IT IS well known, Señor, that this Mulata of Córdoba, being a very beautiful woman, was in close touch with the devil. She dwelt in Córdoba--the town not far from Vera Cruz, where coffee and very good mangos are grown--and she was born so long ago that the very oldest man now living was not then alive. No one knew who was her father, or who was her mother, or where she came from. So she was called La Mulata de Córdoba--and that was all. One of the wonders of her was that the years passed her without marking her, and she never grew old.
She led a very good life, helping every one who was in trouble, and giving food to the hungry ones; and she dressed in modest clothes simply, and always was most neat and clean. She was a very wicked witch--and beyond that nobody really knew anything about her at all. On the same day, and at the same hour, she would be seen by different people in different places widely apart--as here in the City, and in Córdoba, and elsewhere variously--all in precisely the same moment of time. She also was seen flying through the air, high above the roofs of the houses, with sparks flashing from her black eyes. Moreover, every night the devil visited her: as was known generally, because at night her neighbors observed that through the chinks in the tight-shut doors and windows of her house there shone a bright light--as though all the inside of the house were filled with flames. She went to mass regularly, and at the proper seasons partook of the Sacrament. She disdained everybody; and because of her disdainings it was believed that the master of her beauty was the Lord of Darkness; and that seemed reasonable. Every single one of the young men was mad about her, and she had a train of lovers from which she could pick and choose. All wonders were told of her. She was so powerful, and could work such prodigies, that she was spoken about--just as though she had been the blessed Santa Rita de Cascia--as the Advocate of Impossible Things! Old maids went to her who sought for husbands; poor ladies who longed for jewels and fine dresses that they might go to the court of the Viceroy; miners that they might find silver; old soldiers, set aside for rustiness, to get new commands--so that the saying, "I am not the Mulata of Córdoba!" is the answer when any one asks an impossible favor even now.
How it came about, Señor, no one ever knew. What every one did know was that, on a day, the Mulata was brought from Córdoba here to the City and was cast into the prison of the Holy Office. That was a piece of news that made a stir! Some said that a disdained lover had denounced her to the Inquisition. Others said that the Holy Office had laid hands on her less because she was a witch than because of her great riches--and it was told that when she had been seized ten barrels filled with gold-dust had been seized with her. So talk about the matter was on every tongue.
Many years went by, Señor, and all of that talk was almost forgotten. Then, on a morning, the city was astonished by hearing--no one knew from where--that at the next auto de fé the witch of Córdoba would walk with the unredeemed ones, carrying the flameless green candle and wearing the high bonnet, and would be burned at the burning-place of the Holy Office--it was in front of the church of San Diego, Señor, at the western end of what now is the Alameda--and so would have burned out of her her sins. And before that astonishment was ended, there came another and a greater: when it was told that the witch, before the very eyes of her jailers, had escaped from the prison of the Inquisition and was gone free! All sorts of stories flew about the city. One said, crossing himself, that her friend the devil had helped her to her freedom; another said that Inquisitors also were of flesh and blood, and that she had been freed by her own beauty. Men talked at random--because, neither then nor later, did anybody know what really had happened. But what really did happen, Señor, was this:
On a day, the chief Inquisitor went into the prison of the Mulata that he might reason her to repentance. And, being come into her prison--it was a long and lofty chamber that they had put her into, Señor, not one of the bad small cells--he stopped short in amazement: beholding before him, drawn with charcoal on the wall of the chamber, a great ship that lacked not a single rope nor a single sail nor anything whatever that a ship requires! While he stood gazing at that ship, wondering, the Mulata turned to him and looked strangely at him out of her wicked black eyes, and said in a tone of railing: "Holy Father, what does this ship need to make it perfect?" And to that he answered: "Unhappy woman! It is thou who needest much to make thee perfect, that thou mayest be cleansed of thy sins! As for this ship, it is in all other ways so wholly perfect that it needs only to sail." Then said the Mulata: "That it shall do--and very far!" and there was on her face as she spoke to him a most wicked smile. With astonishment he looked at her, and at the ship. "How can that be possible!" he asked. "In this manner!" she answered--and, as she spoke, she leaped lightly from the floor of the prison to the deck of the ship, up there on the wall, and stood with her hand upon the tiller at the ship's stern.
Then happened, Señor, a very wonderful marvel! Suddenly the sails of the ship filled and bellied out as though a strong wind were blowing; and then, before the eyes of the Inquisitor, the ship went sailing away along the wall of the chamber--the Mulata laughing wickedly as she swung the tiller and steered it upon its course! Slowly it went at first, and then more and more rapidly, until, being come to the wall at the end of the chamber, it sailed right on into and through the solid stone and mortar--the Mulata still laughing wickedly as she stood there steering at the ship's stern! And then the wall closed whole and solid again behind the ship, and only a little echoing sound of that wicked laughter was heard in the chamber--and the ship had vanished, and the Mulata was out of her prison and gone!
The Inquisitor, Señor, who had seen this devil's miracle, immediately lost all his senses and became a madman and was put into a mad-house: where, till death gave peace to him, he raved always of a beautiful woman in a great ship that sailed through stone walls and across the solid land. As for the Mulata, nothing more ever was heard of her. But it was generally known that her master the devil had claimed her for his own.
This story is entirely true, Señor--as is proved by the fact that the Inquisition building, in which all these wonders happened, still is standing. It is the Escuela de Medicina, now.