THERE lived once upon a time on the banks of the Tagus a poor shepherd named Juan; and he was as honest as he was poor, and as contented as he was honest. He had just enough wages to buy the coarse meal which supported him and his hard-working wife, Consolacion. A zamarra, or suit of rough sheepskin, which served to keep out the cold for several years together, was afforded him from the flock, and with weaving and knitting Consolacion provided the rest of their scanty wardrobe.
Now Juan had a large flock confided to his care, and his master reposed entire trust in him; but if he never had the provocation of being looked after, neither had he ever the satisfaction of being praised. Yet, notwithstanding this lack of all earthly stimulus, Juan was always faithful to his trust: no sheep ever strayed that he did not seek out over the barren waste and the steep mountain-side; no little lamb was ever left by any sad accident without its dam, but he brought it home to Consolacion, and the honest pair reared it as tenderly as if it had been their own infant.
But if Juan's master neglected to commend his integrity, there was One who did not forget him, but kept a just account of all his actions. Thus it chanced one day, when after a long drought the herbage was dried up, and he had had endless trouble in keeping his flock together, as the poor things would wander hither and thither while seeking pasture, that at last he got led away far from home, along a wild path he had never trodden before, and the country all around him looked strange, and yet there was the track of his runaway sheep before him, and on and on he went. The way was sandy, and the sun was fierce, and at last his strength failed him; footsore and dispirited he sank down at the foot of a tree, whose shelter he vainly sought, as its foliage had long been burnt up by the parching sun, and only the bleached trunk and thirsty branches remained. Half maddened with thirst and heat, he fell into a sort of trance, and he thought he saw an ancient hermit of severe aspect standing before him, who chid him that he lay there taking his rest while his master's sheep were astray, calling him only a zagal (or shepherd's helper).
Juan did not lose his temper at the reprimand, but meekly begged forgiveness, and endeavoured to rise that he might get him upon his way again. His strength failed him, however, and he sank once more upon the ground. Then, in the place of the hermit, he saw before him a beautiful child with a shepherd's crook in his hand, and carrying a lamb in his bosom, who told him to be comforted, for he had found his sheep, and fed them, and led them safely home to the fold. He commended too his faithful service, and told him that he was come to offer him a reward, and gave him the choice of three. The first was a large sum of money, with which he could go down to one of the rich seaports of Spain and trade. The second was a grand castle in the mountains, where he would have ease and luxury and plenty of retainers to do his bidding. The third was to retain his present humble condition, while to his hearth was added the presence of a gentle daughter.
Then honest Juan did not hesitate which to choose. "Give me not money," said he, "for money begets covetousness, and codicia rompe el saco . Give me not power, for I was not born to it, and the proverb of our forefathers says, A fallen rich man may make a good master, but not an enriched poor man (Sierve á un rico empobrecido y no á un pobre enriquecido). But give me--oh, give me a child to love me in my old age! I am but a poor, worthless servant to ask this thing--nevertheless, it is the bounty of God."
When Juan woke to consciousness, the great heat of the day had passed away, and his shaggy dog was licking his face, as if to warn him that he had but little time to get home before dark. Trusting to the animal's sagacity for guidance, he soon found his way home, where the sheep were safely folded, as the beautiful shepherd-child had promised, and Consolacion was waiting on the threshold of the hut, to welcome him home to supper.
To his other virtues Juan added humility, and, indeed, without it they would have been of little value; and it seemed so much like vanity to talk of his vision that he never mentioned a word of it, till it slipped off his tongue unawares years after. Nevertheless, before a twelvemonth was out, a dear little baby was found in Consolacion's arms, completing their simple happiness.
Juanita (little Janey)--so they called her--was beautiful as a child of promise should be, but her chief glory was the rich profusion of waving hair which covered her like a veil, and rested gracefully on the ground as she knelt in prayer. She grew up the joy of her parents, and being very docile soon learnt all the domestic arts of her mother, and was never so happy as when she was relieving her of her household cares. If they had any thing to complain of with her it was that she had quite a passion for admiring her beautiful hair; and when she was sent to the fountain she would sometimes waste hours looking at herself, and arranging it according to various fancies. But when her mother looked grave on her return, it was quite sufficient to keep her from offending so again for many days.
