NOT knowing what they are talking about, Señor, many people will tell you that the Street of the Burned Woman got its name because--in the times when the Holy Office was helping the goodness of good people by making things very bad for the bad ones--a woman heretic most properly and satisfactorily was burned there. Such is not in the least the case. The Quemadero of the Inquisition--where such sinners were burned, that their sins might be burned out of them--was nowhere near the Calle de la Quemada: being at the western end of what now is the Alameda, in quite a different part of the town. Therefore it is a mistake to mix these matters: and the real truth is that this beautiful young lady did herself destroy her own beauty by setting fire to it; and she did it because she wanted to do it--that in that way she might settle some doubts which were in her heart. It all happened in the time of the good Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco: and so you will perceive, Señor, that this story is more than three hundred years old.
The name of this beautiful young lady who went to such lengths for her heart's assuring was Doña Beatrice de Espinosa; and the name of her father was Don Gonzalo de Espinosa y Guevra--who was a Spanish rich merchant who came to make himself still richer by his buyings and his sellings in New Spain. Being arrived here, he took up his abode in a fine dwelling in the quarter of San Pablo, in the very street that now is called the Street of the Burned Woman because of what presently happened there; and if that street was called by some other name before that cruel happening I do not know what it was.
Doña Beatrice was as beautiful, Señor, as the full moon and the best of the stars put together; and she was more virtuous than she was beautiful; and she was just twenty years old. Therefore all the young gentlemen of the City immediately fell in love with her; and great numbers of the richest and the noblest of them--their parents, or other suitable persons, making the request for them--asked her father's permission to wed her: so that Doña Beatrice might have had any one of twenty good husbands, had any one of them been to her mind. However--being a lady very particular in the matter of husbands--not one of them was to her liking: wherefore her father did as she wanted him to do and refused them all.
But, on a day, matters went differently. At a great ball given by the Viceroy in the Palace Doña Beatrice found what her heart had been waiting for: and this was a noble Italian young gentleman who instantly--as all the others had done--fell in love with her; and with whom--as she never before had done with anybody--she instantly fell in love. The name of this young gentleman was Don Martín Scipoli; and he was the Marqués de Pinamonte y Frantescello; and he was as handsome as he was lovable, and of a most jealous nature, and as quarrelsome as it was possible for anybody to be. Therefore, as I have said, Señor, Doña Beatrice at once fell in love with him with all the heart of her; and Don Martín at once fell in love with her also: and so violently that his jealousy of all her other lovers set off his quarrelsomeness at such a rate that he did nothing--in his spare time, when he was not making love to Doña Beatrice--but affront and anger them, so that he might have the pleasure of finding them at the point of his sword.
Now Doña Beatrice, Señor, was a young lady of a most delicate nature, and her notions about love were precisely the same as those which are entertained by the lady angels. Therefore Don Martín's continual fightings very much worried her: raising in her heart the dread that so violent a person must be of a coarse and carnal nature; and that, being of such a nature, his love for her came only from his beblindment by the outside beauty of her, and was not--as her own love was--the pure love of soul for soul. Moreover, she was pained by his being led on by his jealousy--for which there was no just occasion--to injure seriously, and even mortally, so many worthy young men.
Therefore Doña Beatrice--after much thinking and a great deal of praying over the matter--made her mind up to destroy her own beauty: that in that way she might put all jealousies out of the question; and at the same time prove to her heart's satisfying that Don Martín's love for her had nothing to do with the outside beauty of her and truly was the pure love of soul for soul.
And Doña Beatrice, Señor, did do that very thing. Her father being gone abroad from his home, and all of the servants of the house being on one excuse or another sent out of it, she brought into her own chamber a brazier filled with burning coals; and this she set beneath an image of the blessed Santa Lucía that she had hung upon the wall to give strength to her in case, in doing herself so cruel an injury, her own strength should fail. Santa Lucía, as you will remember, Señor, with her own hands plucked out her own wonderfully beautiful eyes and sent them on a platter to the young gentleman who had troubled her devotions by telling her that he could not live without them; and with them sent the message that, since she had given him the eyes that he could not live without, he please would let her and her devotions alone. Therefore it was clear that Santa Lucía was the saint best fitted to oversee the matter that Doña Beatrice had in hand.
But in regard to her eyes Doña Beatrice did not precisely pattern herself upon Santa Lucía: knowing that without them she could not see how Don Martín stood the test that she meant to put him to; and, also, very likely remembering that Santa Lucía miraculously got her eyes back again, and got them back even more beautiful than when she lost them: because, you see, they came back filled with the light of heaven--where the angels had been taking care of them until they should be returned. Therefore Doña Beatrice bound a wet handkerchief over her eyes--that she might keep the sight in them to see how Don Martín stood his testing; and, also, that she might spare the angels the inconvenience of caring for them--and then she fanned and fanned the fire in the brazier until the purring of it made her know that the coals were in a fierce blaze. And then, Señor, she plunged her beautiful face down into the very heart of the glowing coals! And it was at that same instant--though Doña Beatrice, of course, did not know about that part of the matter--that the Street of the Burned Woman got its name.
Being managed under the guidance and with the approval of Santa Lucía, the cruelty that this virtuous young lady put upon her own beauty could lead only to a good end. Presently, when the bitter pain of her burning had passed a little, Doña Beatrice bade Don Martín come to her; and he, coming, found her clad in virgin white and wearing over her poor burned face a white veil. And then the test that Doña Beatrice had planned for her heart's assuring was made.
Little by little, Doña Beatrice raised her white veil slowly; and, little by little, Don Martín saw the face of her: and the face of her was more shudderingly hideous--her two beautiful eyes perfectly alight and alive amid that distorted deathliness was what made the shudder of it--than anything that ever he had dreamed of in his very worst dream! Therefore, with a great joy and thankfulness, Don Martín immediately espoused Doña Beatrice: and thence-forward and always--most reasonably ceasing to love the outside beauty of her--gave her, as she wanted him to give her, the pure love of soul for soul.
For myself, Señor, I think that the conduct of that young lady was unreasonable, and that Don Martín had just occasion to be annoyed.