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THE

LITERARY MAGNET.

FEBRUARY, 1826.

THE MERRY WIVES OF MADRID.

A SPANISH STORY.

We will consent to act any villainy that may not sully the chariness of our honesty.

SHAKESPEARE:

There are four festivals annually observed in Madrid, beside that of St. Anne, the patron Saint of the city; and though Easter in most Catholic countries is celebrated with greater pomp than any other period of rejoicing, in the Spanish capital, the preference is given to these select fast-days, which are variously entitled. The first is St. Blas, which falls on the third of February, the eve of Candlemas day. The second is St. Iago el Verde (or St. James the Green), which is celebrated on the first of May. To these succeeds the eve of St. Juan, commonly called Sotillo, from a little wood of that name at a short distance from the city, in which the populace amuse themselves the early part of the day with dancing and various athletic games.

The fourth is dedicated to Nuestra Senora de los Angelos, (our Lady of the Angels) ; upon which occasion the inhabitants of Madrid resort in great numbers to a small chapel, erected upon the spot where St. Isidor was born,-about a mile from the town, across the great Bridge of Mancanares. After the eve of St. John, there is no holiday celebrated with so much pomp and rejoicing as that of St. Blas, whose church is situated on a plain to the north of Madrid, almost under the walls of the monastery of St. Jerome, and close to the renowned and miraculous shrine of Nuestra Senora de Atocha.

It is customary for the ladies of Madrid to repair to this promenade on the third of February, although the winter is then often in the height of its severity, for the purpose of hailing the return of the sun as he re. traces his progress to the northern tropic; and this practice is described in Spanish by the phrase • Tomar El Sol,' taking the sun; a mode of expression more appropriate than it may appear to such as are not aware that the sun is almost as powerful in those latitudes upon the third of February, as it is in England during the finest day in May. From this rendezvous, there are few persons in the city who would care to absent themselves.

In the beginning of the reign of Phillip the third, there lived in Madrid three married ladies, as much distinguished for their beauty and accomplishments, as for their virtue and their undeviating propriety of conduct. The first of these ladies, whose name was Francesca, was the wife of the steward of a Grandee ; and although her husband was perfectly independent of his employment, there were so many profitable perquisites attached to

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the superintendence of his master's affairs, that he was as unwilling to forego the pleasurable occupation in which he was engaged, as any truant schoolboy could be to take his leave of an orchard before he had plundered it of one-half of its produce. Night and day would he most gladly have passed in his employer's palace; indeed he breakfasted and dined there regularly; and only returned home like the industrious bee when he found himself cumbered with his earnings, and reminded by their weight of the necessity of depositing them in his hive or strong box. Fasts and holidays, which other men devoted to prayer and recreation, were consumed by Anselmo in the examination of accounts, and the recovery of old debts; or in ransacking musty deeds and superannuated parchments. In short Donna Francesca, enjoyed as little of her husband's society as if he had been gathered to his ancestors, and only permitted, like other defunct worthies, to revisit the world after dark.

The second of our distinguished heroines, Senora Clara, was wedded to a person whom the people of Madrid were good humoured and charitable enough to call a painter; in much the same spirit of courtesy that an apothecary in the possession of a dozen gallipots, and a beggarly account of empty boxes,' is sometimes entitled a doctor. Our painter had been employed for more than a month in decorating (that is to say daubing) the high altar of St. Pedro's Monastery; and for what he wanted in skill he certainly made amends to the good Friars who employed him, by diligence; so that Donna Clara saw as little of her knight of the easel, as Francesca did of her indefatigable money-gatherer. It may, however, be proper to mention in this place that the situations of the two ladies, as it respected the relative loss they sustained by the absence of their husbands, were by no means similar; inasmuch as the painter was unquestionably one of the most drunken and debauched vagabonds in the whole city of Madrid, and took an especial care to spend all that he gained during the week in dissolute carousals on Sundays and holidays. On this account, therefore, his unfortunate wife was more to be pitied than Francesca. But the sufferings of neither of these ladies bore any comparison with those of Donna Marina, who although she surpassed them both in personal charms, was tied to a very gouty, jealous, and exceedingly peevish old gentleman of sixtytwo; who having the whole of his time entirely upon his hands, contrived to occupy the greater part of it in tormenting his companion. This illassorted couple lived upon the rent of two houses in the neighbourhood, which were let out in lodgings, and this income, with a trifling addition, furnished by the needle of Marina, (who excelled in embroidering the robes of the grandees), supplied them with a very comfortable maintenance.