Thus many years of tranquil, homely joy passed away. Peace and gladness is not of long continuance in this world for the good, and Juan's time of trouble was at hand. First, it pleased Providence to take Consolacion to Himself; then, as a result of much weeping over her, and his great privations and long exposure to sun and weather, his eyes grew dim, and then his sight failed him entirely. Then the old dog, by whose help he still managed to keep the sheep together, in spite of his blindness, died too; and he was of no use any longer as a shepherd, and he had nothing left to him but Juanita. Juanita, it is true, fulfilled all a daughter's part, and by her industry supported him above actual want.
But her little head was always running on how his sight could be regained; and one day she revealed the result of her cogitations. "Father dear, do not all the wise people live in great cities? Let us now get us down to prosperous Segovia, or noble Toledo, or beautiful Sevilla, and let us find some of the cunning men to heal of whom we have heard, and get you back your sight."
But Juan lacked the courage to undertake so great a journey and expose his little daughter to all the attendant risks by the way; and he was a man of great patience to endure what the Lord sent; and so they remained in the mountain-hut for five years more. By that time Juanita was fifteen, and quite a little woman, and her advice began to have the weight of a woman's authority with her father, and at last she got him to consent to her often-urged prayer that they should journey to seek a doctor.
Juanita's ears had been ever open to learn every story of healing from every traveller who chanced to pass their cot, and in this way she had learnt the fame of a certain Jew mediciner, who dwelt at Toledo, and to Toledo therefore she was bent on directing their steps.
A beautiful sight it was to see the venerable old man leaning his hand, withered with honest labour, on the silken tresses of his courageous child. The way was long, but there was no lack of hospitality; the admiration of the peasants they passed was every where kindled by Juan's patience and Juanita's devotion, and a bite and a sup never failed them. At last they came to Toledo; and in a great city it was not so easy to find shelter, but God warmed to them the heart of an old woman who had herself suffered and learnt compassion by suffering; she gave them a bed, and Juanita's busy fingers, before long, provided means of subsistence.
Her next care was to make out the Hebrew doctor, which was not of the easiest, as those of his race were scarcely tolerated, and did not care to make themselves ostensible. However, a daughter's love overcomes all obstacles, and at last she found the means to bring her father before the wise man. Imagine her joy, when after all her labours, he pronounces with confidence that he can restore her father's sight! For a moment of joy, a twelve-month of anxiety, however. In another minute she has learnt that he demands 500 maravedis for the cure!
"Abate something for charity? What! charity to a dog of a Christian! Why, it was enough that he soiled his fingers with healing him, but to forego his pitiful fee too,--never! by the Holy City, never!"
Juanita could speak no word more for tears. In silence she placed her father's hand on her glittering hair, and in sadness guided his weak footsteps back to their poor shelter.
Hard work it had been to provide subsistence for them both, and to make a little extra to have something to offer to the lone widow, who had taken them in--but how hope ever to make up 500 maravedis? If in the first days of their arrival she had wasted some precious hours over her old favourite pastime of arranging her luxuriant tresses, and had taken pleasure when people called out in admiration--all that was gone by now. She sat at her little loom, work, work, work!--she never took her hands off, never lifted her eyes, never even saw that the barber who lived opposite was constantly gazing upon her. The only thing to cheer her was the placid voice of Juan, who would continually bid her be of good comfort and put her trust in God.
One day, in the midst of her toil, there came a messenger from the Corregidor of the city. His aunt had died that day, and as she died unmarried, a procession of girls equal in number to the years of her life must follow her to the grave, draped in white. She numbered eighty years, and Juanita was required to make up the eightieth attendant. Juanita could not say "Nay," even though it cost her such precious hours.
