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Author: Fernando de Rojas

Translator: Peter Bush   Cover design: Marie Lane   Cover illustration: Pablo Picasso  

Pármeno, while they’re gone, you’ve a chance to find out how fond I am of you, though you don’t deserve it. You don’t because of what you just said, which I won’t repeat now, because virtue tells us to curb our rancour and not demand an eye for an eye. Particularly when tested by young lads who are innocent in the ways of the world and loyal to the point of stupidity, and bring ruin on themselves and their masters, like you now with Calisto. I heard you loud and clear and don’t think I’ve gone hard of hearing or lost any other of my senses in my dotage. I know too well what I see, hear and learn, and my mind’s eye cuts even more sharply to the quick. You know Calisto’s lovesick, Pármeno. You’ve no reason to carp at him for turning morose. Love’s sweeps all before it. You ought to know that, if you don’t already. There are only two conclusions to be drawn. Firstly, that man has no choice but to love woman and woman no choice but to love man. Secondly, that a man in love is driven mad by the sweet throb that our Maker put in place to make sure we propagate. And not just human beings, but fish, animals, birds and snakes, and in the vegetable kingdom plants so inclined are set close together with nothing in between, because herbalists and farmers have decided they too have their males and females. What do you say to that, Pármeno? You little innocent abroad, you pearl among the swine, my simple Simon, my lickle wet behind the ears! Ooh, is my little terrier going to bite? Come here, you horny hobbledehoy, you know nothing of the world and its pleasures. Damned if I’m going to let you get me hot and bothered at your age! Your voice’s broke, your chin’s stubbly and I bet the thing at the bottom of your belly is stiff and twitching.”
‘Like a scorpion’s,’ retorted the young lad.
‘And that’s not the half of it. A scorpion’s bite doesn’t swell, and yours will swell a lass for nine months.’
‘Ha, ha, ha.’
‘You think that funny, you weevil?’
‘You be quiet, Celestina, and don’t swear at me. And don’t think I’m green just because I’m very young. I like Calisto because I owe him loyalty. He’s nourished, helped and honoured me and treated me fine and that’s a strong chain to bind a loving servant to his master. All else pits the one against the other. I can see he’s lost his senses. Longing for what you’ve no hope of getting is to take the road to Hell. Particularly if you think you’ll get a slice of the cake by following the scurvy advice and stupid logic of that rogue Sempronio. You might as well take a spade to a mange mite. It’s too much for me. Just telling you makes me weep.’
‘Pármeno, can’t you see only a stupid fool would weep over what tears can’t remedy?’
‘That’s why I’m crying, for if tears could cure my master, pleasure at my eventual success would be so immense I wouldn’t be able to cry for joy. But now I’ve lost all hope and energy and can only cry.
‘There’s no point crying. Your tears make no odds and don’t think you are going to cure him. You know he’s not the first person to be smitten like this, don’t you, Pármeno?’
‘Yes, but I don’t want my master sorrowing and falling sick.’
‘He won’t, but even if he did, there is a cure.’
‘I don’t understand what you’re saying. Actions are better than hot air when good is at stake, and potential evil has its virtues. It is better to be healthy than potentially healthy, and better be potentially sick than sick in life.’
‘You ignorant bastard, what do you mean by all that blather! Can’t you see why he’s sick? What have you been getting at? What’s your gripe? Well, you can mock and think what’s true is untrue. In fact, you can think what you like, because he is ill and his potential cure lies in the hands of this skinny old woman.’
‘This skinny old whore you mean!’
‘Your days are numbered, you rascal! How dare you?’
‘Because I know you for who you are.’
‘And who might you be?’
‘Who? I’m Pármeno, son of Alberto, a former colleague of yours. I briefly lived in this town when my mother put me into your care and you lived in the house on the road by the river near the tanneries.’
‘Jesus wept! So you’re Pármeno, Claudina’s son?’
‘Yes, I am. Bless the Lord!’
‘Well, you can burn in hell, for your mother was as much an old whore as I am. So why do you persecute me so, lickle Pármeno? Yes, I can see it’s you. It is you, for heaven’s sake! Come here, love, I slapped and tickled you a thousand times and gave you as many kisses. Do you remember when you used to sleep by my feet, you madcap?’
‘Yes, I do. Sometimes, though I was a child, you got into my bed and hugged me tight, and I ran away because you smelled so rank.’
‘I hope you bleed to death! How easily that slips off your tongue! Forget the jokes and backchat, my boy, and listen to me. I may have come here on another errand, and acted as if I’d just cottoned on, but you are the real reason why I’m here. Son, you know how your mother, may she rest in peace, gave you to me when your father was still alive, and, when you left me, he died in despair, anguishing about your life and whereabouts. Your absence made his last years quite miserable. And when he was at death’s door, he sent for me and secretly entrusted me with his legacy to you. He told me as his only witness that He who watches all our acts and thoughts and scrutinises all hearts and feelings was witness to his plea that I should search you out and shelter you, and that when you came of age and were old enough to look after yourself, I should tell you where he’d locked up a treasure of gold and silver that surpasses the income of your master Calisto.
Because I promised him and my promise meant he could go and rest in peace and because it’s more important to honour a pledge to the dead who can’t help themselves than any pledge to the living, I’ve spent time and money galore trying to hunt you down until He the all caring, who grants righteous requests and guides pious works, willed you to make your own way here where I discovered you’d fetched up only three days ago. Naturally, I’m sorry you’ve had to roam far and wide, and have made no gain, friends or relatives because as Seneca put it so beautifully, “Vagabonds enjoy many taverns and few friends”. You’ll need a few days to make friends. The man who’s everywhere is nowhere and a body reaps no benefit from its food when it eats on the hoof, and nothing could be worse for your health than a continual change of diet. A wound never heals that sees too many medicines. A plant never prospers if it’s always being transplanted, and nothing grows like something settled in one place.
