The Student of Salamanca is part of a longer work by Washington Irving entitled Bracebridge Hall. To write the following summary, I consulted a version presented online by the Read Any Book website.
Antonio de Castros, the hero of the story, was living in Granada, reading in the university library and admiring the Moorish architecture.
Antonio met an elderly man who aroused his curiosity. When Antonio tried to converse with him, he said that he was too busy to talk. Antonio eventually decided to follow him home. When the old man knocked at the door of his house, Antonio received a pleasant surprise. A lovely maiden opened the door and let him in.
The old man did not notice that a student had been following him, but the maiden saw him immediately and quickly closed the door.
From a group of vagabond gypsies called Gitanas, Antonio learned that the only people living with the old man were his daughter and a female servant. The Gitanas thought that the old man practiced black arts.
Antonio could not stop thinking about the girl. He found it impossible to concentrate on his studies. He spent considerable time loitering in the vicinity of the mansion, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. She often sang some songs at night before she went to bed. Antonio regularly stayed to listen.
One night, a rival appeared on the scene. A cavalier sang serenades to the maiden, accompanying himself on a guitar. To Antonio’s relief, he received no response.
After the rival had left, an explosion occurred. It proved to be an alchemical experiment that had gone wrong. The ladies were obviously distressed. Antonio forced his way into the house. The maiden urged him to save her father.
Antonio removed the unconscious old man from a room filled with poisonous fumes and managed to revive him. He offered to watch over the weakened man during the night. His kindness and modest demeanor won the confidence of the maiden.
In the days that followed, Antonio visited the convalescent alchemist frequently. The sick man eventually began to appreciate Antonio’s presence. Antonio had looked into the occult arts himself and could converse intelligently on astrology, divination, and the philosopher’s stone.
Antonio learned that his patient was Felix de Vasquez. He had married a beautiful wife who was a descendant of one of the Abencerrages, the most gallant of the Moorish cavaliers. His father did not approve of his marriage and left him very little inheritance.
Felix had become interested in the occult sciences. In his straitened circumstances, he figured that he could improve the fortunes of himself and his family if he discovered the great secret for which the alchemists were searching. He soon became totally engrossed in the pursuit of this lofty goal and began to consider it an end in itself.
Then tragedy struck. His wife and most of his children died of a malignant fever. Only one daughter survived. Her name was Inez.
Felix did not want to continue living in the house where the tragedy had occurred. He left his home and tirelessly wandered far and near in pursuit of alchemical knowledge. He learned Arabic so that he could read alchemical material written in that language. Eventually he settled in Granada.
His daughter Inez accompanied him on all his travels. She never complained about the hardships that their vagrant life imposed upon her. She was a great comfort to him, and he depended on her more and more as he grew older.
Since the blast had destroyed his laboratory, Felix was despondent. He felt that he was too old and feeble to rebuild it.
Antonio offered to help him, even contributing gold. He professed interest in alchemy and became a disciple of Felix. After Felix recovered from his wounds, experiments began in earnest.
Antonio’s zeal for alchemy was undoubtedly kindled by his resultant opportunities to enjoy the presence of Inez. More and more, he became captivated by her simple charms and her passive gentleness. He had many opportunities to enjoy her company when her father was seriously sick. However, after his recovery, her maidenly shyness reasserted itself, and she endeavored to secrete herself from him as much as possible.
Love often affected Antonio’s work in the laboratory. Instead of thinking of an ongoing experiment, he would daydream about Inez. As a result, things often went wrong. Fortunately, Felix attributed the mistakes of Antonio to the machinations of the evil spirits that earnestly strove to hinder alchemical discovery.
Antonio’s gold was being used up in the experiments, but he did not complain because he placed far more value on the glimpses of Inez that he occasionally enjoyed. Inez led a secluded life, but she liked to walk in the garden. As a result, when he and Felix walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, Antonio often caught sight of her there. He also loved to listen when her songs managed to reach his ears.
One evening, Antonio’s rival stole into the garden and tried to seduce Inez. When Antonio happened to approach, Inez fled to her room and the rival left.
Antonio mistakenly concluded that Inez was having a clandestine affair. He was disappointed in her and felt sorry for her father. He wanted to discontinue his association with Felix so that he could forget about Inez, but he kept returning to take part in the experiments.
To avoid the seducer, Inez no longer walked in the garden. However, with the help of a ladder and an accomplice, the cavalier climbed up into her room. Antonio saw it and decided to investigate. He temporarily overpowered the accomplice and climbed up the ladder. He saw Inez struggling with the Cavalier and hastened to help her. In the ensuing fight, Antonio was seriously hurt, since the cavalier had a sword and the assistance of his accomplice; but he managed to rescue Inez and enjoyed her resultant gratitude.
