The French armies of Napoleon had laid siege to Saragossa from mid-June to mid-August in the year 1808. Although the city had defended itself so bravely that the French finally withdrew, the people of Saragossa knew that Napoleon would never leave them in peace until he had conquered them. When warnings of a second siege came early in December of the same year, citizens of the town were not surprised. The fame of the first defense of Saragossa had spread throughout Spain, and many men went to aid the city in the coming struggle. Among these was Araceli, a young man well-known to a brave Saragossan, Don Jose de Montoria.
Don Jose, delighted to have Araceli in Saragossa, enrolled him in the battalion of the Penas of San Pedro. Don Jose himself had two sons, Manuel and Augustine. Manuel, the older, was to carry on the family line. Augustine was to enter the Church. Araceli quickly made friends with Augustine and discovered that the boy was a better soldier than he was a theological student.
When French troops began their attack on the city, Augustine and Araceli fought side by side in the front lines. During the first days of the siege everything seemed to be going well for the defenders. One night, when the two were off duty, Augustine told Araceli about his love for Mariquilla, daughter of the old miser, Candiola. Augustine knew that he was destined for the Church, but he also knew that he and Mariquilla loved each other. During the first siege Candiola had won the enmity of everyone because he had done nothing to help the town, and Augustine did not dare tell his family that he loved the miser’s daughter. The two tried to see the girl secretly that night but, as they were about to be let into the garden of her house by a maid, Candiola appeared and they had to leave.
The fighting continued, neither side making much headway until the French attacked the Redoubt del Pilar and finally breached the walls. As the Spanish defenders prepared to retire, they saw that someone had mounted the walls and was trying to hold back the French alone. When the soldiers saw that this brave person was a girl, Manuela Sancho, they were inspired to hold their positions. The fortification did not fall that day.
As the battle for the city went on, food and materials of war became scarce. Don Jose was authorized to seize any wheat that he could find and pay a stipulated sum for it. Because Candiola was known to have a large supply of grain in his house, Don Jose went there to get it. Candiola, however, refused to sell the wheat at the price offered. Angry, Don Jose knocked the old man down and ordered the soldiers to take the wheat. Mariquilla, rushing from the house, tried to protect her father, who lay shaking in the dust. When Don Jose offered her the money he had been ordered to pay for the wheat, she took it and threw it in his face.
A few days later Augustine and Araceli visited Mariquilla at night. The girl’s first words to Augustine were about the man who had struck her father, for she did not know that Augustine was Don Jose’s son. Augustine was at a loss for something to say. Mariquilla loved her father despite his faults, and Augustine could not let her know that it had been his father who had struck the old miser. A few days later, after Candiola’s house had been hit by a bomb, Augustine and Araceli rushed to the spot to see if any harm had come to Mariquilla. They found the family safe, but the house was in ruins. Candiola was disgusting in his concern over his lost treasures in the very face of the dead about him, and he refused to leave his house for fear looters would steal something from the rubble. Augustine arranged to have Mariquilla stay with the brave Manuela Sancho.
Meanwhile the French had broken into the city, and the defenders fought from street to street, from house to house. During the fighting Manuel de Montoria was killed. The tragedy greatly changed Don Jose’s attitudes. When he met Candiola in the street, he asked to be forgiven for striking him, but Candiola would not forgive the insult. During their conversation Candiola charged that Don Jose’s son had led his daughter astray by taking her to nurse the wounded and care for the sick.
The next day Augustine and Mariquilla were sitting together on a sidewalk talking over the plans for their marriage after the war was over. Araceli joined them. All thought they could hear sounds of digging under them. For the past several weeks the French had been trying to dig tunnels under the city to aid them in blowing up strategic buildings, but the defenders had dug as many tunnels in defense and felt sure that all was protected from surprise. The three investigated as well as they could but decided that a tunnel at that spot would be of no danger to the city.
The next day the convent of San Francisco in the center of the city was destroyed. The Saragossans soon discovered that the French had penetrated to the convent through a tunnel from Candiola’s house, to which the miser had guided the enemy. The town demanded death for the traitor.
As soon as she heard that her father was to be killed, Mariquilla left the hospital where she had been working and went to look for Augustine. Sure that her father was innocent, she begged Augustine to save Candiola. At that moment Don Jose appeared, and Mariquilla learned that Augustine was his son. When she learned further that Augustine was in charge of the firing squad for Candiola’s execution, she threw herself at his feet and again begged him to spare her father’s life. Don Jose told his son to remember the cause for which he fought. Torn between love and honor, Augustine broke his sword and walked away. Mariquilla, overcome with grief, was befriended by sympathetic spectators.
Still Saragossa held out. Weeks dragged by. Finally, on the twenty-first of February, 1809, the city was forced to surrender. Hardly a wall stood to shelter the defenders.
A few days later Araceli was accosted by a man he scarcely recognized. It was Augustine, come to entreat his friend to help dig a grave for Mariquilla, who had died neither of war nor of the plague but of grief. Don Jose came up to them and begged his son to forget the girl now that she was dead and to come back to his family and carry on the Montoria name. Augustine, however, told his father that he intended to enter a monastery as soon as he had finished with Mariquilla’s grave. Thus ended Don Jose’s hopes for his family. Araceli left the destroyed city of Saragossa, the lesson of its bravery still deep in his heart when in other cities, in later days, he continued the fight for Spanish freedom.
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