a bull. The blind man ordered me to go up next to the animal, and when I was there he said,
“Lazaro, put your ear next to this bull and you'll hear a great sound inside of it.”
Curious, I simply put my ear next to it, thinking he was telling the truth. And when he felt my head was on the stone, he slammed his fist, knocking my head against that devil of a bull so hard that I felt the pain from its horns for three days. And he said to me,
“You, moron! Get your head out of your ass and learn that a blind man's servant always has to run one step ahead of the devil.”
And he laughed out loud at his joke.
It seemed to me that at that very instant I woke up from my sleepy childlike simplicity, saying to myself, "He's right. I've got to open my eyes and be on my guard. Alone I am now, so I've got to think with guile if I’m to survive."
Starting on our way again, in just a few days he taught me the slang thieves use. Seeing that I had a quick mind pleased him a lot, and he said,
“Neither gold nor silver can I give you,” adding, “but I can give you plenty of lessons on how to stay alive.”
And that's exactly what he did; after God, it was this fellow who gave me life and who, though blind, he enlightened me and trained me how to live.
I like to tell you —your Grace— these silly things to show what virtue we find in men as they raise themselves up from the depths, we also find vice in those that slip down from high stations.
Well, getting back to my dear blind man and telling about his ways, you should know that from the time God created the world there's no one smarter or sharper than this man. At his job he was swift as an eagle and sly as a fox. He knew over a hundred prayers by heart, saying them in a low tone, calm, and very sonorous, making the church where he prayed resonate. What a humble and pious expression he would display while he prayed: he would make no faces or grimaces with his mouth or eyes the way others do.
Besides this he had thousands of other ways of getting money. He knew lots of prayers for different needs: for women who couldn't have children, for those who were in labor, for those women unhappy in their marriage—so that their husbands would love them more. To expectant mothers he’d divine whether they would have a boy or a girl. And as far as medicine was concerned, he said that the legendary Galen never knew half of what he did about toothaches, fainting spells, and female illnesses. In sum, no one could tell him he suffered an illness that he couldn't quickly say to him:
“Do this, and then this other; boil this herb, or take that root.”
Because of this everyone came to him —especially women— believing every blessed thing he told them. From them he extracted quite a lot with the artful ways I've been telling you about; in fact, he earned more in a month than a hundred ordinary blind men earn in a year.
But I want you to know, too, that even with all he got and all that he had, I've never seen a greedier, and more miserly man. He was starving me to death, barely giving me enough to keep me alive! I'm telling the truth: short of my wily ways and some pretty clever tricks, I would have died of hunger lots of times. But even with all his know-how and carefulness I outwitted him, so that I always —or usually— really got the better of him. I played some devilish practical jokes on him, and I'll tell about some of them, even though I didn't come out on top every time.
Secured in a cloth bag he carried the bread and all the other things, keeping the neck of it closed with an iron ring that had a padlock and key. And when he put things in or took them out, he did it with much alertness, counting everything so well that no one in the world could have taken a crumb from him.
Since what little he gave me to eat was so thin in less than two mouthfuls the crumbs and tidbits would be gone.
After he had closed the padlock and forgotten about it, thinking that I was busy with other things, I would begin to bleed the miserly bag dry. I found a little seam on the side of the bag that I'd rip open and sew up again. And I would take out bread —not little crumbs, either, but big hunks— and I'd get bacon and sausage too. Given my appetite I was always looking for the right time to repeat the trick not because it was a game but because he deprived me of the food that —this tyrant of a blind man— so abundantly had in that damned sac.
Also, Every time I had a chance I'd steal copper coins; when someone gave him a copper to say a prayer for him, I would take it and pop it into my mouth, and had a half-copper coin ready. The instant he —the sly, suspicious, insufferable sightless man— stuck out his hand I’d place the half-value coin. Soon enough, though, the old blind man would start growling at me, and realizing that it wasn't a whole copper he'd say,
“Hmm, boy—how the devil is it that now that you're with me they never give me anything but half coppers,” he’d mumble, adding: “they almost always used to give me a copper or a two-copper piece, yeah—how come? I'd swear you’re the cause of this ill luck.”
