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Familiar Moves-B

Then knots of swirling, flitting movements formed on the dark stage as specters joined with each other, showing that the distinction between the sexes still existed within the realm of the dead. Now that eyes had become accustomed to the darkness you could see how men and women stepped out in pairs and then began a circular dance of phantoms winding around between the tombstones.

Even though all the onlookers knew that their own colleagues had discussed, put together and practiced this, and even if they thought they recognized someone beneath the ghostly wrappings, they were still transported into a very strange mood, an unprecedented excitement of the nerves.

Some trick of the beer caused a wild tension to come over the students, which you could sense as frivolous, without being able to tell its origin. This mixture of gruesome and grotesque was repulsive and compelling, fearful and as spellbinding as a look into an abyss. These young people, whose youth and profession brought daily encounters with death and to whom death was unavoidable, felt this dance of the dead, this play of putrefaction, was somehow a challenge; and somewhere in the back of their minds the will to live, to light and to health set itself against the dark influence of this scene.

Meanwhile the dance on the stage progressed, the couples uniting and separating, linking into a chain, forming themselves into a ball that quickly circled around itself, while a whitish-blue light, the phosphorous glow of decay, radiated out at them from the stage and the phantoms appeared to dance faster.

The performance sought to be loyal to Goethe’s poem, and there was something sharply familiar in the movements, some evil intention, something puppet like and angular, as if they really were fleshless limbs dancing.

At the beginning of this performance Herbert Ostermann felt a dull, hollow feeling arising, as if streaming from a storehouse into his body under great pressure, a kind of rage that incited him to jump up and do something foolish to stop the increasing tension. It shot through his head to beat on the table, smash a beer glass on the floor or simply scream with a wide open mouth, “Stop!”

But lightning quick, even as he considered these possibilities; he already felt how the angry outrage left his body, poured out and faded away, leaving him limp and powerless, exhausted and empty, exposed and defenseless against some unformed terror. And then it came to him, slinking from out of the void like a slimy, heavy fluid, rising up to the wall of his “I”, to the foundation of his world, a terror and fear of these wrapped things. A distant part of his consciousness was extinguished in this flood, went under, while another self rose up from it like an island, foul and glowing with an unnatural light.

He sat there, one hand cramped around a beer glass, the other on his knee, balled into a fist, with a distended face, from which his eyeballs appeared swollen from out of their place. That which was dancing around on the stage was an abscess of decay, clotted blood of the grave, stained with the slime of death. Didn’t anyone but him feel these dark, singeing rays that went out from this dance, an invisible, malignant radiation from some metal or stone perhaps; a corrosive excretion from the dance that ate through flesh and bone until it entered into the very soul? Couldn’t anyone sense how the poisonous pyorrhea ulcer raced around to seize and destroy the entire person?

While the horror sucked Herbert in, it suddenly seemed to him as if there was something familiar in the movements of the dancers. It was like when you see something vaguely familiar, yet distorted, and all efforts at remembering are in vain and fail to take form. Within the swaying, twisting, at times advancing and then retreating movements of the dance of phantoms, a flitting shadow of memory jumped forward, disappeared, lost itself in the chaos, and then reappeared once more. After a long stupor Herbert began to breathe heavier, as he recognized fragments of some movement on an innermost level, an inclination, a step, the lift of a hand. Then this shadow of memory lifted, and let itself down upon one of the figures, on one of the female phantoms, upon which it came and went.

It was a tentative growing of form from out of the chaos, a hesitant crawling forth from out of the darkness, of which Herbert felt, besides fear, also something like an outburst of passionate tenderness, a deep sympathy with it.

He was in a complete bundle of unsolved threads from a vague piece of his past that wound around him and held him fast. The phantom on the stage above whirled even more crazily between the gravestones; the skull remained motionless in scary contrast to the leaping and fluttering wrappings. The bones rattled against each other even more loudly, an entire confusion of dry and hard sounds droned from the stage out into the hall. It seemed that the lust of the phantoms had not died within the graves and a horrible orgy of skeletons was about to begin.

Then as if from a great height the sound of a clock fell in the middle of the dance. It was as if the phantoms were blown apart from each other by an explosion. The dance was destroyed. The figures stumbled and staggered back and forth, groping among the tombstones, robbed of all certainty; fearfully searching for missing parts, which they once more put back together. Wrapped with sheets, floundering, timid, staggering and flapping, once more robbed of their freedom, they crouched down at their tombstones and disappeared into the darkness.

There was a large exhalation through the hall before the first timid applause began. Then gradually the clapping of many hands, as if this happy noise could tear away the thin, horrible web that seemed to hang from the stage over the tables.

The president banged with his gavel and bellowed a command.

“By the devil, that was beautiful!” exclaimed Kretschmer and took a large gulp of his stale beer. Then he stood up, pulled on his waistband, flexed and straightened up again, as if he wanted to see whether his flesh and blood were still held together in their accustomed way.

Herbert Ostermann didn’t reply. He was busy trying to find his way out of the shock. There was a strange taste in his mouth and a peculiar emotion remained; a bitterness that could be described as heartburn of the spirit. He turned and saw the participants of the dance of death coming down the small steps of the stage and into the hall. They still wore their grave clothes, but had taken off their masks and fresh, red, youthful faces showed from out of the wrapping of the grave. That was the safest way to dispel the intensity of the past half hour and regain the old composure. They were surrounded, questioned, and praised, as people went around like tightrope dancers joking about an abyss they had just crossed over.

As Ostermann turned back to the table, he was struck by something ice cold and burning through the middle of his heart.

Next to him, in the place that Richard Kretschmer had just left, sat one of the dancers, very quietly, with white cotton gloves over hands respectfully folded in her lap. She still wore the grave clothes like the others, but had not taken off the skull mask, and when she turned her head to her neighbor, there were glimmers in her eyes like distant sparks in dark caves.

It seemed as if she expected to be addressed, and after several tries Herbert succeeded in forcing a type of obligatory smile on his lips and asked if the Fräulein was satisfied with the success of the performance.

The dancer, who seemed to not want to speak, simply nodded.

“Even on the stage you must have noticed the immense tension of the audience, when the dance, which at first showed recognizable amateur shortcomings, became freer, more skillful and artistic until something happened and a living transformation took place between the stage and the audience.”

Herbert continued to speak, as if continuous questions were directed at him by the soft glowing gaze. He spoke of things he hadn’t thought about for a long time. He attempted to bring rationality to the mood into which he had sunken, and felt the power of his speech was like the board on which a lost swimmer placed his last hope.

“Yes, it is strange,” his neighbor said, “for the living to perform a play about the dead.”

“And the cemetery music,” continued Herbert in great agitation. “That modern music with its remarkable beat and intricate rhythms somehow causes the listener to sense all the horrors of the grave. It is illogical music; the logic of music is in its melody. Mozart for example, was a logician and therefore takes us right where his spirit desires with the convoluted scene in ‘Don Juan’, not to the heart . . . but this modern illogical music goes beyond death, which itself is illogical . . .”

“And you are a medical student?” his neighbor asked.

Her voice was muffled and unclear as if pressed through some unclean medium, yet even in its distortion an original melodiousness was unmistakable and Herbert regretted that the resonance had become so altered and broken through the mask. This thought brought his attention with complete sharpness to this thing of paper maché, which was supposed to portray death in a Fasching’s joke. He had to admit that the mask had not been created from cheap materials. In its own way the mask was completely artistic. The harmless material, from out of which the face of the ugly step-mother was portrayed; a dull country clod, a wanton slut, double chinned with bloated cheeks, a red nose and every protuberance and rankness of the flesh; had this time been used to form deceptively smooth bones.

