Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 732
“The old woman’s story”
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The old woman was not always in the physical condition she is in now, and she was not always a servant. She is the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina and, until she was fourteen, she was raised in a palace far finer than the stable of any Baron’s castle in Germany. Just one of her gowns was worth all the splendors of Westphalia. Her beauty, grace, and talents grew, and she was surrounded by “pleasures, deference, and expectations.” Her body grew beautiful in every way; the servants who dressed her were envious and every man wanted her.
She was betrothed to a prince as handsome as she was beautiful; he was charming, witty, and full of love for her. She loved with him with all the ardor of first love, and wedding preparations began. It was a glorious time of feasts, tournaments, and operas. The men of Italy were writing her sonnets (none of which were very good), and all happiness was within her reach. Then an old marquise who had been the prince’s lover invited him to eat some chocolate with her, and he died a horrible death within two hours. But that was not the worst.
The old woman’s mother was in despair over the prince’s death and wanted to escape her misery for a short time. They set sail in one of the grand, gilded ships of the principality, and on the sea they were overtaken by a corsair from Rome which overtook their vessel. The soldiers who were supposed to guard the women just fell to their knees, threw down their weapons, and begged for absolution before they died. Everyone on the ship was stripped naked and the attacking soldiers inspected their body cavities, a custom which seemed quite strange to the old woman. She did not know that it was “one of the laws of the rights of man that has always been adhered to,” a practice done by pirates to check for diamonds being carried in secret places.
The old woman and her mother endured awful things on the corsair vessel. Her virginity, which should have been given in love and tenderness to her handsome prince, was taken from her by the repulsive ship’s captain who somehow thought he was doing her a great honor. The journey was horrific, and when they got to Morocco both women were to be sold as slaves.
The city was in civil war when they arrived, and there was blood and carnage everywhere. As soon as they disembarked, a rival group of pirates in contention with their corsair tried to take his treasures. Next to diamonds and gold, the women were the most valuable possessions the corsair had, and the fight that ensued was much more terrible than any battle in Europe. The men of Africa fight for women with much more intensity than men to the north, and it was an awful battle. A Moor grabbed her mother’s right hand and the captain’s lieutenant grabbed her left hand; a Moorish soldier grabbed one of her legs and a pirate grabbed the other. Almost every one of the females from the ship was receiving the same treatment, being pulled in many directions at once.
The captain kept the old woman hidden behind him as he wielded his scimitar and killed everyone who came near him. In the end, all of the Italian women, including her mother, were ripped apart and massacred by the “monsters who were wrangling” to own them. Finally, everyone connected to the captain and the old woman was killed, and she was left for dead in a pile of corpses. This was a scene repeated all over the region, though no one failed to faithfully recite their prayers five times a day to Mohammed.
Finally the old woman was able to disentangle herself from the mangled bodies around her; she dragged herself under a large orange tree on the bank of a stream and collapsed from exhaustion, hunger, despair, and horror. She lapsed into a deep sleep, close to unconsciousness, drifting between life and death until she felt something pressing and wriggling against her body. She opened her eyes and saw a handsome white man who was sighing and muttering in Italian: “Oh what a calamity to be without testicles!”