Lazaro makes his way to the city of Toledo, where people give him alms when he begs because he is injured. However, when his wounds heal people are no longer as generous, telling him to go find a job instead of begging. Lazaro meets his third master, the squire, while begging on the street. Lazaro notes the squire’s decent appearance and dress. The squire asks Lazaro if he is looking for a master and Lazaro replies that he is.
By observing that the townspeople stop giving alms when he is no longer injured, Lazaro implies that their generosity, while well-intentioned, is superficial and reactionary rather than a sign of real virtue or compassion. When Lazaro meets the squire he thinks he has had a stroke of good luck because the squire’s appearance makes him seem respectable. These two observations set the tone for a chapter that centers on false appearances.
Lazaro spends the entire morning following the squire around town and through the market, where Lazaro is surprised to see that the squire does not buy anything. Lazaro goes with the squire to church and watches him, noting that his demeanor is very devout. Lazaro gets hungrier and hungrier as the day progresses but the clock strikes 1:30 and still the squire has not stopped to buy food. This puzzles Lazaro, who thinks the squire seems to be the kind of person who provides well for himself.
In this passage Lazaro gets his first hint that something is suspicious about the gap between the squire’s behavior and his appearance. The squire parades himself proudly around town and makes a show of piousness at the church, all the while letting Lazaro go hungry.
Finally, Lazaro and the squire arrive at the squire’s home. Once inside, the squire questions Lazaro about his past. Lazaro does his best to take his time and tell a detailed story, despite the fact that he is very hungry. He is careful to leave out any details he thinks the squire might find disagreeable.
By now Lazaro is well-seasoned in the art of tweaking the truth to serve his own interests. He is eager to impress the squire because he recognizes in this new master an opportunity for him to improve his social standing.
Lazaro notices that the squire’s house seems completely empty of furniture or food. The squire asks Lazaro is he has eaten, and Lazaro says that he has not. The squire says that he ate breakfast just before meeting in the street that morning, and then he explains that he never eats lunch, so he encourages Lazaro to be patient until dinner. Lazaro is on the verge of fainting from hunger when he hears this and it reminds him of his past suffering. Lazaro begins to cry over his bad luck, but he hides his feelings from the squire and instead tells the squire that he doesn’t need to eat much. The squire commends Lazaro, saying that moderation is an important virtue.
By this point it is probably more than clear to the reader that all is not as it seems with the squire. The squire’s barren house and empty stomach—and the flimsy lies he makes up to conceal the truth—should be early warning signs to Lazaro that something is amiss. Yet Lazaro’s willingness to believe the squire—despite some initial skepticism and the obvious clues that the squire is lying—are signs that Lazaro has maintained some of his youthful innocence and gullibility.
Lazaro takes out a piece of bread he had saved from begging and begins eating it. When the squire sees Lazaro eating, he becomes excited and says the bread looks delicious. The squire takes the largest of Lazaro’s three loaves for himself and begins eating it quickly. Lazaro, realizing that the squire is hungry enough to eat whatever he can get his hands on, finishes eating the rest of the bread as fast as he can. After they are finished eating, the squire offers Lazaro a drink from his jug and Lazaro refuses, explaining that he doesn’t drink wine, but the squire explains that it’s just water.
Although the squire stoops to taking his servant’s food in this passage, he remains too proud to admit that he is also starving and ask for the food outright. When Lazaro refuses the squire’s offer of something to drink, he again lies to create a better impression.
Lazaro and the squire go into the squire’s bedroom, where Lazaro sees that the bed is made up of some tattered, old bedclothes lying on top a mattress that has lost its shape. Nonetheless, the squire teaches Lazaro how to make the bed, and afterwards the squire says to Lazaro that they may as well go without dinner because it’s late and there is no food in the house and the town plaza is far away. The squire lies down to go to sleep, and instructs Lazaro to sleep at his feet. Lazaro, uncomfortable and starving, doesn’t sleep all night but makes an effort to lie still so as not to disturb the squire.
The squire’s insistence on making his bed even though it is barely more than a pile of rags shows both the tenacity and the ridiculousness of his pride and his concern for appearances. By the time the two go to bed with empty stomachs, it is all too clear that Lazaro has not found himself in the hands of a master who will be able to provide for him any more than his previous two masters.