Everything was exact according to color and structure, each bone anatomically correct and sewn so that one could believe that the head really was a skull. They had kept a real skull as a model and used it to make an exact copy with such attention to detail that yes, in many places, in the eyes, the nasal holes and between the teeth the remnants of rotting flesh was portrayed. But the scariest thing was that hair hung down from the back part of the skull, down to the neck, and you couldn’t really tell how it was attached to the bone. That was in contrast to how the face was rendered, where the hair covering was no longer present and the skull was smooth. If the image of the mask was intended to heighten the horror as much as possible, it succeeded through this hair, discolored, matted and covered with little clumps of dirt. It looked as if it really had come from out of the grave.

Herbert Ostermann observed all this with unfathomable calmness, sharp and clear, as if glimpsing a great danger, something that strained against the immense power center of man, against the “I” itself.

“And you are a medical student?” his neighbor repeated her question in the meantime.

“What do you mean? Really! Do you know me?”

“I know you!”

“Won’t you take off your mask? The play has ended! The other ladies already have.”

Something like a soft rattling came out from between the teeth, that was supposed to be a laugh, but at the same time Herbert remembered in a tortured way a sound from out of his childhood days. It was when Prusik, the merchant, threw large, strangely formed scraps of dried shell fish onto the counter. At the same time he was reminded of something else, the forced laugh that seemed to have come from out of completely dried out, mummified, black vocal chords, rustled like a grave wreath.

The dancer stopped laughing.

“The other ladies find that the masks do not suit them. I am not vain. Mine fits me quite well. And you must still puzzle out who I am.”

“I know you then?”

She turned to Herbert and slid a little closer: “Yes!”

Again there was an ice cold and burning pain through the middle of his heart.

Then a miniscule movement, the irrelevant shrugging of the shoulders once more threw an uneasy memory over Herbert, a fragment of a gesture that he recognized. One that had spoken out to him in the play of limbs during that complex dance, one that had come from this dancer that sat next to him.

Immediately the blind towering fear was once more there, breaking the possessed calm of sharp observation, rushing with him down into the darkness. He looked around. To the left and right colleagues were talking away over their beer glasses, writing on calling cards, toasting one another. No one was paying attention to them. It was as if Herbert and his neighbor were not present.

Despite this everything had become unbearable to him. The noise and light beat oppressively against him. He suddenly stood up.

“Come,” we will go somewhere else.”

She was immediately in agreement and followed him to the wardrobe, where she stood next to him for a moment in her coat, and then they went out onto the street covered with a thin, miserable covering of big city snow.

 

Familiar Moves-A

Familiar Moves

 

After the death of his girlfriend, Bettina, whom Herbert Ostermann, medical student, had lived together with for almost two years; becoming a hermit was the best way to avoid people.

Being at the podium for countless semesters, during the prime of his life, had made him more critical of the academic youths, and Ostermann was already standing alone like a cliff. Then you add the pain of his lost girlfriend to it and he appeared to want nothing to do with his younger comrades. The life of high spirits and indiscretion lay behind and beneath him.

But Ostermann had more friends among the youthful students than he knew. His albeit not affectionate, but always polite manner, the certainty with which he kept little promises, the impression of unconditional reliability which he gave, let him appear as a paragon of all essential male qualities to his comrades.

Finally, they were interested in him, much more than he knew at the time, because of his relationship with the little German-Russian, and her quick, somewhat puzzling death that had caused him to become so closed off.

They knew the couple very well from the assembly hall and the concert hall. They had seen them together countless times and only occasionally alone. The tall, lean man and the petite, quick East Sea German did not seem like an exceptionally well matched couple. His movements, so to say, were awkward and angular as he took the lead while her charming curves did not entirely match as she followed. Yet there was something there despite the outer differences that implied an innermost communion. For that reason no one dared, what otherwise under similar circumstances was so common, attempt to take this most lovely of all students away from her friend and take her for themselves.

Ostermann accompanied the eager to learn and enthusiastic student to her science lectures, which lay far beneath his own studies, and listened patiently once more to the beginning basics of anatomy. It appeared as if he was starting over with his girlfriend and would finally bring a prosperous conclusion to his very lengthy studies. They became accustomed seeing the togetherness of this couple as something solid and inviolable; sensed something holy flowing out from the bond and observed the relationship with piquant curiosity. The death of Bettina horrified them all; even those medical students with a hardened disposition that cultivated cynicism as a critical virtue, could not escape this collapse.

So it was just an outpouring of the common compassion and respect for Ostermann, that made one of the younger students of those collectively assembled, the student Richard Kretschmer, ask him to come back. At first Ostermann declined the well-intended invitation. But then, as he passed through the urging voices, he was asked to at least take it into consideration. And finally he agreed, perhaps feeling that he didn’t want to be alone any longer.

Ostermann left his previous dwelling, one in the country over grown with wild vines, in whose spired upper story he had lived for almost two years with Bettina, and moved in with the rest of his countrymen. From out of a quiet, poetic corner he moved into a bare student’s room in the large city. He didn’t allow himself to notice that something was missing in his life, but he didn’t take part in the lives of his comrades either.

These well-intended people wanted Ostermann to escape from his unfruitful and dangerous brooding and were always urging him to go along to student festivities and get-togethers.

Fasching time came, the first festival since the death of Bettina, and the heads of the university planned an evening of festivities to celebrate the formation of their new committee and this happy time. A student drinking party was to take place, with all kinds of strange fellows and performances according to the mood of the festival. His friend was seriously resolved to entice Ostermann out of his cave for this very special festival.

“It is wrong for me to celebrate,” said Ostermann, as Kretschmer urged him even more strongly.

“You won’t be doing anything wrong,” replied his friend forcefully. “The dead are dead, and no mourning can change it.”

Ostermann looked at the younger and rasher person seriously and it seemed as if he were about to reply. But he remained silent, and when Kretschmer wouldn’t stop assailing him, he finally agreed to take part in the festival. Even though Ostermann couldn’t shake the feeling that something about it was wrong, the good will of his comrade was so apparent and sincere, that he didn’t want to lose his friend over it.

The large hall of the restaurant, where the Fasching evening took place, was full of young medical students. The faculty, feeling resplendent in the formation of their new committee, stepped proudly to the front. A large number of professors were in attendance and watched the goings on with fatherly benevolence.

The seemingly spotless table cloths spread over the long tables streamed the aroma of being freshly washed. The arc lamp under the ceiling sent a corona of glowing, needle pointed rays through the hall. From the kitchen came the clatter of dishes and often the aroma of prepared food.

One table was set up as a popular raffle of harmless jokes articles and things medical students would like as decorations for their writing desks: blinding white bone specimens as paperweights, half skulls, and a shoulder blade on a base with a collar bone railing to be used as a large ashtray.

The young people, an entire crowd of college students, went back and forth, assembled together into groups and then once more separated.

Ostermann, who had not been among such a large group of people for a long time, was not able to enjoy the uninhibited festivities.

While Kretschmer, next to him, was making an effort to involve him in the net of shouts and drinking taking place back and forth over the entire table, Ostermann fell ever more deeply into a feeling of discomfort. The noise, the needle sharp lighting of the arc lamp, the back and forth movement of the crowd, seemed partly exaggerated, foolish and crude, partly overstated and harsh to him. He began to regret that he had come here with his friend.

In the meantime the gathering took its accustomed form, speeches and songs followed one another, the professors jovially spoke of their delight at the antics of the academic youths . . . “Sour week, happy festival” . . . and sometimes the young girls laughed loudly with joking phrases. When Ostermann heard this laughter or saw the waving of a brightly colored dress, it tore at his heart, and flowed through his body like a stream of sharp pointed ice crystals.

