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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/82

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

nothing of the kind; for the weak have grave fears of possible errors in justice. Besides, these vagabonds are very easily scared.

The charge against the Comprachicos was that they traded in other people's children. But the promiscuousuess caused by poverty and indigence is such that at times it might have been difficult for a father and mother to prove a child their own. How came you by this child? How were they to prove that they had received it from God? The child became a danger: they got rid of it; to fly unencumbered was easier. The parents resolved to leave it,—now in a wood, now on a beach, now down a well. Many children were found drowned in cisterns.

Let us add that in imitation of England all Europe henceforth hunted down the Comprachicos. The impulse of pursuit was given. There is nothing like belling the cat. From that time on the desire to capture Comprachicos caused much rivalry between the police of the different countries, and the alguazil was no less watchful than the constable.

One could still see, twenty-three years ago, on a stone of the gate of Otero, an untranslatable inscription,—the words of the code outraging propriety. In it, however, the difference which existed between the buyers and kidnappers of children is very strongly marked. Here is part of the inscription in somewhat rough Castilian: "Aqui quedan las orejas de los Comprachicos, y las bolsas de los robaniños, mientras que se van ellos al trabajo de mar." The confiscation of ears, etc., did not prevent their owners from going to the galleys. Hence ensued a general rout among all vagabonds. They started frightened; they arrived trembling. On every shore in Europe their furtive advent was closely watched. It was impossible for such a band to em-