“Fill his excellency the intendant’s glass. Does much more treasure come down, illustrious señor? May the poor of Mary hope for a few more crumbs from their Mistress’s table?”

“Not a pezo, I fear. The big white cow up there”—and he pointed to the Horqueta—“has been milked dry for this year.”

“Ah!” And he looked up at the magnificent snow peak. “Only good to cool wine with, eh? and as safe for the time being as Solomon’s birds.”

“Solomon’s birds? Explain your recondite allusion, my lord.”

“Enlighten us, your excellency, enlighten us.”

“Ah! thereby hangs a tale. You know the holy birds who run up and down on the Prado at Seville among the ladies’ pretty feet,—eh? with hooked noses and cinnamon crests? Of course. Hoopoes—Upupa, as the classics have it. Well, señors, once on a time, the story goes, these hoopoes all had golden crowns on their heads; and, señors, they took the consequences—eh? But it befell on a day that all the birds and beasts came to do homage at the court of his most Catholic majesty King Solomon, and among them came these same hoopoes; and they had a little request to make, the poor rogues. And what do you think it was? Why, that King Solomon would pray for them that they might wear any sort of crowns but these same golden ones; for—listen, Tita, and see the snare of riches— mankind so hunted, and shot, and trapped, and snared them, for the sake of these same golden crowns, that life was a burden to bear. So Solomon prayed, and instead of golden crowns, they all received crowns of feathers; and ever since, señors, they live as merrily as crickets in an oven, and also have the honor of bearing the name of his most Catholic majesty King Solomon. Tita! fill the señor commandant’s glass. Fray Gerundio, what are you whispering about down there, sir?”

Fray Gerundio had merely commented to his brother on the bishop’s story of Solomon’s birds with an—

O si sic omnia!—would that all gold would turn to feathers in like wise!”

“Then, friend,” replied the other, a Dominican, like Gerundio, but of a darker and sterner complexion, “corrupt human nature would within a week discover some fresh bauble, for which to kill and be killed in vain.”

“What is that, Fray Gerundio?” asked the bishop again.

“I merely remarked, that it were well for the world if all mankind were to put up the same prayer as the hoopoes.”

“World, sir? What do you know about the world? Convert your Indians, sir, if you please, and leave affairs of state to your superiors. You will excuse him, señors” (turning to the Dons, and speaking in a lower tone). “A very worthy and pious man, but a poor peasant’s son; and beside—you understand. A little wrong here; too much fasting and watching, I fear, good man.” And the bishop touched his forehead knowingly, to signify that Fray Gerundio’s wits were in an unsatisfactory state.

The Fray heard and saw with a quiet smile. He was one of those excellent men whom the cruelties of his countrymen had stirred up (as the darkness, by mere contrast, makes the light more bright), as they did Las Casas, Gasca, and many another noble name which is written in the book of life, to deeds of love and pious daring worthy of any creed or age. True Protestants, they protested, even before kings, against the evil which lay nearest them, the sin which really beset them; true liberals, they did not disdain to call the dark-skinned heathen their brothers; and asserted in terms which astonish us, when we recollect the age in which they were spoken, the inherent freedom of every being who wore the flesh and blood which their Lord wore; true martyrs, they bore witness of Christ, and received too often the rewards of such, in slander and contempt. Such an one was Fray Gerundio; a poor, mean, clumsy-tongued peasant’s

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