Finally around eleven o’clock, he believed that he had done enough and told Kretschmer of his decision to go.

“Don’t talk,” laughed the other, “the best part is just starting. The door is guarded! No one is allowed to leave!”

And indeed one of the gentlemen of the new committee shortly announced a break so that a humorous Fasching performance could be prepared. In the sign of the carnival prince, much was allowed, honny soit, qui maly pense und so. [evil unto him who thinks evil of it]

After a somewhat commemorative speech filled with beer and brimstone, curtains were pulled across the wide hall in the space opposite the professors. A stage was set up behind it and you could see a vivisection table, on which a corpse lay, clothed only with a loin cloth.

A scene played out between the anatomy professor and several hung-over students that had returned from a card game after skipping work. The main joke of the performance lay in the successful depiction of one of the most well-known and popular professors, who came onto the stage with all his peculiarities, wheezing and spitting. That awoke the unbounded hilarity of the entire crowd, and most of all, the one that had been portrayed himself, who now saw himself in the distorted mirror image across from him. Next to the satire of the professor they had also thought to pattern the play after the anatomy of Rembrandt. The closing scene showed the professor in the position of Doctor Tulp standing at the corpse, surrounded by his students. Only he was not referring to bundles of nerves and muscles, but instead revealing all kinds of things that emerged from out of the depths of the corpse. It was all common stuff, a beer coaster, a cigarette lighter, a house key and a committee song book. But when he turned the corpse over and began to work on its backside, the corpse jumped up from the vivisection table with an angry bellow and the performance ended with a wild flight.

The grotesque humor, that was intended to put all the guests in a good mood, was not entirely missed by Ostermann. But in the end, it led to the uncomfortable feeling that such playing with the horror of death itself did not seem entirely appropriate for these unrestrained youth.

Ostermann also thought that perhaps it was only his own emotions that caused this heavy feeling of guilt. At the same time he felt so strangely held there that he no longer had any thought of leaving.

After a while a young medical student stepped out in front of the violet curtain, a book in his hand, from which he began to recite a poem with little talent and much enthusiasm. It was Goethe’s “Toten-tanz”. [Dance of the Dead]

“The watchman, that looks in the middle of the night down on the graves in their places . . .”

Ostermann found this tedious recitation seemingly superficial, but with the final words the hall suddenly became dark and then it was seen what purpose the poem had served.

The opened stage now showed a cemetery. From out of the darkest darkness something white stirred and moved forward. You could make out a figure wrapped in a sheet and groping its way between the tombstones. The specter lounged against one of the graves, set a violin against a bony chin and began to play in an absurd way.

Then it struck midnight somewhere, as if from a church tower. The little orchestra in front of the stage took up the haunting melody of the violin and wove it into highly strange, eerie music, whose bizarre harmonies and choppy rhythms seemed to conjure all kinds of terrors from out of the darkness. And then came, entirely in the manner of Goethe’s poem, from the left and the right, limping, groping, and stomping grave occupants, climbing out of self-opening mounds, moving from behind the tombstones to the front and staggering between the clods in the darkness. Around their limbs waved and flapped long grave cloths, in front of their faces they had white, phosphorescent masks of fleshless skulls with dark eyes, nostril holes and the grin of bare teeth.

They moved to the beat of the horrible music, approaching one another with contortions and ridiculous curtseys, in a mocking of the ordinary form of the dance. It was as if you could hear the rattling of the bones, the clicking of the thin joints under the white sheets, like the clicking of castanets, castanets of the grave, which formed a hard necked accompaniment to the music.

It was clear that the author and director of this production, some student, was an entirely original head of many fantasies.

 

 

And now I must report something strange, which proves perfectly how powerful the devil is inside us and how great our weakness is. Theresa was scarcely out of my sight when a great sadness fell over me that lasted the entire day, even though I kept repeating to myself that we should be happy to have finally gotten rid of this wicked heathen and servant of Satan, and even though Don Pedro had referred to the story of the arid fig tree that needed to be eradicated and thrown into the fire. In the course of the night my sadness became a heavy fear that would not let me sleep and threw me from one side to the other, until Don Pedro finally awoke and asked me what was going on. I was not able to conceal from him that I couldn’t sleep because we had lost Theresa. At this Don Pedro responded to me that he was heavily troubled since we had chased the woman away, out of fear that she might betray our camp to her countrymen out of revenge. I knew that Theresa would never do that, but I didn’t want to say this to Pedro, because he might perhaps think that I was still too attached to Theresa.

But with every hour—despite all objections, the power of Satan overcame that of Christ in me, so that, on the following evening I was entirely confused and sad in the depths of my soul. I thought only about Theresa’s fate and could only imagine the evil and swift punishment that she had received from her own people, whom she had betrayed. I dwelt upon this thought until I could no longer resist, and the image that kept coming to me grew ever more terrible and bloody. Once during the night it seemed that a voice called me by name. I sat up and then at the same moment, very close by, I heard the abominable screeches and cries of birds that were tearing out the hearts of sleeping whales.

Such a terror fell over me that I almost lost my senses. I jumped up and ran, without telling Don Pedro that I was leaving, out of the ruins, down the mountain, across the plain and toward the village. I ran so quickly, that I noticed nothing of it myself, and was sometimes startled at the large leaps that my shadow made in the moonlight next to me.

Around daybreak I came to the forest above the village and then had to go slower between the tree trunks. When I came out of the forest it was almost sunrise. I found myself on a rocky ledge above the huts, and even these lay so far below that the great light of the morning sky had still not reached them, yet I could see everything perfectly. There on the place in front of the house of the king two great fires were lit, around which a crowd of people were circling.

My hopes were dashed, because it was impossible for me to go unseen into the village and discover where Theresa could be found. While I was still thinking about what I should do, the king stepped out of his hut. The people immediately drew back, so that a circular shape was cleared in which the two fires burned. But between them, tied with rope, lay a human body on the ground and I recognized Theresa.

The king was greeted with a great rattle of drums and clanging of cymbals, and the warriors, placed in a circle, swung their spears and shouted his name. As he arrived at the mat on which the prisoner lay two women with skirts of leaves and red coral necklaces between their breasts approached from the fires.

Three bowls were brought up, baked fish was in the first, in the second some type of food like bread and in the third some cloths and mats made from palm tree fronds. After the bowls were set down in front of the king, the two women came up; each took one of the cloths, spread it on the ground and sat down placing themselves in such a way that their faces were turned to the east, which was already so light that you could expect to see the sun any minute.

One of the women carried a trumpet out of reeds in her hand; the other carried a stone knife. They stood that way for a while, without moving, until the sun lifted its edge over the horizon. Then the woman blew three blasts on her trumpet and began to sing in a loud voice, to which the other answered. This back and forth singing continued until the sun had completely risen. Then the first woman wrapped one of the cloths around her head and slowly began to walk around the body lying on the ground.

The other wrapped a binding around her forehead and followed the first at the same pace. Then they changed places, the first threw away her cloth and took up a binding, while the second wrapped her head completely. Then they threw away the bindings and the cloths and continued to dance around the prisoner, and then once more exchanged places.

I saw the gleaming naked breasts and the red coral necklaces swinging back and forth between them. This dance lasted for a very long time until the king gave a signal with his hand. Then the first woman came up close to him and received a bowl filled with palm wine. She turned back to dancing, put the shell up to her lips three or four times without drinking, and finally with a swing, poured a little out over Theresa’s breast.

At the same moment the second dancer rushed at Theresa and stabbed her stone knife twice into her heart. The clanging and drumming became a great noise; the first woman touched the tip of her trumpet into the flowing blood and sprayed it out over the people, not any differently than our priests do with holy water.