When she came into the hall where the mourners were assembled she found to her no slight disgust that the dress she had to wear consisted in part of a great white hood. It was hard, on the only day she suffered herself to part from her work, to have to cover up her glorious hair! At all events, till the procession began to move she would throw it back. She did so, and it made her look the picture of an angel, as it fell in rich curls over the white dress. At the same moment the Corregidor's wife passed through the hall. Though younger than her defunct sister-in-law she had arrived at that age when nature sometimes thinks it right to withdraw her gift of hair, and sorely did she lament the loss. For a long time past she had left an order with a clever barber of the city to manufacture her a wig which should make good the defect, and he was to swear it was no dead person's hair. She had a superstition that in wearing the hair of a dead person, you assumed the responsibility of all their sins, and, the good lady being sufficiently satisfied with her own position in the scale of grace, had no desire to run the risk of getting a worse one, even for the sake of the coveted wig. But a wig made of the hair of a living person was not an order easy to execute. The moment her eyes fell on Juanita's magnificent cabellera (head of hair) she determined that it should not be long before it should decorate her own head.
Accordingly, she hastened to call the Corregidor aside and assure him he must procure it for her. The Corregidor knowing the attachment a maiden was likely to have for such an adornment, endeavoured to convince her of the impossibility of the task. All was of no use, save to render her more resolute. The Corregidor knew that in disputes with his wife he always had to give in at last, and so, to pacify her, promised he would do his best, and to satisfy her that he did so the interview was arranged to take place in her presence.
The funeral was no sooner over than the Corregidor beckoned Juanita to follow him into his wife's room.
Poor little Juanita never thought of resisting an order from so great a functionary, but tripped along lightly behind him.
What was her surprise to find herself severely chid for wasting the time she might spend in working for her father in the vanity of decking out her hair! Juanita did not grow angry, or deny her fault, but could not forbear asking, with great simplicity, "Was it her fault if God had given her a great mass of hair to comb out?"
"Not your fault at all, my dear child," said the Corregidor, much relieved to find she took his admonitions so meekly. "Not your fault at all, so long as you keep it on your head; but you might cut it all off."
"Cut it off!" repeated poor Juanita, mechanically; "what would be the use of that?"
"Why, you might sell it, child. I myself would give you fifty maravedis for it."
"Give me fifty maravedis for it!" exclaimed the child, wondering what he could possibly want it for.
The Corregidor, fancying her surprise was dictated by indignation at the smallness of his offer, and incited by a gesture from his wife, impatient lest she should lose the prize, hastened to reply, "Well, if that does not content you, I'll give you 100 maravedis."
But Juanita's astonishment only increased; so she stared at him instead of answering.
"I'd even say 150," continued the Corregidor.
But Juanita only looked the more surprised. And so they went on, his anxiety bidding against her bewilderment, till at last he got up to 500 maravedis!
"500 maravedis!" echoed the child, as if waking from a trance at the words which brought back to memory the fee required to restore her father's sight. "Oh, yes! give me 500 maravedis, it is all yours at that!" And then the thought of her great loss made her burst into a flood of tears. It was a thought which for a moment almost overpowered her strong sense of filial piety, and in the depth of her little heart she half wished the Corregidor would repent of his bargain. But no such luck; at her first sign of yielding the lady had run off to fetch her largest scissors, and in a trice she had begun shearing at the glittering spoil. Down the bright silken masses fell on the snowy drapery, and beside them fell the child's pearly tears over her lost treasure. At last the sacrifice was complete; and poor Juanita stood in the midst of the ruin more dead than alive.
Then the Corregidor counted into her lap the promised sum, and the reckoning once more woke a sensation of joy. Wrapping her hood close round her, Juanita lost not a moment in flying to conduct her father to the house of the Jew.
Her thoughts were now entirely fixed on the moment of his restoration, but even this thought was embittered by the reflection that his one reason for desiring to have his sight back was to look on her--and she was no longer what she had been!