A friendly intimacy had subsisted between our · Three Wives' from their earliest years; and it so happened that their husbands were also upon terms of acquaintanceship and civility with each other. Francesca and Clara frequently exchanged visits, but the unfortunate Marina was seldom allowed to associate with her friends, unless her husband accompanied her; and as his presence was never very much coveted she had few opportunities of mixing in society. The husbands, to be sure, met sometimes at the theatre, the tennis-court, or when they were disposed to indulge in the game of arguella, (a game somewhat resembling English bowls), which was at that time extremely fashionable in Spain. On these occasions, as the wives did not, of course, accompany them, they had opportunities of associating with each other, and at such times Marina was accustomed to complain to her companions, with much bitterness, of the persecution she endured from her husband's ridiculous jealousy, which rendered him almost suspicious of the lace upon her cap because it touched her face, and of the wind that blew across the street in which a man was walking. Her two neighbours commiserated her unhappy fate, (without being able to afford her any consolation), and in the true spirit of friendship referred her to time and patience for relief.

At one of these meetings their husbands happening to drop in, they all agreed to pass the evening in harmony together; and before they separated it was settled that they should make a party for the Thursday of the ensuing week, (the feast of St. Blas) and that they should all assemble in the meadows near St. Jerome's monastery, and spend the day in merry-making. The king having signified his intention of repairing in procession to Nuestra Senora de Atocha, it was naturally expected that there would be a great crowd to witness the cavalcade; and it was therefore agreed that they should accompany the royal suite, and then take a pic-nic dinner in the fields. It was not however without much and earnest entreaty that Signor Agraz, the husband of Marina, could be prevailed on to allow his wife to be of the party, and he probably only at length consented, because, as he was inclined to go himself, he was unwilling to trust her to her own discretion at home.

The gala day arrived, and after dinner the ‘Three Wives of Madrid' were extremely busy in discussing the splendour of the dresses of those who formed a part of the king's suite, whilst their husbands were amusing themselves with their favourite game of arguella in a neighbouring garden, when Marina chanced to observe something shining very bright in a pool of water at no great distance from the place where they were sitting.

What can that be,' cried she, that sparkles there so brilliantly ? I declare it quite dazzles me to look at it.'

Why,' rejoined the steward's wife, • I should not be surprised if it were a diamond, for you know the ladies of the court are always walking here, and I dare say it is some jewel that one of them has dropped.'

During this colloquy, the painter's wife, who considered very properly that this was one of those cases in which one pair of hands is worth a dozen tongues, rushed from her seat in considerable haste, and having secured the prize, returned to her companions with a diamond ring of great value and beauty. A sharp contest immediately arose as to the comparative right of the three ladies to the possession of the jewel, which Marina claimed as her property by virtue of original discovery. Francesca was no less positive in asserting her title to the possession of it, on the ground of her having been the first who had been impressed with a conviction of its nature and value; whilst Clara, in addition to the merit of having soiled the fingers of her glove in redeeming it from the puddle, seemed to consider with the well-known maxim, that possession was nine points of the law; and supported in her determination by this very forcible argument, refused to give up the prize which fortune had thus thrown in her way. Their controversy at last grew so violent, that it would certainly have attracted the notice of their husbands, if the painter's wife, who as the depository of the ring was by far the most temperate of the trio, had not interfered.

• Ladies,' said she, “the matter can be adjusted no other way than by selling the diamond, and dividing the proceeds of its sale amongst us ;

and this had better be effected without the knowledge of our husbands, who, if they are aware of our good fortune, will put in their claims to a pretty large share of the money. Now the next question is, in whose custody shall the ring remain until an opportunity presents itself of dis, posing of it to advantage; and if you will give me leave, I will tell you how this part of the business may be managed, I see the Count de Crapesa, our neighbour, walking with some other gentlemen in yonder enclosure. We all know him to be a man of the strictest honour; and if you are agreeable, we will relate to him the circumstances of the case, and appoint him the umpire of our dispute.'

"With all my heart,' said Marina ; but how shall I contrive to explain to him the situation in which I stand, at so short a distance from my husband, who can hear every thing that is said within a mile of him, if the conversation be one to which I am a party.'