I watched all this in a condition that robbed me of all my will and only my ability to think remained, so that while I reproached myself strongly for my cowardice, at the same time I realized that no help in the world could tear Theresa away from her fate. I don’t know what happened in the village after that. I left the place and slowly returned through the forest and over the plain back to our camp. I made no attempt at being careful, because I didn’t care if I was discovered or not.

As I reached the ash heap of the golden city, I found Don Pedro in a state of great agitation about me, but I gave him no answer to his question of where I had been. Then a terrible hatred against him filled me completely. The devil whispered to me that he was the one responsible for Theresa’s death. I sat down on the ground and when my hand touched the grass, Satan stabbed me with Theresa’s stone knife. Then I was compelled to immediately stand back up again. I stepped up to Pedro with the knife in my hand, and without knowing what I was doing, stabbed the knife into his breast twice. In this you can see that the devil was guiding my hand, not my own will.

Pedro collapsed and cried, “Brother, what have you done?” and passed away.

I only came back to my senses after his death, and knew that because of what had happened the Lord and all his saints had abandoned me.

The few empty pages that I have used for this manuscript are coming to an end, and I must hurry to say what is still to be said. I dug a grave for Don Pedro at the foot of the cross, before which we had performed our services and lowered him into it. Then I took his prayer book with me and left the place, which the natives rightfully take as a dwelling place of demons. I headed for the coast, determined to either die or leave the island. During the following night I succeeded in taking a boat, unnoticed, despite the placed guards, and arrived on the high seas.

After many adventures and dangers and after even more hungry days, the wind drove me onto this little island, which according to the speech of the occupants belongs to the Kingdom of Cipango, and where these harmless and friendly people have taken good care of me.

After a short stay I fell into a high fever which left me very weak, which always returns, and I know with full certainty, will bring my death. Yet I don’t want to die without first writing down my experiences on the island of Zubu. I have prepared the ink myself, write with a pen of reed, and the heathens of this island see me as a great sorcerer. This manuscript serves not as a report to the world, because it will never come before those eyes, but is instead for myself alone. I have determined, as soon as it is finished, to turn my thoughts to my days on Zubu, and spend the rest of my days in prayer and penance for the salvation of my soul as I await my death.

But if this should ever come into the hands of a Christian, I repeat my plea first expressed at the beginning, and close in the same way as I began: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen!”

 

 

One time we saw a red, glowing cloud protrude from the tip of the mountain and rush down over the cliff, and then the cloud balled together and became even redder. It took a course straight towards us and came up so swiftly, that we were scarcely aware of the danger as it wrapped around us. It was only for a moment, but we believed we were going to breath fire and that we were going to burn. Then it was past us, and to our astonishment, we remained unharmed. After this outburst it became calmer in the air and in the earth, and finally during the first morning hours we were able to lie down to sleep.

In the morning, with Theresa’s help, I rebuilt our broken hut again as quickly as I could, while Don Pedro went out to see what had happened during the night, particularly because the ground was all broken in pieces with wide, deep fissures and cracks showing. But I had not been working too long when Don Pedro came running up so distraught and out of breath, that I believed he must have encountered something especially horrible. He took me by the hand, led me to a large golden block that lay close by the hut and asked me to touch it. I did, and it seemed to me as if I grabbed at a yielding mass, and the gold crumbled beneath my fingers, transformed into dust and trickled down to the ground. And as Don Pedro pounded with his fist against the block, it collapsed entirely and became nothing more than a collapsed heap of ash.

Then, after some consideration, I said that this proved we had been wrong, that we had mistaken it for real gold and that it must have been destroyed during the night through some chemical reaction from the glowing cloud.

But Don Pedro threw himself to the ground, beat himself with his fists and screamed so loudly that I thought he had fallen in a fit of cramps. Finally he got up, led me to the side and said that now it was unfortunately very clear and proven without a doubt, that this female, who lived with us, was a wicked witch and a sorceress, which we had to chase away or free her from demon for the salvation of our own souls.

I could not believe this at first, but Don Pedro proved to me how everything hung together; how Theresa herself had at first refused to pray with us; how she had sacrificed to the idol and how the terror of the past night had been called up with the help of infuriated demons after the pedestal had been destroyed. This was finally followed by the destruction of our great treasure.

I had to agree that there was something to his argument, and agreed to question Theresa about it. But instead of Theresa answering Don Pedro, she turned to me and spoke. She said that she no longer wanted to conceal from me how the chaplain hounded her with his hatred. She had remained silent up to now, to cause no problems between us, but now she wanted to tell me that she hated Don Pedro, and because of that she was not willing to do what I asked.

Then Don Pedro rang his hands and lifted them up to the heavens.

“Brother,” he cried, “now you can see for yourself how wide the abyss of this evil castoff creature reaches, that she even dares place me in shameful suspicion, in order to steer us away from her own shameful deeds. I must profess that these are all stinking, hellish and low down lies, concocted by the demon that is inside her.

I myself was frightened at Theresa’s evil shamefulness and agreed with Don Pedro, that we must castigate her in the name of the Lord, in order to drive the devil out of her.  We tied Theresa to a pole and I struck her with a rod; but after a while Don Pedro said that I was becoming too tired and not strong enough in my blows. Then I turned Theresa over to the chaplain, and he went to work with a great zealousness. After three blows from a thumb sized rod, Pedro held the picture of the Madonna up to her, to test her, to see whether the devil had left her yet. But Theresa refused to kiss the picture. She said that nothing could compel her to show reverence to my beloved.

Then we saw that she had still not been cleansed of the demon, and Don Pedro thought that we must to use more severe materials; he brought a couple splinters of the hard wood with which we started our fire, and ignited them.

I did not want to watch anymore, even though the good Christ said we must do it, that it was our duty, to save Theresa. So I left her with the chaplain, who wanted to singe her a little with the splinters.  It was not very long before I believed that I heard a moaning and whimpering. I returned and told Don Pedro that he had done enough. Theresa was burned in many places, but it was still impossible to bring her to kiss the picture of the Madonna, and you could still clearly see the stubbornness of the indwelling devil.

Despite that I could not bear the sight of her wounded back and gathered some of the healing herbs, which she had taught me about, and laid them on her with a bandage of soft plant leaves. Theresa said nothing, only kissed me on the hand, so that I began to believe that she had regained her senses and perhaps would not resist our request so strongly the next day.

But we were to see that Theresa was entirely in the power of the devil. Overnight Don Pedro had hung the picture of the Madonna on a newly driven post in our hut, so that the mother of god might spread her mantle upon us and protect us from the evil spirits and terrors that now surrounded us.

When it became light and we arose, we didn’t see the picture in its place and found it only after a search among the bushes; entirely broken into splinters and completely destroyed. Theresa’s stone knife lay close by and we were not in any doubt that she had destroyed it. When we asked her about it, she didn’t deny her deed in anyway; instead she spoke with a strong glow in her eyes, she had now conquered her enemy.

Then a blind rage came over me, because my heart had hung on this portrait, which was our sanctuary and for me at the same time showed the features of my beloved. And it seemed to me, as if Theresa, in destroying the portrait, had also destroyed all our hope of ever returning back to Spain. I could not control myself and beat Theresa with my fists and finally chased her away, telling her that I would kill her if she ever dared to come back to us. Don Pedro had intended that we punish her some more, but I was fed up with the beating and singeing, and only cared about one thing, to not ever see Theresa in front of me again.

She stood silent for a while by our bed and looked over at me, as if she didn’t understand what I had just said to her. But as I repeated my command with strong words and waved her away with outstretched arms, she turned and left with a lowered head. I climbed to the heights above the ruins, which were even more fallen down, and watched after her, how she climbed down the cliff of the mountain and then took the path through the wide grassy plain that to my calculations must lead back to the village, so I assumed that she wanted to go back to her countrymen.

