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Title: Romantic legends of Spain
Author: Bécquer, Gustavo Adolfo
Language: English
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                 [Illustration: THE CATHEDRAL, TOLEDO]



                           ROMANTIC LEGENDS
                               OF SPAIN

                                 _By_
                        GUSTAVO ADOLFO BECQUER

                             TRANSLATED BY
                        CORNELIA FRANCES BATES
                                  AND
                          KATHARINE LEE BATES

                               NEW YORK
                        THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO.
                              PUBLISHERS

                            COPYRIGHT, 1909
                    BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY

                               DEDICATED
                                  TO
                           A SHINING MEMORY



PREFACE


A word regarding the circumstances under which this translation was made
will be pardoned by all children of dear mothers.

Mrs. Cornelia Frances Bates (1826-1908), a graduate of Mount Holyoke in
the days of Mary Lyon and the widow of a Congregational minister, took
up the study of Spanish at the age of seventy-one. Until her death ten
years later, the proverbial ten years of “labor and sorrow,” her Spanish
readings and translations were a keen intellectual delight. Her Spanish
Bible, from which she had committed many passages to memory, was found
at her death no less worn than her English one. Even a few hours before
dying, she repeated in Spanish, without the failure of a syllable, the
Shepherd’s Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.

So youthful was her spirit that, of the various modern Spanish works
with which she became acquainted, nothing fascinated her so much as
Becquer’s strange, romantic tales. The wilder they were, the brighter
would be the eager face, under its soft white cap, bent over the
familiar little green volumes and the great red dictionary. Seeing the
pleasure she took in these legends and learning that no complete English
translation existed, I suggested that we unite in a “Becquer Book.” Her
full share of the work was promptly done; mine was delayed; and the
volume--which we had meant to inscribe to my sister--becomes her own
memorial.

Gratitude for helpful suggestions is due to the late Mr. Frederick
Gulick of Auburndale, Mass., formerly of San Sebastian, and to Señorita
Carolina Marcial, formerly of Seville and now of Wellesley College.
Especial and most cordial acknowledgment is made of the critical reading
given the entire manuscript by Miss Alice H. Bushée of the _Colegio
Internacional_, Madrid.

                                                               K. L. B.



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

PREFACE                                                                v

GUSTAVO ADOLFO BECQUER                                                xi

FOREWORD                                                               1

MASTER PÉREZ THE ORGANIST                                              5

   _A Tale of Seville_

THE EMERALD EYES                                                      23

   _A Legend of the Moncayo_

THE GOLDEN BRACELET                                                   32

   _A Tale of Toledo_

THE RAY OF MOONSHINE                                                  40

   _A Tale of Soria_

THE DEVIL’S CROSS                                                     52

   _A Legend of the Eastern Pyrenees_

THREE DATES                                                           72

   _Reminiscences of Toledo_

THE CHRIST OF THE SKULL                                               93

   _A Legend of Toledo_

THE WHITE DOE                                                        105

   _A Legend of Aragon_

THE PASSION ROSE                                                     126

   _A Legend of Toledo_

BELIEVE IN GOD                                                       137

   _A Legend of the Montagut Valley in Tarragona_

THE PROMISE                                                          151

   _A Legend of Soria_

THE KISS                                                             163

   _A Tale of Toledo_

THE SPIRITS’ MOUNTAIN                                                179

   _A Legend of Soria_

THE CAVE OF THE MOOR’S DAUGHTER                                      189

   _A Legend of Fitero_

THE GNOME                                                            196

   _A Tale of the Moncayo_

THE MISERERE                                                         214

   _A Legend of Fitero_

STRANGE!                                                             226

   _A Story of Madrid_

WITHERED LEAVES                                                      239

   _A Phantasy_

THE SET OF EMERALDS                                                  244

   _A story of Madrid_

THE TAVERN OF THE CATS                                               252

   _An Idyl of Andalusia_

ALL SOULS’ NIGHT                                                     266

   _In Madrid_



ILLUSTRATIONS


THE CATHEDRAL, TOLEDO                                      _Frontispiece_

                                                                    PAGE

THE CATHEDRAL, SEVILLE                                                 8

A CITY SQUARE, TOLEDO                                                 32

THE BRIDGE OF TOLEDO                                                  40

CLOISTER OF SAN JUAN DE LOS REYES                                     74

THE VISAGRA GATE                                                      94

A MOORISH WINDOW                                                     126

THE MONASTERY OF MONTSERRAT                                          146

AN ANCIENT CASTLE                                                    156

PALACE OF CARLOS V, TOLEDO                                           164

A MOUNTAIN PASS                                                      182

A MOUNTAIN GROTTO                                                    190

GIRLS AT THE FOUNTAIN                                                198

A MONASTERY COURT                                                    216

A SEÑORITA                                                           246

A RUINED CLOISTER                                                    266



GUSTAVO ADOLFO BECQUER


The writer of these tales was a young poet, oppressed by illness, care
and poverty. His brief life held many troubles. Born in Seville,
February 17, 1836, of a distinguished family that came to Andalusia from
Flanders at about the end of the sixteenth century, he was but five
years old, the fourth of eight little sons, when he lost his father. The
bereavement was greater than anyone knew, for Don José Dominguez
Becquer, a genre painter of repute, could have given this imaginative
child, a genius in germ, parental sympathy and guidance in an unusual
degree. Less than five years later, the mother died, and the disposition
of the orphans became a puzzling problem for relatives and friends.
Gustavo, who had already attended the day school of San Antonio Abad,
was admitted, through the efforts of an uncle, to the _Colegio de San
Telmo_, a naval academy, maintained by the government, on the banks of
the Guadalquivir. This famous school of Seville was originally founded
by the companions of Columbus in gratitude to St. Elmo, patron of
mariners. Here Gustavo found a friend of congenial tastes, Narciso
Campillo, with whom he composed and presented before their admiring
mates what Señor Campillo, who also made a name for himself in Spanish
letters, has described as “a fearful and extravagant drama.” But Gustavo
had enjoyed barely a year of this new life when Isabella II suppressed
the academy, bestowing building and grounds on her newly wedded sister,
the Duchesse de Montpensier. Visitors to modern Seville know well the
_Palacio de Santelmo_, with the fountains playing in its marble courts,
with its gardens of orange trees, palms and aloes, of trellised roses
and luxuriant tropic shrubs; but who gives a thought there to the exiled
boy thrown again, at the age of ten, upon the chances of the world?

His godmother, Doña Manuela Monchay, opened her doors to the waif, and
in her comfortable home he dwelt for the next eight years. His schooling
was over, but he read his way through Doña Manuela’s library and, at
fourteen, entered the studio of a Seville painter; here for two years he
trained his talent for drawing. Then he changed to the rival studio,
that of his father’s brother, who was sufficiently impressed by the
lad’s literary promise to have him taught a little Latin. Meanwhile his
godmother, childless and well-to-do, was urging him to adopt a
mercantile career. Had he consented, it is supposed that she would have
made him her heir, and his manhood, instead of the exhausting struggle
it was for bread and shelter, might have been, from the worldly point of
view, prosperous enough. But the visionary youth, who, says his friend
Correa,[1] “had learned to draw while he was yet learning to write,
whose unbounded passion for reading had given him wider horizons than
those of book-keeping, and who could never do a sum in mental
arithmetic,” would not betray his ideal. While his prudent godmother was
making her own plans for his future, he was composing with Campillo the
opening cantos of an epic on _The Conquest of Seville_, or wandering
alone on the banks of the Guadalquivir, his “majestic Bétis, the river
of nymphs, naiads and poets, which, crowned with belfries and laurels,
flows to the sea from a crystal amphora.” In the shade of the white
poplars he would lie and dream “of an independent, blissful life, like
that of the bird, which is born to sing, while God provides it with
food, ... that tranquil life of the poet, which glows with a soft lustre
from generation to generation.” And when that life should be over, he
saw his grateful city, the Sultana of Andalusia, laying her poet down
“to dream the golden dream of immortality on the banks of the Bétis,
whose praise I should have sung in splendid odes, in that very spot
where I used to go so often to hear the sweet murmur of its waves.” His
pensive fancy loved to picture that white cross under the poplars whose
green and silver leaves, as they rustled in the wind, would seem to be
praying for his soul, while the birds in their branches would carol at
dawn a joyous resurrection hymn. And when the river reeds and the wild
morning-glories, his favorite “blue morning-glories with a disk of
carmine at the heart,” hovered over by “golden insects with wings of
light,” should have grown up about the marble, hiding his time-blurred
name with a leafy curtain, what matter? “Who would not know that I was
sleeping there?” And so, to escape commercial drudgery and realize these
fair visions, the young Andalusian, at eighteen, the mid-point of his
life, with no more than sufficed for the costs of the journey to Madrid,
started forth on his quest of glory.

It may truly be said of Becquer that, like Hakluyt’s staunch old
worthies, he was “content to take his adventure gladly.” Nobody ever
knew how narrow were the straits of those first years in Madrid. He had
to turn his hand to anything, from odds and ends of journalism to a
day’s job of fresco-painting. Homesick, hungry, ill, he kept through it
all a brave buoyancy of spirits and a manly reticence as to his
sufferings. “He was never known,” testifies Correa, “to complain of his
hard life or his physical distresses, nor to curse his fate. Silent as
long as he was unhappy, he would find voice only to express a moment’s
pleasure.” He made fun of his troubles, which he, more easily than
grosser souls, could indeed forget in the ecstatic contemplation of
beauty or in giving form to the crowding fantasies that clamored in his
brain. A friend, more concerned over his privations than was Becquer
himself, found him a position as copyist in an office of one of the
state departments at a salary of one hundred and fifty dollars a year.
The poet, more out of gratitude for the intended kindness than from any
sense of personal relief, for he would rather starve body than mind,
undertook the irksome employment. But the national finances, under the
drain of the Carlist wars and the popular uprisings and official
corruption of Isabella’s disastrous reign, had become so embarrassed
that economy in the public service was imperative, and Becquer was
pointed out--perhaps, after all, by his good angel--for a victim. In the
_Dirección de Bienes Nacionales_, as in other departments, superfluous
men were to be weeded out. The Director, as chance would have it, came
into the office one day when all the clerks were gathered about
Becquer’s stool, eagerly looking over his shoulders, lost in admiration
of the sketches that his facile pen was turning off. The Director,
joining the group and peering with the rest, demanded: “What is this?”
Not recognizing the voice, the culprit, absorbed in the joy of art,
innocently answered: “This is Ophelia, plucking the leaves from her
garland. That old uncle is a grave-digger. Over there”--At this point
the awful silence smote his senses and he looked up only to meet the
verdict: “Here is one that can be spared.”

But although Becquer thus failed to serve his country with proper zeal
in the only direct opportunity she afforded him, the touch of the
capital, with its sense of impending crisis, its call for patriotic
leadership, had given a new turn to his dreams. Or perhaps it would be
truer to say that the Gothic cathedrals, old castles and ruined abbeys
so abundant in Castile, though not in the Crowned City itself, had
fastened the hold of the feudal world, with its military ideals, upon
his imagination. In these days he longed--or fancied that he longed--to
be “a thunderbolt of war,” to exert a mighty influence on the destinies
of Spain, so that every revolution of the future might be, as it were, a
personification of himself, but most of all he indulged his musings in
the glorious picture of a warrior’s death and burial. He would have
chosen, his “thirst for triumphs and acclaim assuaged, to fall in
battle, hearing as the last sound of earth the shrill clamor of the
trumpets of my valiant hosts,--to be borne upon a shield, wrapped in the
folds of my tattered banner, emblem of a hundred victories, finding the
peace of the grave in the depths of one of those holy cloisters where
dwells eternal silence and to which the centuries lend majesty and a
mysterious, indefinable hue.” And then the artist in him revelled in all
the detailed beauty of that visioned tomb “bathed in dusky shadow,” on
which his statue, “of richest, transparent alabaster,” with sword on
breast and couchant lion at the feet, was to sleep an august sleep under
the hushed watch of long-robed, praying angels.

Meanwhile, bad lodging and uncertain fare were telling on his delicate
constitution. In one respect, Becquer was always fortunate--in friends.
Early in his Madrid life he had won the faithful affection of Correa,
another young literary aspirant leading a hand-to-mouth existence, but
of vigorous physique and practical capabilities. When in the third year
of his struggle Becquer fell seriously ill--“horribly” ill, says
Correa--this devoted comrade not only nursed him through, but, finding
among the poet’s papers a long legend purporting to be an East Indian
tradition, managed to get it published in _La Crónica_,--the beginning
of success. This legend, _The Chieftain of the Crimson Hands_, has to do
with the expiation of a fratricide by a pilgrimage up the Ganges to its
far sources in the Himalayas, that in the most secret of those sacred
springs the clinging bloodstains might be washed away. But after forty
moons of weary travel across the broad plains of India up into the very
shadow of the dread Himalayan wall, a law of the pilgrimage was broken,
and Vishnu could no longer shield the slayer from the wrath of Siva,
who, himself the Destroyer, resents all other destruction as an
infringement on his great prerogative.

Another Indian subject, _The Creation_, on which Becquer had tried his
hand with a peculiarly light, ironic touch, yielded a more
characteristic result. The fable tells how Brahma, utterly bored by the
contemplation of his own perfections, took to chemistry. The astonished
cherubs fluttered on their thousand-colored wings about the smoking,
roaring tower where the Deity had his laboratory and where his eight
arms and sixteen hands were all kept busy with managing his test-tubes
and retorts, for he was shaping worlds to people space. But one day,
tired of his experiments, he went out to take the air and, for all his
omniscience, absent-mindedly failed to lock the door. In swarmed the
cherubs, ripe for mischief, and lost no time in turning everything
topsy-turvy. They flung the parchments into the fire, pulled the
stoppers out of the flasks, overturned the great glass vessels, breaking
not a few of them and spilling their contents, and wound up their
meddling by blowing a ridiculous, soap-bubble planet of their own. This
imperfect globe, all awry, with flattened poles and with contradictory
elements, heat and cold, joy and grief, good and evil, life and death,
at war within itself, went rolling so grotesquely on its axis, that the
peals of cherubic laughter brought Brahma hurrying back. In his vexation
he was about to crush that preposterous, misformed world, our world, but
the appealing cries of the celestial children moved him to let them toss
their absurd toy out into the ether among his own beautiful,
self-consistent, harmonious spheres. Ever since, the cherubs have been
trundling it about the sky, to the amazement of the other planets and
the despair of us poor mortals; but it will not last. “There is nothing
more tender nor more terrible than the hands of little children; in
these the plaything cannot long endure.”

It was not literature like this that the Spanish periodicals were
seeking in the stormy fifties. It was a time of the keenest political
strife, when even poets and novelists were bought by one party or
another and made to fight in the midst of the newspaper arena. But no
extremity could bring Becquer to be a politician’s tool. “Incapable of
hatred,” says Correa, “he never placed his enviable powers as a writer
at the service of animosity ... nor was his noble character fitted for
adulation or assiduous servility.” Yet in his own way he played the
patriot by earnest effort, continued unceasingly throughout his life, to
assist in recording by pen and pencil the architectural beauties and
devout traditions of Spain before these should have utterly perished
under the march of progress. Putting politics out of his mind as a
matter of little moment, Becquer undertook, with a few kindred spirits,
what might have proved, with adequate support, a monumental work on the
Spanish churches. As it was, there appeared only one volume, to which he
contributed the Introduction, the chapters on the famous Toledo
monastery, _San Juan de los Reyes_, and a number of drawings. In his
story _Three Dates_, more descriptive than narrative, we catch a few
fleeting glimpses of him, always with his sketch-book, pursuing his
artistic and archæological researches in Toledo. A similar errand, in
all probability, took him to Soria, an ancient city peculiarly rich in
mediæval buildings, situated on the Douro, to the north-east of Madrid.
In Soria he found several of his legends and, less fortunately, a wife,
Carta Estéban y Navarro. The marriage, which took place about 1861, soon
resulted in separation. Becquer retained possession of the children, two
baby boys, for whom he tenderly cared, as best he could in his Bohemian
life, until the last.

It would seem to have been the unwonted sense of an assured income that
gave him courage to undertake the support of a wife, for in this year
1861 his constant friend Correa obtained for him a position on the staff
of a new Madrid daily, _El Contemporáneo_, a journal into whose labors
he threw himself with a zest far beyond his strength and which he came
to love with a touching enthusiasm. “_El Contemporáneo_ is not for me a
newspaper like any other; its columns are yourselves, my friends, my
comrades in hope or disappointment, in failure or triumph, in joy or
bitterness.” It was in _El Contemporáneo_ that many of his legends
appeared. But even as he thus became more and more closely identified
with the life of Madrid, homesickness grew upon him for his own
Andalusia “with her golden days and luminous, transparent nights,”--for
his own Seville, “with her Giralda of lace-work mirrored in the
trembling Guadalquivir, ... with her barred windows and her serenades,
her iron door-screens and her night watchmen that chant the hour, her
shrines and her stories, her brawls and her music, her tranquil nights
and fiery afternoons, her rosy dawns and azure twilights,--Seville, with
all the traditions that twenty centuries have heaped upon her brow, with
all the pageantry and festal beauty of her southern nature, with all
the poetry that imagination lends to a beloved memory.”

He re-visited Seville, if _The Tavern of the Cats_ can be taken as
testimony, at about this time, and may so have renewed intercourse with
his family, for in 1862 his next older brother, Valeriano, who,
following in their father’s path, had entered on a promising career as a
painter of Andalusian types, came to him in Madrid. Valeriano, too, was
of frail physique; he, too, had been unhappy in his marriage; yet the
brothers affectionately joined such forces as they had and set up, with
the little children, a makeshift for a home. But in a year or two some
wasting illness, apparently the early stages of consumption, forced the
poet to leave “the Court” and seek renewal of health in the mountain
valley of Veruela. During this sojourn he gathered several legends of
the Moncayo, that precipitous granite wall--known to Martial as the
haunt of Æolus--which bars Old Castile from Aragon and divides the basin
of the Douro, the river of Soria, from that of the Ebro, the river of
Saragossa. To Becquer its snowy crests looked “like the waves of a
motionless, gigantic sea.” But the main literary result of that
retirement is found in the series of eight exquisite letters, _From My
Cell_, the high-water mark of Becquer’s prose, sent back to _El
Contemporáneo_. In these he gives a vivid, humorous account of his
journey, by rail to Tudela, by diligence to Tarazona, and by mule up the
Moncayo to Veruela, in whose walled and towered old Cistercian abbey he
found an austere refuge. He had his Shakespeare with him and his Byron,
but the event of the day, in the earlier weeks of his banishment, was
the arrival of the mounted postman with _El Contemporáneo_. He could not
wait for it in the Gothic cloisters, but would wander halfway down the
poplar avenue to the Black Cross of Veruela and, seated at its foot on
one of the marble steps, would wait sometimes the afternoon long
listening for the far-off beat of the horse’s hoofs. The journal came
to him like a personal greeting from the life he had left behind. He
loved even the odor of the damp paper and the printer’s ink, an odor
that brought back to him “the incessant pounding and creaking of the
presses” and all the eager activity of those hurrying nights in which
the words “came palpitating from the pen.” But with sunset the feverish
memories of Madrid fell from him and his thoughts took on the serenity
of faith, “the faith in something grander, in a coming, unknown destiny
beyond this life, the faith in eternity.” Again he found himself
dreaming of death, but not now of a poet’s cherished grave beside the
Guadalquivir, not now of a great patriot’s tomb in some sublime
cathedral, but of a mound in a village burial-plot, forgotten under
nettles, thistles and grass. Long tormented by insomnia, it seemed sweet
to him to slumber in such untroubled peace, “wrapt in a light cloak of
earth,” without having over him “even the weight of a sepulchral stone.”
As the mountain air brought strength, he began to ramble over the
Moncayo, sketching and gathering up traditions, while through _El
Contemporáneo_ he passionately urged the claims of the past, and
proposed the state organization of archæological expeditions in groups
made up of an artist, an architect and a man of letters, to explore the
provinces for their hidden, perishing traces of that bygone Spain of
Roman, Visigoth, Moor, mailed knight and saintly vision. Bent, as ever,
on doing his part in this unprized service, he wrote out, in the quiet
and leisure that had been so seldom his, masterly descriptions of the
market-place of Tarazona, and of the peasant-women of the Amazonian
hamlet of Añón. In the sixth letter he narrates, with a pen almost
unendurably graphic, the recent doing to death of a reputed hereditary
witch, a wretched old woman whom the superstitious Aragonese peasants
had, in very truth, hunted to a peak of the Moncayo off which, bleeding
from stones and knives, she had been thrust down the precipice. In the
seventh and eighth letters he goes on to relate, in his most attractive
manner, two local legends of witchcraft,--one of the necromancer who
built in a night the castle of Trasmoz, and one of the pious priest who
exorcised the witches that had come, in course of time, to make its
ruined tower their tryst, only to have his work undone by the girlish
vanity of his niece. She tampered with the holy water and restored to
the witches the freedom of the castle in return for their kind offices
in scrambling down her chimney, gray cats, black cats, all manner of
cats, the night before a festival, and stitching up for her such
fascinating finery that she forthwith won a husband.

His brother followed Becquer to Veruela and together they made trial of
the neighboring Baths of Fitero in Navarre, but they were in Madrid
again by 1865, often sorely put to it in the effort to carry the costs
of their little household. If one of the children fell ill and a doctor
must be called in, a friend might be entreated for an emergency loan of
three or four dollars; but as a rule these invalid brothers bore their
burden unassisted. Valeriano drew woodcuts for such market as he could
find, talking, says Correa, of “the great pictures he would paint as
soon as he could get the canvases,” and Gustavo translated the trashy
French novels that were in demand, writing, in the intervals of such
hack work, an occasional fantasy of delicate beauty, as _Withered
Leaves_, and ever looking forward to the time when he should have golden
hours of calm in which he might give his higher and more mystical
conceptions fitting utterance. Twice it seemed as if the way were
opening. Isabella’s last prime minister, Luis González Bravo, became
interested in the poet and made him censor of novels. Becquer
immediately availed himself of the comparative leisure thus afforded to
gather together a volume of his poems, which González Bravo was
proposing to print at his own expense. Then burst the long-gathering
storm of 1868, the genial, unprincipled queen was dethroned, and her
prime minister of literary tastes fled to the frontier with such
precipitation that the precious manuscript entrusted to his keeping was
lost. Becquer, with that scrupulous honor well known to his friends,
promptly resigned his censorship; Valeriano’s pension for the study of
national types was withdrawn; and the year 1869 saw them again in
straits. Yet they took daily comfort in their close brotherly love and
their artistic sympathies, even though, in those troublous times, their
joint enthusiasm for the beauties of Toledo once landed them in jail.
They were then temporarily residing, with their little family, in their
favorite city, “the city sombre and melancholy _par excellence_,” and
had sallied out, one evening, to contemplate its ghostly charms by
moonlight. Their disordered dress, long beards, excited gestures and
eager talk roused the suspicion of a brace of Civil Guards, who, drawing
near and overhearing such dangerous terms as “apses, squinches, ogives,”
seized the conspirators without more ado and lodged them, for their
further artistic illumination, in one of the historic dungeons of
Toledo. The next morning the editorial room of _El Contemporáneo_
resounded with merriment as a letter from Becquer went the rounds,--a
letter “all full,” says Correa, “of sketches representing in detail the
probable passion and death of both innocents.” The entire staff united
in a written protest and explanation to the jailer, and it was long
remembered in that office with what shining eyes and peals of laughter
the delivered prisoners, on their return, set out their adventure in
exuberant wit of words and pencil.

The second opportunity came with the founding of that now famous
periodical, _La Ilustración de Madrid_; but it came too late. Becquer
was appointed director and looked to for regular contributions, while
Valeriano furnished many of the illustrations. The management had large
schemes in hand, including a _Library of Great Authors_, for which
Becquer began a translation of Dante. But now, when a certain degree of
freedom, relief and recognition had been at last attained, the strained
and fretted cord of life gave way. The first number of _La Ilustración_
appeared January 12, 1870. On September 23, Valeriano died in his
brother’s arms. On December 22, the poet, surrounded by devoted friends
to whom, with his failing breath, he commended his children, sank
exhausted into that mysterious repose on which, from boyhood, his
musings had so often dwelt. But his mocking destiny was not yet content.
His body was buried in one of those crowded city cemeteries always so
repugnant to him, San Nicolás in Madrid. His younger son did not live to
manhood; the elder, his namesake, went wrong.

His loyal friends, after raising what money they could for the children,
gathered together and published in three small volumes the most
characteristic of Becquer’s writings,--a series of lyrical poems,[2] the
letters _From My Cell_,[3] some legends and tales of unequal merit;[4]
and a few miscellaneous articles[3] on architecture, literature and the
like.

The _Rimas_ almost immediately established Becquer’s fame. He is counted
to-day among the chief lyrists of the nineteenth century. These poignant
snatches of song pass, in theme, from life to love and from love to
death. So far as they give, or purport to give, a history of the poet’s
heart, they tell of passion at first requited, then of estrangement and
despair. It is supposed that a certain Julia Espín y Guillén, later the
wife of Don Benigno Quiroga Ballesteros, a living Spaniard of
distinction, figures to some extent in the _Rimas_. The house of her
father, director of the orchestra in the _Teatro Reál_, was a resort of
young musicians, artists and men of letters, and here Becquer, during
his earlier years in Madrid, was a frequent guest. There seems little
doubt that his youthful devotion was given, though in silence, to this
disdainful brunette, but the poems likewise tell of a love “of gold and
snow.” There is a green-eyed maiden, too, whom he essays to comfort for
this peculiarity,--though, indeed, eyes of jewel green, strangely
fascinating, are not rare in Spain. He may have had her in mind in
writing his legend of _The Emerald Eyes_. And one of the most beautiful
lyrics follows out the slight thread of story in _Three Dates_,
representing the poet as gazing night after night up from that ancient
Toledo square, with its glorified rubbish-heap, to the ogive windows of
the convent where the nun who had so thrilled his imagination was
immured. Over the spirit of Becquer, to whom the immaterial was ever
more real than the material, no one actual woman held lasting sway. He
tells the truth of the matter in his eleventh lyric:

    I am black and comely; my lips are glowing;
    I am passion; my heart is hot;
    The rapture of life in my veins is flowing.
    For me thou callest?--I call thee not.

    Pale is my forehead and gold my tresses;
    Endless comforts are locked in me,
    Treasure of hearthside tendernesses.
    ’Tis I whom thou seekest?--Nay, not thee.

    I am a dream, afar, forbidden.
    Vague as the mist on the mountain-brow,
    A bodiless glory, haunting, hidden;
    I cannot love thee.--Oh, come! come thou!

Becquer himself was wont to ascribe the premature death of poets, that
breaking of the harp while yet the golden chords have yielded but their
least of melodies, to a restless fulness of life, the imprisoned vapor
that bursts the vessel. This appears with pathetic emphasis in the
_Introduction_ that he wrote, not long before his death, for a projected
volume of tales and fantasies. He felt that he must rid his fevered
brain of their importunity, but he had begun to give expression to only
one, _The Woman of Stone_, when death broke the magic pen. The story
remains a fragment,[5] not passing beyond its opening pages of rich
artistic description, nor can its course be clearly conjectured even
though in _The Kiss_, and in the closing passages of his _Literary
Letters to a Woman_, his imagination hovers about the theme. He left,
like Hawthorne, many tantalizing titles that suggest the greatness of
our loss. That drama on “The Brothers of Sorrow,” that poem on the
discovery of America, those Andalusian novels on “The Last Minstrel,”
“To Live or Not to Live,” those Toledo legends on “The Foundress of
Convents,” “_El Cristo de la Vega_,” “The Angel Musicians,” those
fantasies on “Light and Snow,” “The Diana of the Indies,” “The Life of
the Dead,”--these are but a few of the conceptions that teemed in his
mind but found no outlet to the world. It seemed to his friends, who
knew the man and had listened to his marvellous talk, that the scanty
handful of tales they could collect from newspapers here and there made
so inadequate a showing as almost to misrepresent his powers. Yet
however thwarted and wronged by circumstance this harvest of his
imagination may be, it deserves attention if only for its finer and less
obvious qualities. Becquer charges himself with a melancholy
temperament, and seldom, in fact, do we find in these pages the blither
humor playing in _The Set of Emeralds_; but the occasional morbidness of
his tone is due rather, it would seem, to illness and its consequent
despondency than to any native quality of his thought. He deals too much
in the horrible for modern taste, but he cannot claim, like Baudelaire,
to have “invented a new shudder.” Tales grounded in folk-lore are bound
to contain elements of superstitious terror, and the affinity of these
legends in that respect is rather with German balladry and the earlier
romanticism in general than with the genius of Poe. Becquer’s truer
kinship is with Hawthorne, whose outer faculty of close and minute
observation is his as well as the inner preoccupation with mystery and
symbol. All the senses of this young Spaniard seem to have been of the
finest, his exquisite hearing entering into these tales as effectively
as his keen sight; but he is most himself in presence of the dim, the
fugitive, the impalpable. His mind was essentially mystical. His
religion was not without its human side. In brooding on the inequalities
of the mortal lot, he finds comfort in the reflection: “God, though
invisible, yet holds a hand outreached to lift a little the burden that
presses on the poor.” But faith in him was of the very fibre of
imagination. He even lent a certain sympathetic credence to the mediæval
legends of the Church, at least when the spell of Toledo was upon him.
“Outside the place that guards their memory,” he says, “far from the
precincts which still preserve their traces, and where we seem yet to
breathe the atmosphere of the ages that gave them being, traditions lose
their poetic mystery, their inexplicable hold upon the soul. At a
distance we question, we analyze, we doubt; but there faith, like a
secret revelation, illuminates the spirit, and we believe.” In a letter
from Veruela to a lady of his acquaintance, a letter relating a brief
but lovely legend[6] of an appearance of the Virgin, he asserts: “Only
the hand of faith can touch the delicate flowers of tradition.” “God,”
he elsewhere says, “is the glowing, eternal centre of all beauty.”

The writer of these tales described himself thus: “I have a special
predilection for all that which cannot be vulgarized by the touch and
the judgment of the indifferent multitude. If I were to paint
landscapes, I would paint them without figures. I like the fleeting
ideas that slip away without leaving a trace on the understandings of
practical folk, like a drop of water over a marble shelf. In the cities
I visit, I seek the narrow, lonely streets; in the edifices I examine,
the dusky nooks and corners of the inner courts, where grass springs up,
and moisture enriches with its patches of greenish color the parched
tint of the wall; in the women who impress me, the hint of mystery that
I think I see shining with wavering light in the depths of their eyes,
like the glimmer of a lamp that burns unknown and unsuspected in the
sanctuary of their hearts; even in the blossoms of a shrub, I believe
there is for me something more potent and exciting in the one that
hides beneath the leaves and there, concealed, fills the air with
fragrance, unprofaned by human gaze. In all this I find a certain
unsullied purity of feelings and of things.”

Becquer goes on to admit that this “pronounced inclination sometimes
degenerates into extravagances.”



FOREWORD


In dim corners of my mind there sleep, hidden away and naked, the
freakish children of my imagination, waiting in silence for art to
clothe them with language that it may present them in decency upon the
stage of the world.

My Muse, as fruitful as the marriage-bed of poverty, and like those
parents who bring to birth more children than they have means to rear,
is ever conceiving and bearing in the mystic sanctuary of the
intelligence, peopling it with innumerable creations, to which not my
utmost effort nor all the years that are left to me of life, will be
sufficient to give form.

And here within me I sometimes feel them, all unclad and shapeless as
they are, huddled and twisted together in confusion indescribable,
stirring and living with a dim, strange life, similar to that of those
myriad germs which seethe and quiver in eternal generation within the
secret places of the earth, without winning strength enough to reach the
surface and transform themselves, at the kiss of the sun, into flowers
and fruits.

They go with me, destined to die with me, leaving no more trace than is
left by a midnight dream which the morning cannot recall. On certain
occasions and in face of this terrible idea, there rises in them the
instinct of life, and trooping in formidable though silent multitudes
they seek tumultuously a way of escape from amid the shadows of their
dwelling-place forth to the light. But alas! between the world of idea
and the world of form yawns an abyss which only the word can bridge, and
the word, timid and slothful, refuses to aid their efforts. Mute, dim
and powerless, after the unavailing struggle they fall back into their
old passivity. So fall, inert, into the hollows by the wayside, when the
wind ceases, the yellow leaves which the autumn storm blew up.

These seditions on the part of the rebel sons of my imagination explain
some of my attacks of fever; they are the cause, unrecognized by
science, of my excitements and depressions. And thus, although in ill
estate, have I lived till now, walking among the indifferent throngs of
men with this silent tempest in my head. Thus have I lived till now, but
all things reach an end, and to these must be put their period.

Sleeplessness and fantasy go on begetting and producing with monstrous
fecundity. Their creations, crowded already like the feeble plants of a
conservatory, strive one with another for the expanding of their unreal
existences, fighting for the drops of memory as for the scanty moisture
of a sterile land. It is needful to open a channel for the deep waters,
which, daily fed from a living spring, will at last break down the dike.

Go forth, then! Go forth and live with the only life I can give you. My
intellect shall supply you with nutriment enough to make you palpable; I
will clothe you, though in rags, so that you need not blush for
nakedness. I would like to fashion for each one of you a marvellous
stuff woven of exquisite phrases, in which you could fold yourselves
with pride, as in mantles of purple. I would like to engrave the form
that must contain you as the golden vase which holds a precious ointment
is engraved. But this may not be.

And yet, I need to rest. I need, just as the body through whose swollen
veins the life-blood surges with phlethoric force, is bled, to clear my
brain, inadequate to the lodging of so many grotesqueries.

Then gather here, like the misty trail that marks the passing of an
unknown comet, like atoms dispersed in an embryonic world which Death
fans through the air, until the Creator shall have spoken the _fiat lux_
that divides light from darkness.

I would not that in my sleepless nights you still should pass before my
eyes in weird procession, begging me with gestures and contortions to
draw you out from the limbo in which you lead these phantom, thin
existences into the life of reality. I would not that at the breaking of
this harp already old and cracked the unknown notes which it contained
should perish with the instrument. I would interest myself a little in
the world which lies without me, free at last to withdraw my eyes from
this other world that I carry within my head. Common sense, which is the
barrier of dreamland, is beginning to give way, and the people of the
different camps mingle and grow confused. It costs me an effort to know
which things I have dreamed and which have actually happened. My
affections are divided between real persons and phantasms of the
imagination. My memory shifts from one category to the other the names
of women who have died and the dates of days that have passed, with days
and women that have existed only in my mind. I must put an end to this
by flinging you all forth from my brain once and forever.

If to die is to sleep, I would sleep in peace in the night of death,
without your coming to be my nightmare, cursing me for having doomed you
to nothingness before you had been born. Go, then, to the world at whose
touch you came into being, and linger there, as the echo which life’s
joys and griefs, hopes and struggles, found in one soul that passed
across the earth.

Perchance very soon must I pack my portmanteau for the great journey. At
any moment the spirit may free herself from the material that she may
rise to purer air. I would not, when this moment comes, take with me, as
the trivial baggage of a mountebank, the treasure of tinsel and tatters
that my Fancy has been heaping up in the rubbish chambers of the brain.



ROMANTIC LEGENDS OF SPAIN



MASTER PÉREZ THE ORGANIST


In Seville, in the very portico of Santa Inés, and while, on Christmas
Eve, I was waiting for the Midnight Mass to begin, I heard this
tradition from a lay-sister of the convent.

As was natural, after hearing it, I waited impatiently for the ceremony
to commence, eager to be present at a miracle.

Nothing could be less miraculous, however, than the organ of Santa Inés,
and nothing more vulgar than the insipid motets with which that night
the organist regaled us.

On going out from the mass, I could not resist asking the lay-sister
mischievously:

“How does it happen that the organ of Master Pérez is so unmusical at
present?”

“Why!” replied the old woman. “Because it isn’t his.”

“Not his? What has become of it?”

“It fell to pieces from sheer old age, a number of years ago.”

“And the soul of the organist?”

“It has not appeared again since the new organ was set up in place of
his own.”

If anyone of my readers, after perusing this history, should be moved to
ask the same question, now he knows why the notable miracle has not
continued into our own time.


I.

“Do you see that man with the scarlet cloak and the white plume in his
hat,--the one who seems to wear on his waistcoat all the gold of the
galleons of the Indies,--that man, I mean, just stepping down from his
litter to give his hand to the lady there, who, now that she is out of
hers, is coming our way, preceded by four pages with torches? Well, that
is the Marquis of Moscoso, suitor to the widowed Countess of
Villapineda. They say that before setting his eyes upon this lady, he
had asked in marriage the daughter of a man of large fortune, but the
girl’s father, of whom the rumor goes that he is a bit of a miser,--but
hush! Speaking of the devil--do you see that man coming on foot under
the arch of San Felipe, all muffled up in a dark cloak and attended by a
single servant carrying a lantern? Now he is in front of the outer
shrine.

“Do you notice, as his cloak falls back while he salutes the image, the
embroidered cross that sparkles on his breast?

“If it were not for this noble decoration, one would take him for a
shop-keeper from Culebras street. Well, that is the father in question.
See how the people make way for him and lift their hats.

“Everybody in Seville knows him on account of his immense fortune. That
one man has more golden ducats in his chests than our lord King Philip
maintains soldiers, and with his merchantmen he could form a squadron
equal to that of the Grand Turk----

“Look, look at that group of stately cavaliers! Those are the four and
twenty knights. Aha, aha! There goes that precious Fleming, too, whom,
they say, the gentlemen of the green cross have not challenged for
heresy yet, thanks to his influence with the magnates of Madrid. All he
comes to church for is to hear the music. But if Master Pérez does not
draw from him with his organ tears as big as fists, then sure it is that
his soul isn’t under his doublet, but sizzles in the Devil’s frying-pan.
Alack, neighbor! Trouble, trouble! I fear there is going to be a fight.
I shall take refuge in the church; for, from what I see, there will be
hereabouts more blows than _Pater Nosters_. Look, look! The Duke of
Alcalá’s people are coming round the corner of San Pedro’s square, and I
think I spy the Duke of Medinasidonia’s men in Dueñas alley. Didn’t I
tell you?

“Now they have caught sight of each other, now the two parties stop
short, without breaking their order, the groups of bystanders dissolve,
the police, who on these occasions get pounded by both sides, slip away,
even the prefect, staff of office and all, seeks the shelter of the
portico,--and yet they say that there is law to be had.

“For the poor----

“There, there! already shields are shining through the dark. Our Lord
Jesus of All Power deliver us! Now the blows are beginning. Neighbor,
neighbor! this way--before they close the doors. But hush! What is this?
Hardly have they begun when they leave off. What light is that? Blazing
torches! A litter! It’s His Reverence the Bishop.

“The most holy Virgin of Protection, on whom this very instant I was
calling in my heart, brings him to my aid. Ah! But nobody knows what I
owe to that Blessed Lady,--how richly she pays me back for the little
candles that I burn to her every Saturday.--See him! How beautiful he is
with his purple vestments and his red cardinal’s cap! God preserve him
in his sacred chair as many centuries as I wish to live myself! If it
were not for him, half Seville would have been burned up by this time
with these quarrels of the dukes. See them, see them, the great
hypocrites, how they both press close to the litter of the prelate to
kiss his ring! How they drop behind and, mingling with his household
attendants, follow in his train! Who would dream that those two who
appear on such good terms, if within the half hour they should meet in a
dark street--that is, the dukes themselves--God deliver me from thinking
them cowards; good proof have they given of valor, warring more than
once against the enemies of Our Lord; but the truth remains, that if
they should seek each other--and seek with the wish to find--they would
find each other, putting end once for all to these continuous scuffles,
in which those who really do the fighting are their kinsmen, their
friends and their servants.

“But come, neighbor, come into the church, before it is packed full.
Some nights like this it is so crowded that there is not room left for a
grain of wheat. The nuns have a prize in their organist. When has the
convent ever been in such high favor as now? I can tell you that the
other sisterhoods have made Master Pérez magnificent offers, but there
is nothing strange about that, for the Lord Archbishop himself has
offered him mountains of gold to entice him to the cathedral,--but he,
not a bit of it! He would sooner give up his life than his beloved
organ. You don’t know Master Pérez? True enough, you are a newcomer in
this neighborhood. Well, he is a saint; poor, but the most charitable
man alive. With no other relative than his daughter and no other friend
than his organ, he devotes all his life to watching over the innocence
of the one and patching up the registers of the other. Mind that the
organ is old. But that counts for nothing, he is so handy in mending it
and caring for it that its sound is a marvel. For he knows it so
perfectly that only by touch,--for I am not sure that I have told you
the poor gentleman is blind from his birth. And how patiently he bears
his misfortune! When people ask him how much

[Illustration: THE CATHEDRAL, SEVILLE]

he would give to see, he replies: ‘Much, but not as much as you think,
for I have hopes.’ ‘Hopes of seeing?’ ‘Yes, and very soon,’ he adds,
smiling like an angel. ‘Already I number seventy-six years; however long
my life may be, soon I shall see God.’

“Poor dear! And he will see Him, for he is humble as the stones of the
street, which let all the world trample on them. He always says that he
is only a poor convent organist, when the fact is he could give lessons
in harmony to the very chapel master of the Cathedral, for he was, as it
were, born to the art. His father held the same position before him; I
did not know the father, but my mother--God rest her soul!--says that he
always had the boy at the organ with him to blow the bellows. Then the
lad developed such talent that, as was natural, he succeeded to the
position on the death of his father. And what a touch is in his hands,
God bless them! They deserve to be taken to Chicarreros street and there
enchased in gold. He always plays well, always, but on a night like this
he is a wonder. He has the greatest devotion for this ceremony of the
Midnight Mass, and when the Host is elevated, precisely at twelve
o’clock, which is the moment Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world,
the tones of his organ are the voices of angels.

