Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional | Annotated Tale

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“Where One Can Dine, Two Can Dine”

IN THE days when our Lord walked on earth, it happened that one night He and St. Peter found themselves far from any city or village, on a bleak and desolate plain. Weary and footsore, it was with great delight St. Peter descried at last a light from a woodman's cot. "Lord, let us rest here, let us pass the night under this shelter," said St. Peter.

               They knocked at the woodman's door; he was a good-hearted old man, and he welcomed the belated travellers with no grudging greeting. He heaped up the dry fagots and made the hut shine like a gilded palace with that brilliant blaze which no wood throws out like that of the olive-root; and such humble fare as he had he set before them without stint.

               The bleak wind moaned without, through the lofty alcornóques [1], and rattled the ill-fitting door. But presently, above the moaning of the wind and the clatter of the planks, they heard a hand knocking outside. The woodman opened, and was rather taken aback to find two more wayfarers at the door. "Never mind," said St. Peter, "it's only some of our people, it's all right, 'Where one can dine, two can dine.'" [2] A little embarrassed, the woodman scratched his head, as he thought of the slenderness of his stores, but made no opposition, and the strangers passed in. The wind moaned on, and another knocking came. The woodman opened, and found two more guests standing without. St. Peter, who had fancied he heard the soft voice of St. John murmuring a favourite canticle as he passed, rose to see who it was, and soon recognized the waving hair of gold of the youngest Apostle. "All right," said St. Peter, "let them in, they belong to our party too, 'Where one can dine, two can dine.'" The woodman, more and more puzzled, stood by and let them pass. He had hardly sat down when another knock was heard above the storm. With his habitual readiness, the woodman opened, and found two more strangers begging admittance. St. Peter, who seemed to have a natural aptitude for the office of doorkeeper, once more encouraged him to let them in, assuring him they all belonged to the same party; and after another knock, the number of the Apostolic college was complete.

               The woodman looked wistfully at the empty table. He was the most hospitable of woodmen, and gave his last crumb without a grudge; but he was aghast at the thought that for the thirteen guests who had honoured his roof, there was not sufficient to help round; and he slunk away quite ashamed at the apparent but unavoidable stint.

               Then He who first came in with St. Peter, rose and gave thanks, then broke the bread and passed it round, and called on the woodman to come and take his place among them. With fear and trembling the woodman sat down, and with fear and trembling he saw his few barley-loaves and his few grapes and fruits pass round and round till all were filled, and there remained over and above to them that had eaten a larger provision than he had ever seen under his roof before; but he durst not ask who was his guest, knowing it must be the Lord.

               Then they lay down and slept, each wrapped in his travelling mantle, and in the blaze of the olive-root fire. In the morning when they rose to depart, the woodman, alarmed at what he had seen the night before, durst not ask them whither they went, but let them depart in silence. St. Peter, however, remained behind, and after thanking him for his hospitality, told him to ask what boon he would, and he would grant it. The woodman was a man of few wants, and after he had thought a minute, he answered that he was content with his humble lot; he did not want it changed. His only amusement was now and then a game at cards, when the season of wood-felling or any other chance brought an accession of companions to his hut for a few nights; and it would be a pleasure if he might always win whenever he played.

               St. Peter looked grave; he did not much like giving an encouragement to card-playing; but then he considered the poor fellow's irreproachable character, his life of privations, and moreover his own unconditioned promise to grant his request, and finally, that each success, while it would do no harm to the well-regulated old man, would serve as a discouragement to all the other players; so he ended by giving his consent, only reserving one condition, that he should never play for stakes sufficiently high to injure his companions; and then hasted on to join the rest of his party, who had made some way while he was parleying.

               "'Fortune is certainly for those to whom she comes,'" moralized the woodman when he was left alone, "'and not for those who seek her [3].' How many are there who would have given their ears for such a chance as I have had to-day; and it is given to me, who, being already gifted with content, want for nothing!"

               Time passed on, and the woodman, being a just man, never abused the favour he had received, which however served, by the satisfaction which success always confers, to cheer his solitary life. At last the time came when the measure of his days was full; and resigning his spirit to the care of his Lord, it was carried by his angel to the realms above.

               Now, all through his life it had rankled in his mind that he might have made a better and less selfish use of the gift St. Peter had bestowed on him, when now, for the first time, it occurred to him how to apply it. Then he turned to his angel, and begged him to stop on his way, at the bedside of the first poor dying man they passed whose soul was most in danger of being lost. The angel, who descried some charitable design in the request, bore him to a room in a great city where an escribano [4] lay at the last gasp. The demon of avarice sat on his pillow, straining to clutch the passing soul, while his young son and a clergyman knelt beside him, entreating him to be reconciled to God. "Caramba!" exclaimed the woodman, "surely, our Lord died for all, without even excluding escribanos!" As the good angel hovered over the bed, a gentle sleep fell on the dying man, and the demon relaxed his watch.

               "Come, now," said the woodman, "you can't do any thing while the man's asleep, let's have a game at cards to wile away the time." "Agreed," said the demon, for cards being invented by his crew, he thought himself safe to win; "but how shall we manage about the stakes? You see you've had to leave your pocket behind you, so how will you pay me?" "I'll stake you something better than money," replied the woodman. "What say you to staking my soul, which is on its way to glory, against this escribano's soul, of which at best you are only three parts sure?" "All right," said the demon, who thought it one of the best chances he had ever had.

               The woodman let him cut and shuffle and play what tricks he liked with the pack, secure of his success; and in less than half an hour his triumph was secure. The demon could not believe his eyes, but could not, either, deny his defeat; so, putting his tail between his legs, he laid his ears back [5] and disappeared through the floor, quite ashamed of himself.

               While this was going on, the escribano had awoke from his refreshing sleep; freed from the solicitations of the demon of avarice, he no longer refused the ministrations of the minister of the Church, but had expressed his contrition for the sins of the past, and was ready to depart in peace with God and all the world.

               When the woodman arrived at the gate of Paradise, accompanied by the soul of the escribano, St. Peter called out, "Who goes there?" "I, of the hut on the bleak moor," replied the woodman.

               "Yes, you I know," replied St. Peter; "but you don't come alone--who is that black soul with you?"

               "No, Señor, I don't come alone, because I thought God loved to see men in good fellowship. This poor soul is only black because, being an escribano, some of his ink has stuck to him."

               "There's no admittance here for escribanos," replied St. Peter, "so creep in alone."

               "Nay, Señor; but I said not so when you came to my hut on the bleak moor and brought other twelve with you. Doesn't 'Where one can dine, two can dine,' hold good here also?"

               St. Peter could not say nay, so he turned his back while the woodman took up the soul of the escribano on his shoulders and crept in under the shade of the eternal groves.



[1] Cork-trees.

[2] “Un convidado convida a ciento.”

[3] “La fortuna es por quien la encuentra y no por quien la busca.”

[4] A kind of notary or attorney, who is spoken of in the popular language of Spain with as much abhorrence as the “publican” in the Gospel.

[5] Agachó las orejas—a metaphor which readily suggests itself in a country where donkeys and mules are so much in use.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: “Where One Can Dine, Two Can Dine”
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Book Title: Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1870
Country of Origin: Spain
Classification: unclassified

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