 

After this happened, he began to zealously instruct her in the Christian faith. At the request of Don Pedro I erected a cross, made of two pieces of wood and bound with bark, at a place near the hut. We held our morning and evening services in front of this cross.

Don Pedro had brought a painting of the Madonna on a piece of wood and a prayer book along with him when he had come ashore. He had loyally guarded these sacred objects during his stay in the wilderness, and he read to us from out of this prayer book. I will remark at the same time that there were some empty pages bound in the back of the book; the same ones, on which you now find this manuscript, which I removed from their place much later.

Meanwhile the chaplain was not satisfied with Theresa’s progress in the Christian faith. She was still as stubborn a heathen as always in her inner self and did not take the holy teachings seriously, especially since my presence distracted her so much that he had to ask me to no longer be present during the hour of instruction.

I now wanted Theresa to become a believer as soon as possible and relieve Don Pedro of the sustained effort and great enthusiasm with which he brought forth threats against her bright soul. I followed his wishes and left him alone with Theresa for the hour of instruction. This led to no better end.

One day as I strolled through the forest near the hut I heard a loud scream coming from that direction and recognized Theresa’s voice. I believed that Theresa had been attacked by a wild animal and hurriedly ran there. I found Theresa lying on her knees in front of the chaplain, who was pressing down on her wrist with his left hand, while holding out his right to strike a blow. As I came up he let his arm sink, but I recognized by his face, that he was in an exceptional rage and his anger was so strong that he was not able to speak at all. Finally he said that Theresa was so opposed to the holy truth, so stubborn and disruptive, that he had lost his Christian patience and been gripped by the impulse to punish her.

At this I said (because I found that Theresa understood me better than Don Pedro) that it was for me to punish her, it was my duty, and he only needed to tell me if she remained stubborn and disruptive. I would then find some way to reason with her.

But Don Pedro replied that he had given up all hope of making a true Christian out of Theresa and would not trouble himself about her any longer.

Theresa had not spoken during this argument, but in the night she moved to my side and asked whether I desired that she should give herself to the chaplain as a woman. Now I knew very well, that on the island of Zubu, the custom ruled, for the host to offer his friends and guests the women of the house. Our manhood had over zealously made use of this custom, and because of it a strong rage had developed in the men because they saw that the women preferred the strangers over themselves.

From Theresa’s question I realized that Don Pedro’s instruction in Christianity had not gone well and she was still not able to recognize the difference between being a savage or a Christian Spanish woman. The customs of her own land no longer applied to her. I made this plain, told her that she was now a Christian and must put away the customs of the heathen. Finally I also told her that as a priest, Don Pedro was a holy man, who had renounced sexual intercourse with women. After that she didn’t resist any further.

The chaplain really didn’t trouble himself very much with Theresa’s Christian education after that and remained hard and dark against her. But he became even more preoccupied with the thought of the great treasure in the golden city. Once more in his daily speech he spoke of Spain and Sevilla and reminded me of how I could buy old Donna Mercedes whatever her heart desired.

I really had been thinking more than ever about my homeland as well, and a great unrest came over me.  We thought of making some kind of plan so that we could somehow leave here. I knew that Magellan had, in his last days, calculated that we could not be far from the lands of the Portuguese. The Islamic merchants who had discovered Zubu and traded goods with the king must have known about them as well, because they had told the king to guard himself against such men as us, as well as any others of the west.

We spent many hours talking together in counsel over what we could do, with the help of God and all the saints, to win past the Portuguese, who, even though an enemy of Spain would not leave us in the hands of the savages. The more we considered it, the more we thought that it would not do us any good and no plan came forward.

Even if we were to build a raft without the people of Zubu discovering it, we didn’t have any charts and would need to sail without a compass. There was a greater chance of entering the throat of death than of life and our homeland.

We stood more and more often on the peak of the mountain and looked out over the ocean to see if we could discover a Portuguese ship. But nothing was to be seen, other than from time to time the sails of the heathen that were out catching fish. During such hours I could imagine my homeland perfectly, and I thought about Donna Mercedes, who had embraced me at my departure and whispered to me. I must return because our lives were entwined together.

Because I thought so much on my Donna and ever more perfectly imagined her features, it happened that one evening I discovered in the Madonna painting, which Pedro held up for me, a great similarity between these features and those of my beloved. We had just spoken more of our escape, and Pedro had pulled out the portrait and held it out for me to kiss. After I had discovered this similarity he said that he trusted in the intercession of the mother of God. And it seemed to me to be a good omen for our plans, so much so, that I became entirely happy in my heart and began to hope more strongly than ever before. I also told Pedro of my newly established hope and he agreed with me that the similarity between the mother of God and my beloved could be looked at as a good omen.

The following night, as I lay there sleepless and thoughtful, it occurred to me, whether it would be possible to steal one of the boats of the natives and flee in it with some lumps of gold. Theresa knew where the boats lay hidden, and at night she would be taken for one of the women of the village by the designated guards. She could untie one of them and bring it to a place where we could climb in.

But when we talked this plan over the next day and found it a good one, Theresa resisted us and would not agree to do it. She said that she would never do it. I must here now mention that a great transformation had come over Theresa. While she had earlier always been passionately inclined to speak, she had now become quiet and thoughtful. When we spoke of our escape and our homeland, she crouched on the floor and watched us with a dark countenance. Especially after she realized that I longed to go back to Mercedes, and she clearly showed that she was against our plans.

Then, with the newly awoken memory of my beloved in Sevilla, I became increasingly aware of the difference between Mercedes and Theresa.  How much softer and lighter my Spanish beloved’s skin was, how much more slender her hips and how much finer and silkier her hair. How easy it was to treasure Mercedes, and the strange and exciting love caresses that she knew, which Theresa didn’t know anything about. So it came about that I was hard and annoyed many times when these differences were so perfectly presented before my eyes.

I also cried out loud to her that she had to obey me, and would not even consider letting her contradict me. At that she stood up and said that she would never lift a hand to help me return to my homeland and to Donna Mercedes. Then Don Pedro began to yell at her as well and exclaimed how could she dare, even take the name of Donna in her mouth; and that in comparison to the Spanish lady, was nothing more than the dust at her feet. And to make her feel even lower, he put the painting of the Madonna right in front of her eyes and said that my beloved looked like the mother of God herself. Then Theresa gripped the portrait with both hands, pulled it close and looked at it for a long time with a wild expression on her face; one that I had never seen before, not even the time when she had stabbed her knife into the chest of Duarte Barbosa.

Then she gave the picture back to the chaplain and ran out of the hut. She didn’t come back home for the entire day and was not in front of the cross that evening for prayers, which until then she had always done together with us. She came back later that night and the next morning I gave her a good talking to and chastised her with hard words.

Then Don Pedro showed a great rage over this absence and said that we must now pray even more zealously than ever and use the opportunity to beseech the Lord so that he would not deny us his help.

Theresa remained silent and defiant during my performance and immediately ran away, again not to return for the entire day. Then I was seized with a great rage, when she again was not present at the evening service. I was of the same opinion as Don Pedro, that it would go bad for us, if we allowed this disloyal soul to once more return to the devil. When I saw that I could not bring her to the services before the cross with threats, I hit her with a stick which Pedro had cut for me from a bush.

But she stood and let herself be beaten, without complaining, and even though I was so anxious to force her into a pious experience through pain, I finally had to stop.  The bright blood ran over her back, and even though I was so annoyed over her abhorrent stubbornness, I still had compassion for her.