“But, after all, why should I praise to you what you will hear to-night?
It is enough to see that all the most distinguished people of Seville,
even the Lord Archbishop himself, come to a humble convent to listen to
him; and don’t suppose that it is only the learned people and those who
are versed in music that appreciate his genius, but the very rabble of
the streets. All these groups that you see arriving with pine-torches
ablaze, chorusing popular songs, broken by rude outcries, to the
accompaniment of timbrels, tambourines and rustic drums, these, contrary
to their custom, which is to make disturbance in the churches, are still
as the dead when Master Pérez lays his hands upon the organ, and when
the Host is elevated, you can’t hear a fly; great tears roll down from
the eyes of all, and at the end is heard a sound like an immense sigh,
which is nothing else than the expulsion of the breath of the multitude,
held in while the music lasts. But come, come! The bells have stopped
ringing, and the mass is going to begin. Come inside.

“This night is Christmas Eve for all the world, but for nobody more than
for us.”

So saying, the good woman who had been acting as _cicerone_ for her
neighbor pressed through the portico of the Convent of Santa Inés, and
by dint of elbowing and pushing succeeded in getting inside the church,
disappearing amid the multitude which thronged the inner spaces near the
doors.


II.

The church was illuminated with astonishing brilliancy. The flood of
light which spread from the altars through all its compass sparkled on
the rich jewels of the ladies who, kneeling on the velvet cushions
placed before them by their pages and taking their prayer-books from the
hands of their duennas, formed a brilliant circle around the
choir-screen. Grouped just behind them, on foot, wrapped in bright-lined
cloaks garnished with gold-lace, with studied carelessness letting
glimpses of their red and green crosses be seen, in one hand the hat,
whose plumes kissed the carpet, the other hand resting upon the polished
hilt of a rapier or caressing the handle of an ornate dagger, the four
and twenty knights, with a large proportion of the highest nobility of
Seville, seemed to form a wall for the purpose of protecting their
daughters and their wives from contact with the populace. This, swaying
back and forth at the rear of the nave, with a murmur like that of a
surging sea, broke out into a joyous acclaim, accompanied by the
discordant sounds of the timbrels and tambourines, at the appearance of
the archbishop, who, after seating himself, surrounded by his
attendants, near the High Altar under a scarlet canopy, thrice blessed
the assembled people.

It was time for the mass to begin.

There passed, nevertheless, several minutes without the appearance of
the celebrant. The throng commenced to stir about impatiently; the
knights exchanged low-toned words with one another, and the archbishop
sent one of his attendants to the sacristy to inquire the cause of the
delay.

“Master Pérez has been taken ill, very ill, and it will be impossible
for him to come to the Midnight Mass.”

This was the word brought back by the attendant.

The news spread instantly through the multitude. It would be impossible
to depict the dismay which it caused; suffice it to say that such a
clamor began to arise in the church that the prefect sprang to his feet,
and the police came in to enforce silence, mingling with the
close-pressed, surging crowd.

At that moment, a man with unpleasant features, thin, bony, and
cross-eyed, too, hurriedly made his way to the place where the prelate
was sitting.

“Master Pérez is sick,” he said. “The ceremony cannot begin. If it is
your pleasure, I will play the organ in his absence; for neither is
Master Pérez the first organist of the world, nor at his death need this
instrument be left unused for lack of skill.”

The archbishop gave a nod of assent, and already some of the faithful,
who recognized in that strange personage an envious rival of the
organist of Santa Inés, were breaking out in exclamations of
displeasure, when suddenly a startling uproar was heard in the portico.

“Master Pérez is here! Master Pérez is here!”

At these cries from the press in the doorway, every one looked around.

Master Pérez, his face pallid and drawn, was in fact entering the
church, brought in a chair about which all were contending for the honor
of carrying it upon their shoulders.

The commands of the physicians, the tears of his daughter had not been
able to keep him in bed.

“No,” he had said. “This is the end, I know it, I know it, and I would
not die without visiting my organ, and this night above all, Christmas
Eve. Come, I wish it, I command it; let us go to the church.”

His desire had been fulfilled. The people carried him in their arms to
the organ-loft, and the mass began.

At that instant the cathedral clock struck twelve.

The introit passed, and the Gospel, and the offertory, and then came the
solemn moment in which the priest, after having blessed the Sacred
Wafer, took it in the tips of his fingers and began to elevate it.

A cloud of incense, rolling forth in azure waves, filled the length and
breadth of the church; the little bells rang out with silvery
vibrations, and Master Pérez placed his quivering hands upon the keys of
the organ.

The hundred voices of its metal tubes resounded in a prolonged, majestic
chord, which died away little by little, as if a gentle breeze had
stolen its last echoes.

To this opening chord, that seemed a voice lifted from earth to heaven,
responded a sweet and distant note, which went on swelling and swelling
in volume until it became a torrent of pealing harmony.

It was the song of the angels, which, traversing the ethereal spaces,
had reached the world.

Then there began to be heard a sound as of far-off hymns entoned by the
hierarchies of seraphim, a thousand hymns at once, melting into one,
which, nevertheless, was no more than accompaniment to a strange
melody,--a melody that seemed to float above that ocean of mysterious
echoes as a strip of fog above the billows of the sea.

One anthem after another died away; the movement grew simpler; now there
were but two voices, whose echoes blended; then one alone remained,
sustaining a note as brilliant as a thread of light. The priest bowed
his face, and above his gray head, across an azure mist made by the
smoke of the incense, appeared to the eyes of the faithful the uplifted
Host. At that instant the thrilling note which Master Pérez was holding
began to swell and swell until an outburst of colossal harmony shook the
church, in whose corners the straitened air vibrated and whose stained
glass shivered in its narrow Moorish embrasures.

From each of the notes forming that magnificent chord a theme was
developed,--some near, some far, these keen, those muffled, until one
would have said that the waters and the birds, the winds and the woods,
men and angels, earth and heaven, were chanting, each in its own tongue,
an anthem of praise for the Redeemer’s birth.

The multitude listened in amazement and suspense. In all eyes were
tears, in all spirits a profound realization of the divine.

The officiating priest felt his hands trembling, for the Holy One whom
they upheld, the Holy One to whom men and archangels did reverence, was
God, was very God, and it seemed to the priest that he had beheld the
heavens open and the Host become transfigured.

The organ still sounded, but its music was gradually sinking away, like
a tone dropping from echo to echo, ever more remote, ever fainter with
the remoteness, when suddenly a cry rang out in the organ-loft, shrill,
piercing, the cry of a woman.

The organ gave forth a strange, discordant sound, like a sob, and then
was still.

The multitude surged toward the stair leading up to the organ-loft, in
whose direction all the faithful, startled out of their religious
ecstasy, were turning anxious looks.

“What has happened?” “What is the matter?” they asked one of another,
and none knew what to reply, and all strove to conjecture, and the
confusion increased, and the excitement began to rise to a height which
threatened to disturb the order and decorum fitting within a church.

“What was it?” asked the great ladies of the prefect who, attended by
his officers, had been one of the first to mount to the loft, and now,
pale and showing signs of deep grief, was making his way to the
archbishop, waiting in anxiety, like all the rest, to know the cause of
that disturbance.

“What has occurred?”

“Master Pérez has just died.”

In fact, when the foremost of the faithful, after pressing up the
stairway, had reached the organ-loft, they saw the poor organist fallen
face down upon the keys of his old instrument, which was still faintly
murmuring, while his daughter, kneeling at his feet, was vainly calling
to him amid sighs and sobs.


III.

“Good evening, my dear Doña Baltasara. Are you, too, going to-night to
the Christmas Eve Mass? For my part, I was intending to go to the parish
church to hear it, but after what has happened--‘where goes John? With
all the town.’ And the truth, if I must tell it, is that since Master
Pérez died, a marble slab seems to fall on my heart whenever I enter
Santa Inés.--Poor dear man! He was a saint. I assure you that I keep a
piece of his doublet as a relic, and he deserves it, for by God and my
soul it is certain that if our Lord Archbishop would stir in the matter,
our grandchildren would see the image of Master Pérez upon an altar.
But what hope of it? ‘The dead and the gone are let alone.’ We’re all
for the latest thing now-a-days; you understand me. No? You haven’t an
inkling of what has happened? It’s true we are alike in this,--from
house to church, and from church to house, without concerning ourselves
about what is said or isn’t said--except that I, as it were, on the
wing, a word here, another there, without the least curiosity whatever,
usually run across any news that may be going. Well, then! It seems to
be settled that the organist of San Román, that squint-eye, who is
always throwing out slurs against the other organists, that great
sloven, who looks more like a butcher from the slaughter-house than a
professor of music, is going to play this Christmas Eve in place of
Master Pérez. Now you must know, for all the world knows and it is a
public matter in Seville, that nobody was willing to attempt it. Not
even his daughter, though she is herself an expert, and after her
father’s death entered the convent as a novice. And naturally enough;
accustomed to hear those marvellous performances, any other playing
whatever must seem poor to us, however much we would like to avoid
comparisons. But no sooner had the sisterhood decided that, in honor of
the dead and as a token of respect to his memory, the organ should be
silent to-night, than--look you!--here comes along our modest friend,
saying that he is ready to play it. Nothing is bolder than ignorance. It
is true the fault is not so much his as theirs who have consented to
this profanation, but so goes the world. I say, it’s no trifle--this
crowd that is coming. One would think nothing had changed since last
year. The same great people, the same magnificence, the same pushing in
the doorway, the same excitement in the portico, the same throng in the
church. Ah, if the dead should rise, he would die again rather than hear
his organ played by hands like those. The fact is, if what the people of
the neighborhood have told me is true, they are preparing a fine
reception for the intruder. When the moment comes for placing the hand
upon the keys, there is going to break out such a racket of timbrels,
tambourines and rustic drums that nothing else can be heard. But hush!
there’s the hero of the occasion just going into the church. Jesus! what
a showy jacket, what a fluted ruff, what a high and mighty air! Come,
come, the archbishop arrived a minute ago, and the mass is going to
begin. Come; it looks as though this night would give us something to
talk about for many a day.”

With these words the worthy woman, whom our readers recognize by her
disconnected loquacity, entered Santa Inés, opening a way through the
press, as usual, by dint of shoving and elbowing.

Already the ceremony had begun.

The church was as brilliant as the year before.

The new organist, after passing through the midst of the faithful who
thronged the nave, on his way to kiss the ring of the prelate, had
mounted to the organ-loft, where he was trying one stop of the organ
after another with a solicitous gravity as affected as it was
ridiculous.

Among the common people clustered at the rear of the church was heard a
murmur, muffled and confused, sure augury of the coming storm which
would not be long in breaking.

“He’s a clown, who doesn’t know how to do anything, not even to look
straight,” said some.

“He’s an ignoramus, who after having made the organ in his own parish
church worse than a rattle comes here to profane Master Pérez’s,” said
others.

And while one was throwing off his coat so as to beat his drum to better
advantage, and another was trying his timbrels, and the clatter was
increasing more and more, only here and there could one be found to
defend in lukewarm fashion that alien personage, whose pompous and
pedantic bearing formed so strong a contrast to the modest manner and
kindly courtesy of the dead Master Pérez.

At last the looked-for moment came, the solemn moment when the priest,
after bowing low and murmuring the sacred words, took the Host in his
hands. The little bells rang out, their chime like a rain of crystal
notes; the translucent waves of incense rose, and the organ sounded.

At that instant a horrible din filled the compass of the church,
drowning the first chord.

Bagpipes, horns, timbrels, drums, all the instruments of the populace
raised their discordant voices at once, but the confusion and the clang
lasted but a few seconds. All at once as the tumult had begun, so all at
once it ceased.

The second chord, full, bold, magnificent, sustained itself, still
pouring from the organ’s metal tubes like a cascade of inexhaustible,
sonorous harmony.

Celestial songs like those that caress the ear in moments of ecstasy,
songs which the spirit perceives but the lip cannot repeat; fugitive
notes of a far-off melody, which reach us at intervals, sounding in the
bugles of the wind; the rustle of leaves kissing one another on the
trees with a murmur like rain; trills of larks which rise warbling from
among the flowers like a flight of arrows to the clouds; nameless
crashes, overwhelming as the thunders of a tempest; a chorus of seraphim
without rhythm or cadence, unknown harmony of heaven which only the
imagination understands; soaring hymns, that seem to mount to the throne
of God like a fountain of light and sound--all this was expressed by the
organ’s hundred voices, with more vigor, more mystic poetry, more weird
coloring than had ever been known before.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the organist came down from the loft, the crowd which pressed up
to the stairway was so great, and their eagerness to see and praise him
so intense, that the prefect, fearing, and not without reason, that he
would be suffocated among them all, commanded some of the police to
open, by their staves, a path for him that he might reach the High Altar
where the prelate waited his arrival.

“You perceive,” said the archbishop, when the musician was brought into
his presence, “that I have come all the way from my palace hither only
to hear you. Will you be as cruel as Master Pérez, who would never save
me the journey by playing the Midnight Mass in the cathedral?”

“Next year,” responded the organist, “I promise to give you that
pleasure, for not all the gold of the earth would induce me to play this
organ again.”

“And why not?” interrupted the prelate.

“Because,” replied the organist, striving to repress the agitation
revealed in the pallor of his face,--“because it is old and poor, and
one cannot express on it all that one would.”

The archbishop retired, followed by his attendants. One by one, the
litters of the great folk went filing away, lost to sight in the
windings of the neighboring streets; the groups of the portico melted,
as the faithful dispersed in different directions; and already the
lay-sister who acted as gate-keeper was about to lock the vestibule
doors, when there appeared two women, who, after crossing themselves and
muttering a prayer before the arched shrine of Saint Philip, went their
way, turning into Dueñas alley.

“What would you have, my dear Doña Baltasara?” one of them was saying.
“That’s the way I’m made. Every fool has his fancy. The barefooted
Capuchins might assure me that it was so and I wouldn’t believe it in
the least. That man cannot have played what we have just been hearing. A
thousand times have I heard him in San Bartolomé, his parish church,
from which the priest had to send him away for his bad playing,--enough
to make you stop your ears with cotton. Besides, all you need is to look
at his face, which, they say, is the mirror of the soul. I remember,
poor dear man, as if I were seeing him now,--I remember Master Pérez’s
look when, on a night like this, he would come down from the organ loft,
after having entranced the audience with his marvels. What a gracious
smile, what a happy glow on his face! Old as he was, he seemed like an
angel. But this fellow came plunging down the stairs as if a dog were
barking at him on the landing, his face the color of the dead, and--come
now, my dear Doña Baltasara, believe me, believe me with all your soul.
I suspect a mystery in this.”

With these last words, the two women turned the corner of the street and
disappeared.

We count it needless to inform our readers who one of them was.


IV.

Another year had gone by. The abbess of the convent of Santa Inés and
the daughter of Master Pérez, half hidden in the shadows of the church
choir, were talking in low tones. The peremptory voice of the bell was
calling from its tower to the faithful, and occasionally an individual
would cross the portico, silent and deserted now, and after taking the
holy water at the door, would choose a place in a corner of the nave,
where a few residents of the neighborhood were quietly waiting for the
Midnight Mass to begin.

“There, you see,” the mother superior was saying, “your fear is
excessively childish. There is nobody in the church. All Seville is
trooping to the cathedral to-night. Play the organ and play it without
the least uneasiness. We are only the sisterhood here. Well? Still you
are silent, still your breaths are like sighs. What is it? What is the
matter?”

“I am--afraid,” exclaimed the girl, in a tone of the deepest agitation.

“Afraid? Of what?”

“I don’t know--of something supernatural. Last night, see, I had heard
you say that you earnestly wished me to play the organ for the mass and,
pleased with this honor, I thought I would look to the stops and tune
it, so as to give you a surprise to-day. I went into the choir--alone--I
opened the door which leads to the organ-loft. At that moment the clock
of the cathedral struck the hour--what hour, I do not know. The peals
were exceedingly mournful, and many--many. They kept on sounding all the
time that I stood as if nailed to the threshold, and that time seemed to
me a century.

“The church was empty and dark. Far away, in the hollow depth, there
gleamed, like a single star lost in the sky of night, a feeble light,
the light of the lamp which burns on the High Altar. By its faint rays,
which only served to make more visible all the deep horror of the
darkness, I saw--I saw--mother, do not disbelieve it--I saw a man who,
in silence and with his back turned toward the place where I stood, was
running over the organ-keys with one hand, while he tried the stops with
the other. And the organ sounded, but it sounded in a manner
indescribable. It seemed as if each of its notes were a sob smothered
within the metal tube which vibrated with its burden of compressed air,
and gave forth a muffled tone, almost inaudible, yet exact and true.

“And the cathedral clock kept on striking, and that man kept on running
over the keys. I heard his very breathing.

“The horror of it had frozen the blood in my veins. In my body I felt an
icy chill and in my temples fire. Then I longed to cry out, but could
not. That man had turned his face and looked at me,--no, not looked at
me, for he was blind. It was my father.”

“Bah, sister! Put away these fancies with which the wicked enemy tries
to trouble weak imaginations. Pray a _Pater Noster_ and an _Ave Maria_
to the archangel Saint Michael, captain of the celestial hosts, that he
may aid you to resist the evil spirits. Wear on your neck a scapulary
which has been touched to the relics of Saint Pacomio, our advocate
against temptations, and go, go in power to the organ-loft. The mass is
about to begin, and the faithful are growing impatient. Your father is
in heaven, and thence, instead of giving you a fright, he will descend
to inspire his daughter in this solemn service which he so especially
loved.”

The prioress went to occupy her seat in the choir in the centre of the
sisterhood. The daughter of Master Pérez opened the door of the loft
with trembling hand, sat down at the organ, and the mass began.

The mass began, and continued without any unusual occurrence until the
consecration. Then the organ sounded, and at the same time came a scream
from the daughter of Master Pérez.

The mother superior, the nuns, and some of the faithful rushed up to the
organ-loft.

“Look at him! look at him!” cried the girl, fixing her eyes, starting
from their sockets, upon the organ-bench, from which she had risen in
terror, clinging with convulsed hands to the railing of the organ-loft.

All eyes were fixed upon the spot to which her gaze was turned. No one
was at the organ, yet it went on sounding--sounding as the archangels
sing in their raptures of mystic ecstasy.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Didn’t I tell you so a thousand times, my dear Doña Baltasara--didn’t I
tell you so? There is a mystery here. What? You were not at the
Christmas Eve Mass last night? But, for all that, you must know what
happened. Nothing else is talked about in all Seville. The archbishop is
furious, and with good reason. To have missed going to Santa Inés--to
have missed being present at the miracle! And for what? To hear a
charivari, a rattle-go-bang, for people who heard it tell me that what
the inspired organist of San Bartolomé did in the cathedral was just
that. I told you so. The squint-eye could never have played that divine
music of last year, never. There is mystery about all this, a mystery
that is, in truth, the soul of Master Pérez.”



THE EMERALD EYES


For a long time I have desired to write something with this title. Now
that the opportunity has come, I have inscribed it in capital letters at
the top of the page and have let my pen run at will.

I believe that I have seen eyes like those I have painted in this
legend. It may have been in my dreams, but I have seen them. Too true it
is that I shall not be able to describe them as they were, luminous,
transparent as drops of rain slipping over the leaves of the trees after
a summer shower. At all events, I count upon the imagination of my
readers to understand me in what we might call a sketch for a picture
which I will paint some day.


I.

“The stag is wounded--he is wounded; no doubt of it. There are traces of
his blood on the mountain shrubs, and in trying to leap one of those
mastic trees his legs failed him. Our young lord begins where others
end. In my forty years as huntsman I have not seen a better shot. But by
Saint Saturio, patron of Soria, cut him off at these hollies, urge on
the dogs, blow the horns till your lungs are empty, and bury your spurs
in the flanks of the horses. Do you not see that he is going toward the
fountain of the Poplars, and if he lives to reach it we must give him up
for lost?”

The glens of the Moncayo flung from echo to echo the braying of the
horns and barking of the unleashed pack of hounds; the shouts of the
pages resounded with new vigor, while the confused throng of men, dogs
and horses rushed toward the point which Iñigo, the head huntsman of
the Marquises of Almenar, indicated as the one most favorable for
intercepting the quarry.

But all was of no avail. When the fleetest of the greyhounds reached the
hollies, panting, its jaws covered with foam, already the deer, swift as
an arrow, had cleared them at a single bound, disappearing among the
thickets of a narrow path which led to the fountain.

“Draw rein! draw rein, every man!” then cried Iñigo. “It was the will of
God that he should escape.”

And the troop halted, the horns fell silent and the hounds, at the call
of the hunters, abandoned, snarling, the trail.

At that moment, the lord of the festival, Fernando de Argensola, the
heir of Almenar, came up with the company.

“What are you doing?” he exclaimed, addressing his huntsman,
astonishment depicted on his features, anger burning in his eyes. “What
are you doing, idiot? Do you see that the creature is wounded, that it
is the first to fall by my hand, and yet you abandon the pursuit and let
it give you the slip to die in the depths of the forest? Do you think
perchance that I have come to kill deer for the banquets of wolves?”

“_Señor_,” murmured Iñigo between his teeth, “it is impossible to pass
this point.”

“Impossible! And why?”

“Because this path,” continued the huntsman, “leads to the fountain of
the Poplars, the fountain of the Poplars in whose waters dwells an evil
spirit. He who dares trouble its flow pays dear for his rashness.
Already the deer will have reached its borders; how will you take it
without drawing on your head some fearful calamity? We hunters are kings
of the Moncayo, but kings that pay a tribute. A quarry which takes
refuge at this mysterious fountain is a quarry lost.”

“Lost! Sooner will I lose the seigniory of my fathers, sooner will I
lose my soul into the hands of Satan than permit this stag to escape me,
the only one my spear has wounded, the first fruits of my hunting. Do
you see him? Do you see him? He can still at intervals be made out from
here. His legs falter, his speed slackens; let me go, let me go! Drop
this bridle or I roll you in the dust! Who knows if I will not run him
down before he reaches the fountain? And if he should reach it, to the
devil with it, its untroubled waters and its inhabitants! On, Lightning!
on, my steed! If you overtake him, I will have the diamonds of my
coronet set in a headstall all of gold for you.”

Horse and rider departed like a hurricane.

Iñigo followed them with his eyes till they disappeared in the brush.
Then he looked about him: all like himself remained motionless, in
consternation.

The huntsman exclaimed at last:

“_Señores_, you are my witnesses. I exposed myself to death under his
horse’s hoofs to hold him back. I have fulfilled my duty. Against the
devil heroism does not avail. To this point comes the huntsman with his
crossbow; beyond this, it is for the chaplain with his holy water to
attempt to pass.”


II.

“You are pale; you go about sad and gloomy. What afflicts you? From the
day, which I shall ever hold in hate, on which you went to the fountain
of the Poplars in chase of the wounded deer, I should say an evil
sorceress had bewitched you with her enchantments.

“You do not go to the mountains now preceded by the clamorous pack of
hounds, nor does the blare of your horns awake the echoes. Alone with
these brooding fancies which beset you, every morning you take your
crossbow only to plunge into the thickets and remain there until the
sun goes down. And when night darkens and you return to the castle,
white and weary, in vain I seek in the game-bag the spoils of the chase.
What detains you so long far from those who love you most?”

While Iñigo was speaking, Fernando, absorbed in his thoughts,
mechanically cut splinters from the ebony bench with his hunting knife.

After a long silence, which was interrupted only by the click of the
blade as it slipped over the polished wood, the young man, addressing
his servant as if he had not heard a single word, exclaimed:

“Iñigo, you who are an old man, you who know all the haunts of the
Moncayo, who have lived on its slopes pursuing wild beasts and in your
wandering hunting trips have more than once stood on its summit, tell
me, have you ever by chance met a woman who dwells among its rocks?”

“A woman!” exclaimed the huntsman with astonishment, looking closely at
him.

“Yes,” said the youth. “It is a strange thing that has happened to me,
very strange. I thought I could keep this secret always; but it is no
longer possible. It overflows my heart and begins to reveal itself in my
face. Therefore I am going to tell it to you. You will help me solve the
mystery which enfolds this being who seems to exist only for me, since
no one knows her or has seen her, or can give me any account of her.”

The huntsman, without opening his lips, drew forward his stool to place
it near the ebony bench of his lord from whom he did not once remove his
affrighted eyes. The youth, after arranging his thoughts, continued
thus:

“From the day on which, notwithstanding your gloomy predictions, I went
to the fountain of the Poplars, and crossing its waters recovered the
stag which your superstition would have let escape, my soul has been
filled with a desire for solitude.

“You do not know that place. See, the fountain springs from a hidden
source in the cavity of a rock, and falls in trickling drops through the
green, floating leaves of the plants that grow on the border of its
cradle. These drops, which on falling glisten like points of gold and
sound like the notes of a musical instrument, unite on the turf and
murmuring, murmuring with a sound like that of bees humming about the
flowers, glide on through the gravel, and form a rill and contend with
the obstacles in their way, and gather volume and leap and flee and run,
sometimes with a laugh, sometimes with sighs, until they fall into a
lake. Into the lake they fall with an indescribable sound. Laments,
words, names, songs, I know not what I have heard in that sound when I
have sat, alone and fevered, upon the huge rock at whose feet the waters
of that mysterious fountain leap to bury themselves in a deep pool whose
still surface is scarcely rippled by the evening wind.

“Everything there is grand. Solitude with its thousand vague murmurs
dwells in those places and transports the mind with a profound
melancholy. In the silvered leaves of the poplars, in the hollows of the
rocks, in the waves of the water it seems that the invisible spirits of
nature talk with us, that they recognize a brother in the immortal soul
of man.

“When at break of dawn you would see me take my crossbow and go toward
the mountain, it was never to lose myself among the thickets in pursuit
of game. No, I went to sit on the rim of the fountain, to seek in its
waves--I know not what--an absurdity! The day I leaped over it on my
Lightning, I believed I saw glittering in its depths a marvel--truly a
marvel--the eyes of a woman!

“Perhaps it may have been a fugitive ray of sunshine that wound,
serpent like, through the foam; perhaps one of those flowers which float
among the weeds of its bosom, flowers whose calyxes seem to be
emeralds--I do not know. I thought I saw a gaze which fixed itself on
mine, a look which kindled in my breast a desire absurd, impossible of
realization, that of meeting a person with eyes like those.

“In my search, I went to that place day after day.

“At last, one afternoon--I thought myself the plaything of a dream--but
no, it is the truth; I have spoken with her many times as I am now
speaking with you--one afternoon I found, sitting where I had sat,
clothed in a robe which reached to the waters and floated on their
surface, a woman beautiful beyond all exaggeration. Her hair was like
gold; her eyelashes shone like threads of light, and between the lashes
flashed the restless eyes that I had seen--yes; for the eyes of that
woman were the eyes which I bore stamped upon my mind, eyes of an
impossible color, the color----”

“Green!” exclaimed Iñigo, in accents of profound terror, starting with a
bound from his seat.

Fernando, in turn, looked at him as if astonished that Iñigo should
supply what he was about to say, and asked him with mingled anxiety and
joy:

“Do you know her?”

“Oh, no!” said the huntsman. “God save me from knowing her! But my
parents, on forbidding me to go toward those places, told me a thousand
times that the spirit, goblin, demon or woman, who dwells in those
waters, has eyes of that color. I conjure you by that which you love
most on earth not to return to the fountain of the Poplars. One day or
another her vengeance will overtake you, and you will expiate in death
the crime of having stained her waters.”

“By what I love most!” murmured the young man with a sad smile.

“Yes,” continued the elder. “By your parents, by your kindred, by the
tears of her whom heaven destines for your wife, by those of a servant
who watched beside your cradle.”

“Do you know what I love most in this world? Do you know for what I
would give the love of my father, the kisses of her who gave me life,
and all the affection which all the women on earth can hold in store?
For one look, for only one look of those eyes! How can I leave off
seeking them?”

Fernando said these words in such a tone that the tear which trembled on
the eyelids of Iñigo fell silently down his cheek, while he exclaimed
with a mournful accent: “The will of Heaven be done!”


III.

“Who art thou? What is thy fatherland? Where dost thou dwell? Day after
day I come seeking thee, and see neither the palfrey that brings thee
hither, nor the servants who bear thy litter. Rend once for all the veil
of mystery in which thou dost enfold thyself as in the heart of night. I
love thee and, highborn or lowly, I will be thine, thine forever.”

The sun had crossed the crest of the mountain. The shadows were
descending its slope with giant strides. The breeze sighed amid the
poplars of the fountain. The mist, rising little by little from the
surface of the lake, began to envelop the rocks of its margin.

Upon one of these rocks, on one which seemed ready to topple over into
the depths of the waters on whose surface was pictured its wavering
image, the heir of Almenar, on his knees at the feet of his mysterious
beloved, sought in vain to draw from her the secret of her existence.

She was beautiful, beautiful and pallid as an alabaster statue. One of
her tresses fell over her shoulders, entangling itself in the folds of
her veil like a ray of sunlight passing through clouds; and her eyes,
within the circle of her amber-colored lashes, gleamed like emeralds set
in fretted gold.

When the youth ceased speaking, her lips moved as for utterance, but
only exhaled a sigh, a sigh soft and sorrowful like that of the gentle
wave which a dying breeze drives among the rushes.

“Thou answerest not,” exclaimed Fernando, seeing his hope mocked.
“Wouldst thou have me credit what they have told me of thee? Oh, no!
Speak to me. I long to know if thou lovest me; I long to know if I may
love thee, if thou art a woman----”

--“Or a demon. And if I were?”

The youth hesitated a moment; a cold sweat ran through his limbs; the
pupils of his eyes dilated, fixing themselves with more intensity upon
those of that woman and, fascinated by their phosphoric brilliance, as
though demented he exclaimed in a burst of passion:

“If thou wert, I should love thee. I should love thee as I love thee
now, as it is my destiny to love thee even beyond this life, if there be
any life beyond.”

“Fernando,” said the beautiful being then, in a voice like music: “I
love thee even more than thou lovest me; in that I, who am pure spirit,
stoop to a mortal. I am not a woman like those that live on earth. I am
a woman worthy of thee who art superior to the rest of humankind. I
dwell in the depths of these waters, incorporeal like them, fugitive and
transparent; I speak with their murmurs and move with their undulations.
I do not punish him who dares disturb the fountain where I live; rather
I reward him with my love, as a mortal superior to the superstitions of
the common herd, as a lover capable of responding to my strange and
mysterious embrace.”

While she was speaking, the youth, absorbed in the contemplation of her
fantastic beauty, drawn on as by an unknown force, approached nearer and
nearer the edge of the rock. The woman of the emerald eyes continued
thus:

“Dost thou behold, behold the limpid depths of this lake, behold these
plants with large, green leaves which wave in its bosom? They will give
us a couch of emeralds and corals and I--I will give thee a bliss
unnamable, that bliss which thou hast dreamed of in thine hours of
delirium, and which no other can bestow.--Come! the mists of the lake
float over our brows like a pavilion of lawn, the waves call us with
their incomprehensible voices, the wind sings among the poplars hymns of
love; come--come!”

Night began to cast her shadows, the moon shimmered on the surface of
the pool, the mist was driven before the rising breeze, the green eyes
glittered in the dusk like the will-o’-the-wisps that run over the
surface of impure waters. “Come, come!” these words were murmuring in
the ears of Fernando like an incantation,--“Come!” and the mysterious
woman called him to the brink of the abyss where she was poised, and
seemed to offer him a kiss--a kiss----

Fernando took one step toward her--another--and felt arms slender and
flexible twining about his neck and a cold sensation on his burning
lips, a kiss of snow--wavered, lost his footing and fell, striking the
water with a dull and mournful sound.

The waves leaped in sparks of light, and closed over his body, and their
silvery circles went widening, widening until they died away on the
banks.



THE GOLDEN BRACELET


I.

She was beautiful, beautiful with that beauty which turns a man dizzy;
beautiful with that beauty which in no wise resembles our dream of the
angels, and yet is supernatural; a diabolical beauty that the devil
perchance gives to certain beings to make them his instruments on earth.

He loved her--he loved her with that love which knows not check nor
bounds; he loved her with that love which seeks delight and finds but
martyrdom; a love which is akin to bliss, yet which Heaven seems to cast
on mortals for the expiation of their sins.

She was wayward, wayward and unreasonable, like all the women of the
world.

He, superstitious, superstitious and valiant, like all the men of his
time.

Her name was Maria Antúnez.

His, Pedro Alfonso de Orellana.

Both were natives of Toledo, and both had their homes in the city which
saw their birth.

The tradition which relates this marvellous event, an event of many
years since, tells nothing more of these two central actors.

I, in my character of scrupulous historian, will not add a single word
of my own invention to describe them further.


II.

One day he found her in tears and asked her:

“Why dost thou weep?”

[Illustration: A CITY SQUARE, TOLEDO]

She dried her eyes, looked at him searchingly, heaved a sigh and began
to weep anew.

Then, drawing close to Maria, he took her hand, leaned his elbow on the
fretted edge of the Arabic parapet whence the beautiful maiden was
watching the river flow beneath, and again he asked her: “Why dost thou
weep?”

The Tajo, moaning at the tower’s foot, twisted in and out amid the rocks
on which is seated the imperial city. The sun was sinking behind the
neighboring mountains, the afternoon haze was floating, a veil of azure
gauze, and only the monotonous sound of the water broke the profound
stillness.

Maria exclaimed: “Ask me not why I weep, ask me not; for I would not
know how to answer thee, nor thou how to understand. In the souls of us
women are stifling desires which reveal themselves only in a sigh, mad
ideas that cross the imagination without our daring to form them into
speech, strange phenomena of our mysterious nature which man cannot even
conceive. I implore thee, ask me not the cause of my grief; if I should
reveal it to thee, perchance thou wouldst reply with peals of laughter.”

When these words were faltered out, again she bowed the head and again
he urged his questions.

The radiant damsel, breaking at last her stubborn silence, said to her
lover in a hoarse, unsteady voice:

“Thou wilt have it. It is a folly that will make thee laugh, but be it
so. I will tell thee, since thou dost crave to hear.

“Yesterday I was in the temple. They were celebrating the feast of the
Virgin; her image, placed on a golden pedestal above the High Altar,
glowed like a burning coal; the notes of the organ trembled, spreading
from echo to echo throughout the length and breadth of the church, and
in the choir the priests were chanting the _Salve, Regina_.

“I was praying; I was praying, all absorbed in my religious meditations,
when involuntarily I lifted my head, and my gaze sought the altar. I
know not why my eyes from that instant fixed themselves upon the image,
but I speak amiss--it was not on the image; they fixed themselves upon
an object which until then I had not seen--an object which, I know not
why, thenceforth held all my attention. Do not laugh; that object was
the golden bracelet that the Mother of God wears on one of the arms in
which rests her divine Son. I turned aside my gaze and strove again to
pray. Impossible. Without my will, my eyes moved back to the same point.
The altar lights, reflected in the thousand facets of those diamonds,
were multiplied prodigiously. Millions of living sparks, rosy, azure,
green and golden, were whirling around the jewels like a storm of fiery
atoms, like a dizzy round of those spirits of flame which fascinate with
their brightness and their marvellous unrest.

“I left the church. I came home, but I came with that idea fixed in
imagination. I went to bed; I could not sleep. The night passed, a night
eternal with one thought. At dawn my eyelids closed and--believest
thou?--even in slumber I saw crossing before me, dimming in the distance
and ever returning, a woman, a woman dark and beautiful, who wore the
ornament of gold and jewel work; a woman, yes, for it was no longer the
Virgin, whom I adore and at whose feet I bow; it was a woman, another
woman like myself, who looked upon me and laughed mockingly. ‘Dost see
it?’ she appeared to say, showing me the treasure. ‘How it glitters! It
seems a circlet of stars snatched from the sky some summer night. Dost
see it? But it is not thine, and it will be thine never, never. Thou
wilt perchance have others that surpass it, others richer, if it be
possible, but this, this which sparkles so piquantly, so bewitchingly,
never, never.’ I awoke, but with the same idea fixed here, then as now,
like a red-hot nail, diabolical, irresistible, inspired beyond a doubt
by Satan himself.--And what then?--Thou art silent, silent, and dost
hang thy head.--Does not my folly make thee laugh?”

Pedro, with a convulsive movement, grasped the hilt of his sword, raised
his head, which he had, indeed, bent low and said with smothered voice:

“Which Virgin has this jewel?”

“The Virgin of the Sagrario,” murmured Maria.

“The Virgin of the Sagrario!” repeated the youth, with accent of terror.
“The Virgin of the Sagrario of the cathedral!”

And in his features was portrayed for an instant the state of his mind,
appalled before a thought.

“Ah, why does not some other Virgin own it?” he continued, with a tense,
impassioned tone. “Why does not the archbishop bear it in his mitre, the
king in his crown, or the devil between his claws? I would tear it away
for thee, though its price were death or hell. But from the Virgin of
the Sagrario, our own Holy Patroness,--I--I who was born in Toledo!
Impossible, impossible!”

“Never!” murmured Maria, in a voice that scarcely reached the ear.
“Never!”

And she wept again.

Pedro fixed a stupefied stare on the running waves of the river--on the
running waves, which flowed and flowed unceasingly before his
absent-thoughted eyes, breaking at the foot of the tower amid the rocks
on which is seated the imperial city.


III.

The cathedral of Toledo! Imagine a forest of colossal palm trees of
granite, that by the interlacing of their branches form a gigantic,
magnificent arch, beneath which take refuge and live, with the life
genius has lent them, a whole creation of beings, both fictitious and
real.

Imagine an incomprehensible fall of shadow and light wherein the
colored rays from the ogive windows meet and are merged with the dusk of
the nave; where the gleam of the lamps struggles and is lost in the
gloom of the sanctuary.

Imagine a world of stone, immense as the spirit of our religion, sombre
as its traditions, enigmatic as its parables, and yet you will not have
even a remote idea of this eternal monument of the enthusiasm and faith
of our ancestors--a monument upon which the centuries have emulously
lavished their treasures of knowledge, inspiration and the arts.

In the cathedral-heart dwells silence, majesty, the poetry of mysticism,
and a holy dread which guards those thresholds against worldly thoughts
and the paltry passions of earth.

Consumption of the body is stayed by breathing pure mountain air;
atheism should be cured by breathing this atmosphere of faith.

But great and impressive as the cathedral presents itself to our eyes at
whatsoever hour we enter its mysterious and sacred precinct, never does
it produce an impression so profound as in those days when it arrays
itself in all the splendors of religious pomp, when its shrines are
covered with gold and jewels, its steps with costly carpeting and its
pillars with tapestry.

Then, when its thousand silver lamps, aglow, shed forth a flood of
light, when a cloud of incense floats in air, and the voices of the
choir, the harmonious pealing of the organs, and the bells of the tower
make the building tremble from its deepest foundations to its highest
crown of spires, then it is we comprehend, because we feel, the
ineffable majesty of God who dwells within, gives it life with His
breath and fills it with the reflection of His glory.

The same day on which occurred the scene we have just described, the
last rites of the magnificent eight-day feast of the Virgin were held in
the cathedral.

The holy festival had attracted an immense multitude of the faithful;
but already they had dispersed in all directions; already the lights of
the chapels and of the High Altar had been extinguished, and the mighty
doors of the temple had groaned upon their hinges as they closed behind
the last departing worshipper, when forth from the depth of shadow, and
pale, pale as the statue of the tomb on which he leant for an instant,
while he conquered his emotion, there advanced a man, who came slipping
with the utmost stealthiness toward the screen of the central chapel.
There the gleam of a lamp made it possible to distinguish his features.

It was Pedro.

What had passed between the two lovers to bring him to the point of
putting into execution an idea whose mere conception had lifted his hair
with horror? That could never be learned.

But there he was, and he was there to carry out his criminal intent. In
his restless glances, in the trembling of his knees, in the sweat which
ran in great drops down his face, his thought stood written.

The cathedral was alone, utterly alone, and drowned in deepest hush.

Nevertheless, there were perceptible from time to time suggestions of
dim disturbance, creakings of wood maybe or murmurs of the wind, or--who
knows?--perchance illusion of the fancy, which in its excited moments
hears and sees and feels what is not; but in very truth there sounded,
now here, now there, now behind him, now even at his side, something
like sobs suppressed, something like the rustle of trailing robes, and a
muffled stir as of steps that go and come unceasingly.

Pedro forced himself to hold his course; he reached the grating and
mounted the first step of the chancel. All along the inner wall of this
chapel are ranged the tombs of kings, whose images of stone, with hand
upon the sword-hilt, seem to keep watch night and day over the sanctuary
in whose shade they take their everlasting rest.

“Onward!” he murmured under his breath, and he strove to move and could
not. It seemed as if his feet were nailed to the pavement. He lowered
his eyes, and his hair stood on end with horror. The floor of the chapel
was made of wide, dark burial slabs.

For a moment he believed that a cold and fleshless hand was holding him
there with strength invincible. The dying lamps, which sparkled in the
hollow aisles and transepts like lost stars in the dark, wavered before
his vision, the statues of the sepulchres wavered and the images of the
altar, all the cathedral wavered, with its granite arcades and
buttresses of solid stone.

“Onward!” Pedro exclaimed again, as if beside himself; he approached the
altar and climbing upon it, he reached the pedestal of the image. All
the space about clothed itself in weird and frightful shapes, all was
shadow and flickering light, more awful even than total darkness. Only
the Queen of Heaven, softly illuminated by a golden lamp, seemed to
smile, tranquil, gracious and serene, in the midst of all that horror.

Nevertheless, that silent, changeless smile, which calmed him for an
instant, in the end filled him with fear, a fear stranger and more
profound than what he had suffered hitherto.

Yet he regained his self-control, shut his eyes so as not to see her,
extended his hand with a spasmodic movement and snatched off the golden
bracelet, pious offering of a sainted archbishop, the golden bracelet
whose value equalled a fortune.

Now the jewel was in his possession; his convulsed fingers clutched it
with superhuman force; there was nothing left save to flee--to flee
with it; but for this it was necessary to open his eyes, and Pedro was
afraid to see, to see the image, to see the kings of the sepulchres, the
demons of the cornices, the griffins of the capitals, the blotches of
shadow and flashes of light which, like ghostly, gigantic phantoms, were
moving slowly in the depths of the nave, now filled with confused
noises, unearthly and appalling.

At last he opened his eyes, cast one glance about him, and from his lips
escaped a piercing cry.

The cathedral was full of statues, statues which, clothed in strange,
flowing raiment, had descended from their niches and were thronging all
the vast compass of the church, staring at him with their hollow eyes.