Whilst the three ladies were engaged in discussing this knotty point, a cry arose among the by-standers of the king,' the king,' and it was announced that his majesty and his suite were then approaching the gate of Alcala, on their return from the shrine of our Lady of Atocha. Partaking of the general eagerness to meet the procession, the three hus. bands were among the first to join the crowd. This favourable opportụ: nity enabled their spouses to refer their dispute to Count de Crapesa, in whose hands the ring was deposited, with a request that he would award it to her who appeared to him to have the best claim to it, Count de Crapesa, who was a wag, and comprehended the state of the case in a moment, replied very gravely; I doubt, fair ladies, I should have a most difficult task to perform, were I to attempt to discriminate between three persons of such surpassing merit; for were you all at my disposal, I protest, upon my ho, nour, I should not know which of you to choose. However, if you still wish to make me the arbiter, and promise really to abide by my decision, I have a plan to propose, of which I earnestly hope you will approve. It is, that she who within a month of the present time shall contrive to play her husband the best managed and most ingenious trick, consistently, of course, with that honour and propriety of conduct which has hitherto distinguished you, shall receive not only the ring, but also a hundred pis. toles, with which I will increase the premium from my own purse.' Each of our heroines was so confident of her own ingenuity, that no sort of objection was offered to this arrangements and accordingly the Count took his leave, and put the diamond into his pocket. He had not quitted them many minutes when their husbands approached the spot where they were sitting, and as it was now growing late, the whole party returned to the city, where the desire of conquest, and the anxiety to secure the splendid prize in the custody of the Count de Crapesa, exciting the fertile invention of Senora Francesca, she planned the following singular imposture, the operation of which subjected her husband to no trifling portion of annoyance and alarm,

At no great distance from the residence of the steward Anselmo lived an astrologer, who enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most accurate calculators of a nativity in Madrid. Before Francesca's marriage this great personage had, it was reported, been among the number of her admirers; but since her union with Anselmo she had given him no opportu, nity of addressing her. In the present emergency, however, she contrived to renew her acquaintance with him, and finally to secure his

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co-operation and support in the trick she was about to put upon her unsuspecting spouse. The learned cabalist, who would have undertaken to raise Beelzebub for Senora Francesca if she had desired it, readily assured her that all his professional skill should be at her service,

· Well,' said she, the affair in which I stand in need of your assistance is a mere carnival joke. I only want you to persuade my husband that

you have discovered by the appearance of his natal star, that he will infallibly die in twenty-four hours.'

"Say no more, Madam,' replied the astrologer, 'make yourself perfectly easy, and rest assured that Senor Anselmo shall be as dead as a herring in his own opinion before the sun shall rise to-morrow.' He then bade her farewell without making any further inquiries as to her intentions. Her next step was to call upon Senor Agraz, whom she found abundantly willing to enter into any scheme, or act a part in any plot, that savoured of ill-nature and mischief, and who accordingly readily entered into her views, and promised to assist her as far as lay in his power,

The evening was far advanced, when, as the steward was returning from his master's palace to supper, he encountered the astrologer, who had been for some time on the look out for him. Why, Anselmo,' said the man of the stars, what, in the name of heaven, is the matter with you that you look so pale to-night. Are you ill, man ?'

• Ill!' replied Anselmo, certainly not; I never was better in my life. I am somewhat fatigued to be sure, for I have been hard at work all the afternoon counting twenty thousand pistoles worth of silver, but I am well—quite well, I assure you.'

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may be so,' ejaculated the astrologer, “but you have a mighty cadaverous countenance for a man in good health notwithstanding. Allow me to feel your pulse.' Anselmo held out his wrist to his tormentor's grasp, who counted its movements for some time with a rueful and portentous aspect, and then sighing deeply, continued— Had my long and earnest devotion to the divine study of astrology proved of no other service than that of enabling me to warn you of your present danger, I should think my time and trouble well bestowed. This is one of those occasions on which the counsel and sympathy of a sincere friend are positively invaluable. Do not suffer yourself to be needlessly alarmed, my worthy neighbour, but go home, and settle your affairs with all possible expedition; for die you must, and that too before another day shall have dawned over the city of Madrid. Be composed my excellent friend, and employ the few remaining hours of your existence in balancing accounts with your conscience.'

The poor steward, considerably alarmed, though somewhat incredulous as to the extent of the prophecy, forced a faint smile as he replied: 'I am infinitely obliged to you for your prognostic, but if it be not better founded than your meteorological calculations, I am likely to live a good many years yet; for I can swear upon the crucifix that your almanack never foretels a fine day on which (without due precaution) one is not sure of getting wet to the skin.' 'Out upon thee for an unbelieving Jew, cried the teller of stars, you may grin if you please, I have performed my duty, and if his Satanic Majesty should surprise you before you have adjusted your roguish accounts, do not forget to remember that I warned you of his visit,' and having thus spoken the astrologer wished Anselmo a good evening, and turned upon his heel.

The superintendent of money-bags stood stock still for some moments

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