Once more we had to pray without her, and Don Pedro set me straight that through the stubbornness of this heathen our hopes became even smaller. I said that I would like to try once more to win her back on our side. But Theresa gave no opportunity for that, because she only came back into the hut that night, so softly that she didn’t disturb our sleep, and was long gone with the morning light. This continued for three days. On the fourth day Don Pedro came and told me that he feared Theresa had entirely fallen away from the Christian faith and returned to the devil. He had found fresh fruit and flowers in front of one of the idols in the ruins as an offering, and they could not have been put there by anyone else but Theresa. Then he led me to the idol and I found it was true, as he had said.

It was one of the abominable idols with four legs and five arms, of which the fifth grew from out of its belly. On its head it wore a feather headdress with a torn out bird’s beak, and if you looked at it closely, you could see that every feather was held in place by a little skull. Then I was seized with horror that Theresa could believe in such a terrible superstition after she had been baptized. Don Pedro thought that we should hide and surprise her when she came back with another offering.

So we lay there in the bushes for several hours, until we heard steps and saw Theresa coming with flowers and fruit. We waited until she had laid down her offering and begun to dance, as was the custom of all peoples when they want to honor their gods; then we jumped out at the same and Pedro seized her on the arm and dragged her down to her knees.

“Miserable idol worshiper!” he cried. “You vessel of sin, you bride of Satan! How can you stain your soul that has been purified through baptism in such an abominable way? You deserve to be immediately thrown into the abyss of hell, to be shut out from all grace and mercy!”

And I added, how could she give herself so completely into the hands of the evil one, when she had told me herself that her own people believed the devil lived here in the golden ruins.

But she cried in her language, “Really, this belief is true. The devil does live in these ruins, and there he stands.”

She pointed at the chaplain, who became very frightened at these evil words of the heathen Theresa and stepped back.

But he scarcely pulled himself back together, when he cried that he wanted to drive the demon out of Theresa, and that he had no greater desire, that he could no longer endure such a horrible and fearsome spirit so close by. And Theresa needed to see that her idol was nothing other than putrid smoke and fumes before the breath of the Lord.

At that he commanded me to help him and grabbed onto the hand of the idol and broke it off. After that we brought some rope and poles and with considerable effort succeeded so that the statue tumbled to the ground with a dull thud. At first Theresa covered her head, as if she didn’t want to watch. Then we went further, through the entire ruins, and to the honor of God, threw all the idols, twenty five in all, down from their pedestals.

But during the night a horrible crashing arose over our heads and a rumbling in the earth, so that the ground began to sway like a ship and our hut was immediately torn apart, as if the poles were thin reeds. We ran out, and then saw a great flame on the top of the highest mountain and a reflection like blood surrounding us in all the rubble. There was a screeching and shrieking in the air as if from a thousand voices; as if all the spirits in hell were descending upon us. The ruins of the golden city rolled around each other, so that they gave off loud noises as they crashed together.

A large boulder fell from out of the sky right in front of Don Pedro and almost hit him. Theresa began laughing at that, and it was so frightening to hear, that Don Pedro approached her. She was to remain silent and feel the blessed holy Virgin in her soul.

After a short time the same horrible and miserable screeching as yesterday began again on the roof of the hut, and even the dogs began to howl and whine again. In front of the hut was raised a murmur of voices and a clattering of weapons, and then I heard the steps of many men running away into the distance. After a long time I felt a hand seize mine with a tug and a sign for me to understand. I was to get up, which I immediately did, in order to blindly follow my guide. We crawled through a hole in the wall at the back end of the hut, and I inhaled the night air with great joy. It was so dark that I could not distinguish anything of my guide other than her figure and streaks of white. It was a color with which all the women of Zubu painted their breasts and legs and which now glowed a little under the free light of the heavens.

We slipped away between the huts of the village towards a mountain, until we came to a forest. Here we took a short rest, and the girl began to softly speak, but I couldn’t answer her in any other way than in Spanish and I thanked her for rescuing me. Then we went further, and as we came out of the forest near daybreak; we found ourselves in the light of the just risen moon and took shelter on a broad, grass covered plain. In the same light I recognized my guide as the girl that had sat near me on my right. What happened to the other, I would only learn later, and will only say what I suspected at the time, namely, that she had been given something in her drink, which she ingested and it put her into a deep sleep.

The travel through the high grass of the plain was difficult and troublesome for me once my head with its wound and my swollen feet were exposed to the rays of the sun. When my little girl became aware that I could scarcely continue, she made a rest by running water, washing my wound and bandaging it with her veil. Then she took some herbs, and anointed the irritated places on my feet and wrists with the sap, after which I almost immediately felt more comfortable and stronger, so that I could soon continue on further.

On this trail I found many flowers whose leaves were alive. These leaves consisted of two parts that clapped together like wings, and they sat with short, pointed stems on the branches. At the other end they had a red thorn. When they sensed a human, they pulled away, and a little stick flew through the air as well, and when they were driven into a tight corner, they turned around and stabbed with the red thorn, no different than an animal. But they really were leaves, and I believe that they lived upon the air.

Toward evening we climbed the steep mountain and at twilight came to a narrow ravine which we had to wander through for perhaps an hour. From this we stepped out onto a level plain, whose grass spread out in front of us like a carpet. Again it was so dark that I had to take my guide by the hand, meanwhile we came across some stone ruins that looked like pillars or arches, so that a person might think they had found themselves in a destroyed city.

Night fell upon us, after which we ate several fruit, which my girl brought from the nearby growing bushes, without a fire next to a large heap of stones, and there I became very tired and only awoke late the next day. As I looked around me, I realized that I had not been deceived last night. We really were in the ruins of a city with the remains of walls and towers and pillars and fountains. What I had not been able to notice in the darkness was that these ruins and rubble were all of pure gold, so that they shone and glimmered in the sun, as if we were standing in brilliant flames. Now it was well known to us that this metal was considered common on our discovered island and of little value. Magellan had to strongly forbid us to not seem too greedy for gold or to place a great value on it, so the savages would not know how valuable and expensive it was to us. But I had not thought such an empire possible in these lands. In comparison to the huts of bark and cane down below on the beach, these golden ruins seemed to have been built by another people and—even though I was no expert—I would venture to maintain, that the city must have been built before the great flood. In the rubble there were also many gigantic statues of gods, standing and sitting, with eyes of jewels and rings on their fingers, of which one alone, was worth an entire house in Sevilla, like the one that Donna Mercedes lived in.

As I learned the speech of the land from Salaja, that was the girl’s name, I learned from her that her countrymen knew of this city very well, but the avoided the area because they considered it occupied by devils. At my question, why Salaja had come here with me despite this belief of her folk, she smiled at me and kissed me on the mouth, as I had taught her that was what the Spanish women did. I must here confess that Salaja had become my wife, after I realized that she had taken on all dangers and the rage of her own people because she loved me.

And if anyone should find this manuscript, I don’t want you to think that I had taken some ugly Negress to wife. I must clarify that the women of Zubu were almost as white as our women, that in youth they had smooth and tender skin and that their voices were very soft and gentle, so that you could listen to their songs with great pleasure.

At first my Salaja wore large pieces of wood in her ears like all the others and painted herself with red and white mud, but she put the wooden earrings away and stopped painting herself after I told her once that I was not fond of this kind of decoration. She was compliant and competent in all things and did everything according to my will, so that I often wondered a little if she really was the one that pushed the stone knife into the breast of Duarte Barbosa.