Saints, nuns, angels, devils, warriors, great ladies, pages, hermits,
peasants surrounded him on every side and were massed confusedly in the
open spaces and about the altar. Before it there officiated, in presence
of the kings who were kneeling upon their tombs, the marble archbishops
whom he had seen heretofore stretched motionless upon their beds of
death, while a whole world of granite beasts and creeping things,
writhing over the paving-stones, twisting along the buttresses, curled
up in the canopies, swinging from the vaulted roof, quivered into life
like worms in a giant corpse, fantastic, distorted, hideous.

He could resist no longer. His brows throbbed with terrible violence; a
cloud of blood darkened his vision; he uttered a second scream, a scream
heart-rending, inhuman, and fell swooning across the altar.

When the sacristans found him crouching on the altar steps the next
morning, he still clutched the golden bracelet in both hands and on
seeing them draw near, he shrieked with discordant yells of laughter:

“Hers! hers!”

The poor wretch had gone mad.



THE RAY OF MOONSHINE


I do not know whether this is history which seems like a tale, or a tale
which seems like history; what I can affirm is that in its core it
contains a truth, a truth supremely sad, which in all likelihood I, with
my imaginative tendencies, will be one of the last to take to heart.

Another with this idea would perhaps have made a book of melancholy
philosophy. I have written this legend that those who see nothing of its
deep meaning may at least derive from it a moment of entertainment.


I.

He was noble, he had been born amid the clash of arms, and yet the
sudden blare of a war trumpet would not have caused him to lift his head
an instant or turn his eyes an inch away from the dim parchment in which
he was reading the last song of a troubadour.

Those who desired to see him had no need to look for him in the spacious
court of his castle, where the grooms were breaking in the colts, the
pages teaching the falcons to fly, and the soldiers employing their
leisure days in sharpening on stones the iron points of their lances.

“Where is Manrico? Where is your lord?” his mother would sometimes ask.

“We do not know,” the servants would reply. “Perchance he is in the
cloister of the monastery of the Peña, seated on the edge of a tomb,
listening to see if he may

[Illustration: THE BRIDGE OF TOLEDO]

surprise some word of the conversation of the dead; or on the bridge
watching the river-waves chasing one another under its arches, or curled
up in the fissure of some rock counting the stars in the sky, following
with his eyes a cloud, or contemplating the will-o’-the-wisps that flit
like exhalations over the surface of the marshes. Wherever he is, it is
where he has least company.”

In truth, Manrico was a lover of solitude, and so extreme a lover that
sometimes he would have wished to be a body without a shadow, because
then his shadow would not follow him everywhere he went.

He loved solitude, because in its bosom he would invent, giving free
rein to his imagination, a phantasmal world, inhabited by wonderful
beings, daughters of his weird fancies and his poetic dreams; for
Manrico was a poet,--so true a poet that never had he found adequate
forms in which to utter his thoughts nor had he ever imprisoned them in
words.

He believed that among the red coals of the hearth there dwelt
fire-spirits of a thousand hues which ran like golden insects along the
enkindled logs or danced in a luminous whirl of sparks on the pointed
flames, and he passed long hours of inaction seated on a low stool by
the high Gothic chimney-place, motionless, his eyes fixed on the fire.

He believed that in the depths of the waves of the river, among the
mosses of the fountain and above the mists of the lake there lived
mysterious women, sibyls, nymphs, undines, who breathed forth laments
and sighs, or sang and laughed in the monotonous murmur of the water, a
murmur to which he listened in silence, striving to translate it.

In the clouds, in the air, in the depths of the groves, in the clefts of
the rocks, he imagined that he perceived forms, or heard mysterious
sounds, forms of supernatural beings, indistinct words which he could
not comprehend.

Love! He had been born to dream love, not to feel it. He loved all women
an instant, this one because she was golden-haired, that one because she
had red lips, another because in walking she swayed as a river-reed.

Sometimes his delirium reached the point of his spending an entire night
gazing at the moon, which floated in heaven in a silvery mist, or at the
stars, which twinkled afar off like the changing lights of precious
stones. In those long nights of poetic wakefulness, he would exclaim:
“If it is true, as the Prior of the Peña has told me, that it is
possible those points of light may be worlds, if it is true that people
live on that pearly orb which rides above the clouds, how beautiful must
the women of those luminous regions be! and I shall not be able to see
them, and I shall not be able to love them! What must their beauty be!
And what their love!”

Manrico was not yet so demented that the boys would run after him, but
he was sufficiently so to talk and gesticulate to himself, which is
where madness begins.


II.

Over the Douro, which ran lapping the weatherworn and darkened stones of
the walls of Soria, there is a bridge leading from the city to the old
convent of the Templars, whose estates extended along the opposite bank
of the river.

At the time to which we refer, the knights of the Order had already
abandoned their historic fortresses, but there still remained standing
the ruins of the large round towers of their walls,--there still might
be seen, as in part may be seen to-day, covered with ivy and white
morning-glories the massive arches of their cloister and the long ogive
galleries of their courts of arms through which the wind would breathe
soft sighs, stirring the deep foliage.

In the orchards and in the gardens, whose paths the feet of the monks
had not trodden for many years, vegetation, left to itself, made
holiday, without fear that the hand of man should mutilate it in the
effort to embellish. Climbing plants crept upward twining about the aged
trunks of the trees; the shady paths through aisles of poplars, whose
leafy tops met and mingled, were overgrown with turf; spear-plumed
thistles and nettles had shot up in the sandy roads, and in the parts of
the building which were bulging out, ready to fall; the yellow
crucifera, floating in the wind like the crested feathers of a helmet,
and bell-flowers, white and blue, balancing themselves, as in a swing,
on their long and flexible stems, proclaimed the conquest of decay and
ruin.

It was night, a summer night, mild, full of perfumes and peaceful
sounds, and with a moon, white and serene, high in the blue, luminous,
transparent heavens.

Manrico, his imagination seized by a poetic frenzy, after crossing the
bridge from which he contemplated for a moment the dark silhouette of
the city outlined against the background of some pale, soft clouds
massed on the horizon, plunged into the deserted ruins of the Templars.

It was midnight. The moon, which had been slowly rising, was now at the
zenith, when, on entering a dusky avenue that led from the demolished
cloister to the bank of the Douro, Manrico uttered a low, stifled cry,
strangely compounded of surprise, fear and joy.

In the depths of the dusky avenue he had seen moving something white,
which shimmered a moment and then vanished in the darkness, the trailing
robe of a woman, of a woman who had crossed the path and disappeared
amid the foliage at the very instant when the mad dreamer of absurd,
impossible dreams penetrated into the gardens.

An unknown woman!--In this place!--At this hour! “This, this is the
woman of my quest,” exclaimed Manrico, and he darted forward in pursuit,
swift as an arrow.


III.

He reached the spot where he had seen the mysterious woman disappear in
the thick tangle of the branches. She had gone. Whither? Afar, very far,
he thought he descried, among the crowding trunks of the trees,
something like a shining, or a white, moving form. “It is she, it is
she, who has wings on her feet and flees like a shadow!” he said, and
rushed on in his search, parting with his hands the network of ivy which
was spread like a tapestry from poplar to poplar. By breaking through
brambles and parasitical growths, he made his way to a sort of platform
on which the moonlight dazzled.--Nobody!--“Ah, but by this path, but by
this she slips away!” he then exclaimed. “I hear her footsteps on the
dry leaves, and the rustle of her dress as it sweeps over the ground and
brushes against the shrubs.” And he ran,--ran like a madman, hither and
thither, and did not find her. “But still comes the sound of her
footfalls,” he murmured again. “I think she spoke; beyond a doubt, she
spoke. The wind which sighs among the branches, the leaves which seem to
be praying in low voices, prevented my hearing what she said, but beyond
a doubt she fleets by yonder path; she spoke, she spoke. In what
language? I know not, but it is a foreign speech.” And again he ran
onward in pursuit, sometimes thinking he saw her, sometimes that he
heard her; now noticing that the branches, among which she had
disappeared, were still in motion; now imagining that he distinguished
in the sand the prints of her little feet; again firmly persuaded that a
special fragrance which crossed the air from time to time was an aroma
belonging to that woman who was making sport of him, taking pleasure in
eluding him among these intricate growths of briers and brambles. Vain
attempt!

He wandered some hours from one spot to another, beside himself, now
pausing to listen, now gliding with the utmost precaution over the
herbage, now in frantic and desperate race.

Pushing on, pushing on through the immense gardens which bordered the
river, he came at last to the foot of the cliff on which rises the
hermitage of San Saturio. “Perhaps from this height I can get my
bearings for pursuing my search across this confused labyrinth,” he
exclaimed, climbing from rock to rock with the aid of his dagger.

He reached the summit whence may be seen the city in the distance and,
curving at his feet, a great part of the Douro, compelling its dark,
impetuous stream onward through the winding banks that imprison it.

Manrico, once on the top of the cliff, turned his gaze in every
direction, till, bending and fixing it at last on a certain point, he
could not restrain an oath.

The sparkling moonlight glistened on the wake left behind by a boat,
which, rowed at full speed, was making for the opposite shore.

In that boat he thought he had distinguished a white and slender figure,
a woman without doubt, the woman whom he had seen in the grounds of the
Templars, the woman of his dreams, the realization of his wildest hopes.
He sped down the cliff with the agility of a deer, threw his cap, whose
tall, full plume might hinder him in running, to the ground, and freeing
himself from his heavy velvet cloak, shot like a meteor toward the
bridge.

He believed he could cross it and reach the city before the boat would
touch the further bank. Folly! When Manrico, panting and covered with
sweat, reached the city gate, already they who had crossed the Douro
over against San Saturio were entering Soria by one of the posterns in
the wall, which, at that time, extended to the bank of the river whose
waters mirrored its gray battlements.


IV.

Although his hope of overtaking those who had entered by the postern
gate of San Saturio was dissipated, that of tracing out the house which
sheltered them in the city was not therefore abandoned by our hero. With
his mind fixed upon this idea, he entered the town and, taking his way
toward the ward of San Juan, began roaming its streets at hazard.

The streets of Soria were then, and they are to-day, narrow, dark and
crooked. A profound silence reigned in them, a silence broken only by
the distant barking of a dog, the barring of a gate or the neighing of a
charger, whose pawing made the chain which fastened him to the manger
rattle in the subterranean stables.

Manrico, with ear attent to these vague noises of the night, which at
times seemed to be the footsteps of some person who had just turned the
last corner of a deserted street, at others, the confused voices of
people who were talking behind him and whom every moment he expected to
see at his side, spent several hours running at random from one place to
another.

At last he stopped beneath a great stone mansion, dark and very old,
and, standing there, his eyes shone with an indescribable expression of
joy. In one of the high ogive windows of what we might call a palace, he
saw a ray of soft and mellow light which, passing through some thin
draperies of rose-colored silk, was reflected on the time-blackened,
weather-cracked wall of the house across the way.

“There is no doubt about it; here dwells my unknown lady,” murmured the
youth in a low voice, without removing his eyes for a second from the
Gothic window. “Here she dwells! She entered by the postern gate of San
Saturio,--by the postern gate of San Saturio is the way to this ward--in
this ward there is a house where, after midnight, there is some one
awake--awake? Who can it be at this hour if not she, just returned from
her nocturnal excursions? There is no more room for doubt; this is her
home.”

In this firm persuasion and revolving in his head the maddest and most
capricious fantasies, he awaited dawn opposite the Gothic window where
there was a light all night and from which he did not withdraw his gaze
a moment.

When daybreak came, the massive gates of the arched entrance to the
mansion, on whose keystone was sculptured the owner’s coat of arms,
turned ponderously on their hinges with a sharp and prolonged creaking.
A servitor appeared on the threshold with a bunch of keys in his hand,
rubbing his eyes, and showing as he yawned a set of great teeth which
might well rouse envy in a crocodile.

For Manrico to see him and to rush to the gate was the work of an
instant.

“Who lives in this house? What is her name? Her country? Why has she
come to Soria? Has she a husband? Answer, answer, animal!” This was the
salutation which, shaking him violently by the shoulder, Manrico hurled
at the poor servitor, who, after staring at him a long while with
frightened, stupefied eyes, replied in a voice broken with amazement:

“In this house lives the right honorable Señor don Alonso de
Valdecuellos, Master of the Horse to our lord, the King. He has been
wounded in the war with the Moors and is now in this city recovering
from his injuries.”

“Well! well! His daughter?” broke in the impatient youth. “His daughter,
or his sister, or his wife, or whoever she may be?”

“He has no woman in his family.”

“No woman! Then who sleeps in that chamber there, where all night long I
have seen a light burning?”

“There? There sleeps my lord Don Alonso, who, as he is ill, keeps his
lamp burning till dawn.”

A thunderbolt, suddenly falling at his feet, would not have given
Manrico a greater shock than these words.


V.

“I must find her, I must find her; and if I find her, I am almost
certain I shall recognize her. How?--I cannot tell--but recognize her I
must. The echo of her footstep, or a single word of hers which I may
hear again; the hem of her robe, only the hem which I may see again
would be enough to make me sure of her. Night and day I see floating
before my eyes those folds of a fabric diaphanous and whiter than snow,
night and day there is sounding here within, within my head, the soft
rustle of her raiment, the vague murmur of her unintelligible
words.--What said she?--What said she? Ah, if I might only know what she
said, perchance--but yet without knowing it, I shall find her--I shall
find her--my heart tells me so, and my heart deceives me never.--It is
true that I have unavailingly traversed all the streets of Soria, that I
have passed nights upon nights in the open air, a corner-post; that I
have spent more than twenty golden coins in persuading duennas and
servants to gossip; that I gave holy water in St. Nicholas to an old
crone muffled up so artfully in her woollen mantle that she seemed to me
a goddess; and on coming out, after matins, from the collegiate church,
in the dusk before the dawn, I followed like a fool the litter of the
archdeacon, believing that the hem of his vestment was that of the robe
of my unknown lady--but it matters not--I must find her, and the rapture
of possessing her will assuredly surpass the labors of the quest.

“What will her eyes be? They should be azure, azure and liquid as the
sky of night. How I delight in eyes of that color! They are so
expressive, so dreamy, so--yes,--no doubt of it; azure her eyes should
be, azure they are, assuredly;--and her tresses black, jet black and so
long that they wave upon the air--it seems to me I saw them waving that
night, like her robe, and they were black--I do not deceive myself, no;
they were black.

“And how well azure eyes, very large and slumbrous, and loose tresses,
waving and dark, become a tall woman--for--she is tall, tall and
slender, like those angels above the portals of our basilicas, angels
whose oval faces the shadows of their granite canopies veil in mystic
twilight.

“Her voice!--her voice I have heard--her voice is soft as the breathing
of the wind in the leaves of the poplars, and her walk measured and
stately like the cadences of a musical instrument.

“And this woman, who is lovely as the loveliest of my youthful dreams,
who thinks as I think, who enjoys what I enjoy, who hates what I hate,
who is a twin spirit of my spirit, who is the complement of my being,
must she not feel moved on meeting me? Must she not love me as I shall
love her, as I love her already, with all the strength of my life, with
every faculty of my soul?

“Back, back to the place where I saw her for the first and only time
that I have seen her. Who knows but that, capricious as myself, a lover
of solitude and mystery like all dreamy souls, she may take pleasure in
wandering among the ruins in the silence of the night?”

Two months had passed since the servitor of Don Alonso de Valdecuellos
had disillusionized the infatuated Manrico, two months in every hour of
which he had built a castle in the air only for reality to shatter with
a breath; two months during which he had sought in vain that unknown
woman for whom an absurd love had been growing in his soul, thanks to
his still more absurd imaginations; two months had flown since his first
adventure when now, after crossing, absorbed in these ideas, the bridge
which leads to the convent of the Templars, the enamored youth plunged
again into the intricate pathways of the gardens.


VI.

The night was calm and beautiful, the full moon shone high in the
heavens, and the wind sighed with the sweetest of murmurs among the
leaves of the trees.

Manrico arrived at the cloister, swept his glance over the enclosed
green and peered through the massive arches of the arcades. It was
deserted.

He went forth, turned his steps toward the dim avenue that leads to the
Douro, and had not yet entered it when there escaped from his lips a cry
of joy.

He had seen floating for an instant, and then disappearing, the hem of
the white robe, of the white robe of the woman of his dreams, of the
woman whom now he loved like a madman.

He runs, he runs in his pursuit, he reaches the spot where he had seen
her vanish; but there he stops, fixes his terrified eyes upon the
ground, remains a moment motionless, a slight nervous tremor agitates
his limbs, a tremor which increases, which increases, and shows symptoms
of an actual convulsion--and he breaks out at last into a peal of
laughter, laughter loud, strident, horrible.

That white object, light, floating, had again shone before his eyes, it
had even glittered at his feet for an instant, only for an instant.

It was a moonbeam, a moonbeam which pierced from time to time the green
vaulted roof of trees when the wind moved their boughs.

Several years had passed. Manrico, crouched on a settle by the deep
Gothic chimney of his castle, almost motionless and with a vague, uneasy
gaze like that of an idiot, would scarcely take notice either of the
endearments of his mother or of the attentions of his servants.

“You are young, you are comely,” she would say to him, “why do you
languish in solitude? Why do you not seek a woman whom you may love, and
whose love may make you happy?”

“Love! Love is a ray of moonshine,” murmured the youth.

“Why do you not throw off this lethargy?” one of his squires would ask.
“Arm yourself in iron from head to foot, bid us unfurl to the winds your
illustrious banner, and let us march to the war. In war is glory.”

“Glory!--Glory is a ray of moonshine.”

“Would you like to have me recite you a ballad, the latest that Sir
Arnaldo, the Provençal troubadour, has composed?”

“No! no!” exclaimed the youth, straightening himself angrily on his
seat, “I want nothing--that is--yes, I want--I want you should leave me
alone. Ballads--women--glory--happiness--lies are they all--vain
fantasies which we shape in our imagination and clothe according to our
whim, and we love them and run after them--for what? for what? To find a
ray of moonshine.”

Manrico was mad; at least, all the world thought so. For myself, on the
contrary, I think what he had done was to regain his senses.



THE DEVIL’S CROSS

Whether you believe it or not matters little. My grandfather told it to
my father; my father related it to me, and I now recount it to you,
although it may serve for nothing more than to pass an idle hour.


I.

Twilight was beginning to spread its soft, dim wings over the
picturesque banks of the Segre, when after a fatiguing day’s travel we
reached Bellver, the end of our journey.

Bellver is a small town situated on the slope of a hill, beyond which
may be seen, rising like the steps of a colossal granite amphitheatre,
the lofty, enclouded crests of the Pyrenees.

The white villages that encircle the town, sprinkled here and there over
an undulating plain of verdure, appear from a distance like a flock of
doves which have lowered their flight to quench their thirst in the
waters of the river.

A naked crag, at whose foot the river makes a bend and on whose summit
may still be seen ancient architectural remains, marks the old boundary
line between the earldom of Urgel and the most important of its fiefs.

At the right of the winding path which leads to this point, going up the
river and following its curves and luxuriant banks, one comes upon a
cross.

The stem and the arms are of iron; the circular base on which it rests
is of marble, and the stairway that leads to it of dark and ill-fitted
fragments of hewn stone.

The destructive action of time, which has covered the metal with rust,
has broken and worn away the stone of this monument in whose crevices
grow certain climbing plants, mounting in their interwoven growth until
they crown it, while an old, wide-spreading oak serves it as canopy.

I was some moments in advance of my travelling companions, and halting
my poor beast, I contemplated in silence that cross, mute and simple
expression of the faith and piety of other ages.

At that instant a world of ideas thronged my imagination,--ideas faint
and fugitive, without definite form, which were yet bound together, as
by an invisible thread of light, by the profound solitude of those
places, the deep silence of the gathering night and the vague melancholy
of my soul.

Impelled by a religious impulse, spontaneous and indefinable, I
dismounted mechanically, uncovered, commenced to search my memory for
one of those prayers which I was taught when a child,--one of those
prayers that, later in life, involuntarily escaping from our lips, seem
to lighten the burdened heart and, like tears, relieve sorrow, which
takes these natural outlets.

I had begun to murmur such a prayer, when suddenly I felt myself
violently seized by the shoulders.

I turned my head. A man was standing at my side.

He was one of our guides, a native of the region, who, with an
indescribable expression of terror depicted on his face, strove to drag
me away with him and to cover my head with the hat which I still held in
my hands.

My first glance, half astonishment, half anger, was equivalent to a
sharp, though silent, interrogation.

The poor fellow, without ceasing his efforts to withdraw me from that
place, replied to it with these words which then I could not comprehend
but which had in them an accent of sincerity that impressed me:--“By the
memory of your mother! by that which you hold most sacred in the world,
_señorito_, cover your head and flee faster than flight itself from
that cross. Are you so desperate that, the help of God not being enough,
you call on that of the Devil?”

I stood a moment looking at him in silence. Frankly, I thought he was a
madman; but he went on with equal vehemence:

“You seek the frontier; well, then, if before this cross you ask that
heaven will give you aid, the tops of the neighboring mountains will
rise, in a single night, to the invisible stars, so that we shall not
find the boundary in all our life.”

I could not help smiling.

“You take it in jest?--You think perhaps that this is a holy cross like
the one in the porch of our church?”

“Who doubts it?”

“Then you are mistaken out and out, for this cross--saving its divine
association--is accursed; this cross belongs to a demon and for that
reason is called The Devil’s Cross.”

“The Devil’s Cross!” I repeated, yielding to his insistence without
accounting to myself for the involuntary fear which began to oppress my
spirit, and which repelled me as an unknown force from that place. “The
Devil’s Cross! Never has my imagination been wounded with a more
inconsistent union of two ideas so absolutely at variance. A cross!
and--the Devil’s! Come, come! When we reach the town you must explain to
me this monstrous incongruity.”

During this short dialogue our comrades, who had spurred their sorry
nags, joined us at the foot of the cross. I told them briefly what had
taken place: I remounted my hack, and the bells of the parish were
slowly calling to prayer when we alighted at the most out-of-the-way and
obscure of the inns of Bellver.


II.

Rosy and azure flames were curling and crackling all along the huge oak
log which burned in the wide fire-place; our shadows, thrown in
wavering grotesques on the blackened walls, dwindled or grew gigantic
according as the blaze emitted more or less brilliancy; the alderwood
cup, now empty, now full (and not with water), like the buckets of an
irrigating wheel, had been thrice passed round the circle that we formed
about the fire, and all were awaiting impatiently the story of The
Devil’s Cross, promised us by way of dessert after the frugal supper
which we had just eaten, when our guide coughed twice, tossed down a
last draught of wine, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and began
thus:

“It was a long, long time ago, how long I cannot say, but the Moors were
occupying yet the greater part of Spain, our kings were called counts,
and the towns and villages were held in fief by certain lords, who in
turn rendered homage to others more powerful, when that event which I am
about to relate took place.”

After this brief historical introduction, the hero of the occasion
remained silent some few moments, as if to arrange his thoughts, and
proceeded thus:

“Well! the story goes that in that remote time this town and some others
formed part of the patrimony of a noble baron whose seigniorial castle
stood for many centuries upon the crest of a crag bathed by the Segre,
from which it takes its name.

“Some shapeless ruins that, overgrown with wild mustard and moss, may
still be seen upon the summit from the road which leads to this town,
testify to the truth of my story.

“I do not know whether by chance or through some deed of shame it came
to pass that this lord, who was detested by his vassals for his cruelty,
and for his evil disposition refused admission to court by the king and
to their homes by his neighbors, grew weary of living alone with his bad
temper and his cross-bowmen on the top of the rock where his
forefathers had hung their nest of stone.

“Night and day he taxed his wits to find some amusement consonant with
his character, which was no easy matter, since he had grown tired of
making war on his neighbors, beating his servants and hanging his
subjects.

“At this time, the chronicles relate, there occurred to him, though
without precedent, a happy idea.

“Knowing that the Christians of other nations were preparing to go
forth, united in a formidable fleet, to a marvellous country in order to
reconquer the sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ which was in possession
of the Moors, he determined to join their following.

“Whether he entertained this idea with intent of atoning for his sins,
which were not few, by shedding blood in so righteous a cause; or
whether his object was to remove to a place where his vicious deeds were
not known, cannot be said; but it is true that to the great satisfaction
of old and young, of vassals and equals, he gathered together what money
he could, released his towns, at a heavy price, from their allegiance,
and reserving of his estates no more than the crag of the Segre and the
four towers of the castle, his ancestral seat, disappeared between the
night and the morning.

“The whole district drew a long breath, as if awakened from a nightmare.

“Now no longer clusters of men, instead of fruits, hung from the trees
of their orchards; the young peasant girls no longer feared to go, their
jars upon their heads, to draw water from the wells by the wayside; nor
did the shepherds lead their flocks to the Segre by the roughest secret
paths, fearing at every turn of the steep track to encounter the
cross-bowmen of their dearly beloved lord.

“Thus three years elapsed. The story of the Wicked Count, for by that
name only was he known, had come to be the exclusive possession of the
old women, who in the long, long winter evenings would relate his
atrocities with hollow and fearful voice to the terrified children,
while mothers would affright their naughty toddlers and crying babies by
saying: ‘_Here comes the Count of the Segre!_’ When behold! I know not
whether by day or by night, whether fallen from heaven or cast forth by
hell, the dreaded Count appeared indeed, and, as we say, in flesh and
bone, in the midst of his former vassals.

“I forbear to describe the effect of this agreeable surprise. You can
imagine it better than I can depict it, merely from my telling you that
he returned claiming his forfeited rights; that if he went away evil, he
came back worse; and that if he was poor and without credit before going
to the war, now he could count on no other resources than his
desperation, his lance and a half dozen adventurers as profligate and
impious as their chieftain.

“As was natural, the towns refused to pay tribute, from which at so
great cost they had bought exemption, but the Count fired their
orchards, their farm-houses and their crops.

“Then they appealed to the royal justice of the realm, but the Count
ridiculed the letters mandatory of his sovereign lords; he nailed them
over the sally-port of his castle and hung the bearers from an oak.

“Exasperated, and seeing no other way of salvation, at last they made a
league with one another, commended themselves to Providence and took up
arms; but the Count gathered his followers, called the Devil to his aid,
mounted his rock and made ready for the struggle.

“It began, terrible and bloody. There was fighting with all sorts of
weapons, in all places and at all hours, with sword and fire, on the
mountain and in the plain, by day and by night.

“This was not fighting to live; it was living to fight.

“In the end the cause of justice triumphed. You shall hear how.

“One dark, intensely dark night, when no sound was heard on earth nor a
single star shone in heaven, the lords of the fortress, elated by a
recent victory, divided the booty and, drunk with the fume of the
liquors, in the midst of their mad and boisterous revel intoned
sacrilegious songs in praise of their infernal patron.

“As I have said, nothing was heard around the castle save the echo of
the blasphemies which throbbed out into the black bosom of the night
like the throbbing of lost souls wrapped in the hurricane folds of hell.

“Now the careless sentinels had several times fixed their eyes on the
hamlet which rested in silence and, without fear of a surprise, had
fallen asleep leaning on the thick staves of their lances, when, lo and
behold! a few villagers, resolved to die and protected by the darkness,
began to scale the crag of the Segre whose crest they reached at the
very moment of midnight.

“Once on the summit, that which remained for them to do required little
time. The sentinels passed with a single bound the barrier which
separates sleep from death. Fire, applied with resinous torches to
drawbridge and portcullis, leaped with lightning rapidity to the walls,
and the scaling-party, favored by the confusion and making their way
through the flames, put an end to the occupants of that fortress in the
twinkling of an eye.

“All perished.

“When the next day began to whiten the lofty tops of the junipers, the
charred remains of the fallen towers were still smoking, and through
their gaping breaches it was easy to discern, glittering as the light
struck it, where it hung suspended from one of the blackened pillars of
the banquet hall, the armor of the dreaded chieftain whose dead body,
covered with blood and dust, lay between the torn tapestries and the hot
ashes, confounded with the corpses of his obscure companions.

“Time passed. Briers began to creep through the deserted courts, ivy to
climb the dark heaps of masonry, and the blue morning-glory to sway and
swing from the very turrets. The changeful sighs of the breeze, the
croaking of the birds of night, and the soft stir of reptiles gliding
through the tall weeds alone disturbed from time to time the deathly
silence of that accursed place. The unburied bones of its former
inhabitants lay white in the moonlight and still there could be seen the
bundled armor of the Count of the Segre hanging from the blackened
pillar of the banquet hall.

“No one dared touch it, but a thousand fables were current concerning
it. It was a constant source of foolish reports and terrors among those
who saw it flashing in the sunlight by day, or thought they heard in the
depths of the night the metallic sound of its pieces as they struck one
another when the wind moved them, with a prolonged and doleful groan.

“Notwithstanding all the stories which were set afloat concerning the
armor and which the people of the surrounding region repeated in hushed
tones one to another, they were no more than stories, and the only
positive result was a constant state of fear that every one tried for
his own part to dissimulate, putting, as we say, a brave face on it.

“If the matter had gone no further, no harm would have been done. But
the Devil, who apparently was not satisfied with his work, began, no
doubt with the permission of God, that so the country might expiate its
sins, to take a hand in the game.

“From that moment the tales, which until then had been nothing more than
vague rumors without any show of truth, began to assume consistency and
to grow from day to day more probable.

“Finally there came nights in which all the village-folk were able to
see a strange phenomenon.

“Amid the shadows in the distance, now climbing the steep, twisting
paths of the crag of the Segre, now wandering among the ruins of the
castle, now seeming to oscillate in the air, mysterious and fantastic
lights were seen gliding, crossing, vanishing and reappearing to recede
in different directions,--lights whose source no one could explain.

“This was repeated for three or four nights during the space of a month
and the perplexed villagers looked in disquietude for the result of
those conventicles, for which certainly they were not kept waiting long.
Soon three or four homesteads in flames, a number of missing cattle, and
the dead bodies of a few travellers, thrown from precipices, alarmed all
the region for ten leagues about.

“Now no doubt remained. A band of evildoers were harboring in the
dungeons of the castle.

“These desperadoes, who showed themselves at first only very rarely and
at definite points of the forest which even to this day extends along
the river, finally came to hold almost all the passes of the mountains,
to lie in ambush by the roads, to plunder the valleys and to descend
like a torrent on the plain where, slaughtering indiscriminately, they
did not leave a doll with its head on.

“Assassinations multiplied; young girls disappeared and children were
snatched from their cradles despite the lamentations of their mothers to
furnish those diabolical feasts at which, it was generally believed, the
sacramental vessels stolen from the profaned churches were used as
goblets.

“Terror took such possession of men’s souls that, when the bell rang for
the Angelus, nobody dared to leave his house, though even there was no
certain security against the banditti of the crag.

“But who were they? Whence had they come? What was the name of their
mysterious chief? This was the enigma which all sought to explain, but
which thus far no one could solve, although it was noticed that from
this time on the armor of the feudal lord had disappeared from the place
it had previously occupied, and afterwards various peasants had affirmed
that the captain of this inhuman crew marched at its head clad in a suit
of mail which, if not the same, was its exact counterpart.

“But in the essential fact, when stripped of that fantastic quality with
which fear augments and embellishes its cherished creations, there was
nothing necessarily supernatural nor strange.

“What was more common in outlaws than the barbarities for which this
band was distinguished or more natural than that their chief should
avail himself of the abandoned armor of the Count of the Segre?

“But the dying revelations of one of his followers, taken prisoner in
the latest affray, heaped up the measure of evidence, convincing the
most incredulous. Less or more in words, the substance of his confession
was this:

“‘I belong,’ he said, ‘to a noble family. My youthful irregularities, my
mad extravagances, and finally my crimes drew upon my head the wrath of
my kindred and the curse of my father, who, at his death, disinherited
me. Finding myself alone and without any resources whatever, it was the
Devil, without doubt, who must needs suggest to me the idea of gathering
together some youths in a situation similar to my own. These, seduced by
the promise of a future of dissipation, liberty and abundance, did not
hesitate an instant to subscribe to my designs.

“‘These designs consisted in forming a band of young men of gay temper,
unscrupulous and reckless, who thenceforward would live joyously on the
product of their valor and at the cost of the country, until God should
please to dispose of each according to His will, as happens to me this
day.

“‘With this object we chose this district as the theatre of our future
expeditions, and selected as the point most suitable for our gatherings
the abandoned castle of the Segre, a place peculiarly secure, not only
because of its strong and advantageous position, but as defended against
the peasantry by their superstitions and dread.

“‘Gathered one night under its ruined arcades, around a bonfire that
illumined with its ruddy glow the deserted galleries, a heated dispute
arose as to which of us should be chosen chief.

“‘Each one alleged his merits; I advanced my claims; already some were
muttering together with threatening looks, and others, whose voices were
loud in drunken quarrel, had their hands on the hilts of their poniards
to settle the question, when we suddenly heard a strange rattling of
armor, accompanied by hollow, resounding footsteps which became more and
more distinct. We all cast around uneasy, suspicious glances. We rose
and bared our blades, determined to sell our lives dear, but we could
only stand motionless on seeing advance, with firm and even tread, a man
of lofty stature, completely armed from head to foot, his face covered
with the visor of his helmet. Drawing his broad-sword, which two men
could scarcely wield, and placing it upon one of the charred fragments
of the fallen arcades, he exclaimed in a voice hollow and deep like the
murmurous fall of subterranean waters:

“‘_If any one of you dare to be first, while I dwell in the castle of
the Segre, let him take up this sword, emblem of power._

“‘All were silent until, the first moment of astonishment passed, with
loud voices we proclaimed him our captain, offering him a glass of our
wine. This he declined by signs, perchance that he need not reveal his
face, which in vain we strove to distinguish across the iron bars hiding
it from our eyes.

“‘Nevertheless we swore that night the most terrible oaths, and on the
following began our nocturnal raids. In these, our mysterious chief went
always at our head. Fire does not stop him, nor dangers intimidate him,
nor tears move him. He never speaks, but when blood smokes on our hands,
when churches fall devoured by the flames, when women flee affrighted
amid the ruins, and children utter screams of pain, and the old men
perish under our blows, he answers the groans, the imprecations and the
lamentations with a loud laugh of savage joy.

“‘Never does he lay aside his arms nor lift the visor of his helmet
after victory nor take part in the feast nor yield himself to slumber.
The swords that strike him pierce his armor without causing death or
drawing blood; fire reddens his coat of mail and yet he pushes on
undaunted amid the flames, seeking new victims; he scorns gold, despises
beauty, and is not moved by ambition.

“‘Among ourselves, some think him a madman, others a ruined noble who
from a remnant of shame conceals his face, and there are not wanting
those who are persuaded that it is the very Devil in person.’

“The author of these revelations died with a mocking smile on his lips
and without repenting of his sins; divers of his comrades followed him
at different times to meet their punishment, but the dreaded chief, to
whom continually gathered new proselytes, did not cease his ravages.

“The unhappy inhabitants of the region, more and more harassed and
desperate, had not yet achieved that pitch of resolution necessary to
put an end, once for all, to this order of things, every day more
insupportable and grievous.

“Adjoining the hamlet and hidden in the depths of a dense forest, there
dwelt at this time, in a little hermitage dedicated to Saint
Bartholomew, a holy man of godly and exemplary life, whom the peasants
always held in an odor of sanctity, thanks to his wholesome counsels and
sure predictions.

“This venerable hermit, to whose prudence and proverbial wisdom the
people of Bellver committed the solution of their difficult problem,
after seeking divine aid through his patron saint, who, as you know, is
well acquainted with the Devil, and on more than one occasion has put
him in a tight place, advised that they should lie in ambush during the
night at the foot of the stony road which winds up to the rock on whose
summit stands the castle. He charged them at the same time that, once
there, they should use no other weapons to apprehend the Enemy than a
wonderful prayer which he had them commit to memory, and with which the
chronicles assert that Saint Bartholomew had made the Devil his
prisoner.

“The plan was put into immediate execution, and its success exceeded all
hopes, for the morrow’s sun had not lit the high tower of Bellver when
its inhabitants gathered in groups in the central square, telling one
another with an air of mystery how, that night, the famous captain of
the banditti of the Segre had come into the town bound hand and foot and
securely tied to the back of a strong mule.

“By what art the actors in this enterprise had brought it to such
fortunate issue no one succeeded in finding out nor were they themselves
able to tell; but the fact remained that, thanks to the prayer of the
Saint or to the daring of his devotees, the attempt had resulted as
narrated.

“As soon as the news began to spread from mouth to mouth and from house
to house, throngs rushed into the streets with loud huzzas and were soon
massed before the doors of the prison. The parish bell called together
the civic body, the most substantial citizens met in council, and all
awaited in suspense the hour when the criminal should appear before his
improvised judges.

“These judges, who were authorized by the sovereign power of Urgel to
administer themselves justice prompt and stern to those malefactors,
deliberated but a moment, after which they commanded that the culprit be
brought before them to receive his sentence.

“As I have said, as in the central square, so in the streets through
which the prisoner must pass to the place where he should meet his
judges, the impatient multitude thronged like a clustered swarm of bees.
Especially at the gateway of the prison the popular excitement mounted
from moment to moment, and already animated dialogues, sullen mutterings
and threatening shouts had begun to give the warders anxiety, when
fortunately the order came to bring forth the criminal.

“As he appeared below the massive arch of the prison portal, in complete
armor, his face covered with the visor, a low, prolonged murmur of
admiration and surprise rose from the compact multitude which with
difficulty opened to let him pass.

“All had recognized in that coat of mail the well-known armor of the
Count of the Segre, that armor which had been the object of the most
gloomy traditions while it had been hanging from the ruined walls of the
accursed stronghold.

“This was that armor; there was left no room for doubt. All had seen the
black plume waving from his helmet’s crest in the battles which formerly
they had fought against their lord; all had seen it, blowing in the
morning breeze, like the ivy of the flame-gnawed pillar on which the
armor had hung since the death of its owner. But who could be the
unknown personage who was wearing it now? Soon it would be known; at
least, so they thought. Events will show how this expectation, like many
another, was frustrated and how out of this solemn act of justice, from
which might have been expected a complete revelation of the truth, there
resulted new and more inexplicable confusions.

“The mysterious bandit arrived finally at the Council Hall and a
profound silence followed the murmurs which had arisen among the
bystanders on hearing resound beneath the lofty arches of that chamber
the click of his golden spurs. One of the members of the tribunal in a
slow and uncertain voice asked his name, and all anxiously listened that
they might not lose one word of his response, but the warrior only
shrugged his shoulders lightly with an air of contempt and insult, which
could but irritate his judges, who exchanged glances of surprise.

“Three times the question was repeated, and as often received the same
or a similar reply.

“‘Have him lift his visor! Have him show his face! Have him show his
face!’ the citizens present at the trial began to shout. ‘Have him show
his face! We will see if then he dare insult us with his contempt, as he
does now hidden in his mail.’

“‘Show your face,’ demanded the same member of the tribunal who had
before addressed him.

“The warrior remained motionless.

“‘I command you by the authority of this council.’

“The same answer.

“‘By the authority of this realm.’

“Nor for that.

“Indignation rose to its height, even to the point where one of the
guards, throwing himself upon the criminal, whose pertinacious silence
was enough to exhaust the patience of a saint, violently opened his
visor. A general cry of surprise escaped from those within the hall, who
remained for an instant smitten with an inconceivable amazement.

“The cause was adequate.

“The helmet, whose iron visor, as all could see, was partly lifted
toward the forehead, partly fallen over the shining steel gorget, was
empty,--entirely empty.

“When, the first moment of terror passed, they would have touched it,
the armor shivered slightly and, breaking asunder into its various
pieces, fell to the floor with a dull, strange clang.

“The greater part of the spectators, at the sight of the new prodigy,
forsook the room tumultuously and rushed in terror to the square.

“The news spread with the speed of thought among the multitude who were
awaiting impatiently the result of the trial; and such was the alarm,
the excitement and the clamor, that no one longer doubted what the
popular voice had asserted from the first--that the Devil, on the death
of the Count of the Segre, had inherited the fiefs of Bellver.

“At last the tumult subsided, and it was decided to return the
miraculous armor to the dungeon.

“When this was so bestowed, they despatched four envoys, who, as
representing the perplexed town, should present the case to the royal
Count of Urgel and the archbishop. In a few days these envoys returned
with the decision of those dignitaries, a decision brief and
comprehensive.

“‘Let the armor be hanged,’ they said, ‘in the central square of the
town; if the Devil occupies it, he will find it necessary to abandon it
or to be strangled with it.’

“The people of Bellver, enchanted with so ingenious a solution, again
assembled in council, ordered a very high gallows to be erected in the
square, and when once more the multitude filled the approaches to the
prison, went thither for the armor in a body with all the civic dignity
which the importance of the case demanded.

“When this honorable delegation arrived at the massive arch giving
entrance to the building, a pallid and distracted man threw himself to
the ground in the presence of the astonished bystanders, exclaiming with
tears in his eyes:

“‘Pardon, _señores_, pardon!’

“‘Pardon! For whom?’ said some, ‘for the Devil, who dwells in the armor
of the Count of the Segre?’

“‘For me,’ continued with shaking voice the unhappy man in whom all
recognized the chief warden of the prison, ‘for me--because the
armor--has disappeared.’

“On hearing these words, amazement was painted on the faces of as many
as were in the portico; silent and motionless, so they would have
remained God knows how long if the following narrative of the terrified
keeper had not caused them to gather in groups around him, greedy for
every word.

“‘Pardon me, _señores_,’ said the poor warden, ‘and I will conceal
nothing from you, however much it may be against me.’

“All maintained silence and he went on as follows:

“‘I shall never succeed in giving the reason, but the fact is that the
story of the empty armor always seemed to me a fable manufactured in
favor of some noble personage whom perhaps grave reasons of public
policy did not permit the judges to make known or to punish.

“‘I was ever of this belief--a belief in which I could not but be
confirmed by the immobility in which the armor remained from the hour
when, by the order of the tribunal, it was brought a second time to the
prison. In vain, night after night, desiring to surprise its secret, if
secret there were, I crept up little by little and listened at the
cracks of the iron door of its dungeon. Not a sound was perceptible.

“‘In vain I managed to observe it through a small hole made in the wall;
thrown upon a little straw in one of the darkest corners, it remained
day after day disordered and motionless.