The strange alteration in her appearance soon got whispered about among the neighbours; and she got so much stared at that she never ventured into the street but when forced by sheer necessity, and then she ran along, looking neither to the right hand nor the left, and not even perceiving how considerately her opposite neighbour the barber followed her steps, and defended her from the rudeness of the street boys.
At last her father's tedious cure was completed, and she was admitted to see him. Some one had, unperceived by her, followed her respectfully all the way, ready to protect her at all hazards. In the zaguan (sort of vestibule) of the Jew's house this faithful follower confronted her, and she recognized the gallant barber at once. Gently pushing back her hood he substituted another covering for her head. Juanita put up her hand, and, to her surprise, found it tangled in the masses of her own rich hair! She stroked it with both hands, and found it all there, just as if by enchantment. Finding her dumb with astonishment, the barber hastened to explain that the wife of the Corregidor having sent the hair to him to make up, he had resolved no one should wear it but herself, and for the Corregidora he had put together the best match he could from the store he kept by him for such purposes. They were now interrupted by a summons from the Jew, who was ready to remove Juan's bandages. They no sooner reached the room where he was, than he ran and clasped Juanita in his arms, exclaiming, "God be praised that I can see you, my child--a few years' blindness are well repaid when it is reserved to one to see such a daughter as you!" Then, perceiving the barber, he embraced him too, and said, "God be praised for my sight! since I can now work for my living again, and repay you, my benefactor, for well I know, though I would never tell Juanita to increase her burden, that it is you who have paid the rent of our lodging all this time! My son, my dear son, what can I do for you?"
"There is one thing, father, you can do for me--one only thing, but it is too great to ask!"
"Nothing is too great to-day--ask away, boy, never fear!" The barber looked towards Juanita to gain courage, and, seeing her approving smile, fell on his knees and begged Juan to let him marry her. "With all my heart, if the wench so will," replied the old man; "I cannot see her wedded to an honester fellow!" Juan was not slow to read in her eyes what her sentiments were, and so, without more ado, he took the hand of each to place them in one another. But both drew back. The barber, with all his charity and delicacy and taste, was very ugly, and he could not believe in his good fortune; and Juanita had one condition to lay down first. "How now! what's this?" said the father. "Come, friend barber, explain yourself."
"Well, sir, I think it is but fair to give Juanita time to consider it all. I know I'm not so good-looking as her husband ought to be. Long ago should I have told her how I loved her but for this--but I dared not! I longed to offer the 500 maravedis over and over again, but I dared not speak to her; and now the joy is all so strange I feel I must not hurry her."
"Well spoken, young man! but, Juanita, what do you hang back for?"
"I--I have one little condition to make;" and she turned to the barber. "I have been thinking that we have not acted quite honestly with the Corregidora. She has a superstition against wearing dead people's hair, and she has paid honourably for that of a living person--so what she has bought must be taken back to her. Moreover, I recognize that all my life this hair has been a snare to me, and whenever I have been led from the path of duty it has been by its means--so I am resolved never to wear it again, and to be known in future by no other name but that of Juanita the Bald! What say you, are you content to marry me now?" The honest barber--perhaps on the whole not very sorry for a stipulation which put them somewhat nearer on a condition of equality in regard to personal appearance--only answered by clasping her in his embrace.
"What! what is all this," fell in the old man, "about hair and the Corregidora, and Juanita the--the Bald!--eh?" Then the barber was obliged to explain to him the sacrifice Juanita had made, first to obtain his cure, and again to her sense of honour, and her delicacy of conscience. The old man was quite unnerved by the recital. At first he was determined to resist her resolution; but his own mind was too well regulated not to acknowledge on reflection that she had chosen the good part.
Then, after blessing solemnly, both her and her betrothed, he exclaimed, "Did I not choose rightly from among the three gifts?" (in his humility he would not say rewards). "If I had chosen riches, they would have burst the bag and run away. And if I had chosen power, my retainers would have mocked my want of knowledge, and forsaken me. But a daughter's love--what can compare with it?"