IN a small Spanish village there lived a poor peasant and his wife who were blessed one day by the birth of a son. The father was so happy that he made up his mind to give the boy a very special godfather.
Without more ado, he set out in search of a godfather worthy of his son. He had not walked far when he ran into the Devil.
“Hello there, Jose,” said the Devil, winking at the wandering peasant. “I hear you are seeking a godfather for your newborn son. Well, your search is over: where in the world could you find a more worthy godfather than me? I am the best there is.”
“Away with you, Satan,” said the poor man. “I know of your devilish ways. You may be strong, but you do not know the meaning of justice and goodness. It is such qualities a poor man values most.”
At this rebuff, the Devil snorted, leapt up and down in a fury, then vanished whence he had come, his long tail between his legs.
Some time later, Jose's path chanced to cross that of a Saint, who stopped him and said politely, “Ah, my son, I hear you seek a godfather for your newborn child. 'Tis true, I have no earthly riches, but I am honest as the day is long. Would I be suitable?”
Jose was impressed by the Saint's kind offer, but he shook his head firmly.
“I am sorry, but you cannot help me. Your reputation is of course spotless, but you haven't a peseta to your name. I seek a godfather who can help my son get on in life.”
“Your words weigh heavy on my soul,” replied the Saint.
“Ambition is not always a wise companion.” With that the Saint went on his way.
The poor peasant continued his journey. As he walked along a desolate mountain path, he suddenly came upon a gaunt figure in white blocking his way. In great dread, he recognised the solemn figure standing before him. It was Death.
Her fleshless bones were clad in a long white shroud; her gleaming eyeless skull was hooded and, in her left hand, she held a long sharp scythe.
Jose was terrified.
“Is my time up?” he asked aghast. “Why do you stand across my path?”
“No,” she replied. “Your time is not yet due. I am here because I know of your quest. You have spoken with the Devil and the Saint; and neither suit your needs. It is not a godfather you should seek, a godmother would be much more fitting. So here I am to offer you my services.” “I am well pleased by your offer,” replied Jose when he had got over his shock and surprise. “You are the very person I am looking for. You are all-powerful, for in your presence every person quakes with fear, whether he be rich or poor, great or small, young or old. Your judgment is final and your sharp scythe spares no one. You are indeed the ideal godmother for my son. The christening shall be celebrated this coming Saturday.”
The hooded skull nodded. “You will not regret it,” came the hollow voice. “When my godson attains the age of twenty years, he will lack for neither fame nor fortune. That I promise. You have chosen wisely. I shall attend the christening at nine o' clock precisely.”
Having found a godmother suited to his needs, Jose turned back and headed home for home. By the time Saturday arrived, everyone in the village was talking about Jose's unusual choice of godparent for his son. The local priest had spent much time searching in the holy scripts for good reasons to prevent the uncommon baptism. But he found none.
Punctual as ever, Death arrived at the church on the stroke of nine. The crowded congregation gaped at her in awe, but Death paid them no heed as she walked very slowly through the church. She seemed to cast a spell of silence upon all present.
Once the ceremony was over, Death gave Jose a bag of gold, and said, “When my godson reaches the age of twenty, I shall return. Then I shall bestow much honour and glory upon him.”
With that she gently touched the child upon the head with her fleshless hand, as if in blessing, caressing him with her bony fingers. The congregation watched in fear as shedeparted in the same somber manner as she had come.
Time passed quickly. The months and the years flew by, and it came to the time for Death's godson to celebrate his twentieth birthday. No one had cast from their mind the promised visit of Death on that fateful day; and every member of Jose's household grew more and more nervous as the hour of destiny drew near.
Finally, at midday, when the birthday celebrations were at their height, a window clattered open and a chill gust of wind swept into the room. Death in her white shroud appeared before him.
“Happy Birthday, Godson,” she said. “I'm glad to see you have grown up into a strong and handsome young man, and I am exceedingly proud to be your godmother. I trust tat soon you will be proud of me.”
“I am already grateful to you, Godmother,” replied the poor peasant's son. “For, thanks to your gold, we have never lacked for anything in this house.”
“That is nothing compared with the gift I am about to grant you,” she said. “Come with me for a moment. I wish to speak to you alone.”
The young man followed his godmother into an adjoining room and sat beside her, as she bade him.
“The time is nigh for me to fulfill my pledge,” said Death quickly. “I promised your father that I would make you a man of means, commanding great respect. As ever, I shall keep my promise.”
Thereupon she took a sprig of some unknown herb from beneath her shroud.
“Take this magic herb,” she said. “With its help you will become the most famous physician in all the land. When you visit someone who is sick, simply cast your gaze to the bedhead: should you see me standing by the right side, instruct the family to make a potion from this herb. In no time at all the patient will recover, no matter how grave the illness.
“However, should you see me standing on the left side of the bedhead, do not use the magic herb at any cost. The patient is fated to die and the herb cannot change this if you try to go against my will and save someone who must die, you will bring yourself much grief.
“No matter how many times you use the herb. It will remain as fresh potent as before. And mark this- only you will be able to see me; to all others I shall remain invisible.”
As she finished speaking, she touched her godson on the shoulder with her bony hand and left the house. He was well pleased with his gift, having complete faith in its powers, for he knew that Death always kept her word.
And so it was. The fame of the young doctor spread rapidly throughout Spain and, in spite of his young years, he soon became the most sought-after physician in the land. He could earn as much money as he liked, and he lived the life of a rich gentleman.
It was said of him that he worked miracles- giving a potion made from a magic herb which always cured the patient within three days. But it was also whispered that if the young doctor said someone would die, then they were undoubtedly doomed.
One day Death's godson was called to the home of a very rich and influential family. The patient was the couple's only son, a three- year-old boy. Nothing pleased the doctor more than being able to cure such helpless victims of disease as young children. Full of confidence, he took up his magic herb and headed for the mansion.
Weeping inconsolably, the mother and father received him and immediately showed him into the sick room where the little boy was lying. As soon as he entered, the doctor froze with fear, for above the little, moaning from stood Death- on the left side of the bedhead. He looked at his godmother, pleading with her silently to reprieve the little child. But Death, as we all know, is pitiless. She returned his look with a cold, hard stare.
“Sir,” the mother said, as the silence lengthened ominously into minutes, “will my little son be saved? I know that only you can give the answer.”
The doctor hesitated, looking into Death's sightless eyes. After several moments more, he firmly turned away from his godmother and said, “Yes Senora, he will be saved. Make him a potion from this herb, and he will recover.”
To be Continued
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