“‘One night, at last, pricked by curiosity and wishing to convince
myself that this object of terror had nothing mysterious about it, I
lighted a lantern, went down to the dungeons, drew their double bolts
and, not taking the precaution to shut the doors behind me, so firm was
my belief that all this was no more than an old wives’ tale, entered the
cell. Would I had never done it! Scarcely had I taken a few steps when
the light of my lantern went out of itself and my teeth began to chatter
and my hair to rise. Breaking the profound silence that encompassed me,
I had heard something like a sound of metal pieces which stirred and
clanked in fitting themselves together in the gloom.

“‘My first movement was to throw myself toward the door to bar the
passage, but on grasping its panels I felt upon my shoulders a
formidable hand, gauntleted, which, after jerking me violently aside,
flung me upon the threshold. There I remained until the next morning
when my subordinates found me unconscious and, on reviving, only able to
recollect that after my fall I had seemed to hear, confusedly, a
sounding tread accompanied by the clatter of spurs, which little by
little grew more distant until it died away.’

“When the warden had finished, profound silence reigned, on which there
followed an infernal outbreak of lamentations, shouts and threats.

“It was with difficulty that the more temperate could control the
populace, who, infuriated at this last turn of affairs, demanded with
fierce outcry the death of the inquisitive author of their new
disappointment.

“At last the tumult was quieted and the people began to lay plans for a
fresh capture. This attempt, too, had a satisfactory outcome.

“At the end of a few days, the armor was again in the power of its foes.
Now that the formula was known and the help of Saint Bartholomew
secured, the thing was no longer very difficult.

“But yet something remained to be done; in vain, after conquering it,
they hanged it from a gallows; in vain they exercised the utmost
vigilance for the purpose of giving it no opportunity to escape by way
of the upper world. But as soon as two fingers’ breadth of light fell on
the scattered pieces of armor, they fitted themselves together and,
clinkity clank, made off again to resume their raids over mountain and
plain, which was a blessing indeed.

“This was a story without an end.

“In so critical a state of affairs, the people divided among themselves
the pieces of the armor that, perchance for the hundredth time, had come
into their possession, and prayed the pious hermit, who had once before
enlightened them with his counsel, to decide what they should do with
it.

“The holy man ordained a general fast. He buried himself for three days
in the depths of a cavern that served him as a retreat and at their end
bade them melt the diabolical armor and with this and some hewn stones
from the castle of the Segre, erect a cross.

“The work was carried through, although not without new and fearful
prodigies which filled with terror the souls of the dismayed inhabitants
of Bellver.

“As soon as the pieces thrown into the flames began to redden, long and
deep groans seemed to come out of the great blaze, within whose circle
of fuel the armor leapt as if it were alive and felt the action of the
fire. A whirl of sparks red, green and blue danced on the points of the
spiring flames and twisted about hissing, as if a legion of devils,
mounted on these, would fight to free their lord from that torment.

“Strange, horrible, was the process by which the incandescent armor lost
its form to take that of a cross.

“The hammers fell clanging with a frightful uproar upon the anvil, where
twenty sturdy smiths beat into shape the bars of boiling metal that
quivered and groaned beneath the blows.

“Already the arms of the sign of our redemption were outspread, already
the upper end was beginning to take form, when the fiendish, glowing
mass writhed anew, as if in frightful convulsion, and enfolding the
unfortunate workmen, who struggled to free themselves from its deadly
embrace, glittered in rings like a serpent or contracted itself in
zigzag like lightning.

“Incessant labor, faith, prayers and holy water succeeded, at last, in
overcoming the infernal spirit, and the armor was converted into a
cross.

“This cross it is you have seen to-day, the cross in which the Devil who
gives it its name is bound. Before it the young people in the month of
May place no clusters of lilies, nor do the shepherds uncover as they
pass by, nor the old folk kneel; the strict admonitions of the priest
scarcely prevent the boys from stoning it.

“God has closed His ears to all supplications offered Him in its
presence. In the winter, packs of wolves gather about the juniper which
overshadows it to rush upon the herds; banditti wait in its shade for
travellers whose slain bodies they bury at its foot, and when the
tempest rages, the lightnings deviate from their course to meet,
hissing, at the head of this cross and to rend the stones of its
pedestal.”



THREE DATES


In a portfolio which I still treasure, full of idle drawings made during
some of my semi-artistic excursions to the city of Toledo, are written
three dates.

The events whose memory these figures keep are up to a certain point
insignificant.

Nevertheless, by recollecting them I have entertained myself on certain
wakeful nights in shaping a novel more or less sentimental or sombre, in
proportion as my imagination found itself more or less exalted, and
disposed toward the humorous or tragic view of life.

If on the morning following one of these darkling, delirious reveries, I
had tried to write out the extraordinary episodes of the impossible
fictions which I invented before my eyelids utterly closed, these
romances, whose dim dénouement finally floats undetermined on that sea
between waking and sleep, would assuredly form a book of preposterous
inconsistencies but original and peradventure interesting.

This is not what I am attempting now. These light--one might almost say
impalpable--fantasies are in a sense like butterflies which cannot be
caught in the hands without there being left between the fingers the
golden dust of their wings.

I am going to confine myself, then, to the brief narration of three
events which are wont to serve as headings for the chapters of my
dream-novels; the three isolated points which I am accustomed to connect
in my mind by a series of ideas like a shining thread; the three themes,
in short, upon which I play thousands on thousands of variations,
amounting to what might be called absurd symphonies of the imagination.


I.

There is in Toledo a narrow street, crooked and dim, which guards so
faithfully the traces of the hundred generations that have dwelt in it,
which speaks so eloquently to the eyes of the artist and reveals to him
so many secret points of affinity between the ideas and customs of each
century, and the form and special character impressed upon even its most
insignificant works, that I would close the entrances with a barrier and
place above the barrier a shield with this device:

“In the name of poets and artists, in the name of those who dream and of
those who study, civilization is forbidden to touch the least of these
bricks with its destructive and prosaic hand.”

At one of the ends of this street, entrance is afforded by a massive
arch, flat and dark, which provides a covered passage.

In its keystone is an escutcheon, battered now and corroded by the
action of the years; in it grows ivy which, blown by the air, floats
above the helmet, that crowns it, like a plumy crest.

Below the vaulting and nailed to the wall is seen a shrine with a sacred
picture of blackened canvas and undecipherable design, in frame of gilt
rococo, with its lantern hanging by a cord and with its waxen votive
offerings.

Leading away from this arch, which enfolds the whole place in its
shadow, giving to it an undescribable tint of mystery and sadness,
extend on the two sides of the street lines of dusky, dissimilar,
odd-looking houses, each having its individual form, size and color.
Some are built of rough, uneven stones, without other adornment than a
few armorial bearings rudely carved above the portal; others are of
brick, with an Arab arch for entrance, two or three Moorish windows
opening at caprice in a thick, fissured wall, and a glassed observation
turret topped by a lofty weather-vane. Some have a general aspect which
does not belong to any order of architecture and yet is a patchwork of
all; some are finished models of a distinct and recognized style, some
curious examples of the extravagances of an artistic period.

Here are some that boast a wooden balcony with incongruous roof; there
are others with a Gothic window freshly whitened and adorned with pots
of flowers; and yonder is one with crudely colored tiles set into its
door-frame, huge spikes in its panels, and the shafts of two columns,
perhaps taken from a Moorish castle, mortised into the wall.

The palace of a grandee converted into a tenement-house; the home of a
pundit occupied by a prebendary; a Jewish synagogue transformed into a
Christian church; a convent erected on the ruins of an Arab mosque whose
minaret is still standing; a thousand strange and picturesque contrasts;
thousands on thousands of curious traces left by distinct races,
civilizations and epochs epitomized, so to speak, on one hundred yards
of ground. All the past is in this one street,--a street built up
through many centuries, a narrow, dim, disfigured street with an
infinite number of twists where each man in building his house had
jutted out or left a corner or made an angle to suit his own taste,
regardless of level, height or regularity,--a street rich in
uncalculated combinations of lines, with a veritable wealth of whimsical
details, with so many, many chance effects that on every visit it offers
to the student something new.

When I was first at Toledo, while I was busying myself in making a few
sketch-book notes of _San Juan de los Reyes_, I had to go through this
street every afternoon in order to reach the convent from the little
inn, with hotel pretensions, where I lodged.

Almost always I would traverse the street from one end to the other
without meeting a single person, without any further

[Illustration: CLOISTER OF SAN JUAN DE LOS REYES]

sound than my own footfalls disturbing the deep silence, without even
catching a chance glimpse, behind balcony-blind, door-screen or
casement-lattice, of the wrinkled face of a peering old woman, or the
great black eyes of a Toledan girl. Sometimes I seemed to myself to be
walking through the midst of a deserted city, abandoned by its
inhabitants since ages far remote.

Yet one afternoon, on passing in front of a very ancient, gloomy
mansion, in whose lofty, massive walls might be seen three or four
windows of dissimilar form, placed without order or symmetry, I happened
to fix my attention on one of these. It was formed by a great ogee arch
surrounded by a wreath of sharply pointed leaves. The arch was closed in
by a light wall, recently built and white as snow. In the middle of
this, as if contained in the original window, might be seen a little
casement with frame and gratings painted green, with a flower-pot of
blue morning-glories whose sprays were clambering up over the
granite-work, and with panes of leaded glass curtained by white cloth
thin and translucent.

The window of itself, peculiar as it was, would have been enough to
arrest the gaze, but the circumstance most effective in fixing my
attention upon it was that, just as I turned my head to look at it, the
curtain had been lifted for a moment only to fall again, concealing from
my eyes the person who undoubtedly was at that same instant looking
after me.

I pursued my way preoccupied with the idea of the window, or, rather,
the curtain, or, to put it still more clearly, the woman who had raised
it, for beyond all doubt only a woman could be peeping out from that
window so poetic, so white, so green, so full of flowers, and when I say
a woman, be it understood that she is imaged as young and beautiful.

The next afternoon I passed the house,--passed with the same close
scrutiny; I rapped down my heels sharply, astonishing the silent street
with the clatter of my steps, a clatter that repeated itself in
responsive echoes, one after another; I looked at the window and the
curtain was raised again.

The plain truth is that behind the curtain I saw nothing at all; but by
aid of the imagination I seemed to discern a figure,--the figure, in
fact, of a woman.

That day twice or thrice I fell into a muse over my drawing. And on
other days I passed the house, and always when I was passing the curtain
would be raised again, remaining so till the sound of my steps was lost
in the distance and I from afar had looked back at it for the last time.

My sketches were making but little progress. In that cloister of _San
Juan de los Reyes_, in that cloister so mysterious and bathed in so
profound a melancholy,--seated on the broken capital of a column, my
portfolio on my knees, my elbows on my portfolio, and my head between my
hands,--to the music of water which flows there with an incessant
murmur, to the rustling of leaves under the evening wind in the wild,
forsaken garden, what dreams did I not dream of that window and that
woman! I knew her; I knew her name and even the color of her eyes.

I would see her crossing the wide and lonely courts of that most ancient
house, rejoicing them with her presence as a sunbeam gilds a pile of
ruins. Again I would seem to see her in a garden of very lofty, very
shadowy walls, among colossal, venerable trees, such as there ought to
be at the back of that sort of Gothic palace where she lived, gathering
flowers and seating herself alone on a stone bench and there sighing
while she plucked them leaf from leaf thinking on--who knows? Perchance
on me. Why say perchance? Assuredly on me. Oh, what dreams, what
follies, what poetry did that window awaken in my soul while I abode at
Toledo!

But my allotted time for sojourning in that city went by. One day, heavy
of heart and pensive of mood, I shut up all my drawings in the
portfolio, bade farewell to the world of fancy, and took a seat in the
coach for Madrid.

Before the highest of the Toledo towers had faded on the horizon, I
thrust my head from the carriage window to see it once more, and
remembered the street.

I still held the portfolio under my arm, and on taking my seat again,
while we rounded the hill which suddenly hid the city from my eyes, I
drew out my pencil and set down a date. It is the first of the three,
and the one which I call the Date of the Window.


II.

At the end of several months, I again had an opportunity to leave the
Capital for three or four days. I dusted my portfolio, tucked it under
my arm, provided myself with a quire of paper, a half-dozen pencils and
a few napoleons and, deploring the fact that the railroad was not yet
finished, crowded myself into a public stage that I might journey in
reverse order through the scenes of Tirso’s famous comedy _From Toledo
to Madrid_.

Once installed in the historic city, I devoted myself to visiting again
the spots which had most excited my interest on my former trip, and
certain others which as yet I knew only by name.

Thus I let slip by, in long, solitary rambles among the most ancient
quarters of the town, the greater part of the time which I could spare
for my little artistic expedition, finding a veritable pleasure in
losing myself in that confused labyrinth of blind lanes, narrow streets,
dark passages and steep, impracticable heights.

One afternoon, the last that I might at that time remain in Toledo,
after one of these long wanderings in unknown ways, I arrived--by what
streets I can scarcely tell--at a great deserted square, apparently
forgotten by the very inhabitants of the city and hidden away, as it
were, in one of its most remote nooks.

The filth and the rubbish cast out in this square from time immemorial
had identified themselves, if I may say so, with the earth in such a
manner as to present the broken and mountainous aspect of a miniature
Switzerland. On the hillocks and in the valleys formed by these
irregularities were growing at their own will wild mallows of colossal
proportions, circles of giant nettles, creeping tangles of white
morning-glories, stretches of that nameless, common herb, small, fine
and of a darkish green, and among these, swaying gently in the light
breath of the air, overtopping like kings all the other parasitic
plants, the no less poetic than vulgar yellow mustard, true flower of
wastes and ruins.

Scattered along the ground, some half buried, others almost hidden by
the tall weeds, might be seen an infinite number of fragments of
thousands on thousands of diverse articles, broken and thrown out on
that spot in different epochs, where they were in process of forming
strata in which it would be easy to follow out a course of genealogical
history.

Moorish tiles enamelled in various colors, sections of marble and of
jasper columns, fragments of brick of a hundred varying kinds, great
blocks covered with verdure and moss, pieces of wood already nearly
turned to dust, remains of antique panelling, rags of cloth, strips of
leather, and countless other objects, formless, nameless, were what at
first sight appeared on the surface, even while the attention was caught
and the eyes dazzled by glancing sparks of light sprinkled over the
green like a handful of diamonds flung broadcast and which, on closer
survey, proved to be nothing else than tiny bits of glass and of glazed
earthenware,--pots, plates, pitchers,--that, flashing back the sunlight,
counterfeited a very heaven of microscopic, glittering stars.

Such was the flooring of that square, though actually paved in some
places with small pebbles of various colors arranged in patterns, and in
others covered with great slabs of slate, but in the main, as we have
just said, like a garden of parasitic plants or a waste and weedy field.

Nor were the buildings which outlined its irregular form less strange
and worthy of study. On one side it was bounded by a line of dingy
little houses, the roofs twinkling with chimneys, weathercocks and
overhangs, the marble guardposts fastened to the corners with iron
rings, the balconies low or narrow, the small windows set with
flower-pots, and the hanging lantern surrounded by a wire network to
protect its smoky glass from the missiles of the street urchins.

Another boundary was constituted by a great, time-blackened wall full of
chinks and crevices, from which, amid patches of moss, peeped out, with
little bright eyes, the heads of various reptiles,--a wall exceedingly
high, formed of bulky blocks sprinkled over with hollows for doors and
balconies that had been closed up with stone and mortar, and on one of
whose extremities joined, forming an angle with it, a wall of brick
stripped of its plaster and full of rough holes, daubed at intervals
with streaks of red, green and yellow and crowned with a thatch of hay,
in and out of which ran sprays of climbing plants.

This was no more, so to speak, than the side scenery of the strange
stage-setting which, as I made my way into the square, suddenly
presented itself to view, captivating my mind and holding it spell-bound
for a space, for the true culminating point of the panorama, the edifice
which gave it its general tone, rose at the rear of the square, more
whimsical, more original, infinitely more beautiful in its artistic
disorder than all the buildings about.

“Here is what I have been wanting to find,” I exclaimed on seeing it,
and seating myself on a rough piece of marble, placing my portfolio on
my knees and sharpening a pencil, I made ready to sketch, though only in
outline, its irregular and eccentric form that I might ever keep it in
memory.

If I could fasten on here with wafers the very slight and ill-drawn
sketch of this building that I still keep, imperfect and impressionistic
though it is, it would save me a mountain of words, giving to my readers
a truer idea of it than all the descriptions imaginable.

But since this may not be, I will try to depict it as best I can, so
that the readers of these lines may form a remote conception if not of
its infinite details, at least of its effect as a whole.

Imagine an Arab palace with horse-shoe portals, its walls adorned by
long rows of arches with hundreds of intercrossings, running over a
stripe of brilliant tiles; here is seen the recess of an arched window,
cut in two by a group of slender colonnettes and enclosed in a frame of
exquisite, fanciful ornament; there rises a watch-tower with its light
and airy turret, roofed with glazed tiles of green and yellow, its keen
golden arrow losing itself in the void; further on is descried the
cupola that covers a chamber painted in gold and blue, or lofty
galleries closed with green Venetian blinds which on opening reveal
gardens with walks of myrtle, groves of laurel, and high-jetting
fountains. All is unique, all harmonious, though unsymmetrical; all
gives one a glimpse of the luxury and the marvels of its interior; all
lets one divine the character and the customs of its inmates.

The wealthy Arab who owned this edifice finally abandons it; the process
of the years begins to disintegrate the walls, dim their colors and even
corrode their marbles. A king of Castile then chooses for his residence
that already crumbling palace, and at this point he breaks the front,
opening an ogee and adorning it with a border of escutcheons through
whose midst is curled a garland of thistles and clover; yonder he
raises a massive fortress-tower of hewn stone with narrow loopholes and
pointed battlements; further along he builds on a wing of lofty, gloomy
rooms, where may be seen, in curious fellowship, stretches of shining
tiles, dusky vaulting, or a solitary Arab window, or a horse-shoe arch,
light and elegant, giving entrance to a Gothic hall, austere and grand.

But there comes a day when the king, too, abandons this dwelling,
passing it over to a community of nuns, and these in their turn remodel
it, adding new features to the already strange physiognomy of the
Moorish palace. They lattice the windows; between two Arab arches they
set the symbol of their faith, carved in granite; where tamarinds and
laurels used to grow they plant sad and gloomy cypresses; and making use
of some remnants of the old edifice, and building on top of others, they
form the most picturesque and incongruous combinations conceivable.

Above the main portal of the church, where may be dimly seen, as if
enveloped in the mystic twilight made by the shadows of their canopies,
a broadside of saints, angels and virgins at whose feet are
twisted--among acanthus leaves--stone serpents, monsters and dragons,
rises a slender minaret filagreed over with Moorish work; close below
the loopholes of the battlemented walls, whose merlons are now broken,
they place a shrine with a sacred fresco; and they close up the great
slits with thin partitions decorated with little squares like a
chess-board; they put crosses on all the pinnacles, and finally they
rear a spire full of bells which peal mournfully night and day calling
to prayer,--bells which swing at the impulsion of an unseen hand, bells
whose far-off sound sometimes draws from the listener tears of
involuntary grief.

Still the years are passing and are bathing in a dull, mellow,
nondescript hue the whole edifice, harmonizing its colors and sowing ivy
in its crevices.

White storks hang their nests on the tower-vane, martins build under the
eaves, swallows in the granite canopies, and the owls choose for their
haunt lofty holes left by fallen stones, whence on cloudy nights they
affright superstitious old women and timid children with the phosphoric
gleam of their round eyes and their shrill, uncanny hoots.

Only all these changes of fortune, only all these special circumstances
could have resulted in a building so individual, so full of contrasts,
of poetry and of memories as the one which on that afternoon presented
itself to my view and which to-day I have essayed, albeit in vain, to
describe by words.

I had drawn it in part on one of the leaves of my sketch-book. The sun
was scarcely gilding the highest spires of the city, the evening breeze
was beginning to caress my brow, when rapt in the ideas that suddenly
had assailed me on contemplating the silent remains of other eras more
poetic than the material age in which we live, suffocating in its utter
prose, I let my pencil slip from my fingers and gave over the drawing,
leaning against the wall at my back and yielding myself up completely to
the visions of imagination. Of what was I thinking? I do not know that I
can tell. I clearly saw epoch succeeding epoch, walls falling and other
walls rising in their stead. I saw men or, rather, women giving place to
other women, and the first and those who came after changing into dust
and flying like dust upon the air, a puff of wind bearing away
beauty,--beauty which had been wont to call forth secret sighs,
to engender passions, to be the source of ecstasies; then--what
know I?--all confused of thought, I saw many things jumbled
together,--boudoirs of cunning work, with clouds of perfume and beds of
flowers, strait and dreary cells with prayer-stool and crucifix, at the
foot of the crucifix an open book, and upon the book a skull; stern and
stately halls, hung with tapestries and adorned with trophies of war;
and many women passing and still repassing before my gaze, tall nuns
pale and thin, brown concubines with reddest lips and blackest eyes;
great dames of faultless profile, high bearing and majestic gait.

All these things I saw; and many more of those which, though visioned,
cannot be remembered; of those so immaterial that it is impossible to
confine them in the narrow compass of a word,--when suddenly I gave a
bound upon my seat and, passing my hand over my eyes to convince myself
that I was not still dreaming, leaping up as if moved by a nerve-spring,
I fastened my gaze on one of the lofty turrets of the convent. I had
seen--there is no room for doubt--perfectly had I seen a hand of
transcendent whiteness, which, reaching out from one of the apertures of
those turrets mortared like chess-boards, had waved several times as if
greeting me with a mute and loving sign. And it was I whom it greeted;
there was no possibility of a mistake; I was alone, utterly alone in the
square.

In vain I waited till night, nailed to that spot and without removing my
eyes for an instant from the turret; fruitlessly I often returned to
take up my watch again on the dark stone which had served me for seat
that afternoon when I saw appear the mysterious hand, already the object
of my dreams by night and wildest fantasies by day. I beheld it
nevermore.

And finally came the hour when I must depart from Toledo, leaving there,
as a useless and ridiculous burden, all the illusions which in its bosom
had been raised in my mind. I turned with a sigh to put my papers
together in my portfolio; but before securing them there, I wrote
another date, the second, the one which I know as the Date of the Hand.
As I wrote it, I noticed for a moment the earlier, that of the Window,
and could not but smile at my own folly.


III.

From the time of the strange occurrence which I have just related until
my return to Toledo, there elapsed about a year, during which the memory
of that afternoon was still present to my imagination, at first
constantly and in full detail, then less often, and at last so vaguely
that I even came to believe sometimes that I had been the sport of an
illusive dream.

Nevertheless, scarcely had I arrived at the city which some with good
reason call the Spanish Rome than this recollection beset me anew and
under its spell I set forth in absent-minded fashion to roam the
streets, without determined direction, with no preconceived purpose of
making my way to any special point.

The day was gloomy with that gloom which invades all that one hears and
sees and feels. The sky was the color of lead, and under its melancholy
shadow the houses seemed older, quainter and duskier than ever. The wind
moaned along the tortuous, narrow streets, bearing upon its gusts, like
the lost notes of a mysterious symphony, unintelligible words, the peal
of bells, and echoes of heavy, far-off blows. The damp, chill air froze
the soul with its icy breath.

I wandered for several hours through the most remote and deserted parts
of the city, rapt in a thousand confused imaginings; and, contrary to my
custom, with a gaze all vague and lost in space, nor could my attention
be aroused by any playful detail of architecture, by any monument of an
unknown style, by any marvellous and hidden work of sculpture, by any
one, in short, of those rare features for whose minute examination I had
been wont to pause at every step, at times when only artistic and
antiquarian interests held sway in my mind.

The sky was continually growing darker; the wind was blowing more
strongly and more boisterously; and a fine sleet had begun to fall,
very keen and penetrating, when unwittingly,--for I was still ignorant
of the way--and as if borne thither by an impulse which I could not
resist, an impulse whose occult force had brought me to the spot whither
my thoughts were tending, I found myself in the lonely square which my
readers already know.

On finding myself in that place I sprang to clear consciousness from out
the depths of that lethargy in which I had been sunken, as if awakened
from profound slumber by a violent shock.

I looked about me. All was as I described it--nay, it was more dreary. I
know not whether this gloom was due to the darkness of the sky, the lack
of verdure, or the state of my own spirit, but the truth is that between
the feeling with which I first contemplated that spot and this later
impression there was all the distance which lies between poetic
melancholy and personal bitterness.

For some moments I stood gazing at the sombre convent, now more sombre
than ever to my eyes, and I was already on the point of withdrawing when
my ears were wounded by the sound of a bell, a bell of broken, husky
voice, which was tolling slowly, while in vivid contrast it was
accompanied by something like a little clapper-bell which suddenly began
to revolve with the rapidity of a ringing so sharp and so incessant that
it seemed to have been seized by an attack of vertigo.

Nothing was ever stranger than that edifice, whose black silhouette was
outlined against the sky like that of a cliff bristling with thousands
of freakish points, speaking with tongues of bronze through bells that
seemed moved by the touch of invisible powers, the one weeping with
smothered sobs, the other laughing with shrill, wild outcry, like the
laughter of a madwoman.

At intervals and confused with the bewildering clamor of the bells, I
seemed to hear, too, something like the indistinct notes of an organ and
the words of a sacred, solemn chant.

I changed my intention; and instead of departing I approached the door
of the church and asked one of the ragged beggars squatted on the stone
steps:

“What is going on here?”

“A taking of the veil,” the mendicant answered, interrupting the prayer
which he was muttering between his teeth to resume it later, although
not until he had kissed the bit of copper that I dropped into his hand
as I put my question.

I had never been present at that ceremony, nor had I ever seen the
interior of the convent church. Both considerations impelled me to
enter.

The church was high and dark; its aisles were defined by two rows of
pillars made up of slender columns gathered into sheaves and resting on
broad octagonal bases, while from their rich crowning of capitals sprang
the vaulting of the strong ogee arches. The High Altar was placed at the
further end under a cupola of Renaissance style decorated with great
shield-bearing angels, griffins, a profusion of foliage on the finials,
cornices with gilded moldings and rosettes, and odd, elaborate frescoes.
Bordering the aisles might be seen a countless number of dusky chapels,
in whose recesses were burning a few lamps like stars lost in a cloudy
sky. Chapels there were of Arab architecture, Gothic, rococo; some
enclosed by magnificent iron gratings; some by humble wooden rails; some
submerged in shadow with an ancient marble tomb before the altar; some
brightly lighted, with an image clad in tinsel and surrounded by votive
offerings of silver and wax, together with little bows of gay-colored
ribbon.

The fantastic light which illuminated all the church, whose structural
confusion and artistic disorder were entirely in keeping with the rest
of the convent, tended to enhance its effect of mystery. From the lamps
of silver and copper, suspended from the vaulting, from the
altar-candles, from the narrow ogive windows and Moorish casements of
the walls, were shed rays of a thousand diverse hues,--white, stealing
in from the street by little skylights in the cupola; red, spreading
their glow from the great wax-candles before the shrines; green, blue,
and a hundred other diverse tints making their way through the stained
glass of the rose-windows. All these lustres, insufficient to flood that
sacred place with adequate light, seemed at certain points to blend in
strife, while others stood out, clear patches of brightness, over
against the veiled, dim depths of the chapels. Despite the solemnity of
the rite which was there taking place, but few of the faithful were in
attendance. The ceremony had commenced some time ago and was now nearing
its close. The priests who officiated at the High Altar were, at that
moment, enveloped in a cloud of azure incense which swayed slowly
through the air, as they descended the carpeted steps to take their way
to the choir where the nuns were heard intoning a psalm.

I, too, moved toward that spot with the intent of peering through the
double gratings which isolated the choir from the rest of the church. It
seemed borne in upon me that I must know the face of that woman of whom
I had seen only--and for one instant--the hand; and opening my eyes to
their widest extent and dilating the pupils in the effort to give them
greater power and penetration, I strained my gaze on to the deepest
recesses of the choir. Fruitless attempt; across the interwoven irons,
little or nothing could be seen. Some white and black phantoms moving
amidst a gloom against which fought in vain the inadequate radiance of a
few tall wax candles; a long line of lofty, crocketed sedilia, crowned
with canopies, beneath which might be divined, veiled by the dusk, the
indistinct figures of nuns clad in long flowing robes; a crucifix
illuminated by four candles and standing out against the dark
background of the picture as those points of high light which, on the
canvases of Rembrandt, make the shadows more palpable; this was the
utmost that could be discerned from the place where I stood.

The priests, covered with their gold-bordered copes, preceded by
acolytes who bore a silver cross and two great candles, and followed by
others who swung censers that shed perfume all about, advancing through
the throng of the faithful who kissed their hands and the hems of their
vestments, finally reached the choir-screen.

Up to this moment I had not been able to distinguish, amid the other
vague phantoms, that of the maiden who was about to consecrate herself
to Christ.

Have you never seen, in those last instants of twilight, a shred of mist
rise from the waters of a river, the surface of a fen, the waves of the
sea, or the deep heart of a mountain tarn,--a shred of mist that floats
slowly in the void, and now looks like a woman moving, walking, trailing
her gown behind her, now like a white veil fastening the tresses of an
invisible sylph, now a ghost which rises in the air hiding its yellow
bones beneath a winding-sheet against which is still seen outlined its
angular shape? Such was the hallucination I experienced in beholding
draw near the screen, as if detaching herself from the sombre depth of
the choir, that white, tall, most lightly moving form.

The face I could not see. She had placed herself exactly in front of the
candles which lit up the crucifix; and their gleam, making a halo about
her head, had left the rest obscure, bathing her in a wavering shadow.

Profound silence reigned; all eyes were fixed on her, and the final act
of the ceremony began.

The abbess, murmuring some unintelligible words, words which in their
turn the priests repeated with deep and hollow voice, caught from the
virgin’s brow the enwreathing crown of blossoms and flung it far
away.--Poor flowers! They were the last she was to wear, that woman,
sister of the flowers even as all women are.

Then the abbess despoiled her of her veil, and her fair tresses poured
in a golden cascade down her back and shoulders, which they were
suffered to cover but an instant, for at once there began to be heard,
in the midst of that profound silence reigning among the faithful, a
sharp, metallic clickity-click which set the nerves twitching, and first
the magnificent waves of hair fell from the forehead they had shaded,
and then those flowing locks that the fragrant air must have kissed so
many times slipped over her bosom and dropped upon the floor.

Again the abbess fell to murmuring the unintelligible words; the priest
repeated them; and once more all was silence in the church. Only from
time to time were heard, afar off, sounds like long-drawn, dreadful
moans. It was the wind complaining as it broke upon the edges of the
battlements and towers, and shuddering as it passed the colored panes of
the ogive windows.

She was motionless, motionless and pallid as a maiden of stone wrenched
from the niche of a Gothic cloister.

And they despoiled her of the jewels which covered her arms and throat,
and finally they divested her of her wedding robe, that raiment which
seemed to have been wrought that a lover might break its clasps with a
hand trembling for bliss and passion.

The mystic Bridegroom was awaiting the bride. Where? Beyond the doors of
death; lifting, undoubtedly, the stone of the sepulchre and calling her
to enter, even as the timid bride crosses the threshold of the sanctuary
of nuptial love, for she fell to the floor prostrate as a corpse. As if
she were clay, the nuns strewed her body with flowers, intoning a most
mournful psalm; a murmur went up from amid the multitude, and the
priests with their deep and hollow voices commenced the service for the
dead, accompanied by those instruments that seem to weep, augmenting the
unfathomable fear which the terrible words they pronounce inspire of
themselves.

_De profundis clamavi a te!_ chanted the nuns from the depths of the
choir with plaintive, lamenting voices.

_Dies irae, dies illa!_ responded the priests in thunderous, awful echo,
and therewith the bells pealed slowly, tolling for the dead, and between
the peals the metal was heard to vibrate with a strange and dolorous
drone.

I was touched; no, not touched--terrified. I believed that I was in
presence of the supernatural, that I felt the heart of my own life torn
from me, and that vacancy was closing in upon me; I felt that I had just
lost something precious, as a father, a mother, or a cherished wife, and
I suffered that immeasurable desolation which death leaves behind
wheresoever it passes, a desolation nameless, indescribable, to be
comprehended only by those who have had it to bear.

I was still rooted to that spot with wildly staring eyes, quaking from
head to foot and half beside myself, when the new nun rose from the
ground. The abbess robed her in the habit of the order, the sisters took
lighted candles in their hands and, forming two long lines, led her in
procession back to the further side of the choir.

There, amid the shadows, I saw the sudden glint of a ray of light; the
door of the cloister was opened. As she stepped beneath the lintel, the
nun turned for the last time toward the altar. The brightness of all the
lights suddenly shone upon her, and I could see her face. As I saw it, I
had to choke back a cry.

I knew that woman; not that I had ever seen her, but I knew her from the
visions of my dreams; she was one of those beings whom the soul
foretells or perchance remembers from another better world which, in
our descent to this, some of us do not altogether forget.

I took two steps forward; I longed to call to her--to cry out--I know
not what--giddiness assailed me; but at that instant the cloister door
shut--forever. The silver bells rang blithely, the priests raised a
_Hosanna_, clouds of incense swept through the air, the organ poured
forth from a hundred metal mouths a torrent of thunderous harmony, and
the bells of the tower began to chime, swinging with a frightful
ecstasy.

That mad and clamorous glee made my hair rise on my head. I looked about
searching for the parents, family, motherless children of that woman. I
found none.

“Perhaps she was alone in the world,” I said, and could not repress a
tear.

“God grant thee in the cloister the happiness which He denied thee in
the world!” simultaneously exclaimed an old woman by my side, and she
sobbed and groaned, clutching the grating.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“The poor dear! Indeed I knew her. I saw her born and I have nursed her
in my arms.”

“And why does she take the veil?”

“Because she found herself alone in the world. Her father and mother
died of the cholera on one and the same day, a little more than a year
ago. Seeing her an orphan and unprotected, the dean gave her a dowry so
that she might enter the sisterhood; and now you see--what else was
there to do?”

“And who was she?”

“Daughter of the steward of the Count of C----, whom I served until his
death.”

“Where did he live?”

When I heard the name of the street, I could not repress an exclamation
of surprise.

A line of light, that line of light which is as swift as thought,
running brightly through the obscurity and confusion of the mind,
uniting experiences far removed from one another and marvellously
binding them together, connected my vague memories and I understood--or
believed that I understood--all.

       *       *       *       *       *

This date, which has no name, I have not written anywhere,--nay; I bear
it written there where only I may read it and whence it shall never be
erased.

Occasionally in recalling these events, even now in relating them here,
I have asked myself:--

Some day in the mysterious hour of twilight, when the breath of the
spring zephyr, warm and laden with perfumes, penetrates even into the
recesses of the most retired dwellings, bearing there an airy touch of
memory, of the world, must not a woman, alone, lost in the dim shades of
a Gothic cloister, her cheek upon her hand, her elbow resting on the
embrasure of an ogive window, have exhaled a sigh as the recollection of
these dates crossed her imagination?

Who knows?

Oh! if she sighed, where might that sigh be?



THE CHRIST OF THE SKULL


The King of Castile was going to the Moorish war and, in order to
contend with the enemies of the faith, he had sent a martial summons to
all the flower of his nobility. The silent streets of Toledo now
resounded night and day with the stirring sound of kettle-drums and
trumpets; and in the Moorish gateway of Visagra, or in that of Cambrón,
or in the narrow entrance to the ancient bridge of St. Martin, not an
hour passed without one’s hearing the hoarse cry of the sentinels
proclaiming the arrival of some knight who, preceded by his seigniorial
banner and followed by horsemen and foot-soldiers, had come to join the
main body of the Castilian army.

The time which remained before taking the road to the frontier and
completing the order of the royal hosts was spent in public
entertainments, lavish feasts and brilliant tournaments, until at last,
on the evening before the day appointed by His Highness for the setting
out of the army, a grand ball closed the festivities.

On the night of the ball, the royal palace presented a singular
appearance. In the spacious courts might be seen, promiscuously mingled
around huge bonfires, a motley multitude of pages, soldiers, crossbowmen
and hangers-on, who, some grooming their chargers and polishing their
arms preparatory to combat, others bewailing with outcries and
blasphemies the unforeseen turns of Fortune, personified for them in the
cast of the dice, and others chorusing the refrain of a martial ballad
which a minstrel was chanting to the accompaniment of a rude violin;
others still buying of a palmer cockle-shells, crosses and girdles
hallowed by the touch of the sepulchre of Santiago, or greeting with
wild outbursts of laughter the jokes of a clown, or practising on the
trumpets the battle-airs of the several seigniories, or telling old
stories of chivalry and love adventures, or of miracles recently
performed,--all contributed their quota to an infernal,
undistinguishable uproar impossible to describe in words.

Above that tumultuous ocean of war songs, noise of hammers smiting
anvils, creaking of files that bit the steel, stamping of horses,
insolent voices, irrepressible laughter, disorderly shouts and
intemperate reproaches, oaths and all manner of strange, discordant
sounds, there floated at intervals like a breath of harmony the distant
music of the ball.

This, which was taking place in the salons of the second story of the
palace, offered in its turn a picture, if not so fantastic and
capricious, more dazzling and magnificent.

Through galleries of far extent which formed an intricate labyrinth of
slender columns and ogees of fretted stone delicate as lace; through
great halls hung with tapestries on which silk and gold had pictured
with a thousand diverse colors scenes of love, of the chase and of
war,--halls adorned with trophies of arms and escutcheons over which was
shed a sea of sparkling light from innumerable lamps, suspended from the
loftiest vaults, and from candelabras of bronze, silver and gold,
fastened into the massive blocks of the walls; on all sides, wherever
the eyes turned, might be seen floating and drifting hither and thither
a cloud of beautiful ladies in rich, gold-embroidered garments, nets of
pearls imprisoning their tresses, necklaces of rubies blazing upon their
breasts, feather fans with ivory handles hanging from their wrists,
veils of white laces caressing their cheeks; and joyous throngs of
gallants with velvet sword-belts, brocaded jackets and silken trousers,
morocco buskins, full-sleeved mantelets with pointed

[Illustration: THE VISAGRA GATE]

hoods, poniards with ornamental hilts, and rapiers polished, thin and
light.

But in that bright and shining assemblage of youthful cavaliers and
ladies, whom their elders, seated in the high larch chairs which
encircled the royal dais, with smiles of joy saw defiling by, there was
one woman who attracted attention for her incomparable loveliness, one
who had been hailed Queen of Beauty in all the tournaments and courts of
love of the period, one whose colors the most valiant knights had
adopted as their emblem, one whose charms were the theme of the songs of
the troubadours most proficient in the _gay science_, one toward whom
all eyes turned with wonder, for whom all hearts sighed in secret,
around whom might be seen gathering with eagerness, like humble vassals
in the train of their mistress, the most illustrious scions of the
Toledan nobility assembled at the ball that night.

Those presumptive gallants who were continually in the retinue of the
Doña Inés de Tordesillas, for such was the name of this celebrated
beauty, were never discouraged in their suit despite her haughty and
disdainful character. One was emboldened by a smile which he thought he
detected on her lips; another, by a gracious look which he deemed he had
surprised in her eyes; another, by a flattering word, the slightest sign
of preference, or a vague promise. Each in silence cherished the hope
that he would be her choice. Yet among them all there were two
particularly prominent for their assiduity and devotion, two who to all
appearance, if not the acknowledged favorites of the beauty, might claim
to be the farthest advanced upon the path to her heart. These two
knights, equals in birth, valor and chivalric accomplishments, subjects
of the same king and aspirants for the same lady, were Alonso de
Carrillo and Lope de Sandoval.

Both were natives of Toledo; together they had first borne arms; and on
one and the same day, their eyes meeting those of Doña Inés, both had
conceived a hidden and ardent love for her, a love that for some time
grew in secrecy and silence, but at length came to an involuntary
betrayal of itself in their actions and conversation.

At the tournaments in the Zocodover, at the floral games of the court,
whenever opportunity was presented for rivalry in gallantry or wit, both
knights had availed themselves of it with eagerness, desirous to win
distinction under the eyes of their lady; and that night, impelled
doubtless by the same passion, changing their helmets for plumes and
their mail for brocade and silk, standing together by the seat where she
rested a moment after a turn through the salons, they began to engage in
a brilliant contest of exquisite and ingenious phrases or keen and
covert epigrams.

The lesser stars of that sparkling constellation, forming a gilded
semicircle around the two gallants, laughed and cheered on the delicate
strife; and the fair lady, the prize of that word-tournament, approved
with a scarcely perceptible smile the flashes of wit, elegantly phrased
or full of hidden meaning, whether they fell from the lips of her
adorers like a light wave of perfume flattering to her vanity, or leapt
forth like a sharp arrow seeking to pierce the opponent in his most
vulnerable point, his self-love.

Already with each sally the courtly combat of wit and gallantry was
growing fiercer; the phrases were still civil in form, but terse and
dry, and in the speaking, accompanied though it was by a slight curving
of the lips in semblance of a smile, unconcealable lightnings of the
eyes betrayed that repressed anger which raged in the breasts of the
rivals.

It was a situation that could not be sustained. The lady, so perceiving,
had risen to make another tour of the salons, when an incident occurred
that broke down the barrier of formal courtesy which had hitherto
restrained the two enamoured youths. Perchance intentionally, perchance
through carelessness, Doña Inés had let fall upon her lap one of her
perfumed gloves whose golden buttons she had amused herself in pulling
off one by one during the conversation. As she rose, the glove slipped
between the wide silken plaits of her dress and fell upon the carpet.
Seeing it drop, all the knights who formed her brilliant retinue bent
eagerly to recover it, disputing with one another the honor of a slight
inclination of her head as a reward of their gallantry.