In the morning, the squire dresses himself very slowly. He shows Lazaro his sword, which is very finely crafted. Then, as the squire is leaving to go to church, he instructs Lazaro to make the bed and fill the jug of water at the river. The squire tells Lazaro to leave the house key in a crack outside so he will be able to let himself in when he returns. As the squire walks away Lazaro takes note of how proudly the poor squire walks and says a silent prayer, asking God how many proud men there must be in the world who suffer to protect their honor.
The fact that the only two chores to be done in the house are fetching water and making the bed is demonstrative of the modesty of the squire’s living situation. Lazaro’s prayer shows that, although he has played along with the squire’s charades, the superficiality of the squire’s excuses has not been lost on Lazaro. The empathy implicit in Lazaro’s prayer is also a precursor to Lazaro’s later charity towards the squire.
After Lazaro has made the bed, he leaves the house to fetch water from the river. While he is out he sees the squire in a garden talking to two women. The women ask the squire for lunch, but the squire makes different excuses, at which point the women quickly lose interest and wander off. Lazaro returns to the house without being noticed by the squire.
The passage involving the two women by the river shows how every social interaction—including romantic courtships—is deeply intertwined with the economic interests of those involved. In this scene, even what seems like light flirtation becomes a moment of transaction in which someone is looking for a free lunch.
Lazaro becomes hungry while waiting for the squire to return and leaves the house again to beg for some bread. The townspeople are generous and he returns with four pounds of bread, a piece of cow’s foot, and a few pieces of tripe (cow’s stomach). When he returns, he finds the squire is already home. The squire says he has already eaten lunch but asks Lazaro to share the food with him, which Lazaro does. The squire asks Lazaro not to tell any of the townspeople that they live together, wishing to protect the squire’s honor, and Lazaro consents. The squire tells Lazaro that the house must be cursed, explaining that nothing has gone well for him since he moved in. After they are finished eating, Lazaro fetches the water jug and notices that it is still full, taking it as a sign that the squire had lied about having eaten lunch earlier. For more than a week things continue this way between the squire and Lazaro, the squire going out in the mornings while Lazaro takes care of things around the house and begs for food in the town.
Again in this passage the squire remains too proud to admit to his own hunger and he invents and fabricates yet another elaborate excuse for wanting some of Lazaro’s food—an excuse which Lazaro seems not to believe, though he pretends to. This interaction is another example of an exchange in which each party involved knows that the other is lying but both play along anyway to maintain the appearance of civility. It is particularly disgraceful that the squire takes Lazaro’s food despite that he would be ashamed if anyone found out that a beggar was living with him. Of course, the real reason the squire doesn’t want the townspeople to know that he lives with Lazaro is that his inability to feed his own servant would tip the townspeople off to the squire’s poverty.
One night when the squire gets out of bed to use the bathroom, Lazaro decides to see whether the squire is as poor as he seems and digs through the pockets of the squire’s trousers. He finds a small purse without a single blanca inside it and understands that the squire is only concerned with mainlining appearances. Lazaro pities the squire, thinking to himself that while he was right to leave his other masters, the squire deserves compassion.
This moment of revelation is a turning point for Lazaro’s character. Instead of reacting with anger or indignation that he has been lied to, Lazaro has compassion for the squire, recognizing that they face the same problem of not having enough to get by. This compassionate response is particularly remarkable in contrast to the stinginess of other figures in the book. Lazaro is charitable even when he has nothing to give.
Meanwhile, the city council decides to throw all the poor people out of Toledo who are not from there because of a crop failure that left the city with a short supply of food. Four days after the announcement is made, Lazaro sees long lines of poor people leaving the city and becomes so afraid of being discovered that he doesn’t go begging anymore. During this time, he is fed by the women who live next door, who spin cotton for a living.
The city council’s banishment of the poor foreigners shows the callousness and indifference of the Church and government to the suffering of the poor. Echoing Lazaro’s compassion for the pitiable squire, the cotton-spinners next door show Lazaro compassion although they are strangers who have little themselves. In this passage, the stark contrast between the actions of the “haves” and the “have nots” makes a hard-to-ignore critique of the society’s system of values, simultaneously suggesting that the poor are the only group of people who really live according to the values of Christianity.