So, my son, abandon your impetuous youth and follow the commonsense your elders teach. Settle down. And where better than following the good counsel of the woman your parents entrusted you to? I can then tell you, as your true mother, under threat from oaths your parents swore on your behalf if you disobeyed me, that you will suffer and serve this master you’ve got yourself until you receive further advice from me on the matter. Don’t go on being ridiculously loyal trying to build on quick sands like the gentlemen of today. Get yourself some lasting friends and stick with them. Get some sense into your head and forget the empty promises of the gentry who break their servants’ backs with hollow pledges. They are the bloodsuckers, ungrateful, rude leeches who ignore services received and never reward them.
Pity those who grow old in palaces! Like the spa pool where only one was healed of the hundred who dived in. It’s also a fact that the gentry of today go to rack and ruin more quickly than their own servants. These folk should see through them. Gifts, generosity, noble acts are things of the past. These fine men only enslave while prospering at the expense of their own. Well, servants should follow suit, even if it’s on a lesser scale, and look after number one. I say this, Pármeno my boy, because I think this master of yours is selfish and on the make. He wants to use everyone and give nothing back. Think it over and believe what I say. Make friends at your own level for that’s the best gift in the world. You can’t hope to be Calisto’s friend because that rarely happens when there’s such a difference in rank. We all now have a chance to prosper, as you know, and you can escape your present plight. My advice is most timely and you’ll get a lot from being friends with Sempronio.’
‘Celestina, I shake just to hear you. I don’t know what I should do. I can’t decide. On the one hand, you sound like my mother; on the other, Calisto is my master. I want to be rich but people who climb roughshod to the room at the top tumble back down quick enough. I don’t want any ill-gotten gains.’
‘Well, I do. All’s fair in love and war.’
‘Celestina, I couldn’t be happy like that. I think cheerful poverty is the only honest policy. What’s more the poor aren’t people who’ve got nothing but those who aspire to a lot. You can keep on that tack, but I’m not going to follow your advice. I want to live without backbiting: tough times but no fear, sleep without nasty shocks, insults I can counter, muscle that can’t be sapped and hard knocks I can stand.’
‘My son, it’s not for nothing that people say wisdom comes with old age. You are very, very green.’
‘Honest poverty is the only safe path.’
‘Grow up: who dares, wins. Besides who in this land ever gets to be rich without a helping hand from a friend? For God’s sake, if you have wealth, don’t you see you need friends if you want to hang on to it? And don’t think your special relationship with this gentleman makes you secure. The bigger the fortune, the rockier it is, and that’s why you need friends to survive the perils. And where better to find such shelter than where the three sides of friendship converge, namely, wealth, profit and pleasure? In terms of wealth, look how Sempronio is after the same as you and how you and he have similar qualities. As for profit, it’s already in the bag if you both put your minds to it. And as for pleasure, you’re level-pegging, for you’re of an age to enjoy every kind of thrill, because you young people get together more than us grannies and you like to play, dress up, have fun, eat and drink, and plan your love lives together. If only you’d make your mind up, what bliss lies around the corner! Sempronio’s in love with Elicia, Areúsa’s cousin.’
‘Areúsa’s cousin?’
‘You heard me.’
‘Areúsa, Eliso’s daughter?’
‘Areúsa, Eliso’s daughter?’
‘Don’t you think?’
‘It couldn’t be better.’
‘Well, if you want happiness, I’m the person to give it to you.’
‘I swear, mother, I don’t know who to believe.’
‘It’s silly to believe everyone and wrong to believe no one.’
‘I mean, Celestina, that I believe you, but I don’t dare take that path. Just let me be.’
‘You’re so small-minded. It’s a sick man who refuses to look riches in the face. God gives peas to people on their knees. You simpleton, do you really think it’s clever to be poor, and that erring on the safe side is the road to pleasure.’
‘Celestina, my elders always told me a single act of lust or greed does a lot of harm and a fellow should keep company with people who can improve him and avoid any he might think he could improve. Sempronio’s not going to make me better and I’ll never curb his love of vice. I’m inclined to do what you say, but only mentally: that way, my acts won’t reflect the ways of a sinner. If a man acts immorally, driven by the pleasures of the flesh, at least let his reputation stay intact.’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no joy to be had from the flesh if you can’t share and tell. Don’t get all prickly, because nature shuns the sullen and goes for pleasure. Pleasure in sensual things comes with friends you can tell about your lovemaking: “I did this. She said that. We told such and such a joke. I took her like this. I kissed her thus. She bit me so; I hugged her thus. She lay with me so. What a licker, what a repertoire, what foreplay, what smackers! Let’s go, come back, play some music, talk mucky, sing songs, tell tall stories. What should we draw on the wall? You heard the gossip? She goes to mass, will be out and about tomorrow. Let’s prowl up her street, look her house out, go at night. You hold the ladder and wait by her door. How’d you get on? The cuckold got what was coming to him. He never went near her. Do it again. Let’s go back.” You tell me, Pármeno, where’s the fun without friends? I know what I’m talking about. This is what you call real pleasure: all else is what donkeys get up to in their field.’


RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 219

Publication date: 18.06.2009

ISBN numbers:
978 1 903517 67 3
978 1 907650 93 2

Dedalus World English
US rights sold to Penguin USA