Noting the precipitation with which all stooped to pick up her glove, a
half smile of satisfied vanity appeared on the lips of the haughty Doña
Inés. With a gesture of general acknowledgment to the cavaliers who had
shown such eagerness to serve her, the lady, with a lofty, arrogant mien
and scarcely glancing in that direction, reached out her hand for the
glove toward Lope and Alonso, the first to reach it. In fact, both
youths had seen the glove fall close to their feet, both had stooped
with equal haste to pick it up and, on rising, each held it seized by
one end. On seeing them immovable, looking silent defiance each upon the
other, and both determined not to give up the glove which they had just
raised from the floor, the lady uttered a light, involuntary cry,
stifled by the murmur of the astonished spectators. The whole presented
a threatening scene, that there in the royal castle and in the presence
of the king might be designated as a serious breach of courtesy.

Lope and Alonso, notwithstanding, remained motionless, mute, scanning
each other from head to foot, showing no sign of the tempest in their
souls save by a slight nervous tremor which shivered through their limbs
as if they had been attacked by a sudden fever.

The murmurs and exclamations were reaching a climax. The people began to
group themselves around the principal actors in the scene. Doña Inés,
either bewildered or taking delight in prolonging the situation, was
moving to and fro as if seeking refuge or escape from the eyes of the
throng whose numbers were continually augmented. Catastrophe now seemed
inevitable. The two young men had already exchanged a few words in an
undertone, and each, while still with one hand holding the glove in a
convulsive grip, seemed instinctively to be seeking with the other the
golden hilt of his poniard, when the crowd of spectators respectfully
opened and there appeared the king.

His brow was tranquil. There was neither indignation in his countenance
nor anger in his bearing.

He surveyed the scene; one glance was sufficient to put him in command
of the situation. With all the grace of the most accomplished page, he
drew the glove from the young knights’ hands which, as though moved by a
spring, opened without difficulty at the touch of their sovereign, and
turning to Doña Inés de Tordesillas, who, leaning on the arm of a
duenna, seemed about to faint, said with a firm though controlled voice,
as he presented the glove:

“Take it, _señora_, and be careful not to let it fall again, lest when
you recover it, you find it stained with blood.”

By the time the king had finished speaking, Doña Inés, we will not
undertake to say whether overcome by emotion, or in order to retreat
more gracefully from the situation, had swooned in the arms of those
about her.

Alonso and Lope, the former crushing in silence between his hands his
velvet cap whose plume trailed along the carpet, and the latter biting
his lips till the blood came, fixed each other with a stubborn, intense
stare.

A stare at that crisis was equivalent to a blow, a glove thrown in the
face, a challenge to mortal combat.


II.

At midnight, the king and queen retired to their chamber. The ball was
at an end, and the inquisitive folk outside, who, forming groups and
circles in the vicinity of the palace, had been impatiently awaiting
this moment, ran to station themselves beside the steep road, up in the
balconies along the route, and in the central square of the city, known
as the Zocodover.

For an hour or two there reigned, at these points and in the adjacent
streets, clamor, bustle, activity indescribable. Everywhere might be
seen squires caracoling on their richly caparisoned steeds,
masters-at-arms with showy vestments full of shields and heraldic
devices, drummers dressed in gay colors, soldiers in shining armor,
pages in velvet cloaks and plumed hats, footmen who preceded luxurious
chairs and litters covered with rich cloth. The great, blazing torches
borne by the footmen cast a rosy glow upon the multitude, who, with
wondering faces, open mouths and frightened eyes, saw with amazement all
the chief nobility of Castile passing by, surrounded on that occasion by
fabulous splendor and pomp.

Then, by degrees, the noise and excitement subsided, the stained glass
in the lofty ogive windows of the palace ceased to shine, the last
cavalcade passed through the close-packed throngs, the rabble in their
turn began to disperse in all directions, disappearing among the shadows
of the puzzling labyrinth formed by those dark, narrow, tortuous
streets, and now the deep silence of the night was broken only by the
far-off call of some sentinel, the footsteps of some lingerer whose
curiosity had left him to the last, the clang of bolts and bars in
closing gates, when on the summit of the stone stairway which leads to
the platform of the palace, there appeared a knight, who, after looking
on all sides as if seeking some one who should have been expecting him,
slowly descended to the Cuesta del Alcazar, by which he took his way
toward the Zocodover.

On arriving at the square, he halted a moment and cast a searching
glance around. The night was dark, not a star glistened in the sky, nor
in all the square could a single light be seen; yet afar off, and in the
same direction in which he began to perceive a slight sound as of
approaching footsteps, he believed he saw the figure of a man, without
doubt the same whom he had seemed to await with such impatience.

The knight who had just quitted the castle for the Zocodover was Alonso
Carrillo, who, on account of the post of honor which he held near the
person of the king, had been kept on attendance in the royal chamber
until that hour. The man coming to meet him out of the shadows of the
arcades which surround the square was Lope de Sandoval. When the two
knights were face to face, they exchanged a few sentences in suppressed
voices.

“I thought you would be expecting me,” said the one.

“I hoped that you would surmise as much,” answered the other.

“Where shall we go?”

“Wherever there can be found four handsbreadth of ground to turn around
in and a ray to give us light.”

This briefest of dialogues ended, the two young men plunged into one of
the narrow streets leading out from the Zocodover and vanished in the
darkness like those phantoms of the night, which, after terrifying for
an instant the beholder, dissolve into atoms of mist and are lost in the
depth of the shadows.

A long time they went on, traversing the streets of Toledo, seeking a
suitable place to end their quarrel, but the darkness of the night was
so dense that the duel seemed impossible. Yet both wished to fight and
to fight before the whitening of the east; for at dawn the royal hosts
were to go forth, and Alonso with them.

So they pressed on, threading at random deserted squares, dusky alleys,
long and gloomy passages, till at last they saw shining in the distance
a light, a light small and waning, about which the mist formed a circle
of ghostly, glimmering lustre.

They had reached the Street of the Christ, and the radiance discernible
at one end seemed to come from the small lantern which illuminated then
and illuminates still the image that gives the street its name.

On seeing it, both let escape an exclamation of joy and, quickening
their steps toward it, were not long in finding themselves near the
shrine in which it burned.

An arched recess in the wall, in the depths of which might be seen the
image of the Redeemer, nailed to the cross, with a skull at his feet, a
rude board covering for protection from the weather, and a small lantern
hung by a cord, swaying with the wind and shedding a faint effulgence,
constituted the entire shrine. About it clung festoons of ivy which had
sprung up among the dark and broken stones forming, as it were, a
curtain of verdure.

The cavaliers, after reverently saluting the image of Christ by removing
their military caps and murmuring a short prayer, glanced over the
ground, threw off their mantles and, each perceiving the other to be
ready for the combat and both giving the signal by a slight motion of
the head, crossed swords. But scarcely had the blades touched when,
before either of the combatants had been able to take a single step or
strike a blow, the light suddenly went out, leaving the street plunged
in utter darkness. As if moved by the same thought, the two antagonists,
on finding themselves surrounded by that instantaneous gloom, took a
step backward, lowered the points of their swords to the ground and
raised their eyes to the lantern, whose light, a moment before
extinguished, began to shine anew at the very instant the duel was
suspended.

“It must have been some passing gust that lowered the flame,” exclaimed
Carrillo, placing himself again on guard, and giving warning to Lope,
who seemed preoccupied.

Lope took a step forward to recover the lost ground, extended his arm
and the blades touched once more, but at their touching the light again
went out of itself, remaining thus until the swords separated.

“In truth, but this is strange!” murmured Lope, gazing at the lantern
which had begun spontaneously to burn again. The gleam, slowly wavering
with the wind, spread a tremulous, wonderful radiance over the yellow
skull placed at the feet of Christ.

“Bah!” said Alonso, “it must be because the holy woman who has charge of
the lamp cheats the devotees and scants the oil, so that the light,
almost out, brightens and then darkens again in its dying agony.”

Thus speaking, the impetuous youth placed himself once more in attitude
of defence. His opponent did the same; but this time, not only were they
enveloped in a thick and impenetrable gloom, but simultaneously there
fell upon their ears the deep echo of a mysterious voice like those long
sighs of the south-west wind which seems to complain and articulate
words as it wanders imprisoned in the crooked, narrow and dim streets of
Toledo.

What was uttered by that fearful and superhuman voice never could be
learned; but on hearing it, both youths were seized with such profound
terror that their swords dropped from their hands, their hair stood on
end, and over their bodies, shaken by an involuntary tremor, and down
their pallid and distorted brows a cold sweat like that of death began
to flow.

The light, for the third time quenched, for the third time shone again
and dispelled the dark.

“Ah!” exclaimed Lope, beholding him who was now his opponent, in other
days his best friend, astounded like himself, like himself pale and
motionless, “God does not mean to permit this combat, for it is a
fratricidal contest; because a duel between us is an offence to heaven
in whose sight we have sworn a hundred times eternal friendship.” And
saying this he threw himself into the arms of Alonso, who clasped him in
his own with unspeakable strength and fervor.


III.

Some moments passed during which both youths indulged in every
endearment of friendship and love. Alonso spoke first and, in accents
touched by the scene which we have just related, exclaimed, addressing
his comrade:

“Lope, I know that you love Doña Inés; perhaps not as much as I, but you
love her. Since a duel between us is impossible, let us agree to place
our fate in her hands. Let us go and seek her, let her decide with free
choice which of us shall be the happy one, which the wretched. Her
decision shall be respected by both, and he who does not gain her favor
shall to-morrow go forth with the King of Toledo and shall seek the
comfort of forgetfulness in the excitement of war.”

“Since you wish it, so let it be,” replied Lope.

And arm in arm the two friends took their way toward the cathedral
beneath whose shadow, in a palace of which there are now no remains,
dwelt Doña Inés de Tordesillas.

It was early dawn, and as some of the kindred of Doña Inés, among them
her brothers, were to march the coming day with the royal army, it was
not impossible that early in the morning they could gain admittance to
her palace.

Inspired by this hope they arrived, at last, at the base of the Gothic
tower of the church, but on reaching that point a peculiar noise
attracted their attention and, stopping in one of the angles, concealed
among the shadows of the lofty buttresses that support the walls, they
saw, to their amazement, a man emerging from a window upon the balcony
of their lady’s apartments in the palace. He lightly descended to the
ground by the help of a rope and, finally, a white figure, Doña Inés
undoubtedly, appeared upon the balcony and, leaning over the fretted
parapet, exchanged tender phrases of farewell with her mysterious lover.

The first motion of the two youths was to place their hands on their
sword-hilts, but checking themselves, as though struck by a common
thought, they turned to look on one another, each discerning on the
other’s face a look of astonishment so ludicrous that both broke forth
into loud laughter, laughter which, rolling on from echo to echo in the
silence of the night, resounded through the square even to the palace.

Hearing it, the white figure vanished from the balcony, a noise of
slamming doors was heard, and then silence resumed her reign.

On the following day, the queen, seated on a most sumptuous dais, saw
defile past her the hosts who were marching to the war against the
Moors. At her side were the principal ladies of Toledo. Among them was
Doña Inés de Tordesillas on whom this day, as ever, all eyes were bent.
But it seemed to her that they wore a different expression from that to
which she was accustomed. She would have said that in all the curious
looks cast upon her lurked a mocking smile.

This discovery could not but disquiet her, remembering, as she did, the
noisy laughter which, the night before, she had thought she heard at a
distance in one of the angles of the square, while she was closing her
balcony and bidding adieu to her lover; but when she saw among the ranks
of the army marching below the dais, sparks of fire glancing from their
brilliant armor, and a cloud of dust enveloping them, the two reunited
banners of the houses of Carrillo and Sandoval; when she saw the
significant smile which the two former rivals, on saluting the queen,
directed toward herself, she comprehended all. The blush of shame
reddened her face and tears of chagrin glistened in her eyes.



THE WHITE DOE


In a small town of Aragon, about the end of the thirteenth century or a
little later, there lived retired in his seigniorial castle a renowned
knight named Don Dionís, who, having served his king in the war against
the infidels, was then taking his ease, giving himself up to the merry
exercise of hunting, after the wearisome hardships of war.

It chanced once to this cavalier, engaged in his favorite diversion,
accompanied by his daughter whose singular beauty, of the blond type
extraordinary in Spain, had won her the name of White Lily, that as the
increasing heat of the day began to tell upon them, absorbed in pursuing
a quarry in the mountainous part of his estate, he took for his
resting-place during the hours of the siesta a glen through which ran a
rivulet leaping from rock to rock with a soft and pleasant sound.

It might have been a matter of some two hours that Don Dionís had
lingered in that delectable retreat, reclining on the delicate grass in
the shade of a black-poplar grove, talking affably with his huntsmen
about the incidents of the day, while they related one to another more
or less curious adventures that had befallen them in their hunting
experiences, when along the top of the highest ridge and between
alternating murmurs of the wind which stirred the leaves on the trees,
he began to perceive, each time more near, the sound of a little bell
like that of the leader of a flock.

In truth, it was really that, for very soon after the first hearing of
the bell, there came leaping over the thick undergrowth of lavender and
thyme, descending to the opposite bank of the rivulet, nearly a hundred
lambs white as snow, and behind them appeared their shepherd with his
pointed hood drawn over his brows to protect him from the vertical rays
of the sun and with his shoulder-bag swung from the end of a stick.

“Speaking of remarkable adventures,” exclaimed on seeing him one of the
huntsmen of Don Dionís, addressing his lord, “here is Esteban, the
shepherd-lad, who has been now for some time more of a fool than God
made him, which was fool enough. He can give us an amusing half-hour by
relating the cause of his continual frights.”

“But what is it that happens to this poor devil?” exclaimed Don Dionís
with an air of piqued curiosity.

“A mere trifle,” continued the huntsman in a jesting tone. “The case is
this--that without having been born on Good Friday, or bearing a
birthmark of the cross, or, so far as one can infer from his regular
Christian habits, binding himself to the Devil, he finds himself, not
knowing why or whence, endowed with the most marvellous faculty that any
man ever possessed, unless it be Solomon, who, they say, understood even
the language of birds.”

“And with what does this remarkable faculty have to do?”

“It has to do,” pursued the huntsman, “as he affirms, and he swears and
forswears it by all that is most sacred, with a conspiracy among the
deer which course through these mountains not to leave him in peace, the
drollest thing about it being that on more than one occasion he has
surprised them in the act of contriving the pranks they were going to
play on him and after those tricks had been carried through he has
overheard the noisy bursts of laughter with which they applaud them.”

While the huntsman was thus speaking, Constanza, as the beautiful
daughter of Don Dionís was named, had drawn near the group of sportsmen
and, as she appeared curious to hear the strange experience of Esteban,
one of them ran on to the place where the young shepherd was watering
his flock and brought him into the presence of his lord, who, to dispel
the perturbation and evident embarrassment of the poor peasant, hastened
to greet him by name, accompanying the salutation with a benevolent
smile.

Esteban was a boy of nineteen or twenty years, robust in build, with a
small head sunken between his shoulders, little blue eyes, a wavering,
stupid glance like that of albinos, a flat nose, thick, half open lips,
low forehead, complexion fair but tanned by the sun, and hair which fell
partly over his eyes and partly around his face, in rough red locks like
the mane of a sorrel nag.

Such, more or less exactly, was Esteban in point of physique. In respect
to his character, it could be asserted without fear of denial on his own
part or on that of any one who knew him, that he was an entirely honest,
simple-hearted lad, though, like a true peasant, a little suspicious and
malicious.

As soon as the shepherd had recovered from his confusion, Don Dionís
again addressed him and, in the most serious tone in the world, feigning
an extraordinary interest in learning the details of the event to which
his huntsman had referred, put to him a multitude of questions to which
Esteban began to reply evasively, as if desirous of escaping any
discussion of the subject.

Constrained, nevertheless, by the demands of his lord and the entreaties
of Constanza, who seemed most curious and eager that the shepherd should
relate his astounding adventures, he decided to talk freely, but not
without casting a distrustful glance about him as though fearing to be
overheard by others than those present, and scratching his head three
or four times in the effort to connect his recollections or find the
thread of his narrative, before at last he thus began:

“The fact is, my lord, that as a priest of Tarazona to whom, not long
ago, I went for help in my troubles, told me, wits don’t serve against
the Devil, but mum! finger on lip, many good prayers to Saint
Bartholomew--who, none better, knows his knaveries--and let him have his
sport; for God, who is just, and sits up thereon high, will see that all
comes right in the end.

“Resolved on this course I had decided never again to say a word to any
one about it,--no, not for anything; but I will do it to-day to satisfy
your curiosity, and in good sooth, if, after all, the Devil calls me to
account and goes to troubling me in punishment for my indiscretion, I
carry the Holy Gospels sewed inside my sheepskin coat, and with their
help, I think that, as at other times, I may make telling use of a
cudgel.”

“But, come!” exclaimed Don Dionís, out of patience with the digressions
of the shepherd, which it seemed would never end, “let the whys and
wherefores go, and come directly to the subject.”

“I am coming to it,” calmly replied Esteban, and after calling together,
by dint of a shout and a whistle, the lambs of which he had not lost
sight and which were now beginning to scatter over the mountain-side, he
scratched his head again and proceeded thus:

“On the one hand, your own continual hunting trips, and on the other,
the persistency of those trespassers who, what with snare and what with
crossbow, hardly leave a deer alive in twenty days’ journey round about,
had, a little time ago, so thinned out the game in these mountains that
you could not find a stag in them, not though you would give one of your
eyes.

“I was speaking of this in the town, seated in the porch of the church,
where after mass on Sunday I was in the habit of joining some laborers
who till the soil in Veratón, when some of them said to me:

“‘Well, man, I don’t know why it is you fail to run across them, since,
as for us, we can give you our word that we don’t once go down to the
ploughed land without coming upon their tracks, and it is only three or
four days since, without going further back, a herd, which, to judge by
their hoof-prints, must have numbered more than twenty, cut down before
its time a crop of wheat belonging to the care-taker of the Virgen del
Romeral.’

“‘And in what direction did the track lead?’ I asked the laborers, with
a mind to see if I could fall in with the herd.

“‘Toward the Lavender Glen,’ they replied.

“This information did not enter one ear to go out at the other; that
very night I posted myself among the poplars. During all its hours I
kept hearing here and there, far off as well as near by, the trumpeting
of the deer as they called one to another, and from time to time I felt
the boughs stirring behind me; but however sharply I looked, the truth
is, I could distinguish nothing.

“Nevertheless, at break of day, when I took the lambs to water, at the
bank of the stream, about two throws of the sling from the place where
we now are, and in so dense a shade of poplars that not even at mid-day
is it pierced by a ray of sunshine, I found fresh deer-tracks, broken
branches, the stream a little roiled and, what is more peculiar, among
the deer-tracks the short prints of tiny feet no larger than the half of
the palm of my hand, without any exaggeration.”

On saying this, the boy, instinctively seeming to seek a point of
comparison, directed his glance to the foot of Constanza, which peeped
from beneath her petticoat shod in a dainty sandal of yellow morocco,
but as the eyes of Don Dionís and of some of the huntsmen who were
about him followed Esteban’s, the beautiful girl hastened to conceal it,
exclaiming in the most natural voice in the world:

“Oh, no! unluckily mine are not so tiny, for feet of this size are found
only among the fairies of whom the troubadours sing.”

“But I did not give up with this,” continued the shepherd, when
Constanza had finished. “Another time, having concealed myself in
another hiding-place by which, undoubtedly, the deer would have to pass
in going to the glen, at just about midnight sleep overcame me for a
little, although not so much but that I opened my eyes at the very
moment when I perceived the branches were stirring around me. I opened
my eyes, as I have said; I rose with the utmost caution and, listening
intently to the confused murmur, which every moment sounded nearer, I
heard in the gusts of wind something like cries and strange songs,
bursts of laughter, and three or four distinct voices which talked
together with a chatter and gay confusion like that of the young girls
at the village when, laughing and jesting on the way, they return in
groups from the fountain with their water-jars on their heads.

“As I gathered from the nearness of the voices and close-by crackle of
twigs which broke noisily in giving way to that throng of merry maids,
they were just about to come out of the thicket on to a little platform
formed by a jut of the mountain there where I was hid when, right at my
back, as near or nearer than I am to you, I heard a new voice, fresh,
fine and vibrant, which said--believe it, _señores_, it is as true as
that I have to die--it said, clearly and distinctly, these very words:

    “‘Hither, hither, comrades dear!
      That dolt of an Esteban is here!’”

On reaching this point in the shepherd’s story, the bystanders could no
longer repress the merriment which for many minutes had been dancing in
their eyes and, giving free rein to their mirth, they broke into
clamorous laughter. Among the first to begin to laugh, and the last to
leave off, were Don Dionís, who, notwithstanding his air of dignity,
could not but take part in the general hilarity, and his daughter
Constanza, who, every time she looked at Esteban, all in suspense and
embarrassment as he was, fell to laughing again like mad till the tears
sprang from her eyes.

The shepherd-lad, for his part, although without heeding the effect his
story had produced, seemed disturbed and restless, and while the great
folk laughed to their hearts’ content at his simple tale, he turned his
face from one side to the other with visible signs of fear and as if
trying to descry something beyond the intertwined trunks of the trees.

“What is it, Esteban, what is the matter?” asked one of the huntsmen,
noting the growing disquietude of the poor boy, who now was fixing his
frightened eyes on the laughing daughter of Don Dionís, and again gazing
all around him with an expression of astonishment and dull dismay:

“A very strange thing is happening to me,” exclaimed Esteban. “When,
after hearing the words which I have just repeated, I quickly sat
upright to surprise the person who had spoken them, a doe white as snow
leaped from the very copse in which I was hidden and, taking a few
prodigious bounds over the tops of the evergreen oaks and mastic trees,
sped away, followed by a herd of deer of the natural color; and these,
like the white one who was guiding them, did not utter the cries of deer
in flight, but laughed with great peals of laughter, whose echo, I could
swear, is sounding in my ears at this moment.”

“Bah, bah, Esteban!” exclaimed Don Dionís, with a jesting air, “follow
the counsels of the priest of Tarazona; do not talk of your adventures
with the joke-loving deer, lest the Devil bring it to pass that in the
end you lose the little sense you have, and since now you are provided
with the gospels and know the prayer of Saint Bartholomew, return to
your lambs which are beginning to scatter through the glen. If the evil
spirits tease you again, you know the remedy--_Pater Noster_ and a big
stick.”

The shepherd, after putting away in his pouch a half loaf of white bread
and a piece of boar’s meat, and in his stomach a mighty draught of wine,
which, by order of his lord, one of the grooms gave him, took leave of
Don Dionís and his daughter and had scarcely gone four steps when he
began whirling his sling, casting stones from it to gather the lambs
together.

As, by this time, Don Dionís observed that, what with one diversion and
another, the hours of heat were now passed and the light afternoon
breeze was beginning to stir the leaves of the poplars and to freshen
the fields, he gave orders to his retinue to make ready the horses which
were grazing loose in the grove hard by; and when everything was
prepared, he signalled to some to slip the leashes, and to others to
blow the horns and, sallying forth in a troop from the poplar-grove,
took up the interrupted chase.


II.

Among the huntsmen of Don Dionís was one named Garcés, the son of an old
servitor of the house and therefore held in high regard by the family.

Garcés was of about the age of Constanza, and from early boyhood had
been accustomed to anticipate the least of her wishes and to divine and
gratify the lightest of her whims.

He amused himself in his moments of leisure in sharpening with his own
hand the pointed arrows of her ivory crossbow; he broke in the colts for
her mounts; he trained her favorite hounds in the arts of the chase and
tamed her falcons for which he bought at the fairs of Castile red hoods
embroidered with gold.

But as for the other huntsmen, the pages and the common folk in the
service of Don Dionís, the delicate attentions of Garcés and the marks
of esteem with which his superiors distinguished him had caused them to
hold him in a sort of general dislike, even to the point of saying, in
their envy, that all his assiduous efforts to anticipate the caprices of
his mistress revealed the character of a flatterer and a sycophant. Yet
there were not wanting those who, more keen-sighted or malicious than
the rest, believed that they detected in the young retainer’s devotion
signs of an ill-dissembled passion.

If this were really so, the secret love of Garcés had more than abundant
excuse in the incomparable charms of Constanza. He must needs have had a
breast of stone, and a heart of ice, who could remain unmoved day after
day at the side of that woman, peerless in her beauty and her bewitching
graces.

The Lily of the Moncayo they called her for twenty leagues around, and
well she merited this soubriquet, for she was so exquisite, so white and
so delicately flushed that it would seem that God had made her, like the
lilies, of snow and gold.

Nevertheless, among the neighboring gentry it was whispered that the
beautiful Lady of Veratón was not so pure of blood as she was fair, and
that despite her bright tresses and her alabaster complexion, she had
had a gipsy mother. How much truth there was in these rumors no one
could say, for, in fact, Don Dionís had in his youth led an adventurous
life, and after fighting long under the banner of the King of Aragon,
from whom he received among other rewards the fief of the Moncayo, had
gone to Palestine, where he wandered for some years, finally returning
to establish himself in his castle of Veratón with a little daughter
born, doubtless, on foreign soil. The only person who could have told
anything about the mysterious origin of Constanza, having attended Don
Dionís in his travels abroad, was the father of Garcés, and he had died
some time since without saying a single word on the subject, not even to
his own son who, at various times and with manifestations of great
interest, had questioned him.

The temperament of Constanza, with its swift alternations from reserve
and melancholy to mirth and glee; the singular vividness of her
imagination; her wild moods; her extraordinary ways; even the
peculiarity of having eyes and eyebrows black as night while her
complexion was white and rosy and her hair as bright as gold, had
contributed to furnish food for the gossip of the countryside; and even
Garcés himself, who knew her so intimately, had come to the conclusion
that his liege lady was something apart and did not resemble the rest of
womankind.

Present, as the other huntsmen were, at the narration of Esteban, Garcés
was perhaps the only one who listened with genuine curiosity to the
details of the shepherd’s incredible adventure; and though he could not
help smiling when the lad repeated the words of the white doe, no sooner
had he left the grove in which they had taken their siesta, than he
began to revolve in his mind the most ridiculous fancies.

“Without doubt this tale of the talking of the deer is a sheer delusion
of Esteban’s, who is a perfect simpleton,” the young huntsman said to
himself as, mounted on a powerful sorrel, he followed step by step the
palfrey of Constanza, who seemed also somewhat preoccupied and was so
silent and so withdrawn from the group of hunters as scarcely to take
any part in the sport. “Yet who can say that in the story which this
poor fool tells there may not be a grain of truth?” thought on the young
retainer. “We have seen stranger things in the world, and a white doe
may indeed exist, since if we can credit the folk-songs, Saint Hubert,
the patron of huntsmen, had one. Oh, if I could take a white doe alive
for an offering to my lady!”

Thus thinking and dreaming, Garcés passed the afternoon; and when the
sun began to descend behind the neighboring hills, and Don Dionís gave
the order to his retinue for the return to the castle, he slipped away
from the company unnoticed and went in search of the shepherd through
the densest and most entangled coverts of the mountain.

Night had almost completely closed in when Don Dionís arrived at the
gates of his castle. Immediately there was placed before him a frugal
collation and he sat down with his daughter at the table.

“And Garcés, where is he?” asked Constanza, noticing that her huntsman
was not there to serve her as usual.

“We do not know,” the other attendants hastened to reply. “He
disappeared from among us near the glen and we have not seen him since.”

At that instant Garcés arrived, all breathless, his forehead still
covered with perspiration, but with the most happy and satisfied
expression imaginable.

“Pardon me, my lady,” he exclaimed, addressing Constanza, “pardon me if
I have been wanting a moment in my duty, but there whence I came at my
horse’s best speed, there, as here, I was busied only in your service.”

“In my service?” repeated Constanza. “I do not understand what you
mean.”

“Yes, my lady, in your service,” repeated the youth, “for I have
ascertained that the white doe really does exist. Besides Esteban, it is
vouched for by various other shepherds, who swear they have seen it more
than once; and with their aid I hope in God and in my patron Saint
Hubert to bring it, living or dead, within three days to you at the
castle.”

“Bah! Bah!” exclaimed Constanza with a jesting air, while the derisive
laughter, more or less dissimulated, of the bystanders chorused her
words. “Have done with midnight hunts and with white does. Bear in mind
that the Devil loves to tempt the simple; and if you persist in
following at his heels, he will make you a laughing-stock like poor
Esteban.”

“My lady,” interrupted Garcés with a broken voice, concealing as far as
possible the anger which the merry scoffs of his companions stirred in
him, “I have never yet had to do with the Devil and consequently I am
not acquainted with his practices; but, for myself, I swear to you that,
do all he can, he will not make me an object of laughter, for that is a
privilege I know how to tolerate in yourself alone.”

Constanza saw the effect which her mocking had produced on the enamoured
youth, but desiring to test his patience to the uttermost, she continued
in the same tone:

“And what if, on aiming at the doe, she salutes you with another laugh
like that which Esteban heard, or flings it into your very face, and
you, hearing those supernatural peals of merriment, let fall your bow
from your hands, and before you recover from the fright, the white doe
has vanished swifter than lightning--what then?”

“Oh, as for that!” exclaimed Garcés, “be sure that if I can speed a
shaft before she is out of bowshot, although she play me more tricks
than a juggler; although she speak to me, not in the language of the
country, but in Latin like the Abbot of Munilla, she will not get off
without an arrow-head in her body.”

At this stage in the conversation, Don Dionís joined in with a forced
gravity through which might be detected the entire irony of his words,
and began to give the now persecuted boy the most original counsels in
the world, in case he should suddenly meet with the demon changed into
a white doe.

At each new suggestion of her father, Constanza fixed her eyes on the
distressed Garcés, and broke into extravagant laughter, while his
fellow-servitors encouraged the jesting with glances of intelligence and
ill-disguised delight.

Only with the close of the supper ceased this scene, in which the
credulity of the young hunter was, so to speak, the theme on which the
general mirth played variations, so that when the cloth was removed and
Don Dionís and Constanza had withdrawn to their apartments, and all the
inmates of the castle had gone to rest, Garcés remained for a long time
irresolute, debating whether, notwithstanding the jeers of his liege
lord and lady, he would stand firm to his purpose, or absolutely abandon
the enterprise.

“What the devil,” he exclaimed, rousing himself from the state of
uncertainty into which he had fallen. “Greater harm than that which has
overtaken me cannot come to pass and if, on the other hand, what Esteban
has told us is true, oh, then, how sweet will be the taste of my
triumph!”

Thus speaking, he fitted a shaft to his crossbow--not without having
made the sign of the cross on the point of the arrow--and swinging it
over his shoulder, he directed his steps toward the postern gate of the
castle to take the mountain path.

When Garcés reached the glen and the point where, according to the
instructions of Esteban, he was to lie in wait for the appearance of the
deer, the moon was slowly rising behind the neighboring mountains.

Like a good hunter, well-practised in his craft, he spent a considerable
time, before selecting a suitable place for an ambush, in going to and
fro, scanning the byways and paths thereabouts, the grouping of the
trees, the irregularities of the ground, the curves of the river and the
depth of its waters.

At last, after completing this minute examination of the locality, he
hid himself upon a sloping bank near some black poplars whose high and
interlacing tops cast a dark shadow, and at whose feet grew a clump of
mastic shrubs high enough to conceal a man lying prone on the ground.

The river, which, from the mossy rocks where it rose, came following the
windings of the rugged fief of the Moncayo to enter the glen by a
cascade, thence went gliding on, bathing the roots of the willows that
shaded its bank, or playing with a murmurous ripple among the stones
rolled down from the mountain, until it fell into a pool very near the
point which served the hunter for a hiding-place.

The poplars, whose silvered leaves the wind stirred with the sweetest
rustle, the willows which, leaning over the limpid current, bedewed in
it the tips of their pale branches, and the crowded groups of evergreen
oaks about whose trunks honeysuckles and blue morning-glories clambered
and twined, formed a thick wall of foliage around this quiet river-pool.

The wind, stirring the leafy curtains of living green which spread round
about their floating shadow, let penetrate at intervals a stealthy ray
of light that gleamed like a flash of silver over the surface of the
motionless, deep waters.

Hidden among the bushes, his ear attent to the slightest sound, and his
gaze fixed upon the spot where, according to his calculations, the deer
should come, Garcés waited a long time in vain.

Everything about him remained buried in a deep calm.

Little by little, and it might well be that the lateness of the
hour--for it was past midnight--began to weigh upon his lids--might well
be that far-off murmurs of the water, the penetrating scent of the wild
flowers and the caresses of the wind affected his senses with the soft
drowsiness in which all nature seemed to be steeped--the enamoured boy,
who until now had been occupied in revolving in his mind the most
alluring fancies, began to find that his ideas took shape more slowly
and his thoughts drifted into vague and indecisive forms.

After lingering a little in this dim border-land between waking and
sleeping, at last he closed his eyes, let his crossbow slip from his
hands, and sank into a profound slumber.

       *       *       *       *       *

It must have been for two or three hours now that the young hunter had
been snoring at his ease, enjoying to the full one of the serenest
dreams of his life, when suddenly he opened his eyes, with a stare, and
half raised himself to a sitting posture, full yet of that stupor with
which one wakes suddenly from profound sleep.

In the breathings of the wind and blended with the light noises of the
night, he thought he detected a strange hum of delicate voices, sweet
and mysterious, which were talking with one another, laughing or
singing, each in its own individual strain, making a twitter as
clamorous and confused as that of the birds awakening at the first ray
of the sun amid the leaves of a poplar grove.

This extraordinary sound was heard for an instant only, and then all was
still again.

“Without doubt, I was dreaming of the absurdities of which the shepherd
told us,” exclaimed Garcés, rubbing his eyes in all tranquillity, and
firmly persuaded that what he had thought he heard was no more than that
vague impression of slumber which, on awaking, lingers in the
imagination, as the closing cadence of a melody dwells in the ear after
the last trembling note has ceased. And overcome by the unconquerable
languor weighing down his limbs, he was about to lay his head again upon
the turf, when he heard anew the distant echo of those mystic voices,
which to the accompaniment of the soft stir of the air, the water and
the leaves were singing thus:

CHORUS.

    “The archer who watched on the top of the tower has laid his heavy
         head down on the wall.
    The stealthy hunter who was expecting to surprise the deer has been
         surprised by sleep.
    The shepherd who awaited the day, consulting the stars, sleeps now,
         and will sleep till dawn.
    Queen of the water-sprites, follow our steps.
    Come to swing in the branches of the willows over the surface of
         the water.
    “Come to intoxicate thyself with the perfume of the violets which
         open at dusk.
    “Come to enjoy the night, which is the day of the spirits.”

While the sweet notes of that delicious music floated on the air, Garcés
remained motionless. After it had melted away, with much caution he
slightly parted the branches and, not without experiencing a certain
shock, saw come into sight the deer, which, moving in a confused group
and sometimes bounding over the bushes with incredible lightness,
stopping as though listening for others, frolicking together, now hiding
in the thicket, now sallying out again into the path, were descending
the mountain in the direction of the river-pool.

In advance of her companions, more agile, more graceful, more sportive,
more joyous than all of them, leaping, running, pausing and running
again so lightly that she seemed not to touch the ground with her feet,
went the white doe, whose wonderful color stood out like a fantastic
light against the dark background of the trees.

Although the young man was inclined to see in his surroundings something
of the supernatural and miraculous, the fact of the case was that, apart
from the momentary hallucination which disturbed his senses for an
instant, suggesting to him music, murmurs and words, there was nothing
either in the form of the deer, nor in their movements, nor in their
short cries with which they seemed to call one to another, that ought
not to be entirely familiar to a huntsman experienced in this sort of
night expeditions.

In proportion as he put away the first impression, Garcés began to take
the practical view of the situation and, smiling inwardly at his
credulity and fright, from that instant was intent only on determining,
in view of the route they were following, the point where the deer would
take the water.

Having made his calculation, he gripped his crossbow between his teeth
and, twisting along like a snake behind the mastic shrubs, located
himself about forty paces from his former situation. Once ensconced in
his new ambush, he waited long enough for the deer to be within the
river, that his aim might be the surer. Scarcely had he begun to hear
that peculiar sound which is produced by the violent disturbance of
water, when Garcés commenced to lift himself little by little, with the
greatest precaution, resting first on the tips of his fingers, and
afterwards on one knee.

Erect at last, and assuring himself by touch that his weapon was ready,
he took a step forward, craned his neck above the shrubs to command a
view of the pool and aimed the shaft, but at the very moment when he
strained his eyes, together with the cord, in search of the victim whom
he must wound, there escaped from his lips a faint, involuntary cry of
amazement.

The moon, which had been slowly climbing up the broad horizon, was
motionless, and hung as if suspended in the height of heaven. Her clear
radiance flooded the forest, shimmered on the unquiet surface of the
river, and caused objects to be seen as through an azure gauze.

The deer had disappeared.

In their place, Garcés, filled with consternation and almost with
terror, saw a throng of most beautiful women, some of whom were
sportively entering the water, while others were just freeing themselves
from the light garments which as yet concealed from the covetous view
the treasure of their forms.

In those thin, brief dreams of dawn, rich in joyous and luxurious
images,--dreams as diaphanous and celestial as the light which then
begins to shine through the white bed-curtains, never had the
imagination of twenty years sketched with fanciful coloring a scene
equal to that which now presented itself to the eyes of the astonished
Garcés.

Having now cast off their robes and their veils of a thousand colors
which, suspended from the trees or thrown carelessly down on the carpet
of turf, stood out against the dim background, the maidens ran hither
and thither through the grove, forming picturesque groups, going in and
out of the water and splashing it in glistening sparks over the flowers
of the margin, like a little shower of dewdrops.

Here, one of them, white as the fleece of a lamb, lifted her fair head
among the green floating leaves of an aquatic plant of which she seemed
the half-opened blossom whose flexible stem, one might imagine, could be
seen to tremble beneath the endless gleaming circles of the waves.

Another, with her hair loose on her shoulders, swung from the branch of
a willow over the river, and her little rose-colored feet made a ray of
silvery light as they grazed the smooth surface. While some remained
couched on the bank, with their blue eyes drowsy, breathing voluptuously
the perfume of the flowers and shivering slightly at the touch of the
fresh breeze, others were dancing in a giddy round, interlacing their
hands capriciously, letting their heads droop back with delicious
abandon, and striking the ground with their feet in harmonious cadence.

It was impossible to follow them in their agile movements, impossible to
take in with a glance the infinite details of the picture they formed,
some running, some gambolling and chasing one another with merry
laughter in and out the labyrinth of trees; others skimming the water
swanlike and cutting the current with uplifted breast; others, diving
into the depths where they remained long before rising to the surface,
bringing one of those wonderful flowers that spring unseen in the bed of
the deep waters.

The gaze of the astonished hunter wandered spellbound from one side to
another, without knowing where to fix itself, until he believed he saw,
seated under swaying boughs which seemed to serve her as a canopy and
surrounded by a group of women, each more beautiful than the rest, who
were aiding her in freeing herself from her delicate vestments, the
object of his secret worship, the daughter of the noble Don Dionís, the
incomparable Constanza.

Passing from one surprise to another, the enamoured youth dared not
credit the testimony of his senses, and thought he was under the
influence of a fascinating, delusive dream.

Still, he struggled in vain to convince himself that all he had seen was
the effect of disordered imagination, for the longer and more
attentively he looked, the more convinced he became that this woman was
Constanza.

He could not doubt; hers were those dusky eyes shaded by the long lashes
that scarcely sufficed to soften the brilliancy of their glance; hers
that wealth of shining hair, which, after crowning her brow, fell over
her white bosom and soft shoulders like a cascade of gold; hers, too,
that graceful neck which supported her languid head, lightly drooping
like a flower weary with its weight of dewdrops; and that fair figure of
which, perchance, he had dreamed, and those hands like clusters of
jasmine, and those tiny feet, comparable only to two morsels of snow
which the sun has not been able to melt and which in the morning lie
white on the greensward.

At the moment when Constanza emerged from the little thicket, all her
beauty unveiled to her lover’s eyes, her companions, beginning anew to
sing, carolled these words to the sweetest of melodies.

CHORUS.

    “Genii of the air, dwelling in the luminous ether, enveloped in
         raiment of silver mist--come!
    “Invisible sylphs, leave the cups of the half-opened lilies and
         come in your mother-of-pearl chariots drawn through the air
         by harnessed butterflies.
    “Nymphs of the fountains, forsake your mossy beds and fall upon
         us in little, diamond showers.
    “Emerald beetles, fiery glow-worms, sable butterflies, come!
    “And come, all ye spirits of night, come humming like a swarm of
         lustrous, golden insects.
    “Come, for now the moon, protector of mysteries, sparkles in the
         fulness of splendor.
    “Come, for the moment of marvellous transformation is at hand.
    “Come, for those who love you, await you with impatience.”

Garcés, who remained motionless, felt on hearing those mysterious songs
the asp of jealousy stinging his heart, and yielding to an impulse
stronger than his will, bent on breaking once for all the spell that was
fascinating his senses, thrust apart with a tremulous, convulsive hand
the boughs which concealed him, and with a single bound gained the
river-bank. The charm was broken, everything vanished like a vapor and,
looking about him, he neither saw nor heard more than the noisy
confusion with which the timid deer, surprised at the height of their
nocturnal gambols, were fleeing in fright from his presence, hither and
thither, one clearing the thickets with a bound, another gaining at full
speed the mountain path.

“Oh, well did I say that all these things were only delusions of the
Devil,” exclaimed the hunter, “but this time, by good luck, he
blundered, leaving the chief prize in my hands.”

And so, in fact, it was. The white doe, trying to escape through the
grove, had rushed into the labyrinth of its trees and, entangled in a
network of honeysuckles, was striving in vain to free herself. Garcés
aimed his shaft, but at the very instant in which he was going to wound
her, the doe turned toward the hunter and arrested his action with a
cry, saying in a voice clear and sharp: “Garcés, what wouldst thou do?”
The young man hesitated and, after a moment’s doubt, let his bow fall to
the ground, aghast at the mere idea of having been in danger of harming
his beloved. A loud, mocking laugh roused him finally from his stupor.
The white doe had taken advantage of those brief instants to extricate
herself and to flee swift as a flash of lightning, laughing at the trick
played on the hunter.

“Ah, damned offspring of Satan!” he shouted in a terrible voice,
catching up his bow with unspeakable swiftness, “too soon hast thou sung
thy victory; too soon hast thou thought thyself beyond my reach.” And so
saying, he sped the arrow, that went hissing on its way and was lost in
the darkness of the wood, from whose depths there simultaneously came a
shriek followed by choking groans.