We lived in the golden city, whose surroundings gave us an abundance of fruit and animals, for a long time without moving, almost for six months, unbothered and without having to suffer the rigor the heavens in this hot and happy stretch of land. And while in the beginning I thought of my own travels and my homeland with longing and homesickness, I later forgot them from day to day, living even more only for corporal things, just like a plant or animal. And I do not want to say what might have become of me and to what level of forgetfulness the devil might have brought me even further, if something hadn’t happened one day, which I will relate in the following. (NB. But sometimes it seems to me, that this early time could not have been under the sign of Satan, and furthermore, that which happened later, seems to have been on his instigation and led to an evil game. So that I am now in great confusion and my soul is still in no way clear about what I should make of all these things. That is why I desire this once just before my death, to raise a sincere prayer to my patron in heaven, so that perhaps death will be easier for my soul, things will not be so painful and I will no longer be so full of doubt and confusion.)

So it was perhaps half a year after my liberation and we had still not seen any other people, when one morning Salaja had scarcely gone out, when she came rushing back into our house of twigs and bushes. She cried that she had seen someone in the bushes and slinking around the ruins. I immediately followed her to a hidden spot and there we saw a human who crept through the bushes so carefully in the twilight that I only got one glimpse and could no longer make him out.

Then I seized my spear, on which I had fastened a blade of stone, to kill this other person if he came any nearer. But as he stepped out of the shadows I recognized our chaplain Pedro ed Valderrama, whom I had believed murdered with the others. His clothing was very torn, his face was framed with a wild beard, but he stood there alive in front of me, and while I was watching him, he looked around and his glance fell upon our golden ruins. Then he sank to his knees and raised his hands high, as if in prayer, at which point I stepped up and greeted him. But he screamed out loud, fell down and hid his face between his hands, so that I had to speak with him for a long time and tell him that I really was Juan Serrano, his companion. Later I recognized that his terror was not so remarkable, since I had not been wearing my shirt during my flight, and after that Salaja had woven me a skirt out of bark and leaves, so that I, with unshaven head, beard and burned from the sun, appeared like a savage.

The chaplain was almost still more astonished over the golden city in which we lived than he was over me and he said that all the riches of previously discovered lands could not compare to these treasures. He picked up clumps of gold and carried them in all his pockets, which he always took out and examined, as if there was not enough of this metal lying all around.

After we had brought him to our hut, he explained that he had been saved by Cilatun, a brother of the king, the same one, whom he had brought back to health through baptism and prayer. This man had been very ill when we had come to the island, and had not spoken for four days. The magicians and priests of the gods could not prevail over the illness, but immediately after baptism and after Don Pedro said a prayer over him he had felt better and in a short time was completely healed. Out of thankfulness Cilatun had then spared the chaplain’s life by leading him to his own house, from where he had then escaped into the forest and later to this lonely mountain.

I was overjoyed at finding one of my companions, but Salaja was silent and troubled, as if Don Pedro was not very welcome to her, so much so that I had to console her. During the night after Don Pedro’s arrival I again heard the horrible and miserable screech of a bird near our hut, and when I became aware that Salaja was awake, I asked her what kind of bird it was. But I had to ask for a long time before she would give me an answer. This bird was the grimmest enemy of the whales, and when these came up from out of the deeps, in order to sleep with open mouths on the surface of the ocean, this bird would fly down to it, through the mouth, into the innards, tear its heart out with its sharp beak and kill it in this manner. But its scream was considered unholy. And that was why even the guards in front of the hut had run away that time. Then I asked her whether the screech of the bird was such an evil thing to her, whereupon she squeezed my hand and kissed me, as only a Spanish lady can kiss.

The next day Don Pedro clambered around in the ruins and came back in such great confusion that I noticed the prospect of so much gold must have climbed into his head. He spoke only of it, that these heaps of gold were immeasurable and with them a man could buy the entire Royal Empire of Castilla. That evening he went with me to a high place, from which you could see the plain overgrown with grass and look out over the endless ocean.

“What you could have with all this gold,” he said to me. “It lies here unused!” We are both the richest men in the world and will never enjoy any of our riches.”

And he continued on to paint for me, how a person could live in Sevilla, and how all the world would be amazed and serve you. But as I answered him, I declined to dwell upon it, because it was not possible and we would never be able to leave this island. To which he replied that he had already noticed that in living together with this woman I had lost all my incentive, yes, that I had even forgotten what the best way was, that of Christianity. He could not even imagine that Salaja had ever been baptized.

At which I replied that was quite possible, because Salaja was clothed with another a type of priestly dignity, one that all these people had renounced before being baptized.

Then he said that it was necessary for her to take up the Christian faith, because he could not endure that I continued living with a heathen any longer as if in marriage.  If I did not ask this of her she would still fall into hell and be thrown from the face of God.

I told him that I had not done this, because Salaja had saved me from death and I had not wanted to insult her.

Then he said what beautiful gratitude it was, that someone who saved me from death, would be given the prize of the spiritual death.

After that I agreed that I would request this of her and persuade her to be baptized.

After the words of Don Pedro and my own given promise I began trying to convince her with all my power to enter into the Christian community. Salaja didn’t resist and said, although a little sad, that she would do what I desired; and so Don Pedro performed the baptism, gave her the name Teresa, and united us as well in Christian marriage.

 

 

The Manuscript of Juan Serrano

On his last South American voyage Professor Osten-Seckher, the renowned explorer of the upper Amazon jungle and of the bordering Peruvian Andes, made a most remarkable discovery. He succeeded in finding an old manuscript in the remote and difficult to reach cloister of Santa Esperanza somewhere in the heights of Mont-Blanc. It gave information on one of the many heroes that in ancient times helped in the discovery and conquest of the earth. It was written by Juan Serrano, one of the participants in Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the earth, and of whose end nothing had been known up to now.

It was only known that he appeared on the beach of the island of Zubu after a bloody feast in which the other participants were slaughtered, and that he pleaded with his companions, who had remained on ship, “for the sake of God and the Holy Virgin”, to pay his ransom so that he might be released from the savages. But even though he, wounded, covered with blood, tightly bound, and clothed only with a shirt was such a pathetic sight, and even though the ransom price of two rifles, two bars of metal and a length of rope could have been achieved, the commander Juan Carvajo, refused to free him and gave the command to set sail.

Pigasetta, whom we have to thank for a diary about Magellan’s voyage, thought that Carvajo left Serrano in the hands of the savages so that he would not have to turn over the command to his captain again; but perhaps it was also because he feared further betrayal from the islanders.

In the preliminary remarks it can be noticed that this took place on May 1, 1521 and that a few days earlier—on April 27—Magellan, on the island of Matan, near Zubu, lost his own life under the spears and howls of savages.

Professor Osten-Seckher was not able to find out how the manuscript of Juan Serrano came to the cloister of Santa Esperanza. One might be permitted to assume that some Spanish sailor at a later time found the manuscript with some natives and was permitted to bring it back from South America, where it came into the possession of the cloister at Santa Esperanze.

And now let us read the manuscript itself in the best possible translation as follows:

“In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I, Juan Serrano, first captain of the ‘Santiago’ and then later the ‘Concepcion’, write these lines in the face of impending death, without hope that it might ever be read by any of my countrymen. If, by God’s grace, and through a miracle, my manuscript should ever be read by a Spaniard or a Portuguese (against whom I carry no grudge, especially since I am Portuguese from birth), he might be able to glean from it how much the devil is able to achieve in the temptation of us poor sinners; how weak we are and how strange our lives and deaths may be. And then perhaps he might say a prayer for my poor soul, if at all possible in the church of Maria de la Victoria de Triana in Sevilla, where Magellan received the royal standard from out of the hands of Sancho Martinez de Leiva.

