(Essentials of European Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 1198 words.)