“My God!” exclaimed Garcés on hearing those sobs of anguish. “My God! if
it should be true!” And beside himself, hardly aware of what he did, he
ran like a madman in the direction in which he had shot the arrow, the
same direction from which sounded the groans. He reached the place at
last, but on arriving there, his hair stood erect with horror, the words
throbbed vainly in his throat and he had to clutch the trunk of a tree
to save himself from falling to the ground.

Constanza, wounded by his hand, was dying there before his eyes,
writhing in her own blood, among the sharp brambles of the mountain.



THE PASSION ROSE


One summer afternoon, in a garden of Toledo, this curious tale was
related to me by a young girl as good as she was pretty.

While explaining to me the mystery of its especial structure, she kissed
the leaves and pistils which she was plucking one by one from the flower
that gives to this legend its name.

If I could tell it with the gentle charm and the appealing simplicity
which it had upon her lips, the history of the unhappy Sara would move
you as it moved me.

But since this cannot be, I here set down what of the tradition I can at
this instant recall.


I.

In one of the most obscure and crooked lanes of the Imperial City,
wedged in and almost hidden between the high Moorish tower of an old
Visigothic church and the gloomy walls, sculptured with armorial
bearings, of a family mansion, there was many years ago a tumbledown
dwelling-house dark and miserable as its owner, a Jew named Daniel Levi.

This Jew, like all his race, was spiteful and vindictive, but for deceit
and hypocrisy he had no match.

The possessor, according to popular report, of an immense fortune, he
might nevertheless be seen all day long huddled up in the shadowy
doorway of his home, making and repairing chains, old belts and broken
trappings of all sorts, in which he carried on a thriving business with
the riff-raff of

[Illustration: A MOORISH WINDOW]

the Zocodover, the hucksters of the Postigo and the poor squires.

Though an implacable hater of Christians and of everything pertaining to
them, he never passed a cavalier of note or an eminent canon without
doffing, not only once, but ten times over, the dingy little cap which
covered his bald, yellow head, nor did he receive in his wretched shop
one of his regular customers without bending low in the most humble
salutations accompanied by flattering smiles.

The smile of Daniel had come to be proverbial in all Toledo, and his
meekness, proof against the most vexatious pranks, mocks and cat-calls
of his neighbors, knew no limit.

In vain the boys, to tease him, stoned his poor old house; in vain the
little pages and even the men-at-arms of the neighboring castle tried to
provoke him by insulting nicknames, or the devout old women of the
parish crossed themselves when passing his door as if they saw the very
Lucifer in person. Daniel smiled eternally with a strange, indescribable
smile. His thin, sunken lips twitched under the shadow of his nose,
which was enormous and hooked like the beak of an eagle, and although
from his eyes, small, green, round and almost hidden by the heavy brows,
there gleamed a spark of ill-suppressed anger, he went on imperturbably
beating with his little iron hammer upon the anvil where he repaired the
thousand rusty and seemingly useless trifles which constituted his stock
in trade.

Over the door of the Jew’s humble dwelling and within a casing of
bright-colored tiles there opened an Arabic window left over from the
original building of the Toledan Moors. Around the fretted frame of the
window and climbing over the slender marble colonettes that divided it
into two equal apertures there arose from the interior of the house one
of those climbing plants which, green and full of sap and of exuberant
growth, spread themselves over the blackened walls of ruins.

In the part of the house that received an uncertain light through the
narrow spaces of the casement, the only opening in the time-stained,
weather-worn wall, lived Sara, the beloved daughter of Daniel.

When the neighbors, passing the shop of the Hebrew, chanced to see Sara
through the lattice of her Moorish window and Daniel crouched over his
anvil, they would exclaim aloud in admiration of the charms of the
beautiful Jewess: “It seems impossible that such an ugly old trunk
should have put forth so beautiful a branch!”

For, in truth, Sara was a miracle of beauty. In the pupils of her great
eyes, shadowed by the cloudy arch of their black lashes, gleamed a point
of light like a star in a darkened sky. Her glowing lips seemed to have
been cut from a carmine weft by the invisible hands of a fairy. Her
complexion was pale and transparent as the alabaster of a sepulchral
statue. She was scarcely sixteen years of age and yet there seemed
engraven on her countenance the sweet seriousness of precocious
intelligence, and there arose from her bosom and escaped from her mouth
those sighs which reveal the vague awakening of passion.

The most prominent Jews of the city, captivated by her marvellous
beauty, had sought her in marriage, but the Hebrew maiden, untouched by
the homage of her admirers and the counsels of her father, who urged her
to choose a companion before she should be left alone in the world, held
herself aloof in a deep reserve, giving no other reason for her strange
conduct than the caprice of wishing to retain her freedom. At last, one
of her adorers, tired of suffering Sara’s repulses and suspecting that
her perpetual sadness was a certain sign that her heart hid some
important secret, approached Daniel and said to him:

“Do you know, Daniel, that among our brothers there is complaint of your
daughter?”

The Jew raised his eyes for an instant from his anvil, stopped his
eternal hammering and, without showing the least emotion, asked his
questioner:

“And what do they say of her?”

“They say,” continued his interlocutor, “they say--what do I know?--many
things; among them, that your daughter is in love with a Christian.” At
this, the despised suitor waited to see what effect his words had had
upon Daniel.

Daniel raised his eyes once more, looked at him fixedly a moment without
speaking and, lowering his gaze again to resume his interrupted work,
exclaimed:

“And who says this is not slander?”

“One who has seen them more than once in this very street talking
together while you were absent at our Rabbinical service,” insisted the
young Hebrew, wondering that his mere suspicions, much more his positive
statements, should have made so little impression on the mind of Daniel.

The Jew, without giving up his work, his gaze fixed upon the anvil where
he was now busying himself, his little hammer laid aside, in brightening
the metal clasp of a sword guard with a small file, began to speak in a
low, broken voice as if his lips were repeating mechanically the
thoughts that struggled through his mind:

“He! He! He!” he chuckled, laughing in a strange, diabolical way. “So a
Christian dog thinks he can snatch from me my Sara, the pride of our
people, the staff on which my old age leans! And do you believe he will
do it? He! He!” he continued, always talking to himself and always
laughing, while his file, biting the metal with its teeth of steel,
grated with an ever-increasing force. “He! He! ‘Poor Daniel,’ my friends
will say, ‘is in his dotage. What right has this decrepit old fellow,
already at death’s door, to a daughter so young and so beautiful, if he
doesn’t know how to guard her from the covetous eyes of our enemies?’
He! He! He! Do you think perchance that Daniel sleeps? Do you think,
peradventure, that if my daughter has a lover--and that might well
be--and this lover is a Christian and tries to win her heart and wins
it--all which is possible--and plans to flee with her--which also is
easy--and flees, for instance, to-morrow morning,--which falls within
human probability,--do you think that Daniel will suffer his treasure to
be thus snatched away? Do you think he will not know how to avenge
himself?”

“But,” exclaimed the youth, interrupting him, “did you then know it
before?”

“I know,” said Daniel, rising and giving him a slap on the shoulder, “I
know more than you, who know nothing, and would know nothing had not the
hour come for telling all. Adieu! Bid our brethren assemble as soon as
possible. To-night, in an hour or two, I will be with them. Adieu!”

And saying this, Daniel gently pushed his interlocutor out into the
street, gathered up his tools very slowly, and began to fasten with
double bolts and bars the door of his little shop.

The noise made by the door as it closed on its creaking hinges prevented
the departing youth from hearing the sound of the window lattice, which
at the same time fell suddenly as if the Jewess were just withdrawing
from the embrasure.


II.

It was the night of Good Friday, and the people of Toledo, after having
attended the service of the Tenebrae in their magnificent cathedral, had
just retired to rest, or, gathered at their firesides, were relating
legends like that of the Christ of the Light, a statue which, stolen by
Jews, left a trail of blood causing the discovery of the criminals, or
the story of the Child Martyr, upon whom the implacable enemies of our
faith repeated the cruel Passion of Jesus. In the city there reigned a
profound silence, broken at intervals, now by the distant cries of the
night-watchman, at that epoch accustomed to keep guard about the
Alcázar, and again by the sighing of the wind which was whirling the
weather-cocks of the towers or sighing through the tortuous windings of
the streets. At this dead hour the master of a little boat that, moored
to a post, lay swaying near the mills which seem like natural
incrustations at the foot of the rocks bathed by the Tagus and above
which the city is seated, saw approaching the shore, descending with
difficulty one of the narrow paths which lead down from the height of
the walls to the river, a person whom he seemed to await with
impatience.

“It is she,” the boatman muttered between his teeth. “It would seem that
this night all that accursed race of Jews is bent on mischief. Where the
devil will they hold their tryst with Satan that they all come to my
boat when the bridge is so near? No, they are bound on no honest errand
when they take such pains to avoid a sudden meeting with the soldiers of
San Servando,--but, after all, they give me the chance to earn good
money and--every man for himself--it is no business of mine.”

Saying this, the worthy ferryman, seating himself in his boat, adjusted
the oars, and when Sara, for it was no other than she for whom he had
been waiting, had leaped into the little craft, he cast off the rope
that held it and began to row toward the opposite shore.

“How many have crossed to-night?” asked Sara of the boatman, when they
had scarcely pulled away from the mills, as though referring to
something of which they had just been speaking.

“I could not count them,” he replied, “a swarm. It looks as though
to-night will be the last of their gatherings.”

“And do you know what they have in mind and for what purpose they leave
the city at this hour?”

“I don’t know, but it is likely that they are expecting some one who
ought to arrive to-night. I cannot tell why they are lying in wait for
him, but I suspect for no good end.”

After this brief dialogue Sara remained for some moments plunged in deep
silence as if trying to collect her thoughts. “Beyond a doubt,” she
reflected, “my father has discovered our love and is preparing some
terrible vengeance. I must know where they go, what they do, and what
they are plotting. A moment of hesitation might be death to him.”

While Sara sprang to her feet and, as if to thrust away the horrible
doubts that distracted her, passed her hand over her forehead which
anguish had covered with an icy sweat, the boat touched the opposite
shore.

“Friend,” exclaimed the beautiful Jewess, tossing some coins to the
ferryman and pointing to a narrow, crooked road that wound up among the
rocks, “is that the way they take?”

“It is, and when they come to the Moor’s Head they turn to the left.
Then the Devil and they know where they go next,” replied the boatman.

Sara set out in the direction he had indicated. For some moments he saw
her appear and disappear alternately in that dusky labyrinth of dim,
steep rocks. When she had reached the summit called the Moor’s Head, her
dark silhouette was outlined for an instant against the azure background
of the sky and then was lost amid the shades of night.


III.

On the path where to-day stands the picturesque hermitage of the Virgin
of the Valley, and about two arrow flights from the summit known by the
Toledan populace as the Moor’s Head, there existed at that period the
ruins of a Byzantine church of date anterior to the Arab conquest.

In the porch, outlined by rough blocks of marble scattered over the
ground, were growing brambles and other parasitical plants, among which
lay, half concealed--here, the shattered capital of a column, there, a
square-hewn stone rudely sculptured with interlacing leaves, horrible or
grotesque monsters and formless human figures. Of the temple there
remained standing only the side walls and some broken ivy-grown arches.

Sara, who seemed to be guided by a supernatural instinct, on arriving at
the point the boatman had indicated, hesitated a little, uncertain which
way to take; but, finally, with a firm and resolute step, directed her
course toward the abandoned ruins of the church.

In truth, her instinct had not been at fault; Daniel, who was no longer
smiling, no longer the feeble and humble old man, but rather, fury
flashing from his little round eyes, seemed inspired by the spirit of
Vengeance, was in the midst of a throng of Jews eager, like himself, to
wreak their thirsty hate on one of the enemies of their religion. He
seemed to multiply himself, giving orders to some, urging others forward
in the work, making, with a hideous solicitude, all the necessary
preparations for the accomplishment of the frightful deed which he had
been meditating, day in, day out, while, impassive, he hammered the
anvil in his den at Toledo.

Sara, who, favored by the darkness, had succeeded in reaching the porch
of the church, had to make a supreme effort to suppress a cry of horror
as her glance penetrated its interior. In the ruddy glow of a blaze
which threw the shadow of that infernal group on the walls of the
church, she thought she saw that some were making efforts to raise a
heavy cross, while others wove a crown of briers, or sharpened on a
stone the points of enormous nails. A fearful thought crossed her mind.
She remembered that her race had been accused more than once of
mysterious crimes. She recalled vaguely the terrifying story of the
Crucified Child which she had hitherto believed a gross calumny invented
by the populace for the taunting and reproaching of the Hebrews.

But now there was no longer room for doubt. There, before her eyes, were
those awful instruments of martyrdom, and the ferocious executioners
only awaited their victim.

Sara, filled with holy indignation, overflowing with noble wrath and
inspired by that unquenchable faith in the true God whom her lover had
revealed to her, could not control herself at sight of that spectacle,
and, breaking through the tangled undergrowth that concealed her,
suddenly appeared on the threshold of the temple.

On beholding her the Jews raised a cry of amazement, and Daniel, taking
a step toward his daughter with threatening aspect, hoarsely asked her:
“What seekest thou here, unhappy one?”

“I come to cast in your faces,” said Sara, in a clear, unfaltering
voice, “all the shame of your infamous work and I come to tell you that
in vain you await the victim for the sacrifice, unless you mean to
quench in me your thirst for blood, for the Christian you are expecting
will not come, because I have warned him of your plot.”

“Sara!” exclaimed the Jew, roaring with anger, “Sara, this is not true;
thou canst not have been so treacherous to us as to reveal our
mysterious rites. If it is true that thou hast revealed them, thou art
no longer my daughter.”

“No, I am not thy daughter. I have found another Father, a father all
love for his children, a Father whom you Jews nailed to an ignominious
cross and who died upon it to redeem us, opening to us for an eternity
the doors of heaven. No, I am no longer thy daughter, for I am a
Christian, and I am ashamed of my origin.”

On hearing these words, pronounced with that strong fortitude which
heaven puts only into the mouth of martyrs, Daniel, blind with rage,
rushed upon the beautiful Hebrew girl and, throwing her to the ground,
dragged her by the hair, as though he were possessed by an infernal
spirit, to the foot of the cross which seemed to open its bare arms to
receive her.

“Here I deliver her up to you,” he exclaimed to those who stood around.
“Deal justice to this shameless one, who has sold her honor, her
religion and her brethren.”


IV.

On the day following, when the cathedral bells were pealing the Gloria
and the worthy citizens of Toledo were amusing themselves by shooting
from crossbows at Judases of straw, just as is done to-day in some of
our villages, Daniel opened the door of his shop, according to his
custom and, with that everlasting smile on his lips, commenced to salute
the passers-by, beating ceaselessly on his anvil with his little iron
hammer; but the lattices of Sara’s Moorish window were unopened, nor was
the beautiful Jewess ever seen again reclining at her casement of
colored tiles.

       *       *       *       *       *

They say that some years afterward a shepherd brought to the archbishop
a flower till then unknown, in which were represented all the
instruments of the Saviour’s martyrdom--a flower strange and mysterious,
which had grown, a climbing vine, over the crumbling walls of the ruined
church.

Penetrating into that precinct and seeking to discover the origin of
this marvel, there was found, they add, the skeleton of a woman and,
buried with her, those instruments of the Passion which characterize the
flower.

The skeleton, although no one could ascertain whose it might be, was
preserved many years with special veneration in the hermitage of _San
Pedro el Verde_, and the flower, now common, is called the Passion
Rose.



BELIEVE IN GOD

_A Provençal Ballad._

“_I was the true Teobaldo de Montagut, Baron of Fortcastell. Lord or
serf, noble or commoner, thou, whosoever thou mayst be, who pausest an
instant beside my sepulchre, believe in God, as I have believed, and
pray for me._”


Ye gallant Knights Errant, who, lance in rest, vizor closed, mounted on
powerful charger, ride the world over with no more patrimony than your
illustrious name and your good sword, seeking honor and glory in the
profession of arms,--if on crossing the rugged valley of Montagut you
have been overtaken by night and storm and have found a refuge in the
ruins of the monastery still to be seen in its bosom, hearken to me!

Ye Shepherds, who follow with slow step your herds that go grazing far
and wide over the hills and plains, if on leading them to the border of
the transparent rivulet which runs, struggling and leaping, amid the
great rocks of the valley of Montagut in the drought of summer, ye have
found, on a fiery afternoon, shade and slumber beneath the broken
monastery arches, whose mossy pillars kiss the waves, hearken to me!

Little Daughters of the hamlets roundabout, ye wild lilies who bloom
happy in the shelter of your humbleness, if on the morning of the Patron
Saint of this locality, coming down into the valley of Montagut to
gather clovers and daisies to deck his shrine, conquering the fear which
the sombre monastery, rising on its rocks, strikes to your childish
hearts, ye have ventured into its silent and deserted cloister to wander
amid its forsaken tombs, on whose edges grow the fullest-petaled daisies
and the bluest harebells, hearken to me!

Thou, Noble Knight, perchance by the gleam of a lightning flash; thou,
Wandering Shepherd, bronzed by the fierce heat of the sun; thou, Lovely
Child, still besprent with drops of dew like tears, all ye would have
seen in that holy place a tomb, a lowly tomb. Formerly it consisted of
an unhewn stone and a wooden cross; the cross has disappeared and only
the stone remains. In this tomb, whose inscription is the motto of my
song, rests in peace the last baron of Fortcastell, Teobaldo de
Montagut, whose strange history I am about to tell.


I.

While the noble Countess of Montagut was pregnant with her firstborn
son, Teobaldo, she had a strange and terrible dream. Perchance a divine
warning; mayhap a vain fantasy which time made real in later years. She
dreamed that in her womb she had borne a serpent, a monstrous serpent
that, darting out shrill hisses, now gliding through the short grass,
now coiling upon itself for a spring, fled from her sight, hiding at
last in a clump of briers.

“There it is! there it is!” shrieked the Countess in her horrible
nightmare, pointing out to her servitors the brambles among which the
nauseous reptile had sought concealment.

When the servitors had swiftly reached the spot which the noble lady,
motionless and overwhelmed by a profound terror, was still pointing out
to them with her finger, a white dove rose from out the prickly thicket
and soared to the clouds.

The serpent had disappeared.


II.

Teobaldo was born. His mother died in giving him birth; his father
perished a few years later in an ambuscade, warring like a good
Christian against the Moors, the enemies of God.

From this time on the youth of the heir of Fortcastell can be likened
only to a hurricane. Wherever he went, his way was marked by a trail of
tears and blood. He hanged his vassals, he fought his equals, he pursued
maidens, he beat the monks, and never ceased from oaths and blasphemies.
There was no saint in peace, no hallowed thing, he did not curse.


III.

One day when he was out hunting and when, as was his custom, he had had
all his devilish retinue of profligate pages, inhuman archers and
debased servants, with the dogs, horses and gerfalcons, take shelter
from the rain in a village church of his demesne, a venerable priest,
daring the young lord’s wrath, not quailing at thought of the fury-fits
of that wild nature, raised the consecrated Host in his hands and
conjured the invader in the name of Heaven to depart from that place and
go on foot, with pilgrim staff, to entreat of the Pope absolution for
his crimes.

“Leave me alone, old fool!” exclaimed Teobaldo on hearing this,--“leave
me alone! Or, since I have not come on a single quarry all day long, I
will let loose my hounds and chase thee like a wild boar for my sport.”


IV.

With Teobaldo a word was a deed. Yet the priest made no answer save
this:

“Do what thou wilt, but remember that there is a God who chastises and
who pardons. If I die at thy hands, He will blot out my sins from the
book of His displeasure, to write thy name in their place and to make
thee expiate thy crime.”

“A God who chastises and pardons!” interrupted the blasphemous baron
with a burst of laughter. “I do not believe in God and, by way of proof,
I am going to carry out my threat; for though not much given to prayer,
I am a man of my word. Raimundo! Gerardo! Pedro! Set on the pack! give
me a javelin! blow the _alali_ on your horns, since we will hunt down
this idiot, though he climb to the tops of his altars.”


V.

After an instant’s hesitation and a fresh command from their lord, the
pages began to unleash the greyhounds that filled the church with the
din of their eager barking; the baron had strung his crossbow, laughing
a Satanic laugh; and the venerable priest, murmuring a prayer, was, with
his eyes raised to heaven, tranquilly awaiting death, when there rose
outside the sacred enclosure a wild halloo, the braying of horns
proclaiming that the game had been sighted, and shouts of _After the
boar! Across the brushwood! To the mountain!_ Teobaldo, at this
announcement of the longed-for quarry, dashed open the doors of the
church, transported by delight; behind him went his retainers, and with
his retainers the horses and hounds.


VI.

“Which way went the boar?” asked the baron as he sprang upon his steed
without touching the stirrups or unstringing his bow. “By the glen which
runs to the foot of those hills,” they answered him. Without hearing the
last word, the impetuous hunter buried his golden spur in the flank of
the horse, who bounded away at full gallop. Behind him departed all the
rest.

The dwellers in the hamlet, who had been the first to give the alarm and
who, at the approach of the terrible beast, had taken refuge in their
huts, timidly thrust out their heads from behind their window-shutters,
and when they saw that the infernal troop had disappeared among the
foliage of the woods, they crossed themselves in silence.


VII.

Teobaldo rode in advance of all. His steed, swifter by nature or more
severely goaded than those of the retainers, followed so close to the
quarry that twice or thrice the baron, dropping his bridle upon the neck
of the fiery courser, had stood up in his stirrups and drawn the bow to
his shoulder to wound his prey. But the boar, whom he saw only at
intervals among the tangled thickets, would again vanish from view to
reappear just out of reach of the arrow.

So he pursued the chase hour after hour, traversing the ravines of the
valley and the stony bed of the stream, until, plunging into a deep
forest, he lost his way in its shadowy defiles, his eyes ever fixed on
the coveted game he constantly expected to overtake, only to find
himself constantly mocked by its marvellous agility.


VIII.

At last, he had his chance; he extended his arm and let fly the shaft,
which plunged, quivering, into the loin of the terrible beast that gave
a leap and a frightful snort.--“Dead!” exclaims the hunter with a shout
of glee, driving his spur for the hundredth time into the bloody flank
of his horse. “Dead! in vain he flees. The trail of his flowing blood
marks his way.” And so speaking, Teobaldo commenced to sound upon his
bugle the signal of triumph that his retinue might hear.

At that instant his steed stopped short, its legs gave way, a slight
tremor shook its strained muscles, it fell flat to the ground, shooting
out from its swollen nostrils, bathed in foam, a rill of blood.

It had died of exhaustion, died when the pace of the wounded boar was
beginning to slacken, when but one more effort was needed to run the
quarry down.


IX.

To paint the wrath of the fierce-tempered Teobaldo would be impossible.
To repeat his oaths and his curses, merely to repeat them, would be
scandalous and impious. He shouted at the top of his voice to his
retainers, but only echo answered him in those vast solitudes, and he
tore his hair and plucked at his beard, a prey to the most furious
despair.--“I will run it down, even though I break every blood-vessel in
my body,” he exclaimed at last, stringing his bow anew and making ready
to pursue the game on foot; but at that very instant he heard a sound
behind him; the thick branches of the wood opened, and before his eyes
appeared a page leading by the halter a charger black as night.

“Heaven hath sent it to me,” exclaimed the hunter, leaping upon its
loins lightly as a deer. The page, who was thin, very thin, and yellow
as death, smiled a strange smile as he handed him the bridle.


X.

The horse whinnied with a force which made the forest tremble, gave an
incredible bound, a bound that raised him more than thirty feet above
the earth, and the air began to hum about the ears of the rider, as a
stone hums, hurled from a sling. He had started off at full gallop; but
at a gallop so headlong that, afraid of losing the stirrups and in his
dizziness falling to the ground, he had to shut his eyes and with both
hands clutch the streaming mane.

And still without a shake of the reins, without touch of spur or call of
voice, the steed ran, ran without ceasing. How long did Teobaldo gallop
thus, unwitting where, feeling the branches buffet his face as he rushed
by, and the brambles tear at his clothing, and the wind whistle about
his head? No human being knows.


XI.

When, recovering courage, he opened his eyes an instant to throw a
troubled glance about him, he found himself far, very far from Montagut,
and in a district that was to him entirely unknown. The steed ran, ran
without ceasing, and trees, rocks, castles and villages passed by him
like a breath. New and still new horizons opened to his view,--horizons
that melted away only to give place to others stranger and yet more
strange. Narrow valleys, bristling with colossal fragments of granite
which the tempests had torn down from mountain-summits; smiling plains,
covered with a carpet of verdure and sprinkled over with white villages;
limitless deserts, where the sands seethed beneath the searching rays of
a sun of fire; immeasurable wildernesses, boundless steppes, regions of
eternal snow, where the gigantic icebergs, standing out against a dim
grey sky, were like white phantoms reaching out their arms to seize him
by the hair as he fled past; all this, and thousands of other sights
that I cannot depict, he saw in his wild race, until, enveloped in an
obscure cloud, he ceased to hear the tramp of his horse’s hoofs beating
the ground.

       *       *       *       *       *


I.

Noble Knights, Shepherds, Lovely Little Maids who hearken to my lay, if
what I tell be a marvel in your ears, deem it not a fable woven at my
whim to steal a march on your credulity; from mouth to mouth this
tradition has been passed down to me, and the inscription upon the tomb
which still abides in the monastery of Montagut is an unimpeachable
proof of the veracity of my words.

Believe, then, what I have told, and believe what I have yet to tell,
for it is as certain as the foregoing, although more wonderful.
Perchance I shall be able to adorn with a few graces of poetry the bare
skeleton of this simple and terrible history, but never will I
consciously depart one iota from the truth.


II.

When Teobaldo ceased to perceive the hoof-beats of his courser and felt
himself hurled forth upon the void, he could not repress an involuntary
shudder of terror. Up to this point he had believed that the objects
which flashed before his eyes were the wild visions of his imagination,
perturbed as it was by giddiness, and that his steed ran uncontrolled,
to be sure, but still ran within the boundaries of his own seigniory.
Now there remained no doubt that he was the sport of a supernatural
power, which was hurrying him he knew not whither, through those masses
of dark clouds, clouds of freakish and fantastic forms, in whose depths,
lit up from time to time by flashes of lightning, he thought he could
distinguish the burning thunderbolts about to break upon him.

The steed still ran, or, be it better said, swam now in that ocean of
vague and fiery vapors, and the wonders of the sky began to display
themselves one after another before the astounded eyes of his rider.


III.

He saw the angels, ministers of the wrath of God, clad in long tunics
with fringes of fire, their burning hair loose on the hurricane, their
brandished swords, which flashed the lightning, throwing out sparks of
crimson light,--he saw this heavenly cavalry wheeling upon the clouds,
sweeping like a mighty army over the wings of the tempest.

And he mounted higher, and he deemed he descried, from far above, the
stormy clouds like a sea of lava, and heard the thunder moan below him
as moans the ocean breaking on the cliff from whose summit the pilgrim
views it all amazed.


IV.

And he saw the archangel, white as snow, who, throned on a great crystal
globe, steers it through space in the cloudless nights like a silver
boat over the surface of an azure lake.

And he saw the sun revolving in splendor on golden axles through an
atmosphere of color and of flame, and at its centre the fiery spirits
who dwell unharmed in that intensest glow and from its blazing heart
entone to their Creator hymns of praise.

He saw the threads of imperceptible light which bind men to the stars,
and he saw the rainbow arch, thrown like a colossal bridge across the
abyss which divides the first from the second heaven.


V.

By a mystic stair he saw souls descend to earth; he saw many come down,
and few go up. Each one of these innocent spirits went accompanied by a
most radiant archangel who covered it with the shadow of his wings. The
archangels who returned alone came in silence, weeping; but the others
mounted singing like the larks on April mornings.

Then the rosy and azure mists which floated in the ether, like curtains
of transparent gauze, were rent, as Holy Saturday, the Day of Glory,
rends in our churches the veiling of the altars, and the Paradise of the
Righteous opened, dazzling in its beauty, to his gaze.


VI.

There were the holy prophets whom you have seen rudely sculptured on the
stone portals of our cathedrals, there the shining virgins whom the
painter vainly strives, in the stained glass of the ogive windows, to
copy from his dreams; there the cherubim with their long and floating
robes and haloes of gold; as in the altar pictures; there, at last,
crowned with stars, clad in light, surrounded by all the celestial
hierarchy, and beautiful beyond all thought, Our Lady of Montserrat,
Mother of God, Queen of Archangels, the shelter of sinners and the
consolation of the afflicted.

[Illustration: THE MONASTERY OF MONTSERRAT]


VII.

Beyond the Paradise of the Righteous; beyond the throne where sits the
Virgin Mary. The mind of Teobaldo was stricken by terror; a fathomless
fear possessed his soul. Eternal solitude, eternal silence live in those
spaces that lead to the mysterious sanctuary of the Most High. From time
to time a rush of wind, cold as the blade of a poniard, smote his
forehead,--a wind that shriveled his hair with horror and penetrated to
the marrow of his bones,--a wind like to those which announced to the
prophets the approach of the Divine Spirit. At last he reached a point
where he thought he perceived a dull murmur that might be likened to the
far-off hum of a swarm of bees, when, in autumn evenings, they hover
around the last of the flowers.


VIII.

He crossed that fantastic region whither go all the accents of the
earth, the sounds which we say have ceased, the words which we deem are
lost in the air, the laments which we believe are heard of none.

There, in a harmonious circle, float the prayers of little children, the
orisons of virgins, the psalms of holy hermits, the petitions of the
humble, the chaste words of the pure in heart, the resigned moans of
those in pain, the sobs of souls that suffer and the hymns of souls that
hope. Teobaldo heard among those voices, that throbbed still in the
luminous ether, the voice of his sainted mother who prayed to God for
him; but he heard no prayer of his own.


IX.

Further on, thousands on thousands of harsh, rough accents wounded his
ears with a discordant roar,--blasphemies, cries for vengeance, drinking
songs, indecencies, curses of despair, threats of the helpless, and
sacrilegious oaths of the impious.

Teobaldo traversed the second circle with the rapidity of a meteor
crossing the sky in a summer evening, that he might not hear his own
voice which vibrated there thunderously loud, exceeding all other voices
in the stress of that infernal concert.

“I do not believe in God! I do not believe in God!” still spake his tone
beating through that ocean of blasphemies; and Teobaldo began to
believe.


X.

He left those regions behind him and crossed other illimitable spaces
full of terrible visions, which neither could he comprehend nor am I
able to conceive, and finally he came to the uppermost circle of the
spiral heavens, where the seraphim adore Jehovah, covering their faces
with their triple wings and prostrate at His feet.

He would see God.

A waft of fire scorched his face, a sea of light darkened his eyes,
unbearable thunder resounded in his ears and, caught from his charger
and hurled into the void, like an incandescent stone shot out from a
volcano, he felt himself falling, and falling without ever alighting,
blind, burned and deafened, as the rebellious angel fell when God
overthrew with a breath the pedestal of his pride.

       *       *       *       *       *


I.

Night had shut in, and the wind moaned as it stirred the leaves of the
trees, through whose luxuriant foliage was slipping a soft ray of
moonlight, when Teobaldo, rising upon his elbow and rubbing his eyes as
if awakening from profound slumber, looked about him and found himself
in the same wood where he had wounded the boar, where his steed fell
dead, where was given him that phantasmal courser which had rushed him
away to unknown, mysterious realms.

A deathlike silence reigned about him, a silence broken only by the
distant calling of the deer, the timid murmur of the leaves, and the
echo of a far-off bell borne to his ears from time to time upon the
gentle gusts.

“I must have dreamed,” said the baron, and set forth on his way across
the wood, coming out at last into the open.


II.

At a great distance, and above the rocks of Montagut, he saw the black
silhouette of his castle standing out against the blue, transparent
background of the night sky--“My castle is far away and I am weary,” he
muttered. “I will await the day in this village-hut near by,” and he
bent his steps to the hut. He knocked at the door. “Who are you?” they
demanded from within. “The Baron of Fortcastell,” he replied, and they
laughed in his face. He knocked at another door. “Who are you and what
do you want?” these, too, asked him. “Your liege lord,” urged the
knight, surprised that they did not recognize him. “Teobaldo de
Montagut.” “Teobaldo de Montagut!” angrily repeated the person within, a
woman not yet old. “Teobaldo de Montagut, the count of the story! Bah!
Go your way and don’t come back to rouse honest folk from their sleep to
hear your stupid jests.”


III.

Teobaldo, full of astonishment, left the village and pursued his way to
the castle, at whose gates he arrived when it was scarcely dawn. The
moat was filled up with great blocks of stone from the ruined
battlements; the raised drawbridge, now useless, was rotting as it still
hung from its strong iron chains, covered with rust though they were by
the wasting of the years; in the homage-tower slowly tolled a bell; in
front of the principal arch of the fortress and upon a granite pedestal
was raised a cross; upon the walls not a single soldier was to be
discerned; and, indistinct and muffled, there seemed to come from its
heart like a distant murmur a sacred hymn, grave, solemn and majestic.

“But this is my castle, beyond a doubt,” said Teobaldo, shifting his
troubled gaze from one point to another, unable to comprehend the
situation. “That is my escutcheon, still engraved above the keystone of
the arch. This is the valley of Montagut. These are the lands it
governs, the seigniory of Fortcastell”--

At this instant the heavy doors swung upon their hinges and a monk
appeared beneath the lintel.


IV.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” demanded Teobaldo of the
monk.

“I am,” he answered, “a humble servant of God, a monk of the monastery
of Montagut.”

“But”--interrupted the baron. “Montagut? Is it not a seigniory?”

“It was,” replied the monk, “a long time ago. Its last lord, the story
goes, was carried off by the Devil, and as he left no heir to succeed
him in the fief, the Sovereign Counts granted his estate to the monks of
our order, who have been here for a matter of from one hundred to one
hundred and twenty years. And you--who are you?”

“I”--stammered the Baron of Fortcastell, after a long moment of silence,
“I am--a miserable sinner, who, repenting of his misdeeds, comes to make
confession to your abbot and beg him for admittance into the bosom of
his faith.”



THE PROMISE


I.

Margarita, her face hidden in her hands, was weeping; she did not sob,
but the tears ran silently down her cheeks, slipping between her fingers
to fall to the earth toward which her brow was bent.

Near Margarita was Pedro, who from time to time lifted his eyes to steal
a glance at her and, seeing that she still wept, dropped them again,
maintaining for his part utter silence.

All was hushed about them, as if respecting her grief. The murmurs of
the field were stilled, the breeze of evening slept, and darkness was
beginning to envelop the dense growth of the wood.

Thus some moments passed, during which the trace of light that the dying
sun had left on the horizon faded quite away; the moon began to be
faintly sketched against the violet background of the twilight sky, and
one after another shone out the brighter stars.

Pedro broke at last that distressful silence, exclaiming in a hoarse and
gasping voice and as if he were communing with himself:

“‘Tis impossible--impossible!”

Then, coming close to the inconsolable maiden and taking one of her
hands, he continued in a softer, more caressing tone:

“Margarita, for thee love is all, and thou seest naught beyond love.
Yet there is one thing as binding as our love, and that is my duty. Our
lord the Count of Gômara goes forth to-morrow from his castle to join
his force to the army of King Fernando, who is on his way to deliver
Seville out of the power of the Infidels, and it is my duty to depart
with the Count.

“An obscure orphan, without name or family, I owe to him all that I am.
I have served him in the idle days of peace, I have slept beneath his
roof, I have been warmed at his hearth and eaten at his board. If I
forsake him now, to-morrow his men-at-arms, as they sally forth in
marching array from his castle gates, will ask, wondering at my absence:
‘Where is the favorite squire of the Count of Gômara?’ And my lord will
be silent for shame, and his pages and his fools will say in mocking
tone: ‘The Count’s squire is only a gallant of the jousts, a warrior in
the game of courtesy.’”

When he had spoken thus far, Margarita lifted her eyes full of tears to
meet those of her lover and moved her lips as if to answer him; but her
voice was choked in a sob.

Pedro, with still tenderer and more persuasive tone, went on:

“Weep not, for God’s sake, Margarita; weep not, for thy tears hurt me. I
must go from thee, but I will return as soon as I shall have gained a
little glory for my obscure name.

“Heaven will aid us in our holy enterprise; we shall conquer Seville,
and to us conquerors the King will give fiefs along the banks of the
Guadalquivir. Then I will come back for thee, and we will go together to
dwell in that paradise of the Arabs, where they say the sky is clearer
and more blue than the sky above Castile.

“I will come back, I swear to thee I will; I will return to keep the
troth solemnly pledged thee that day when I placed on thy finger this
ring, symbol of a promise.”

“Pedro!” here exclaimed Margarita, controlling her emotion and speaking
in a firm, determined tone:

“Go, go to uphold thine honor,” and on pronouncing these words, she
threw herself for the last time into the embrace of her lover. Then she
added in a tone lower and more shaken: “Go to uphold thine honor, but
come back--come back--to save mine.”

Pedro kissed the brow of Margarita, loosed his horse, that was tied to
one of the trees of the grove, and rode off at a gallop through the
depths of the poplar-wood.

Margarita followed Pedro with her eyes until his dim form was swallowed
up in the shades of night. When he could no longer be discerned, she
went back slowly to the village where her brothers were awaiting her.

“Put on thy gala dress,” one of them said to her as she entered, “for in
the morning we go to Gômara with all the neighborhood to see the Count
marching to Andalusia.”

“For my part, it saddens rather than gladdens me to see those go forth
who perchance shall not return,” replied Margarita with a sigh.

“Yet come with us thou must,” insisted the other brother, “and thou must
come with mien composed and glad; so that the gossiping folk shall have
no cause to say thou hast a lover in the castle, and thy lover goeth to
the war.”


II.

Hardly was the first light of dawn streaming up the sky when there began
to sound throughout all the camp of Gômara the shrill trumpeting of the
Count’s soldiers; and the peasants who were arriving in numerous groups
from the villages round about saw the seigniorial banner flung to the
winds from the highest tower of the fortress.

The peasants were everywhere,--seated on the edge of the moat, ensconced
in the tops of trees, strolling over the plain, crowning the crests of
the hills, forming a line far along the highway, and it must have been
already for nearly an hour that their curiosity had awaited the show,
not without some signs of impatience, when the ringing bugle-call
sounded again, the chains of the drawbridge creaked as it fell slowly
across the moat, and the portcullis was raised, while little by little,
groaning upon their hinges, the massive doors of the arched passage
which led to the Court of Arms swung wide.

The multitude ran to press for places on the sloping banks beside the
road in order to see their fill of the brilliant armor and sumptuous
trappings of the following of the Count of Gômara, famed through all the
countryside for his splendor and his lavish pomp.

The march was opened by the heralds who, halting at fixed intervals,
proclaimed in loud voice, to the beat of the drum, the commands of the
King, summoning his feudatories to the Moorish war and requiring the
villages and free towns to give passage and aid to his armies.

After the heralds followed the kings-at-arms, proud of their silken
vestments, their shields bordered with gold and bright colors, and their
caps decked with graceful plumes.

Then came the chief retainer of the castle armed cap-à-pie, a knight
mounted on a young black horse, bearing in his hands the pennon of a
grandee with his motto and device; at his left hand rode the executioner
of the seigniory, clad in black and red.

The seneschal was preceded by fully a score of those famous trumpeters
of Castile celebrated in the chronicles of our kings for the incredible
power of their lungs.

When the shrill clamor of their mighty trumpeting ceased to wound the
wind, a dull sound, steady and monotonous, began to reach the ear,--the
tramp of the foot-soldiers, armed with long pikes and provided with a
leather shield apiece. Behind these soon came in view the soldiers who
managed the engines of war, with their crude machines and their wooden
towers, the bands of wall-scalers and the rabble of stable-boys in
charge of the mules.

Then, enveloped in the cloud of dust raised by the hoofs of their
horses, flashing sparks from their iron breastplates, passed the
men-at-arms of the castle, formed in thick platoons, looking from a
distance like a forest of spears.

Last of all, preceded by the drummers who were mounted on strong mules
tricked out in housings and plumes, surrounded by pages in rich raiment
of silk and gold and followed by the squires of the castle, appeared the
Count.

As the multitude caught sight of him, a great shout of greeting went up
and in the tumult of acclamation was stifled the cry of a woman, who at
that moment, as if struck by a thunderbolt, fell fainting into the arms
of those who sprang to her aid. It was Margarita, Margarita who had
recognized her mysterious lover in that great and dreadful lord, the
Count of Gômara, one of the most exalted and powerful feudatories of the
Crown of Castile.


III.

The host of Don Fernando, after going forth from Cordova, had marched to
Seville, not without having to fight its way at Écija, Carmona, and
Alcalá del Rio del Guadaira, whose famous castle, once taken by storm,
put the army in sight of the stronghold of the Infidels.

The Count of Gômara was in his tent seated on a bench of larchwood,
motionless, pale, terrible, his hands crossed upon the hilt of his
broadsword, his eyes fixed on space with that vague regard which appears
to behold a definite object and yet takes cognizance of naught in the
encompassing scene.

Standing by his side, the squire who had been longest in the castle, the
only one who in those moods of black despondency could have ventured to
intrude without drawing down upon his head an explosion of wrath, was
speaking to him. “What is your ail, my lord?” he was saying. “What
trouble wears and wastes you? Sad you go to battle, and sad return, even
though returning victorious. When all the warriors sleep, surrendered to
the weariness of the day, I hear your anguished sighs; and if I run to
your bed, I see you struggling there against some invisible torment. You
open your eyes, but your terror does not vanish. What is it, my lord?
Tell me. If it be a secret, I will guard it in the depths of my memory
as in a grave.”

The Count seemed not to hear his squire, but after a long pause, as if
the words had taken all that time to make slow way from his ears to his
understanding, he emerged little by little from his trance and, drawing
the squire affectionately toward him, said to him with grave and quiet
tone:

“I have suffered much in silence. Believing myself the sport of a vain
fantasy, I have until now held my peace for shame,--but nay, what is
happening to me is no illusion.