After the slaughter of my companions through the betrayal of the king of Zubu I was led to the beach, but even though I pleaded and begged as strongly as I could, they would not pay my ransom, and I had to watch, as my companions set sail and turned the bow of their ship away from land. And this happened, even though Juan Carvajo was my godson and he had sworn with upraised hands on the memory of his mother and on the wounds of Christ, that he would not deliver me to certain death on this island. When I saw that my pleas were not able to make them come back, I fell into a terrible rage and despair and began to curse Spain, my companions, and myself; and I asked God, if He on the earliest Day of Judgment would hold Juan Carvao accountable for the condition of my soul. And I also hoped that my curse might soon bring sickness and death to this horrible and criminal man, my godson.

So I remained behind alone on the island of Zubu and was once more led into the village by my captors, so their king could decide what to do with me. And there was a large crowd of people around me, of women and children, who threw dirt, shells and stones at me, beating my face and forehead bloody. I was determined to show these people that I was not afraid, was prepared to die, and walked upright between my guards. So we came to the large hut of the king, where the banquet had been arranged and where we had been captured.

A number of stakes had been driven into the earth around the hut, and the bodies of my companions had been impaled upon their tips. As we entered I saw the king lounging on his bed and near him was a human body lying stretched out on the ground. In passing I recognized Duarte Barbosa, who like me had only been wounded in the capture.

The body of my companion was cut open, so that I could see the inside of his belly and intestines. The king kept putting both hands into the body cavity, tearing out fistfuls of fat and shoving it into his mouth. But Duarte Barbosa was still alive and moaned and whimpered so pitifully; and as he looked at me, he begged me by all the saints and eternal salvation, to kill him. But he could just as well have been begging a stone or a rafter in the hut, because my hands were tied and there was even another rope tied around my arms, which was tied so tightly that I thought my shoulders would pop out of their joints.

I really can’t leave it unmentioned that Duarte Barbosa himself had inflamed the hatred of the savages—which I must call them, even though they have all received the holy baptism—by much too strongly chasing after the women of the island, as was his way, and they had been much too willing as well. This rage of the savages had not broken out before because Magellan had kept them subdued with his look and his words.

In the meantime the king turned to me and said a few words in his language. Then Henrique, Magellan’s slave from Malakka, stepped up. He had followed his master from Portugal and Spain and after that almost all around the entire earth until he was once more near his homeland; but after Magellan’s death he had fallen away from us.

Henrique, who understood the language of the Zubu and served as our translator, translated the words of the king to me, in which he said, that I could see from the behavior of my companions how disloyal and traitorous a people the Spaniards were, and that they had left me behind out of fear of him. That irritated me and I contradicted him, again through the mouth of Henrique, and said that he himself had given the worst example of disloyalty and betrayal, when he had sworn an oath to Magellan, to be obedient and subservient to the king of Spain. He had through God’s gracious providence received holy baptism and renounced his former pagan name, Rajah Humabon, and replaced it with the proud name ‘Carlo’ after our royal majesty; which he himself afterwards appeared entirely unworthy of; so much so that I could do nothing else, despite his baptism, than consider him a despicable heathen and idolater.

At that the king only grimaced and replied that his royal majesty Karl V was of no concern to him. He did not care and I only had to look over at my companion, Duarte Barbosa, to see what was going to happen to me next. Then he clapped his hands and two girls entered. They were only clothed with little skirts of leaves around their hips and wore veils on their heads. One of them held a knife of stone in her hand and slowly danced around the bloody body of Duarte Barbosa, until the king gave a signal, at which she knelt down and plunged the blade of her knife into the heart of the poor man. His whimpering immediately ceased, and I offered up a prayer in the name of my patron, as thanks, that Barbosa was finally released from his suffering.

I was led out of the hut. As I passed the stakes with the bodies of my companions I counted and found that there were twenty one of them. It immediately occurred to me that one was missing. Twenty seven of us had come ashore and of these Juan Carvajo and the ship’s master-at-arms had immediately returned because they didn’t trust these creatures. Henrique had gone over to the enemies; Barbosa still lay in the hut; I was still alive, and apparently the twenty second must be as well.

I didn’t have time to notice or determine anything else because I was quickly led past and thrown into a hut, where they tied me so tightly to a post that the blood was soon oozing from out of my skin.

Toward evening the so called Henrique again came to me, sat down across from me and began to tell me how they were going to kill me and how much the population of this entire island would enjoy this celebration. At that his eyes glowed so terribly and his features became so distorted, that it seemed as if Satan himself was looking at me. And then he told me, how he, with the help of the four remaining kings of Zubu, had arranged the treachery and given Rajah Humabon counsel; and how happy he was to finally have his revenge for being taken away from his homeland and for his enslavement. That was when I realized, that this slave as well, even though he had long since been baptized and wore a Christian name, was nothing other than another heathen.

He left me at night fall, and two girls came into the hut; the first was the one that had killed Duarte Barbosa. They sat to the left and to the right of me with their stone knives in their hands, and I understood that they were designated as my guards. But in front of the hut I could still hear the voices of the men and knew they were being very careful to prevent an escape. But I was so weak from the loss of so much blood, from a blow over the head which I had received, one that had nearly crushed my skull, that I could not even once think about making an attempt for my freedom. Because I was so weak I soon fell asleep despite my bounds, and a good dream showed me the beautiful city of Sevilla, and I went with Donna Mercedes across to the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria: once Donna Mercedes lifted her hand and caressed me so softly and lovingly over my face, that I became highly confused and wondered why she did this.

But then I awoke from harsh screams like the screeching of a giant bird, and as I came to my senses, I noticed two things; that these screeches were coming from above my head at the top of the hut and that a soft and warm hand was still lovingly caressing my face. But there was so much darkness in the hut that I could not make out whose hands they belonged to, except that it must belong to one of my guards, because no one other than a woman was able to caress so softly and lovingly.

Meanwhile the cries from the roof continued and they were such horrible and uncanny screeches that the dogs around the hut became entirely panicked and began to howl as if in fear. It was not long before the caressing stopped, and both girls spoke to each other in the darkness, then they began a soft singing that penetrated miraculously into my heart, strengthened my soul like a sweet refreshment and almost drove tears into my eyes. As the screeches on the roof became silent and only this song continued, a deep sleep soon came over me and didn’t leave until the light of morning.

With sunrise my guards left and in their place came four of the king’s warriors with lances and clubs, who tested my bonds, to see if they had loosened. Henrique brought me some bread and a roasted hen, which he pushed into my mouth piece by piece, so that I could eat and regain my strength, in order, as he said, to prolong my death, which he again described in a horrible way. I ate and refused to give him any response when he once more inquired if I knew where the priest Pedro de Valderrama was hiding, who to his memory had also come ashore. But my thoughts were only directed toward the night that was coming soon and was waiting to see if it would bring any more soft caresses and comforting songs.

With nightfall the darkness came again along with both girls and their stone knives, then the warriors left, so I thought that it must be the custom with these heathens, and it occurred to me that my two guards were perhaps some type of priestesses, like those in many of the tribes in the lands that the Portuguese had discovered.

But they only spoke with each other and didn’t even look at me. After they had sat down to my left and to my right, the one on my right prepared a drink for me, which she mixed together from various vessels. She said something over it and then they both drank as well.

I was determined not to fall asleep, so that I could find out which of them was friendly towards me. But I had to wait a long time, until midnight, before I felt a hand on my arm. Slowly the hand slid up to my neck, and I sensed once more the coldness of the stone knife on my throat, so that I was terribly frightened and realized that I was to die in the darkness. But the knife cut the rope that lay around my neck and made it difficult to breathe and to swallow. Then the ropes around my arms and legs were cut so that I was once more free. But I didn’t move, because I thought, this same hand that had freed me, would give me a signal of what I had to do.

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