While Antonio was recovering from his wounds, he stayed in the mansion and was fully admitted to the domestic life of the family. Inez was no longer coy and reserved, but artless and confiding. From what she told him, Antonio realized that the cavalier was not a rival, but an unwanted stalker named Don Ambrosio de Loxa.
Don Ambrosio was a notorious and determined profligate. To protect Inez, Antonio persuaded Felix to move to Valentia, since Antonio had relatives there. They planned to leave as soon as Antonio was fully recovered.
Before they could leave, several things happened. On the positive side of the ledger, Antonio won the love and esteem of Inez. On the negative side, Antonio was kidnapped, Felix was arrested by the Inquisition, and Inez was kidnapped by Don Ambrosio.
Fortunately for Inez, Don Ambrosio was tired of easy conquests. She was the most virtuous maiden that he had ever met, and he was determined to seduce her by his charms, no matter how long it took.
Don Ambrosio treated her with feigned kindness. When she demanded to know where her father was, he told her all kinds of lies. He placed her in a voluptuous environment, but all his efforts at seduction proved to be futile.
Don Ambrosio made ample use of music in his nefarious undertaking. One day he invited some singers. One of them was a previous victim of the treachery of Don Ambrosio. On a past occasion, she had sung a song to Antonio and Inez. Her song had warned them of impending danger. Now she slipped a note to Inez warning her of the evil intentions of Don Ambrosio and informing her that her father had been arrested and condemned by the Inquisition.
Inez immediately begged Don Ambrosio to save the life of her father. Don Ambrosio tried to continue his kindness and lies, but he soon saw that the mask of benevolence had fallen from his face.
Since he no longer had any hope of seducing Inez, he resorted to fear tactics. He told Inez that he could save his father from the Inquisition, but he made it clear that he would do so only if she succumbed to his advances. Day by day, he played upon her fears. Finally, he showed the list of people condemned to be burned at the stake during the next auto da fé. Her father’s name was on the list.
It became clear to Inez that Don Ambrosio had engineered her father’s arrest. She called him a murderer. Don Ambrosio continued to hope that she would eventually yield.
As the day of the auto da fé began to dawn, the singer who had passed her the warning note entered her room and led her to safety.
In the meantime, those condemned by the Inquisition were being paraded to the place where they were destined to be burned to death. Inez rushed to her father and even attempted to defend him by grabbing someone’s sword, but she was easily overpowered and forcibly separated from her father. The sympathetic crowd was afraid to interfere.
While Inez was being restrained by familiars of the Inquisition, Don Ambrosio approached and claimed that he was her protector. In reply, Inez said that she had no protector but her father She accused Don Ambrosio of murdering him.
Don Ambrosio claimed that distress had affected her brain, and the wild attitude of Inez tended to confirm his claim. The familiars surrendered her to Don Ambrosio.
However, Antonio came in the nick of time. During the ensuing sword fight, Inez fainted and did not regain consciousness until many days later. She awoke in a magnificent residence in Valentia, and her father was with her.
Though disguised as a poor student, Antonio was actually the son and only heir of a rich grandee of Valentia. He was supposed to be studying at Salamanca, but he decided to travel, eventually coming to Granada. When his father learned where he was, he sent men to seize him and bring him home.
Antonio managed to persuade his father that Inez was a virtuous girl. His father agreed to let him return to Granada and bring her back to Valentia as his bride. He found the residence of Felix deserted and did not know what happened until he read the name of Felix on the list of prisoners that were to be burned at the stake.
He arrived just in time. In his fight with Don Ambrosio, he seriously wounded his opponent. Thinking that he was about to face the almighty Judge, Don Ambrosio confessed that he had given a false accusation to the Inquisition. Because of this recantation and because of Don Antonio’s influence, Felix was released. The sympathetic crowd fully approved of his deliverance.
Don Ambrosio recovered and decided to hide his remorse and disgrace in a convent. The singer whom Don Ambrosio had seduced also entered a nunnery. She was still infatuated with her seducer and retired from the world when he did.
Inez had been an excellent daughter. Now she became Antonio’s excellent wife. Her father lived with him and continued his experiments. Antonio still assisted him, but his interest in alchemy slackened considerably after his marriage to Inez.
I consider The Student of Salamanca one of the best short stories ever written, and I believe that Inez is one of the most excellent heroines in literature. I like this story even better than Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle.
Read Any Book: Bracebridge Hall, or the Humorists by Washington Irving