“It must be that I am under the power of some awful curse. Heaven or
hell must wish something of me, and tell me so by supernatural events.
Recallest thou the day of our encounter with the Moors of Nebriza in the
Aljarafe de Triana? We were few, the combat was stern, and I was face to
face with death. Thou sawest, in the most critical moment of the fight,
my horse, wounded and blind with rage, dash toward the main body of the
Moorish host. I strove in vain to check him; the reins had escaped from
my hands, and the fiery animal galloped on, bearing me to certain death.

“Already the Moors, closing up their ranks, were grounding their long
pikes to receive me on the points; a cloud of arrows hissed about my
ears; the horse was but a few bounds from the serried spears on which we
were about to fling

[Illustration: AN ANCIENT CASTLE]

ourselves, when--believe me, it was not an illusion--I saw a hand that,
grasping the bridle, stopped him with an unearthly force and, turning
him in the direction of my own troops, saved me by a miracle.

“In vain I asked of one and another who my deliverer was; no one knew
him, no one had seen him.

“‘When you were rushing to throw yourself upon the wall of pikes,’ they
said, ‘you went alone, absolutely alone; this is why we marvelled to see
you turn, knowing that the steed no longer obeyed his rider.’

“That night I entered my tent distraught; I strove in vain to extirpate
from my imagination the memory of the strange adventure; but on
advancing toward my bed, again I saw the same hand, a beautiful hand,
white to the point of pallor, which drew the curtains, vanishing after
it had drawn them. Ever since, at all hours, in all places, I see that
mysterious hand which anticipates my desires and forestalls my actions.
I saw it, when we were storming the castle of Triana, catch between its
fingers and break in the air an arrow which was about to strike me; I
have seen it at banquets where I was trying to drown my trouble in the
tumultuous revelry, pour the wine into my cup; and always it flickers
before my eyes, and wherever I go it follows me; in the tent, in the
battle, by day, by night,--even now, see it, see it here, resting gently
on my shoulder!”

On speaking these last words, the Count sprang to his feet, striding
back and forth as if beside himself, overwhelmed by utter terror.

The squire dashed away a tear. Believing his lord mad, he did not try to
combat his ideas, but confined himself to saying in a voice of deep
emotion:

“Come; let us go out from the tent a moment; perhaps the evening air
will cool your temples, calming this incomprehensible grief, for which I
find no words of consolation.”


IV.

The camp of the Christians extended over all the plain of Guadaira, even
to the left bank of the Guadalquivir. In front of the camp and clearly
defined against the bright horizon, rose the walls of Seville flanked by
massive, menacing towers. Above the crown of battlements showed in its
rich profusion the green leafage of the thousand gardens enclosed in the
Moorish stronghold, and amid the dim clusters of foliage gleamed the
observation turrets, white as snow, the minarets of the mosques, and the
gigantic watch-tower, over whose aerial parapet the four great balls of
gold, which from the Christian camp looked like four flames, threw out,
when smitten by the sun, sparks of living light.

The enterprise of Don Fernando, one of the most heroic and intrepid of
that epoch, had drawn to his banners the greatest warriors of the
various kingdoms in the Peninsula, with others who, called by fame, had
come from foreign, far-off lands to add their forces to those of the
Royal Saint. Stretching along the plain might be seen, therefore,
army-tents of all forms and colors, above whose peaks waved in the wind
the various ensigns with their quartered escutcheons,--stars, griffins,
lions, chains, bars and caldrons, with hundreds of other heraldic
figures or symbols which proclaimed the name and quality of their
owners. Through the streets of that improvised city were circulating in
all directions a multitude of soldiers who, speaking diverse dialects,
dressed each in the fashion of his own locality and armed according to
his fancy, formed a scene of strange and picturesque contrasts.

Here a group of nobles were resting from the fatigues of combat, seated
on benches of larchwood at the door of their tents and playing at chess,
while their pages poured them wine in metal cups; there some
foot-soldiers were taking advantage of a moment of leisure to clean and
mend their armor, the worse for their last skirmish; further on, the
most expert archers of the army were covering the mark with arrows,
amidst the applause of the crowd marvelling at their dexterity; and the
beating of the drums, the shrilling of the trumpets, the cries of
pedlars hawking their wares, the clang of iron striking on iron, the
ballad-singing of the minstrels who entertained their hearers with the
relation of prodigious exploits, and the shouts of the heralds who
published the orders of the camp-masters, all these, filling the air
with thousands of discordant noises, contributed to that picture of
soldier life a vivacity and animation impossible to portray in words.

The Count of Gômara, attended by his faithful squire, passed among the
lively groups without raising his eyes from the ground, silent, sad, as
if not a sight disturbed his gaze nor the least sound reached his
hearing. He moved mechanically, as a sleepwalker, whose spirit is busy
in the world of dreams, steps and takes his course without consciousness
of his actions, as if impelled by a will not his own.

Close by the royal tent and in the middle of a ring of soldiers, little
pages and camp-servants, who were listening to him open-mouthed, making
haste to buy some of the tawdry knickknacks which he was enumerating in
a loud voice, with extravagant praises, was an odd personage, half
pilgrim, half minstrel, who, at one moment reciting a kind of litany in
barbarous Latin, and the next giving vent to some buffoonery or
scurrility, was mingling in his interminable tale devout prayers with
jests broad enough to make a common soldier blush, romances of illicit
love with legends of saints. In the huge pack that hung from his
shoulders were a thousand different objects all tossed and tumbled
together,--ribbons touched to the sepulchre of Santiago, scrolls with
words which he averred were Hebrew, the very same that King Solomon
spoke when he founded the temple, and the only words able to keep you
free of every contagious disease; marvellous balsams capable of sticking
together men who were cut in two; secret charms to make all women in
love with you; Gospels sewed into little silk bags; relics of the patron
saints of all the towns in Spain; tinsel jewels, chains, sword-belts,
medals and many other gewgaws of brass, glass and lead.

When the Count approached the group formed by the pilgrim and his
admirers, the fellow began to tune a kind of mandolin or Arab guitar
with which he accompanied himself in the singsong recital of his
romances. When he had thoroughly tested the strings, one after another,
very coolly, while his companion made the round of the circle coaxing
out the last coppers from the flaccid pouches of the audience, the
pilgrim began to sing in nasal voice, to a monotonous and plaintive air,
a ballad whose stanzas always ended in the same refrain.

The Count drew near the group and gave attention. By an apparently
strange coincidence, the title of this tale was entirely at one with the
melancholy thoughts that burdened his mind. As the singer had announced
before beginning, the lay was called the _Ballad of the Dead Hand_.

The squire, on hearing so strange an announcement, had striven to draw
his lord away; but the Count, with his eyes fixed on the minstrel,
remained motionless, listening to this song.

                I.

    A maiden had a lover gay
      Who said he was a squire;
    The war-drums called him far away;
      Not tears could quench his fire.
    “Thou goest to return no more.”
      “Nay, by all oaths that bind”--
    But even while the lover swore,
      A voice was on the wind:
    _Ill fares the soul that sets its trust_
        _On faith of dust._

               II.

    Forth from his castle rode the lord
      With all his glittering train,
    But never will his battle-sword
      Inflict so keen a pain.
    “His soldier-honor well he keeps;
      Mine honor--blind! oh, blind!”
    While the forsaken woman weeps,
      A voice is on the wind:
    _Ill fares the soul that sets its trust_
        _On faith of dust._

              III.

    Her brother’s eye her secret reads;
      His fatal angers burn.
    “Thou hast us shamed.” Her terror pleads,--
      “He swore he would return.”
    “But not to find thee, if he tries,
      Where he was wont to find.”
    Beneath her brother’s blow she dies;
      A voice is on the wind:
    _Ill fares the soul that sets its trust_
        _On faith of dust._

              IV.

    In the trysting-wood, where love made mirth,
      They have buried her deep,--but lo!
    However high they heap the earth,
      A hand as white as snow
    Comes stealing up, a hand whose ring
      A noble’s troth doth bind.
    Above her grave no maidens sing,
      But a voice is on the wind:
    _Ill fares the soul that sets its trust_
        _On faith of dust._

Hardly had the singer finished the last stanza, when, breaking through
the wall of eager listeners who respectfully gave way on recognizing
him, the Count fronted the pilgrim and, clutching his arm, demanded in a
low, convulsive voice:

“From what part of Spain art thou?”

“From Soria,” was the unmoved response.

“And where hast thou learned this ballad? Who is that maiden of whom the
story tells?” again exclaimed the Count, with ever more profound
emotion.

“My lord,” said the pilgrim, fixing his eyes upon the Count with
imperturbable steadiness, “this ballad is passed from mouth to mouth
among the peasants in the fief of Gômara, and it refers to an unhappy
village-girl cruelly wronged by a great lord. The high justice of God
has permitted that, in her burial, there shall still remain above the
earth the hand on which her lover placed a ring in plighting her his
troth. Perchance you know whom it behooves to keep that pledge.”


V.

In a wretched village which may be found at one side of the highway
leading to Gômara, I saw not long since the spot where the strange
ceremony of the Count’s marriage is said to have taken place.

After he, kneeling upon the humble grave, had pressed the hand of
Margarita in his own, and a priest, authorized by the Pope, had blessed
the mournful union, the story goes that the miracle ceased, and _the
dead hand_ buried itself forever.

At the foot of some great old trees there is a bit of meadow which,
every spring, covers itself spontaneously with flowers.

The country-folk say that this is the burial place of Margarita.



THE KISS


I.

When a division of the French army, at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, took possession of historic Toledo, the officers in command,
not unaware of the danger to which French soldiers were exposed in
Spanish towns by being quartered in separate lodgings, commenced to fit
up as barracks the largest and best edifices of the city.

After occupying the magnificent palace of Carlos V. they appropriated
the City Hall, and when this could hold no more, they began to invade
the pious shade of monasteries, at last making over into stables even
the churches sacred to worship. Such was the state of affairs in the
famous old town, scene of the event which I am about to recount, when
one night, already late, there entered the city, muffled in their dark
army-cloaks and deafening the narrow, lonely streets, from the Gate of
the Sun to the Zocodover, with the clang of weapons and the resounding
beat of the hoofs that struck sparks from the flinty way, one hundred or
so of these tall dragoons, dashing, mettlesome fellows, whom our
grandmothers still tell about with admiration.

The force was commanded by a youthful officer, riding about thirty paces
in advance of his troop and talking in low tones with a man on foot,
who, so far as might be inferred from his dress, was also a soldier.
Walking in front of his interlocutor, with a small lantern in hand, he
seemed to be serving as guide through that labyrinth of obscure, twisted
and intertangled streets.

“In sooth,” said the trooper to his companion, “if the lodging prepared
for us is even such as you picture it, perhaps it would be better to
camp out in the country or in one of the public squares.”

“But what would you, my captain?” answered the guide, who was, in fact,
a sergeant sent on before to make ready for their reception. “In the
palace there is not room for another grain of wheat, much less for a
man; of _San Juan de los Reyes_ there is no use in talking, for there it
has reached such a point that in one of the friars’ cells are sleeping
fifteen hussars. The monastery to which I am taking you was not so bad,
but some three or four days ago there fell upon us, as if out of the
clouds, one of the flying columns that scour the province, and we are
lucky to have prevailed on them to heap themselves up along the
cloisters and leave the church free for us.”

“Ah, well!” exclaimed the officer, after a brief silence, with an air of
resigning himself to the strange quarters which chance had apportioned
him, “an ill lodging is better than none. At all events, in case of
rain,--not unlikely, judging from the massing of the clouds,--we shall
be under cover, and that is something.”

With this the conversation was broken off, and the troopers, preceded by
the guide, took the onward way in silence until they came to one of the
smaller squares, on the further side of which stood out the black
silhouette of the monastery with its Moorish minaret, spired bell-tower,
ogive cupola and dark, uneven roof.

“Here is your lodging!” exclaimed the sergeant at sight of it,
addressing the captain, who, after commanding his troop to halt,
dismounted, caught the lantern from the hands of the guide, and took his
way toward the building designated.

Since the church of the monastery was thoroughly dismantled, the
soldiers who occupied the other parts of the

[Illustration: PALACE OF CARLOS V., TOLEDO]

building had thought that the doors were now a trifle less than useless
and, piece by piece, had wrenched off one to-day, another to-morrow, to
make bonfires for warming themselves by night.

Our young officer, therefore, did not have to delay for turning of keys
or drawing of bolts before penetrating into the heart of the sanctuary.

By the light of the lantern, whose doubtful ray, lost in the heavy
glooms of nave and aisles, threw in giant proportions upon the wall the
fantastic shadow of the sergeant going on before, he traversed the
length and breadth of the church and peered into the deserted chapels,
one by one, until he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with the
place, when he ordered his troop to dismount, and set about the
bestowing of that confused crowd of men and horses as best he could.

As we have said, the church was completely dismantled; before the High
Altar were still hanging from the lofty cornices torn shreds of the veil
with which the monks had covered it on abandoning that holy place; at
intervals along the aisles might be seen shrines fastened against the
wall, their niches bereft of images; in the choir a line of light traced
the strange contour of the shadowy larchwood stalls; upon the pavement,
destroyed at various points, might still be distinguished broad burial
slabs filled with heraldic devices, shields and long Gothic
inscriptions; and far away, in the depths of the silent chapels and
along the transepts, were vaguely visible in the dimness, like
motionless white spectres, marble statues which, some extended at full
length and others kneeling on their stony tombs, appeared to be the only
tenants of that ruined structure.

For anyone less spent than the captain of dragoons, who carried in his
body the fatigues of a ride of fourteen leagues, or less accustomed to
seeing these sacrileges as the most natural thing in the world, two
drams of imagination would have sufficed to keep eyes from closing the
whole night long in that dusky, awesome haunt, where the oaths of the
soldiers, who were loudly complaining of their improvised barracks, the
metallic clink of their spurs striking rudely against the once
sepulchral slabs of the pavement, the clatter of the horses as they
pawed impatiently, tossing their heads and rattling the chains which
bound them to the pillars, formed a strange and fearful confusion of
sounds that reverberated through the reaches of the church and was
repeated, ever more weirdly, from echo to echo among the lofty vaults.

But our hero, young though he was, had already become so familiar with
those shiftings of the scene in a soldier’s life, that scarcely had he
assigned places to his men than he ordered a sack of fodder flung down
at the foot of the chancel steps, and rolling himself as snugly as
possible into his cloak, resting his head upon the lowest stair, in five
minutes was snoring with more tranquillity than King Joseph himself in
his palace at Madrid.

The soldiers, making pillows of the saddles, followed his example, and
little by little the murmur of their voices died away.

Half an hour later, nothing was to be heard save the stifled groans of
the wind which entered by the broken ogive windows of the church, the
skurrying flights of night-birds whose nests were built in the stone
canopies above the sculptured figures of the walls, and the tramp, now
near, now far, of the sentry who was pacing up and down the portico,
wound in the wide folds of his military cloak.


II.

In the epoch to which the account of this incident, no less true than
strange, reverts, the city of Toledo, for those who knew not how to
value the treasures of art which its walls enclose, was, even as now,
no more than a great huddle of houses, old-fashioned, ruinous,
insufferable.

The officers of the French army who, to judge from the acts of vandalism
by which they left in Toledo a sad and enduring memory of their
occupation, counted few artists and archæologists in their number, found
themselves, as goes without the saying, supremely bored in the ancient
city of the Cæsars.

In this frame of mind, the most trifling event which came to break the
monotonous calm of those eternal, unvarying days was eagerly caught up
among the idlers, so that the promotion of one of their comrades to the
next grade, a report of the strategic movement of a flying column, the
departure of an official post or the arrival at the city of any military
force whatsoever, became a fertile theme of conversation and object of
every sort of comment, until something else occurred to take its place
and serve as foundation for new grumblings, criticisms and conjectures.

As was to be expected, among those officers who, according to their
custom, gathered on the following day to take the air and chat a little
in the Zocodover, the dish of gossip was supplied by nothing else than
the arrival of the dragoons, whose leader was left in the former chapter
stretched out at his ease, sleeping off the fatigues of the march. For
upwards of an hour the conversation had been beating about this event,
and already various explanations had been put forward to account for the
non-appearance of the new-comer, whom an officer present, a former
schoolmate, had invited to the Zocodover, when at last, in one of the
side-streets that radiate from the square, appeared our gallant captain,
no longer obscured by his voluminous army-cloak, but sporting a great
shining helmet with a plume of white feathers, a turquoise-blue coat
with scarlet facings, and a magnificent two-handed sword in a steel
scabbard which clanked as it struck the ground in time to his martial
stride and to the keener, sharper clink of his golden spurs.

As soon as his former chum caught sight of him, off he went to meet him
and bid him welcome, followed by almost all the officers who chanced to
be in the group that morning and who had been stirred to curiosity and a
desire to know him by what they had already heard of his original,
extraordinary traits of character.

After the customary close embraces, and the exclamations, compliments
and questions enjoined by etiquette in meetings like this; after
discussing at length and in detail the latest news from Madrid, the
changing fortune of the war, and old friends dead or far away, the
conversation, flitting from one subject to another, came to roost at
last on the inevitable theme, to wit, the hardships of the service, the
dearth of amusements in the city, and the inconveniences of their
lodgings.

Now at this juncture one of the company, who, it would seem, had heard
of the ill grace with which the young officer had resigned himself to
quartering his troop in the abandoned church, said to him with an air of
raillery:

“And speaking of lodgings, what sort of a night did you have in yours?”

“We lacked for nothing,” answered the captain, “and if it is the truth
that I slept but little, the cause of my insomnia is well worth the
pains of wakefulness. A vigil in the society of a charming woman is
surely not the worst of evils.”

“A woman!” repeated his interlocutor, as if wondering at the good
fortune of the new arrival. “This is what they call ending the
pilgrimage and kissing the saint.”

“Perhaps it is some old flame of the Capital who follows him to Madrid
to make his exile more endurable,” added another of the circle.

“Oh, no!” exclaimed the captain, “nothing of the sort. I swear to you,
on the word of a gentleman, I had never seen her before, nor had I
dreamed of finding so gracious a hostess in so bad a hostelry. It is
altogether what one might call a genuine adventure.”

“Tell it! tell it!” chorused the officers who surrounded the captain,
and as he proceeded so to do, all lent the most eager attention, while
he began his story thus:

“I was sleeping last night the sleep of a man who carries in his body
the effects of a thirteen-league ride, when, look you, in the best of my
slumber I was startled wide-awake,--springing up and leaning on my
elbows,--by a horrible uproar, such an uproar that it deafened me for an
instant and left my ears, a full minute after, humming as if a horse-fly
were singing on my cheek.

“As you will have guessed, the cause of my alarm was the first stroke
which I heard of that diabolical _campana gorda_, a sort of bronze
chorister, which the canons of Toledo have placed in their cathedral for
the praiseworthy object of killing the weary with wrath.

“Cursing between my teeth both bell and bell-ringer, I disposed myself,
as soon as that strange and frightful noise had ceased, to take up anew
the thread of my broken dream, when there befell, to pique my
imagination and challenge my senses, a thing of wonder. By the uncertain
moonlight which entered the church through the narrow Moorish window of
the chancel wall, I saw a woman kneeling at the altar.”

The officers exchanged glances of mingled astonishment and incredulity;
the captain, without heeding the impression his narrative was making,
continued as follows:

“It could not enter into man’s heart to conceive that nocturnal,
phantasmal vision, vaguely outlined in the twilight of the chapel, like
those virgins painted in colored glass that you have sometimes seen,
from afar off, stand out, white and luminous, across the shadowy
stretch of the cathedrals.

“Her oval face, on which one saw stamped the seal, delicate and
spiritual, of emaciation, her harmonious features full of a gentle,
melancholy sweetness, her intense pallor, the perfect lines of her
slender figure, her reposeful, noble posture, her robe of flowing white,
brought to my memory the women of whom I used to dream when I was still
little more than a child. Chaste, celestial images, illusive objects of
the wandering love of youth!

“I believed myself the sport of an hallucination and not withdrawing my
eyes from her for an instant, I scarcely dared breathe, fearing that a
breath might dissolve the enchantment.

“She remained motionless.

“The fancy crossed my mind, on seeing her so shining, so transparent,
that this was no creature of the earth, but a spirit, that, once more
assuming for an instant the veil of human form, had descended in the
moonbeam, leaving in the air behind it the azure track which slanted
from the high window to the foot of the opposite wall, breaking the deep
gloom of that dusky, mysterious recess.”

“But--” interrupted his former schoolmate, who, inclined at the outset
to make fun of the story, had at last grown closely attentive--“how came
that woman there? Did you not speak to her? Did she not explain to you
her presence in that place?”

“I decided not to address her, because I was sure that she would not
answer me, nor see me, nor hear me.”

“Was she deaf?”

“Was she blind?”

“Was she dumb?” exclaimed simultaneously three or four of those who were
listening to the story.

“She was all at once,” finally declared the captain after a moment’s
pause, “for she was---- marble.”

On hearing this remarkable _dénouement_ of so strange an adventure, the
bystanders burst into a noisy peal of laughter, while one of them said
to the narrator of this curious experience, who alone remained quiet and
of grave deportment:

“We will make a complete thing of it. As for this sort of ladies, I have
more than a thousand, a regular seraglio, in _San Juan de los Reyes_, a
seraglio which from this time on I put quite at your service, since, it
would seem, a woman of stone is the same to you as a woman of flesh.”

“Oh, no!” responded the captain, not nettled in the slightest by the
laughter of his companions. “I am sure that they cannot be like mine.
Mine is a true Castilian dame of high degree, who by a miracle of
sculpture appears not to have been buried in a sepulchre, but still,
body and soul, to kneel upon the lid of her own tomb, motionless, with
hands joined in attitude of prayer, drowned in an ecstasy of mystic
love.”

“You are so plausible that you will end by making us believe in the
fable of Galatea.”

“For my part, I admit that I had always supposed it nonsense, but since
last night I begin to comprehend the passion of the Greek sculptor.”

“Considering the peculiar circumstances of your new lady, I presume you
would have no objection to presenting us. As for me, I vow that already
I am dead with longing to behold this paragon. But--what the devil!--one
would say that you do not wish to introduce us. Ha, ha, ha! It would be
a joke indeed if we should find you jealous.”

“Jealous!” the captain hastened to reply. “Jealous--of men, no; but yet
see to what lengths my madness reaches. Close beside the image of this
woman is a warrior, also of marble, an august figure, as lifelike as
herself,--her husband, without doubt. Well, then! I am going to make a
clean breast of it, jeer at my folly as you may,--if I had not feared
being taken for a lunatic, I believe I should have broken him to pieces
a hundred times over.”

A fresh and yet more riotous outburst of laughter from the officers
greeted this original revelation on the part of the eccentric lover of
the marble lady.

“We will take no refusal. We must see her,” cried some.

“Yes, yes, we must know if the object of such devotion is as unique as
the passion itself,” added others.

“When shall we come together to take a drink in the church where you
lodge?” demanded the rest.

“Whenever you please; this very evening, if you like,” replied the young
captain, regaining his usual debonair expression, dispelled for an
instant by that flash of jealousy. “By the way, along with the baggage I
have brought as many as two dozen bottles of champagne, genuine
champagne, what was left over from a present given to our
brigadier-general, who, as you know, is a distant relative of mine.”

“Bravo! Bravo!” shouted the officers with one voice, breaking into
gleeful exclamations.

“We will drink the wine of our native land!”

“And we will sing one of Ronsard’s songs!”

“And we will talk of women, apropos of the lady of our host.”

“And so--good-bye till evening!”

“Till evening!”


III.

It was now a good hour since the peaceful inhabitants of Toledo had
secured with key and bolt the massive doors of their ancient mansions;
the _campana gorda_ of the cathedral was ringing curfew, and from the
summit of the palace, now converted into barracks, was sounding the last
bugle-call for silence, when ten or twelve officers, who had been
gradually assembling in the Zocodover, took the road leading thence to
the monastery where the captain was lodged, impelled more by hope of
draining the promised bottles than by eagerness to make acquaintance
with the marvellous piece of sculpture.

The night had shut down dark and threatening; the sky was covered with
leaden clouds; the wind, whistling along the imprisoning channels of the
narrow, tortuous streets, was shaking the dying flames of the shielded
lamps before the shrines, or making the iron weather-vanes of the towers
whirl about with a shrill creaking.

Scarcely had the officers caught sight of the square where stood the
monastery which served as quarters for their new friend, than he, who
was impatiently looking out for their arrival, sallied forth to meet
them, and after the exchange of a few low-toned sentences, all together
entered the church, within whose dim enclosure the faint gleam of a
lantern was struggling at hopeless odds with the black and heavy
shadows.

“‘Pon my honor!” exclaimed one of the guests, peering about him. “If
this isn’t the last place in the world for a revel!”

“True enough!” said another. “You bring us here to meet a lady, and
scarcely can a man see his hand before his face.”

“And worst of all, it’s so icy cold that we might as well be in
Siberia,” added a third, hugging the folds of his cloak about him.

“Patience, gentlemen, patience!” interposed the host. “A little patience
will set all to rights. Here, my lad!” he continued, addressing one of
his men. “Hunt us up a bit of fuel and kindle a rousing bonfire in the
chancel.”

The orderly, obeying his captain’s directions, commenced to rain
swinging blows on the carven stalls of the choir, and after he had thus
collected a goodly supply of wood, which was heaped up at the foot of
the chancel steps, he took the lantern and proceeded to make an _auto de
fe_ of those fragments carved in richest designs. Among them might be
seen here a portion of a spiral column, there the effigy of a holy
abbot, the torso of a woman, or the misshapen head of a griffin peeping
through foliage.

In a few minutes, a great light which suddenly streamed out through all
the compass of the church announced to the officers that the hour for
the carousal had arrived.

The captain, who did the honors of his lodging with the same
punctiliousness which he would have observed in his own house, turned to
his guests and said:

“We will, if you please, pass to the refreshment room.”

His comrades, affecting the utmost gravity, responded to the invitation
with absurdly profound bows and took their way to the chancel preceded
by the lord of the revel, who, on reaching the stone steps, paused an
instant, and extending his hand in the direction of the tomb, said to
them with the most exquisite courtesy:

“I have the pleasure of presenting you to the lady of my dreams. I am
sure you will grant that I have not exaggerated her beauty.”

The officers turned their eyes toward the point which their friend
designated, and exclamations of astonishment broke involuntarily from
the lips of all.

In the depths of a sepulchral arch lined with black marbles, they saw,
in fact, kneeling before a prayer-stool, with folded palms and face
turned toward the altar, the image of a woman so beautiful that never
did her equal come from sculptor’s hands, nor could desire paint her in
imagination more supremely lovely.

“In truth, an angel!” murmured one.

“A pity that she is marble!” added another.

“Well might--illusion though it be--the neighborhood of such a woman
suffice to keep one from closing eye the whole night through.”

“And you do not know who she is?” others of the group, contemplating the
statue, asked of the captain, who stood smiling, satisfied with his
triumph.

“Recalling a little of the Latin which I learned in my boyhood, I have
been able, at no small pains, to decipher the inscription on the stone,”
he answered, “and by what I have managed to make out, it is the tomb of
a Castilian noble, a famous warrior who fought under the Great Captain.
His name I have forgotten, but his wife, on whom you look, is called
Doña Elvira de Castañeda, and by my hopes of salvation, if the copy
resembles the original, this should be the most notable woman of her
time.”

After these brief explanations, the guests, who did not lose sight of
the principal object of the gathering, proceeded to uncork some of the
bottles and, seating themselves around the bonfire, began to pass the
wine from hand to hand.

In proportion as their libations became more copious and frequent, and
the fumes of the foaming champagne commenced to cloud their brains, the
animation, the uproar and the merriment of the young Frenchmen rose to
such a pitch that some of them threw the broken necks of the empty
bottles at the granite monks carved against the pillars, and others
trolled at the tops of their voices scandalous drinking-songs, while the
rest burst into roars of laughter, clapped their hands in applause or
quarrelled among themselves with angry words and oaths.

The captain sat drinking in silence, like a man distraught, without
moving his eyes from the statue of Doña Elvira.

Illumed by the ruddy splendor of the bonfire, and seen across the misty
veil which wine had drawn before his vision, the marble image sometimes
seemed to him to be changing into an actual woman; it seemed to him
that her lips parted, as if murmuring a prayer, that her breast heaved
as if with stifled sobs, that her palms were pressed together with more
energy, and finally, that rosy color crept into her cheeks, as if she
were blushing before that sacrilegious and repugnant scene.

The officers, noting the gloomy silence of their comrade, roused him
from the trance into which he had fallen, and thrusting a cup into his
hands, exclaimed in noisy chorus:

“Come, give us a toast, you, the only man that has failed of it
to-night!”

The young host took the cup, rose and, lifting it on high, turned to
face the statue of the warrior kneeling beside Doña Elvira and said:

“I drink to the Emperor, and I drink to the success of his arms, thanks
to which we have been able to penetrate even to the heart of Castile and
to court, at his own tomb, the wife of a conqueror of Cerñiola.”

The officers drank the toast with a storm of applause, and the captain,
keeping his balance with some difficulty, took a few steps toward the
sepulchre.

“No,” he continued, always addressing, with the stupid smile of
intoxication, the statue of the warrior. “Don’t suppose that I have a
grudge against you for being my rival. On the contrary, old lad, I
admire you for a patient husband, an example of meekness and long
suffering, and, for my part, I wish to be generous, too. You should be a
tippler, since you are a soldier, and it shall not be said that I left
you to die of thirst in the sight of twenty empty bottles. Drink!”

And with these words he raised the cup to his lips and, after wetting
them with the liquor which it contained, flung the rest into the marble
face, bursting into a boisterous peal of laughter to see how the wine
splashed down over the tomb from the carven beard of the motionless
warrior.

“Captain,” exclaimed at that point one of his comrades in a tone of
raillery, “take heed what you do. Bear in mind that these jests with the
stone people are apt to cost dear. Remember what happened to the Fifth
Hussars in the monastery of Poblet. The story goes that the warriors of
the cloister laid hand to their granite swords one night and gave plenty
of occupation to those merry fellows who had amused themselves by
adorning them with charcoal mustaches.”

The young revellers received this report with roars of laughter, but the
captain, heedless of their mirth, continued, his mind fixed ever on the
same idea.

“Do you think that I would have given him the wine, had I not known that
he would swallow at least as much as fell upon his mouth? Oh, no! I do
not believe like you that these statues are mere blocks of marble as
inert to-day as when hewed from the quarry. Undoubtedly the artist, who
is always a god, gives to his work a breath of life which is not
powerful enough to make the figure move and walk, but which inspires it
with a strange, incomprehensible life, a life which I do not fully
explain to myself, but which I feel, especially when I am a little
drunk.”

“Magnificent!” exclaimed his comrades. “Drink and continue!”

The officer drank and, fixing his eyes upon the image of Doña Elvira,
went on with mounting excitement:

“Look at her! Look at her! Do you not note those changing flushes of her
soft, transparent flesh? Does it not seem that beneath this delicate
alabaster skin, azure-veined and tender, circulates a fluid of
rose-colored light? Would you wish more life, more reality?”

“Oh, but yes, by all means,” said one of those who was listening. “We
would have her of flesh and bone.”

“Flesh and bone! Misery and corruption!” exclaimed the captain. “I have
felt in the course of an orgy my lips burn, and my head. I have felt
that fire which runs boiling through the veins like the lava of a
volcano, that fire whose dim vapors trouble and confuse the brain and
conjure up strange visions. Then the kiss of these material women burned
me like a red-hot iron, and I thrust them from me with displeasure, with
horror and with loathing; for then, as now, I needed for my fevered
forehead a breath of the sea-breeze, to drink ice and to kiss snow, snow
tinted by mellow light, snow illumined by a golden ray of sunshine,--a
woman white, beautiful and cold, like this woman of stone who seems to
allure me with her ethereal grace, to sway like a flame--who challenges
me with parted lips, offering me a wealth of love. Oh, yes, a kiss! Only
a kiss of thine can calm the fire which is consuming me.”

“Captain!” exclaimed some of the officers, on seeing him start toward
the statue as if beside himself, his gaze wild and his steps reeling.
“What mad foolery would you commit? Enough of jesting! Leave the dead in
peace.”

The young host did not even hear the warnings of his friends;
staggering, groping his way, he reached the tomb and approached the
statue of Doña Elvira, but as he stretched out his arms to clasp it, a
cry of horror resounded through the temple. With blood gushing from
eyes, mouth and nostrils, he had fallen prone, his face crushed in, at
the foot of the sepulchre.

The officers, hushed and terrified, dared not take one step forward to
his aid.

At the moment when their comrade strove to touch his burning lips to
those of Doña Elvira, they had seen the marble warrior lift its hand
and, with a frightful blow of the stone gauntlet, strike him down.



THE SPIRITS’ MOUNTAIN


On All Souls’ Night I was awakened, I knew not at what hour, by the
tolling of bells; their monotonous, unceasing sound brought to mind this
tradition which I heard a short time ago in Soria.

I tried to sleep again. Impossible! The imagination, once roused, is a
horse that runs wild and cannot be reined in. To pass the time, I
decided to write the story out, and so in fact I did.

I had heard it in the very place where it originated and, as I wrote, I
sometimes glanced behind me with sudden fear, when, smitten by the cold
night air, the glass of my balcony crackled.

Make of it what you will,--here it goes loose, like the mounted horseman
in a Spanish pack of cards.


I.

“Leash the dogs! Blow the horns to call the hunters together, and let us
return to the city. Night is at hand,--the Night of All Souls, and we
are on the Spirits’ Mountain.”

“So soon!”

“Were it any day but this, I would not give up till I had made an end of
that pack of wolves which the snows of the Moncayo have driven from
their dens; but to-day it is impossible. Very soon the Angelus will
sound in the monastery of the Knights Templars, and the souls of the
dead will commence to toll their bell in the chapel on the mountain.”

“In that ruined chapel! Bah! Would you frighten me?”

“No, fair cousin; but you are not aware of all that happens hereabout,
for it is not yet a year since you came hither from a distant part of
Spain. Rein in your mare; I will keep mine at the same pace and tell you
this story on the way.”

The pages gathered together in merry, boisterous groups; the Counts of
Bórges and Alcudiel mounted their noble steeds, and the whole company
followed after the son and daughter of those great houses, Alonso and
Beatriz, who rode at some little distance in advance of the company.

As they went, Alonso related in these words the promised tradition:

“This mountain, which is now called the Spirits’ Mountain, belonged to
the Knights Templars, whose monastery you see yonder on the river bank.
The Templars were both monks and warriors. After Soria had been wrested
from the Moors, the King summoned the Templars here from foreign lands
to defend the city on the side next to the bridge, thus giving deep
offense to his Castilian nobles, who, as they had won Soria alone, would
alone have been able to defend it.

“Between the knights of the new and powerful Order and the nobles of the
city there fermented for some years an animosity which finally developed
into a deadly hatred. The Templars claimed for their own this mountain,
where they reserved an abundance of game to satisfy their needs and
contribute to their pleasures; the nobles determined to organize a great
hunt within the bounds notwithstanding the rigorous prohibitions of the
_clergy with spurs_, as their enemies called them.

“The news of the projected invasion spread fast, and nothing availed to
check the rage for the hunt on the one side, and the determination to
break it up on the other. The proposed expedition came off. The wild
beasts did not remember it; but it was never to be forgotten by the
many mothers mourning for their sons. That was not a hunting-trip, but a
frightful battle; the mountain was strewn with corpses, and the wolves,
whose extermination was the end in view, had a bloody feast. Finally the
authority of the King was brought to bear; the mountain, the accursed
cause of so many bereavements, was declared abandoned, and the chapel of
the Templars, situated on this same wild steep, friends and enemies
buried together in its cloister, began to fall into ruins.

“They say that ever since, on All Souls’ Night, the chapel bell is heard
tolling all alone, and the spirits of the dead, wrapt in the tatters of
their shrouds, run as in a fantastic chase through the bushes and
brambles. The deer trumpet in terror, wolves howl, snakes hiss horribly,
and on the following morning there have been seen clearly marked in the
snow the prints of the fleshless feet of the skeletons. This is why we
call it in Soria the Spirits’ Mountain, and this is why I wished to
leave it before nightfall.”

Alonso’s story was finished just as the two young people arrived at the
end of the bridge which admits to the city from that side. There they
waited for the rest of the company to join them, and then the whole
cavalcade was lost to sight in the dim and narrow streets of Soria.


II.

The servants had just cleared the tables; the high Gothic fireplace of
the palace of the Counts of Alcudiel was shedding a vivid glow over the
groups of lords and ladies who were chatting in friendly fashion,
gathered about the blaze; and the wind shook the leaded glass of the
ogive windows.

Two persons only seemed to hold aloof from the general
conversation,--Beatriz and Alonso. Beatriz, absorbed in a vague revery,
followed with her eyes the capricious dance of the flames. Alonso
watched the reflection of the fire sparkling in the blue eyes of
Beatriz.

Both maintained for some time an unbroken silence.

The duennas were telling gruesome stories, appropriate to the Night of
All Souls,--stories in which ghosts and spectres played the principal
rôles, and the church bells of Soria were tolling in the distance with a
monotonous and mournful sound.

“Fair cousin,” finally exclaimed Alonso, breaking the long silence
between them. “Soon we are to separate, perhaps forever. I know you do
not like the arid plains of Castile, its rough, soldier customs, its
simple, patriarchal ways. At various times I have heard you sigh,
perhaps for some lover in your far-away demesne.”

Beatriz made a gesture of cold indifference; the whole character of the
woman was revealed in that disdainful contraction of her delicate lips.

“Or perhaps for the grandeur and gaiety of the French capital, where you
have lived hitherto,” the young man hastened to add. “In one way or
another, I foresee that I shall lose you before long. When we part, I
would like to have you carry hence a remembrance of me. Do you recollect
the time when we went to church to give thanks to God for having granted
you that restoration to health which was your object in coming to this
region? The jewel that fastened the plume of my cap attracted your
attention. How well it would look clasping a veil over your dark hair!
It has already been the adornment of a bride. My father gave it to my
mother, and she wore it to the altar. Would you like it?”

“I do not know how it may be in your part of the country,” replied the
beauty, “but in mine to accept a gift is to incur an obligation. Only on
a holy day may one receive a present

[Illustration: A MOUNTAIN PASS]

from a kinsman,--though he may go to Rome without returning
empty-handed.”

The frigid tone in which Beatriz spoke these words troubled the youth
for a moment, but, clearing his brow, he replied sadly:

“I know it, cousin, but to-day is the festival of All Saints, and yours
among them,--a holiday on which gifts are fitting. Will you accept
mine?”

Beatriz slightly bit her lip and put out her hand for the jewel, without
a word.

The two again fell silent and again heard the quavering voices of the
old women telling of witches and hobgoblins, the whistling wind which
shook the ogive windows, and the mournful, monotonous tolling of the
bells.

After the lapse of some little time, the interrupted dialogue was thus
renewed:

“And before All Saints’ Day ends, which is holy to my saint as well as
to yours, so that you can, without compromising yourself, give me a
keepsake, will you not do so?” pleaded Alonso, fixing his eyes on his
cousin’s, which flashed like lightning, gleaming with a diabolical
thought.

“Why not?” she exclaimed, raising her hand to her right shoulder as
though seeking for something amid the folds of her wide velvet sleeve
embroidered with gold. Then, with an innocent air of disappointment, she
added:

“Do you recollect the blue scarf I wore to-day to the hunt,--the scarf
which you said, because of something about the meaning of its color, was
the emblem of your soul?”

“Yes.”

“Well! it is lost! it is lost, and I was thinking of letting you have it
for a souvenir.”

“Lost! where?” asked Alonso, rising from his seat with an indescribable
expression of mingled fear and hope.

“I do not know,--perhaps on the mountain.”

“On the Spirits’ Mountain!” he murmured, paling and sinking back into
his seat. “On the Spirits’ Mountain!”

Then he went on in a voice choked and broken:

“You know, for you have heard it a thousand times, that I am called in
the city, in all Castile, the king of the hunters. Not having yet had a
chance to try, like my ancestors, my strength in battle, I have brought
to bear on this pastime, the image of war, all the energy of my youth,
all the hereditary ardor of my race. The rugs your feet tread on are the
spoils of the chase, the hides of the wild beasts I have killed with my
own hand. I know their haunts and their habits; I have fought them by
day and by night, on foot and on horseback, alone and with
hunting-parties, and there is not a man will say that he has ever seen
me shrink from danger. On any other night I would fly for that
scarf,--fly as joyously as to a festival; but to-night, this one
night--why disguise it?--I am afraid. Do you hear? The bells are
tolling, the Angelus has sounded in San Juan del Duero, the ghosts of
the mountain are now beginning to lift their yellowing skulls from amid
the brambles that cover their graves--the ghosts! the mere sight of them
is enough to curdle with horror the blood of the bravest, turn his hair
white, or sweep him away in the stormy whirl of their fantastic chase as
a leaf, unwitting whither, is carried by the wind.”

While the young man was speaking, an almost imperceptible smile curled
the lips of Beatriz, who, when he had ceased, exclaimed in an
indifferent tone, while she was stirring the fire on the hearth, where
the wood blazed and snapped, throwing off sparks of a thousand colors:

“Oh, by no means! What folly! To go to the mountain at this hour for
such a trifle! On so dark a night, too, with ghosts abroad, and the road
beset by wolves!”

As she spoke this closing phrase, she emphasized it with so peculiar an
intonation that Alonso could not fail to understand all her bitter
irony. As moved by a spring, he leapt to his feet, passed his hand over
his brow as if to dispel the fear which was in his brain, not in his
breast, and with firm voice he said, addressing his beautiful cousin,
who was still leaning over the hearth, amusing herself by stirring the
fire:

“Farewell, Beatriz, farewell. If I return, it will be soon.”

“Alonso, Alonso!” she called, turning quickly, but now that she
wished--or made show of wishing--to detain him, the youth had gone.

In a few moments she heard the beat of a horse’s hoofs departing at a
gallop. The beauty, with a radiant expression of satisfied pride
flushing her cheeks, listened attentively to the sound which grew
fainter and fainter until it died away.

The old dames, meanwhile, were continuing their tales of ghostly
apparitions; the wind was shrilling against the balcony glass, and far
away the bells of the city tolled on.