One day the squire comes home with a real (the equivalent of around 68 blancas) and tells Lazaro that they will be moving away from the cursed house. He sends Lazaro to the market to fetch some bread, wine, and meat. As Lazaro is walking down the street, he encounters a funeral procession. The dead man’s widow is crying loudly, shouting out that they are taking her husband to a dark and gloomy house “where they neither eat nor drink.” Lazaro becomes afraid, thinking that they are bringing the dead man to the squire’s house, and he runs back to alert the squire. The squire sees the mistake Lazaro has made and thinks it is very funny, though Lazaro remains shaken by the incident for days.
The humor of this passage is subtle, but it reveals something important about Lazaro—namely, that he is still a child, capable both of being frightened by such an incident and of misunderstanding the widow’s words so completely. It is also the author’s way of humorously reminding the reader of how miserable Lazaro’s living conditions must be in order for him to think that the widow is referring to the squire’s house when in fact she is referring to death.
In the days that follow, Lazaro and the squire eat very well. One day, when the squire is in a good mood, Lazaro decides to ask the squire about his life story and how he came to be living this way in Toledo. The squire explains that he is from Old Castile (a region in Spain), where he still owns some land. The squire had left his home after insulting a knight by refusing to remove his hat for the knight. Lazaro asks the squire why he would not remove his hat and the squire replies that the knight had greeted him using a common salutation (“God keep your excellency”) rather than one of the salutations reserved for people of a higher class. Lazaro remarks to himself that this must be why God doesn’t help the squire—because “he won’t let anybody ask Him to.” The squire then gives a long speech about his tarnished honor and the hypocrisy of those of high class in society.
The squire’s backstory is illuminating not only of his character, but of a society in which social status is deeply encoded in everything, down to the smallest detail of a person’s dress or speech. Although to Lazaro it would seem foolish for the squire to have sacrificed everything he owned over a slight that may have even been unintentional, this story underscores the disparity between the experiences of those of high class versus those of low class. In this light, the squire’s unrelenting obsession with maintaining the appearance of a nobleman, which leaves him unable to cope with the reality of his own poverty, makes him into a kind of victim of the customs and conventions of the upper class. In this sense he is similar to Lazaro.
A man and woman come to the door who turn out to be creditors, seeking payment for the rent for the house and for the old mattress. The amount they ask for is more than the squire makes in a year, but the squire responds that it’s not a problem and that he just needs to go to the market to get change for a doubloon. The squire instructs the creditors to return in the afternoon. When the man and woman come back later, the squire still has not returned. By night time, Lazaro becomes afraid of sleeping in the house alone so he goes to the house of the neighbors who fed him before and he explains everything to them. They invite Lazaro to spend the night.
Here the cotton-spinners are, again, figures of mercy and compassion, whereas the creditors are persecutory figures who strike fear into Lazaro’s heart. The squire’s abandonment of his home and of Lazaro reveals him to be a figure with no real sense of loyalty or morality, since he evidently feels no need to return the kindness and compassion with which Lazaro has treated him. The squire’s abandonment of Lazaro is a betrayal that may ultimately contribute to Lazaro’s gradual development of a more hardened worldview.
In the morning, the man and woman return with a notary and an officer of the law. Upon entering the house and finding it empty, they accuse Lazaro of stealing the squire’s valuables and hiding them elsewhere. Lazaro begins to cry and explains that the squire had no possessions beyond his cloak and sword, and a small plot of land back in Old Castile. The neighbors testify to Lazaro’s innocence and beg for his pardon. Seeing that Lazaro is innocent, the creditors let Lazaro go without punishing him. The constable and the notary take the old mattress as payment for their services, though in the end their “services” had amounted to nothing. Lazaro remarks at how strange it is to have been abandoned by his master, since usually it is the master who is abandoned by his servant.
In this passage Lazaro is on the verge of suffering punishment for a crime he did not commit—notably, the same crime for which both his father and step-father were punished—despite there being no real evidence that he had stolen. This highlights the fact that the poor are seen as morally corrupt, even when they have done nothing wrong, and that they are often easily scapegoated for the wrongdoing of others because they have no one to defend them.