Brevity was his trademark; that is, he knew how to cut his prayers short. Often he wouldn't even get halfway through them, for he had instructed me to pull on the end of his shirt the minute the person who had asked and paid for the prayer left. So that's what I did. Quickly he'd begin to call out again with his cry in his usual tone, “Prayers! Who would like me say a prayer for him?”
When we ate he always took out a little jug of wine, which I would grab quickly and take a couple of swallows before I put it back in its place. Not for too long, though. He could tell by the number of nips he took that some was missing. So to preserve his wine safe he never let the jug out of reach, holding it by the handle. But not even a magnet could pull, draw, and suck the wine as I did with a long rye straw that I had made for that very purpose. I'd stick the straw in the mouth of the jug and suck until—good-bye, wine! But the old traitor was so wary that I think he must have sensed what I was doing, because from then on he started keeping the jug between his legs. And not only that, but he also kept his hand over the top, just to make sure.
Having gotten so used to drinking wine, I was dying for it. Seeing that my straw trick wouldn't work anymore, I made a little spout and carved a little hole in the bottom of the jug, sealing it off neatly with a little thin strip of wax. At mealtime I'd pretend I was cold and get in between the legs of the miserable blind man to warm up by the little fire we had. And the heat of it would melt the wax, since it was such a thin piece. Then the wine would begin to trickle from the spout into my mouth, positioning myself so that I wouldn't miss a damned drop. By the time the sorry fellow went to drink his wine he wouldn't find a drop. Appalled, he'd draw back and curse jar and wine, not suspecting what could have happened.
“You can't say that I drank it, Sir," I said, "since you never let it out of your hand.”
Not satisfied, he kept turning the jug around and feeling it, until he finally discovered the hole and saw through my trick. Yet the sly dog pretended that he hadn't found out.
Then one day I was tippling on the jug as usual, without realizing what was in store for me or even that the blind man had found me out, sitting the same as always, taking in those sweet sips, my face turned toward the sky and my eyes slightly closed so I could really savor the delicious liquor—when, whammo! The dirty blind man saw that now was the time to take out his revenge on me, and raising that sweet and bitter jug with both his hands, he smashed it down on my mouth with all his might. As I say, he used all his strength, and poor Lazaro who hadn't been expecting anything like this, for I was drowsy and happy as always—I felt like the whole sky and everything in it had suddenly crashed down on top of me. The little caress sent me reeling, knocking me unconscious, the enormous jug was so huge that pieces of it stuck in my face, cutting me in several places, and breaking and knocking out my teeth that I don't have them to this very day.
Right there and then I began to hate that old blind man. Because, even though he took care of me and fixed me up, I saw that he had really relished his cruel trick. Using wine to wash the places where the pieces of the jug had cut me, he smiled and said,
“How do you like that, Lazaro? The very thing that hurt you is helping to cure you,” making other witty remarks that I didn't really appreciate.
When I had about recovered from the beating and the black and blue welts were nearly gone, I realized that with a few more blows like that the blind man could get rid of me. Instead I decided to be rid of him. But I didn't run away right then, biding my time, to a safer and better moment. Yet, though I wanted to be kind and forgive the blind man for smashing the jug on my face, I couldn't. I couldn’t because of the harsh treatment he continued to give me: without any reason he would rap me on the head and yank on my hair. And if anyone asked him why he beat me so much, he would tell them about the incident with the jug:
“Do you think this boy of mine is just some innocent soul? Well, listen and see if you think the devil himself would try anything like this.”
After they'd heard about it, they would cross themselves and say, “Well—who would ever think that such a little boy would do anything like that!”
“Go on, beat him,” they’d advise him. “God will give you your reward.”
And this advice he heeded and followed to the letter.All my books are in
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