III

An hour had passed, two, three; midnight would soon be striking, and
Beatriz withdrew to her chamber. Alonso had not returned; he had not
returned, though less than an hour would have sufficed for his errand.

“He must have been afraid!” exclaimed the girl, closing her prayer-book
and turning toward her bed after a vain attempt to murmur some of the
prayers that the church offers for the dead on the Day of All Souls.

After putting out her light and drawing the double silken curtains, she
fell asleep; but her sleep was restless, light, uneasy.

The Postigo clock struck midnight. Beatriz heard through her dreams the
slow, dull, melancholy strokes, and half opened her eyes. She thought
she had heard, at the same time, her name spoken, but far, far away, and
in a faint, suffering voice. The wind groaned outside her window.

“It must have been the wind,” she said, and pressing her hand above her
heart, she strove to calm herself. But her heart beat ever more wildly.
The larchwood doors of the chamber grated on their hinges with a sharp
creak, prolonged and strident.

First these doors, then the more distant ones,--all the doors which led
to her room opened, one after another, some with a heavy, groaning
sound, some with a long wail that set the nerves on edge. Then silence,
a silence full of strange noises, the silence of midnight, with a
monotonous murmur of far-off water, the distant barking of dogs,
confused voices, unintelligible words, echoes of footsteps going and
coming, the rustle of trailing garments, half-suppressed sighs, labored
breathing almost felt upon the face, involuntary shudders that announce
the presence of something not seen, though its approach is felt in the
darkness.

Beatriz, stiffening with fear, yet trembling, thrust her head out from
the bed-curtains and listened a moment. She heard a thousand diverse
noises; she passed her hand across her brow and listened again; nothing,
silence.

She saw, with that dilation of the pupils common in nervous crises, dim
shapes moving hither and thither all about the room, but when she fixed
her gaze on any one point, there was nothing but darkness and
impenetrable shadows.

“Bah!” she exclaimed, again resting her beautiful head upon her blue
satin pillow, “am I as timid as these poor kinsfolk of mine, whose
hearts thump with terror under their armor when they hear a
ghost-story?”

And closing her eyes she tried to sleep,--but her effort to compose
herself was in vain. Soon she started up again, paler, more uneasy,
more terrified. This time it was no illusion; the brocade hangings of
the door had rustled as they were pushed to either side, and slow
footsteps were heard upon the carpet; the sound of those footsteps was
muffled, almost imperceptible, but continuous, and she heard, keeping
measure with them, a creaking as of dry wood or bones. And the footfalls
came nearer, nearer; the prayer-stool by the side of her bed moved.
Beatriz uttered a sharp cry, and burying herself under the bedclothes,
hid her head and held her breath.

The wind beat against the balcony glass; the water of the far-off
fountain was falling, falling, with a monotonous, unceasing sound; the
barking of the dogs was borne upon the gusts, and the church bells in
the city of Soria, some near, some remote, tolled sadly for the souls of
the dead.

So passed an hour, two, the night, a century, for that night seemed to
Beatrix eternal. At last the day began to break; putting fear from her,
she half opened her eyes to the first silver rays. How beautiful, after
a night of wakefulness and terrors, is the clear white light of dawn!
She parted the silken curtains of her bed and was ready to laugh at her
past alarms, when suddenly a cold sweat covered her body, her eyes
seemed starting from their sockets, and a deadly pallor overspread her
cheeks; for on her prayer-stool she had seen, torn and blood-stained,
the blue scarf she lost on the mountain, the blue scarf Alonso went to
seek.

When her attendants rushed in, aghast, to tell her of the death of the
heir of Alcudiel, whose body, partly devoured by wolves, had been found
that morning among the brambles on the Spirits’ Mountain, they
discovered her motionless, convulsed, clinging with both hands to one of
the ebony bedposts, her eyes staring, her mouth open, the lips white,
her limbs rigid,--dead, dead of fright!


IV.

They say that, some time after this event, a hunter who, having lost his
way, had been obliged to pass the Night of the Dead on the Spirits’
Mountain, and who in the morning, before he died, was able to relate
what he had seen, told a tale of horror. Among other awful sights, he
avowed he beheld the skeletons of the ancient Knights Templars and of
the nobles of Soria, buried in the cloister of the chapel, rise at the
hour of the Angelus with a horrible rattle and, mounted on their bony
steeds, chase, as a wild beast, a beautiful woman, pallid, with
streaming hair, who, uttering cries of terror and anguish, had been
wandering, with bare and bloody feet, about the tomb of Alonso.



THE CAVE OF THE MOOR’S DAUGHTER


I.

Opposite the Baths of Fitero, on a rocky, precipitous eminence, at whose
base flows the river Alhama, there may be seen to this day the abandoned
ruins of a Moorish castle celebrated in the glorious memories of the
Reconquest as having been the theatre of great and famous exploits, as
well on the part of the defenders as of those who valiantly nailed to
its parapets the standard of the Cross.

Of the walls there remain only some scattered ruins; the stones of the
watch-tower have fallen one above another into the moat, filling it to
the top; in the court-of-arms grow briers and patches of yellow mustard;
in whatever direction you look, you see only broken arches, blackened
and crumbling blocks of stone; here a section of the barbican in whose
fissures springs the ivy, there a round tower, standing yet, as by a
miracle; further on, pillars of cement with the iron rings which
supported the drawbridge.

During my stay at the Baths, partly for exercise, which I was assured
would be conducive to my health, and partly from curiosity, I strolled
every afternoon along the rough path that leads to the ruins of the Arab
fortress. There I passed hours and hours, closely scanning the ground in
the hope of discovering some fragments of armor, beating the walls to
find out whether they were hollow and might be the hiding place of
treasure, and investigating all the nooks and crannies with the idea of
hitting upon the entrance to some of those underground cells which are
believed to exist in all Moorish castles.

My diligent search was, after all, a fruitless one.

But yet, one afternoon, when I had quite despaired of discovering
anything new and curious on the rocky height crowned by the castle and
had given up the climb, limiting my walk to the banks of the river which
flows by its foot, I saw, as I walked along by the stream, a sort of
gaping hole in the living rock, half hidden by thickly-leaved bushes.
Not without a little tremor, I parted the branches covering the entrance
to what seemed a natural cave, but what I perceived, after advancing a
few steps, was a subterranean vault narrowing to the mouth. Not being
able to penetrate to the end, which was lost in darkness, I confined
myself to observing attentively the peculiarities of the arch and of the
pavement that appeared to me to rise in great stairs toward the height
on which stood the castle I have mentioned, and in whose ruins I then
remembered having seen a closed-up trap door. Doubtless I had discovered
one of those secret passages so common in the fortifications of that
epoch, serving for covert sallies, or for bringing, in state of siege,
water from the river which flows hard by.

That I might be more sure of the truth of my inferences, after I had
come out from the cave by the same way in which I had entered, I fell
into conversation with a workman who was pruning some vines in that
rough region and whom I accosted under pretence of asking a light for my
cigarette.

We talked of various matters: the medicinal properties of the waters of
Fitero; the last harvest and the next; the women of Navarre and the
cultivation of vines; indeed, we talked of everything which occurred to
the sociable body before we spoke of the cave, the object of my
curiosity.

When, at last, the conversation had reached this point, I asked him if
he knew of any one who had gone through it, and seen the other end.

“Gone through the cave of the Moor’s Daughter!” he

[Illustration: A MOUNTAIN GROTTO]

repeated, astonished at hearing such a question. “Who would dare? Do you
not know that from this cave there comes out, every night, _a ghost_?”

“A ghost!” I exclaimed, smiling. “Whose ghost?”

“The ghost of the daughter of a Moorish chief, she who yet wanders
mourning about these places and is seen every night coming out of this
cave, robed in white, and filling at the river a water-jar.”

Through this good fellow I learned that there was a tradition clinging
to this Arab castle and the vault which I believed to communicate with
it. And as I am a most willing hearer of all these legends, especially
from the lips of the neighbor-folk, I begged him to relate it to me, and
so he did, almost in the very words in which I in turn am going to
relate it to my readers.


II.

When the castle, of which there remain to-day only a few shapeless
ruins, was still held by the Moorish kings, and its towers, not one
stone now left upon another, commanded from their lofty site all that
most fertile valley watered by the river Alhama, there was fought near
the town of Fitero a hotly contested battle in which a famous Christian
knight, as worthy of renown for his piety as for his valor, fell,
wounded, into the hands of the Arabs.

Taken to the fortress and loaded with irons by his enemies, he was for
some days in the depths of a dungeon struggling between life and death,
until, healed as if miraculously of his wounds, he was redeemed by his
kindred with a ransom of gold.

The captive returned to his home,--returned to clasp to his breast those
who had given him being. His brothers-in-arms and his men-of-war were
overjoyed to see him, supposing that he would sound the call to new
combat, but the soul of the knight had become possessed by a deep
melancholy, and neither the endearments of parental love nor the
assiduities of friendship could dissipate his strange gloom.

During his imprisonment he had managed to see the daughter of the
Moorish chief, rumors of whose beauty had already reached his ears. But
when he beheld her, he found her so superior to the idea he had formed
of her that he could not resist the fascination of her charms and fell
desperately in love with one who could never be his bride.

Months and months were spent by the knight in devising the most daring,
most absurd plans; now he would imagine some way of breaking the
barriers that separated him from that woman; again, he would make the
utmost efforts to forget her; to-day he would decide on one course of
action and to-morrow he would resolve on another absolutely different.
At last, one morning, he called together his brothers and
companions-in-arms, summoned his men-of-war, and after having made, with
the greatest secrecy, all necessary preparations, fell suddenly upon the
fortress which sheltered the beautiful being who was the object of his
insensate love.

On setting out on this expedition, all believed that their commander was
moved only by eagerness to avenge himself for the sufferings he had
endured loaded with irons in the dungeon depth, but after the fortress
was taken, the true cause of that reckless enterprise, in which so many
good Christians had perished to contribute to the satisfaction of an
unworthy passion, was hid from none.

The knight, intoxicated with the love which he had at last succeeded in
kindling in the breast of the beautiful Moorish girl, gave no heed to
the counsels of his friends, and was deaf to the murmurs and complaints
of his soldiers. One and all were clamoring to go out as soon as
possible from those walls, upon which it was natural that the Arabs,
recovered from the panic of the surprise, would fall anew.

And this, in fact, was what took place. The Moorish chief called
together the Arabs from all about; and, one morning, the look-out who
was stationed in the watch-tower of the keep went down to announce to
the infatuated lovers that over all the mountain range which was
discernible from that summit, such a cloud of warriors was descending
that he was convinced all Mohammedanism was going to fall upon the
castle.

The Moor’s daughter, hearing this, stood still, pale as death; the
knight shouted for his arms, and everything was put in motion in the
fortress. The soldiers rushed out tumultuously from their quarters; the
captains began to give orders; the portcullis was lowered; the
drawbridge was raised, and the battlements were manned with archers.

After some hours, the assault began.

The castle might well be called impregnable. Only by surprise, as the
Christians had taken it, could it be overcome. So its defenders resisted
one, two, and even ten onsets.

The Moors, seeing the uselessness of their efforts, contented themselves
with closely surrounding the castle, that they might bring its defenders
to capitulation through famine.

Hunger began, indeed, to make frightful ravages among the Christians,
but, knowing that once the castle was surrendered, the price of the life
of its defenders would be the head of their leader, no one would betray
him, and the very soldiers who had reprobated his conduct swore to
perish in his defence.

The Moors, waxing impatient, resolved to make a fresh assault in the
middle of the night. The attack was furious; the defence, desperate; the
encounter, horrible. During the combat, the Moorish chief, his forehead
cleft by an axe, fell into the moat from the top of the wall to which he
had succeeded in climbing by the aid of a scaling ladder.
Simultaneously the knight received a mortal stroke in the breach of the
barbican where men were fighting hand to hand in the darkness.

The Christians began to give way and fell back. At this point, the
Moorish girl bent over her lover, who lay in deathlike swoon on the
ground and, taking him in her arms, with a strength born of desperation
and the sense of peril, she dragged him to the castle court. There she
touched a spring and through a passage disclosed by a stone, which rose
as if supernaturally moved, she disappeared with her precious burden and
began to descend until she reached the bottom of the vault.


III.

When the knight recovered consciousness, he cast a wandering glance
about him, crying: “I thirst! I die! I burn!” And in his delirium,
precursor of death, from his dry lips, through which whistled the
difficult breath, came only these words of agony: “I thirst! I burn!
Water! Water!”

The Moorish girl knew that there was an opening from that vault to the
valley through which the river flows. The valley and all the heights
which overlook it were full of Moslem soldiers, who, the fortress now
surrendered, were vainly seeking everywhere the knight and his beloved
to satiate on them their thirst for destruction; yet she did not
hesitate an instant, but taking the helmet of the dying man, she slipped
like a shadow through the thicket which covered the mouth of the cave
and went down to the river bank.

Already she had dipped up the water and was rising to return to the side
of her lover, when an arrow hissed and a cry resounded.

Two Arab archers who were on watch near the fortress had drawn their
bows in the direction in which they heard the foliage rustle.

The Moor’s daughter, mortally wounded, yet succeeded in dragging herself
to the entrance of the vault and down into its depths where she joined
the knight. He, on seeing her bathed with blood and at the point of
death, recovered his reason and, realizing the enormity of the sin which
demanded so fearful an expiation, raised his eyes to heaven, took the
water which his beloved offered him and, without lifting it to his lips,
asked the Moorish girl: “Would you be a Christian? Would you die in my
faith and, if I am saved, be saved with me?” The Moor’s daughter, who
had fallen to the ground, faint with loss of blood, made a slight
movement of her head, and upon it the knight poured the baptismal water,
invoking the name of the Almighty.

The next day the soldier who had shot the arrow saw a trace of blood on
the river bank and, following it, went into the cave where he found the
dead bodies of the cavalier and his beloved, who, ever since, come out
at night to wander through these parts.



THE GNOME


The young girls of the village were returning from the fountain with
their water-jars on their heads; they were returning with song and
laughter, a merry confusion of sound comparable only to the gleeful
twitter of a flock of swallows when, thick as hail, they circle around
the weather-vane of a belfry.

Just in front of the church porch, seated at the foot of a juniper tree,
was Uncle Gregorio. Uncle Gregorio was the patriarch of the village; he
was nearly ninety years old, with white hair, smiling lips, roguish eyes
and trembling hands. In childhood he had been a shepherd; in his young
manhood, a soldier; then he tilled a little piece of fruitful land
inherited from his parents, until at last his strength was spent and he
sat tranquilly awaiting death which he neither dreaded nor longed for.
Nobody retailed a bit of gossip more spicily than he, nor knew more
marvellous tales, nor could bring so neatly to bear an old refrain,
proverb or adage.

The girls, on seeing him, quickened their steps, eager for his talk, and
when they were in the porch they all began to tease him for a story to
pass away the time still left them before nightfall--not much, for the
setting sun was slanting his rays across the earth, and the shadows of
the mountains grew larger moment by moment all along the plain.

Uncle Gregorio smiled as he listened to the pleading of the lasses, who,
having once coaxed from him a promise to tell them something, let down
their water-jars upon the ground, and sitting all about him, made a
circle with the patriarch in the centre; then he began to talk to them
after this fashion:

“I will not tell you a story, for though several come into my mind this
minute, they have to do with such weighty matters that the attention of
a group of giddypates, like you, would never hold out to the end;
besides, with the afternoon so nearly gone, I would not have time to
tell them through. So I will give you instead a piece of good counsel.”

“Good counsel!” exclaimed the girls with undisguised vexation. “Bah! it
isn’t to hear good counsel that we are stopping here; when we have need
of that, his Reverence the priest will give it to us.”

“But perhaps,” went on the old man with his habitual smile, speaking in
his broken, tremulous voice, “his Reverence the priest will not know how
to give you, this once, such timely advice as Uncle Gregorio; for the
priest, busy with his liturgies and litanies, will not have noticed, as
I have noticed, that every day you go earlier to the fountain and come
back later.”

The girls looked at one another with hardly perceptible smiles of
derision, while some of those who were placed behind Uncle Gregorio
touched finger to forehead, accompanying the action with a significant
gesture.

“And what harm do you find in our lingering at the fountain to chat a
minute with our friends and neighbors?” asked one of them. “Do slanders,
perhaps, go about the village because the lads step out on to the road
for a pleasant word or two, or come offering to carry our water-jars
till we are in sight of the houses?”

“Ay, people talk,” replied the old man to the girl who had asked him the
question for them all. “The old dames of the village murmur that to-day
the girls resort for fun and frolic to a spot whither they used to go
swiftly and in fear to draw the water, since only there can water be
had; and I find it much amiss that you are losing little by little the
dread which the vicinity of the fountain inspires in all your
elders,--for so it might come to pass that some time the night should
overtake you there.”

Uncle Gregorio spoke these last words in a tone so full of mystery that
the lasses opened wide their frightened eyes to look at him, and with
blended curiosity and mischief, again pressed their questions:

“The night! But what goes on in that place by night that you should
scare us so and throw out such dark and dreadful hints of what might
befall? Do you think the wolves will eat us?”

“When the Moncayo is covered with snow, the wolves, driven from their
dens, come down in packs and range over its slope; more than once we
have heard them howling in horrible concert, not only in the
neighborhood of the fountain, but in the very streets of the village;
yet the wolves are not the most terrible tenants of the Moncayo; in its
deep and dark caverns, on its wild and lonely summits, in its hollow
heart there live certain diabolical spirits that, during the night, pour
down its cascades in swarms and people the empty spaces, thronging like
ants upon the plain, leaping from rock to rock, sporting in the waters
and swinging on the bare boughs of the trees. It is these spirits that
cry from the clefts of the crags, that roll up and push along those
immense snowballs which come rolling down from the lofty peaks and sweep
away and crush whatever they find in their path,--theirs are the voices
calling in the hail at our windows on stormy nights,--theirs the forms
that flit like thin, blue flames over the marshes. Among these
spirits--who, driven from the lowlands by the sacred services and
exorcisms of the Church, have taken refuge on the inaccessible crests of
the mountains,--are those of diverse natures, that on appearing to our
eyes clothe themselves in

[Illustration: GIRLS AT THE FOUNTAIN]

varied forms. Yet the most dangerous, those who with sweet words win
their way into the hearts of maidens and dazzle them with magnificent
promises, are the gnomes. The gnomes live in the inner recesses of the
mountains; they know their subterranean roads and, eternal guardians of
the treasures hidden in the heart of the hills, they keep watch day and
night over the veins of metal and the precious stones. Do you see--”
continued the old man, pointing with the stick which served him for a
prop to the summit of the Moncayo, that rose at his right, looming dark
and gigantic against the misted, violet sky of twilight--“do you see
that mighty mass still crowned with snow? In its deep cavities these
diabolical spirits have their dwellings. The palace they inhabit is
terrible and glorious to see. Many years ago a shepherd, following some
stray of his flock, penetrated into the mouth of one of those caves
whose entrances are covered by thick growths of bushes and whose outlets
no man has ever seen. When he came back to the village, he was pale as
death; he had surprised the secret of the gnomes; he had breathed their
poisonous atmosphere, and he paid for his rashness with his life; but
before he died he related marvellous things. Going on along that cavern,
he had come at last to vast subterranean galleries lighted by a fitful,
fantastic splendor shed from the phosphorescence in the rocks, which
there were like great boulders of quartz crystallized into a thousand
strange, fantastic forms. The floor, the vaulted ceiling and the walls
of those immense halls, the work of nature, seemed variegated like the
richest marbles; but the veins which crossed them were of gold and
silver, and among those shining veins, as if incrusted in the rock, were
seen jewels, a multitude of precious stones of all colors and sizes.
There were jacinths and emeralds in heaps, and diamonds and rubies, and
sapphires and--how should I know?--many other gems unrecognized--more
than he could name but all so great and beautiful that his eyes dazzled
at the sight. No noise of the outer world reached the depths of that
weird cavern; the only perceptible sounds were, at intervals, the
prolonged and pitiful groans of the air which blew through that
enchanted labyrinth, a vague roar of subterranean fire furious in its
prison, and murmurs of running water which flowed on not knowing whither
they went. The shepherd, alone and lost in that immensity, wandered I
know not how many hours without finding any outlet, until at last he
chanced upon the source of a spring whose murmur he had heard. This
broke from the ground like a miraculous fountain, a leap of foam-crowned
water that fell in an exquisite cascade, singing a silver song as it
slipped away through the crannies of the rocks. About him grew plants
that he had never seen, some with wide, thick leaves, and others
delicate and long like floating ribbons. Half hidden in that humid
foliage were running about a number of extraordinary creatures, some of
them manlike, some reptilian, or both at once, changing shape
continually, at one moment appearing like human beings, deformed and
tiny, the next like gleaming salamanders or fugitive flames that danced
in circles above the tip of the fountain-jet. There, darting in all
directions, running across the floor in form of repugnant, hunchbacked
dwarfs, scrambling up the walls, wriggling along, reptile-shaped, in
their slime, dancing like Will-o-the-wisps on the pool of water, went
the gnomes, the lords of those recesses, counting over and shifting from
place to place their fabulous riches. They know where misers store those
treasures which, afterwards, the heirs seek in vain; they know the spot
where the Moors, before their flight, hid their jewels; and the
ornaments which are lost, the money that is missing, everything that has
value and disappears, they search for, find and steal, to hide in their
caves, for they know how to go to and fro through all the world by
secret, unimagined paths beneath the earth. So there they were keeping
stored up in heaps all manner of rare and precious things. There were
jewels of inestimable worth; chains and necklaces of pearls and
exquisite gems; golden jars of classic form, full of rubies; chiseled
cups, armor richly wrought, coins with images and superscriptions that
it is no longer possible to recognize or decipher; treasures, in short,
so fabulous and limitless that scarcely may imagination picture them.
And all glittered together, flashing out such vivid sparks of light and
color that it seemed as if the whole hoard were on fire, quivering and
wavering. At least, the shepherd said that so it had seemed to him.” At
this point the old patriarch paused a moment. The girls, who in the
beginning had hearkened to Uncle Gregorio’s story with a mocking smile,
now maintained unbroken silence, hoping that he would go on,--waiting
with frightened eyes, with lips slightly parted, and with curiosity and
interest depicted on their faces. One of them finally broke the hush,
and unable to control herself, exclaimed, fascinated with the account of
the fabulous riches which had met the shepherd’s view:

“And what then? Did he take away nothing out of all that?”

“Nothing,” replied Uncle Gregorio.

“What a silly!” the girls exclaimed in concert.

“Heaven helped him in that moment of peril,” continued the old man, “for
at the very instant when avarice, the ruling passion, began to dispel
his fear and, bewitched by the sight of those jewels, one alone of which
would have made him wealthy, the shepherd was about to possess himself
of some small share of that treasure, he says he heard--listen and
marvel--clear and distinct in those profound abodes,--despite the shouts
of laughter and harsh voices of the gnomes, the roar of the subterranean
fire, the murmur of running water and the laments of the imprisoned
air, he heard, I say, as if he had been at the foot of the hill where it
stands, the pealing of the bell in the hermitage of Our Lady of the
Moncayo.

“On hearing the bell, which was ringing the _Ave Maria_, the shepherd
fell to his knees, calling on the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and
instantly, without knowing the means nor the way, he found himself on
the outside of the mountain, near the road which leads to the village,
thrown out on a footpath and overwhelmed by a great bewilderment as if
he had just been startled out of a dream.

“Since then everybody has understood why our village fountain sometimes
has in its waters a glint as of very fine gold-dust; and when night
falls, vague words are heard in its murmur, flattering words with which
the gnomes, that defile it from its source, try to entice the foolhardy
who lend them ear, promising them riches and treasures that are bound to
be the destruction of their souls.”

When Uncle Gregorio had reached this point in his relation, night had
fallen and the church bell commenced to call to prayer. The girls
crossed themselves devoutly, repeating in low voices an _Ave Maria_, and
after bidding good-night to Uncle Gregorio, who again counselled them
not to tarry at the fountain, each picked up her water-jar and all went
forth, silent and musing, from the churchyard. They were already far
from the spot where they had found the old man, and had, indeed, reached
the central square of the village whence they were to go their several
ways, before the more resolute and decided of them all broke out with
the question:

“Do you girls believe any of that nonsense Uncle Gregorio has been
telling us?”

“Not I,” said one.

“Nor I,” exclaimed another.

“Nor I! nor I!” chimed in the rest, laughing at their momentary
credulity.

The group of lasses melted away, each taking her course toward one or
another side of the square. Last of all, when the others had disappeared
down the better streets that led out from this market-place, two girls,
the only ones who had not opened their lips to make fun of Uncle
Gregorio’s veracity, but who, still musing on the marvellous tale,
seemed absorbed in their own meditations, went away together, with the
slow step natural to people deep in thought, by a dismal, narrow,
crooked alley.

Of those two girls, the elder, who seemed to be some twenty years old,
was called Marta; and the younger, who had not yet finished her
sixteenth year, Magdalena.

As long as the walk lasted, both kept complete silence; but when they
reached the threshold of their home and had set down their water-jars on
the stone bench by the door, Marta said to Magdalena: “And do you
believe in the marvels of the Moncayo and the spirits of the fountain?”
“Yes,” answered Magdalena simply, “I believe it all. But you, perhaps,
have doubts?” “Oh, no!” Marta hastily interrupted. “I, too, believe
everything, everything--that I wish to believe.”


II.

Marta and Magdalena were sisters. Orphans from early childhood, they
were living wretchedly under the protection of a kinswoman of their
mother,--a kinswoman who had taken them in for charity and who at every
step made them feel, by her taunting and humiliating words, the weight
of their obligation. Everything would seem to tend toward tightening the
knot of love between those two sister souls,--not merely the bond of
blood, but those of poverty and suffering, and yet there existed between
Marta and Magdalena a mute rivalry, a secret antipathy explicable only
by a study of their characters, as utterly contrasted as were their
physical types.

Marta was overbearing, strong in her passions and of a rough directness
in the expression of her feelings; she did not understand either
laughter or tears, and so had never wept nor laughed. Magdalena, on the
other hand, was gentle, affectionate, kind, and more than once had been
seen to laugh and weep together, as children do.

Marta’s eyes were blacker than night and from under her dark lashes
there sometimes seemed to leap fiery sparks as from a burning coal.

The blue eyes of Magdalena appeared to swim in liquid light behind the
golden curve of her blond lashes. And everything in them was in keeping
with the different expression of their eyes. Marta, thin, pale, tall,
stiff of movement, her dark, crisp hair shading her brow and falling
upon her shoulders like a velvet mantle, formed a singular contrast to
Magdalena, white and pink, _petite_, with the rounded face and figure of
babyhood, and with golden tresses encircling her temples like the gilded
halo about the head of an angel.

Despite the inexplicable repulsion which each felt for the other, the
two sisters had lived up to this time on terms of indifference that
might have been mistaken for peace and affection; there had been no
caresses to quarrel over, nor partialities to envy; equal in misfortune
and affliction, Marta, withdrawn into herself, had borne her troubles in
a proud, self-centered silence; and Magdalena, finding no response in
her sister’s heart, would weep alone when the tears involuntarily rushed
into her eyes.

They had not a sentiment in common; they never confided to one another
their joys and griefs, and yet the only secret which each had striven to
hide in the depths of her soul had been divined by the other with the
marvelous instinct of love and jealousy. Marta and Magdalena had in fact
set their hearts on one and the same man.

The passion of the one was a stubborn desire, born of a wilful and
indomitable character; in the other, love was manifest in that vague,
spontaneous tenderness of youth, which, needing an object on which to
spend itself, takes the first that comes. Both guarded the secret of
their love, for the man who had inspired it would perchance have made
mock of a devotion which could be interpreted as an absurd ambition in
penniless girls of lowly birth. Both, despite the distance which
separated them from their idol, cherished a faint hope of winning him.

Hard by the village, and above a height which dominated the country
round about, there was an ancient castle abandoned by its owners. The
old women, in their evening gossips, would relate a marvellous story
about its founders. They told how the King of Aragon, finding himself at
war with his enemies, his resources exhausted, forsaken by his allies
and on the point of losing the throne, was sought out one day by a
shepherdess of those parts, who, after revealing to him the existence of
certain subterranean passages by means of which he could go through the
Moncayo without being perceived by his enemies, gave him a treasure in
fine pearls, precious stones of the richest, and bars of gold and
silver; with these the king paid his troops, raised a mighty army and,
marching beneath the earth one whole night long, fell the next day upon
his adversaries and routed them, establishing the crown securely on his
head.

After he had won so distinguished a victory, the story goes that the
king said to the shepherdess: “Ask of me what thou wilt, and even though
it be the half of my kingdom, I swear I will give it thee on the
instant.”

“I wish no more than to go back to the keeping of my flock,” replied
the shepherdess. “Thou shalt keep only my frontiers,” rejoined the king,
and he gave her lordship over all the boundary, and bade her build a
stronghold in the town nearest the borders of Castile; here dwelt the
shepherdess, married to one of the king’s favorites, a husband noble,
gallant, valiant and, as well, lord over many fortresses and many fiefs.

The astonishing account given by Uncle Gregorio of the Moncayo gnomes,
whose secret haunt was in the village fountain, set soaring anew the
wild dreams of the two enamored sisters, for it formed a sequel, so to
speak, to the hitherto unexplained tradition of the treasure found by
the fabled shepherdess--treasure whose remembered gleam had troubled
more than once their wakeful, embittered nights, flashing before their
imaginations like a fragile ray of hope.

The evening following their afternoon meeting with Uncle Gregorio, all
the other girls of the village chatted in their homes about the
wonderful story he had told them. Marta and Magdalena preserved an
unbroken silence, and neither that evening, nor throughout the following
day, did they exchange a single word on this matter, the theme of all
the talk throughout the hamlet and text of all the neighbors’
commentaries.

At the usual hour, Magdalena took her water-jar and said to her sister:
“Shall we go to the fountain?” Marta did not answer, and Magdalena said
again: “Shall we go to the fountain? If we do not hurry, the sun will
have set before we are back.” Marta finally replied shortly and roughly:
“I don’t care about going to-day.” “Neither do I,” rejoined Magdalena
after an instant of silence during which she kept her eyes fastened on
those of her sister, as if she would read in them the cause of her
resolution.


III.

For nearly an hour the village girls had been back in their homes. The
last glow of sunset had faded on the horizon, and the night was
beginning to close in more and more darkly, when Marta and Magdalena,
each avoiding the other, left the hamlet by different paths in the
direction of the mysterious fountain. The fountain welled up in a hidden
nook among some steep, mossy rocks at the further end of a deep grove.
Now that the sounds of the day had ceased little by little, and no
longer was heard the distant echo of voices from the laborers who return
home in knightly fashion, mounted on their yoked oxen and trolling out
songs to the accompaniment of the beam of the plough they go dragging
over the ground,--now that the monotonous clang of the sheep-bells had
gone beyond hearing, together with the shouts of the shepherds and the
barking of their dogs gathering the flocks together,--now that there had
sounded in the village-tower the last peal of the call to prayers, there
reigned august that double silence of night and solitude, a silence full
of strange, soft murmurs making it yet more perceptible.

Marta and Magdalena slipped through the labyrinth of the trees and,
sheltered by the darkness, arrived without seeing each other at the far
end of the grove. Marta knew no fear; her steps were firm and
unfaltering. Magdalena trembled at the mere rustle made by her feet as
they trod upon the dry leaves carpeting the ground. When the two sisters
were close to the fountain, the night wind began to stir the branches of
the poplars, and to their uneven, sighing whispers the springing water
seemed to make answer with a steady, regular murmur.

Marta and Magdalena lent attention to those soft noises of the
night,--those that flowed beneath their feet like a continuous ripple
of laughter, and those that floated above their heads like a lament
rising and falling only to rise again and spread through the foliage of
the grove. As the hours went on, that unceasing sound of the air and of
the water began to produce in them a strange exaltation, a kind of
dizziness that, clouding the eyes and humming in the ears, seemed to
confuse them utterly. Then as one hears in dreams the far, vague echo of
speech, they seemed to perceive, amid those nameless noises,
inarticulate sounds as of a child who would call his mother and cannot;
then words repeated over and over, always the same; then disconnected,
inconsequent phrases, without order or meaning, and at last--at last the
wind wandering among the trees, and the water leaping from rock to rock,
commenced to speak.

And they spoke thus:

THE WATER.

Woman!--woman!--hear me!--hear me and draw near that thou mayst hear me,
and I will kiss thy feet while I tremble to copy thine image in the
shadowy depth of my waves. Woman!--hear how my murmurs are words.

THE WIND.

Maiden!--Gentle maiden, lift thine head, let me give thy brow the kiss
of peace, while I stir thy tresses. Gentle maiden, listen to me, for I,
too, know how to speak and I will murmur in thine ear phrases of
tenderness.

MARTA.

Oh, speak! Speak, and I will understand, for my mind floats in a dizzy
maze, as float those dim words of thine.

Speak, mysterious stream.

MAGDALENA.

I am afraid. Air of night, air of perfumes, refresh my burning brow!
Tell me what may inspire me with courage, for my spirit wavers.

THE WATER.

I have crossed the dark hollow of the earth, I have surprised the secret
of its marvellous fecundity, and I know the phenomena of its inner
parts, whence springs the life to be.

My murmur lulls to sleep and awakens. Awaken thou that thou mayst
comprehend it.

THE WIND.

I am the air which the angels, as they traverse space, set in motion
with their mighty wings. I mass up in the west the clouds that offer to
the sun a bed of purple, and I shed at dawn, from the mists that vanish
into drops, a pearly dew over the flowers. My sighs are a balm: open
thine heart and I will flood it with bliss.

MARTA.

When for the first time I heard the murmur of a subterranean stream, not
in vain did I bow myself to the earth, lending it ear. With it there
went a mystery which at last it should be mine to understand.

MAGDALENA.

Sighs of the wind, I know you well: you used to caress me, a dreaming
child, when, spent with weeping, I gave myself up to slumber, and your
soft breathings would seem to me the words of a mother who sings her
child to sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

The water ceased from speech for a few moments and made no other noise
than that of water breaking on rocks. The wind was voiceless, too, and
its sound was no other than the sound of blowing leaves. So passed some
time, and then they spoke again, and thus they spoke:

THE WATER.

Since I came filtering, drop by drop, through the vein of gold in an
inexhaustible mine; since I came running along a bed of silver and
leaping, as over pebbles, amid innumerable sapphires and amethysts,
bearing on with me, in lieu of sands, diamonds and rubies, I have joined
myself in mystic union to a spirit of the earth. Enriched by his power
and by the occult virtues of the precious stones and metals, saturated
with whose atoms I come, I can offer thee the utmost reach of thine
ambitions. I have the force of an incantation, the power of a talisman,
and the virtue of the seven stones and the seven colors.

THE WIND.

I come from wandering over the plain, and as the bee that returns to the
hive with its booty of sweet honey, I bring with me woman’s sighs,
children’s prayers, words of chaste love, and aromas of nard and wild
lilies. I have gathered in my journey no more than fragrances and echoes
of harmonies; my treasures are not material, but they give peace of soul
and the vague happiness of pleasant dreams.

       *       *       *       *       *

While her sister, drawn on and on as by a spell, was leaning over the
margin of the fountain to hear better, Magdalena was instinctively
moving away, withdrawing from the steep rocks in whose midst bubbled the
spring.

Both had their eyes fixed, the one on the depth of the waters, the other
on the depth of the sky.

And Magdalena exclaimed, seeing the astral splendors overhead: “These
are the halos of the invisible angels who have us in their keeping.”

At the same instant Marta was saying, seeing the reflection of the stars
tremble in the clear waters of the fountain: “These are the particles of
gold which the stream gathers in its mysterious course.”

The fountain and the wind, after a second brief period of silence, spoke
again and said:

THE WATER.

Trust thyself to my current, cast from thee fear as a coarse garment,
and dare to cross the threshold of the unknown. I have divined that thy
soul is of the essence of the higher spirits.

Envy perchance hath thrust thee out of heaven to plunge thee into the
mire of mortal misery. Yet I see in thy darkened brow a seal of pride
that renders thee worthy of us, spirits strong and free.--Come; I am
going to teach thee magic words of such virtue that as thou speakest
them the rocks will open and allure thee with the diamonds that are in
their hearts, as pearls are in the shells which fishermen bring up from
the bottom of the sea. Come! I will give thee treasures that thou mayst
live in joy, and later, when the cell that imprisons thee is shattered,
thy spirit shall be made like unto our own, which are human spirits, and
all in one we shall be the motive force, the vital ray of the universe,
circulating like a fluid through its subterranean arteries.

THE WIND.

Water licks the earth and lives in the mud; I roam the ether and fly in
limitless space. Follow the impulses of thy heart; let thy soul rise
like flame and the azure spirals of smoke. Wretched is he who, having
wings, descends to the depths to seek for gold, while he might mount to
the heights for love and sympathy.

Live hidden as the violet, and I will give thee in a fruitful kiss the
living seed of another, sister flower, and I will rend the clouds that
there may not be lacking a sunbeam to illume thy joy. Live obscure, live
unheeded, and when thy spirit is set free, I will lift it on a rosy
cloud up to the world of light.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wind and wave were hushed, and there appeared the gnome.

The gnome was like a transparent pigmy, a sort of dwarf all made of
light, as a Will-o-the-wisp; it laughed hugely, but without noise, and
leapt from rock to rock, making one dizzy with its giddy antics.
Sometimes it plunged into the water and kept on shining in the depths
like a precious stone of myriad colors; again it leapt to the surface,
and tossed its feet and its hands, and swung its head from one side to
the other with a rapidity that was little short of prodigious.

Marta had seen the gnome and was following him with a bewildered gaze in
all his extravagant evolutions; and when the diabolical spirit darted
away at last into the craggy wilds of the Moncayo, like a running flame,
shaking out sparks from its hair, she felt an irresistible attraction
and rushed after it in frantic chase.

_Magdalena!_ at the same instant called the breeze, slowly withdrawing;
and Magdalena, moving step by step like a sleep-walker guided in slumber
by a friendly voice, followed the zephyr, which was softly blowing over
the plain.

When all was done, again there was silence in the dusky grove, and the
wind and the water kept on, as ever, with sounds as of murmuring and
sighing.


IV.

Magdalena returned to the hamlet pale and full of amazement. They waited
in vain for Marta all that night.

On the afternoon of the following day, the village girls found a broken
water-jar at the margin of the fountain in the grove. It was Marta’s
water-jar; nothing more was ever known of her. Since then the girls go
for water so early that they rise with the sun. A few have assured me
that by night there has been heard, more than once, the weeping of
Marta, whose spirit lives imprisoned in the fountain. I do not know what
credit to give to this last part of the story, for the truth is that
since that night nobody has dared penetrate into the grove to hear it
after the ringing of the _Ave Maria_.



THE MISERERE


Some months since, while visiting the celebrated abbey of Fitero and
entertaining myself by turning over a few volumes in its neglected
library, I discovered, stowed away in a dark corner, two or three old
books of manuscript music, covered with dust and gnawed at the edges by
rats.

It was a _Miserere_.

I do not read music, but it attracts me so that, even though I do not
understand it, I sometimes take up the score of an opera and pore over
its pages for hours, looking at the groups of notes more or less crowded
together, the dashes, the semi-circles, the triangles and that sort of
_et cetera_ called keys, and all this without comprehending an iota or
deriving the slightest profit.

After this foolish habit of mine, I turned over the leaves of the
music-books, and the first thing which attracted my attention was the
fact that, although on the last page stood that Latin word so common in
all compositions, _finis_, the _Miserere_ was not concluded, for the
music did not go beyond the tenth verse of the psalm.

This it was, undoubtedly, that arrested my attention first; but as soon
as I scanned the pages closely, I was still more surprised to observe
that instead of the Italian words commonly used, such as _maestoso_,
_allegro_, _ritardando_, _piu vivo_, _à piacere_, there were lines of
very small German script written in, some of which called for things as
difficult to do as this: “_They crack--crack the bones, and from their
marrow must the cries seem to come forth_;” or this other: “_The chord
shrieketh, yet in unison; the tone thundereth, yet without deafening;
for all that hath sound soundeth, and there is no confusion, and all is
humanity that sobbeth and groaneth_;” or what was certainly the most
original of all, enjoined just under the last verse: “_The notes are
bones covered with flesh; light inextinguishable, the heavens and their
harmony--force!--force and sweetness._”

“Do you know what this is?” I asked of the old friar who accompanied me,
after I had half translated these lines, which seemed like phrases
scribbled by a lunatic.

My aged guide then told me the legend which I now pass on to you.


I.

Many years ago, on a dark and rainy night, a pilgrim arrived at the
cloister door of this abbey and begged for a little fire to dry his
clothes, a morsel of bread to appease his hunger, and a shelter, however
humble, till the morning, when he would resume his journey at dawn.

The lay-brother of whom this request was made placed his own meagre
repast, his own poor bed and his glowing hearth at the service of the
traveller, to whom, after he had recovered from his exhaustion, were put
the usual questions as to the purpose of his pilgrimage and the goal to
which his steps were bent.

“I am a musician,” replied the stranger. “I was born far from here, and
in my own country I enjoyed a day of great renown. In my youth I made of
my art a powerful weapon of seduction and I enkindled with it passions
which drew me on to crime. In my old age I would use for good the
talents which I have employed for evil, redeeming my soul by the very
means that have brought it into danger of the judgment.”

As the enigmatic words of the unknown guest did not seem at all clear
to the lay-brother, whose curiosity was now becoming aroused, he was
moved to press his questions further, obtaining the following response:

“I was ever weeping in the depths of my soul for the sin that I had
committed; but when I tried to pray to God for mercy, I could find no
adequate words to utter my repentance, until one day my eyes chanced to
fall upon a holy book. I opened that book and on one of its pages I met
with a giant cry of true contrition, a psalm of David, commencing:
_Miserere mei, Domine!_ From the instant in which I read those verses my
one thought has been to find a musical expression so magnificent, so
sublime, that it would suffice as a setting for the Royal Psalmist’s
mighty hymn of anguish. As yet I have not found it; but if I ever attain
to the point of expressing what I feel in my heart, what I hear
confusedly in my brain, I am sure of writing a _Miserere_ so marvellous
in beauty that the sons of men will have heard no other like unto it, so
desperate in grief that, as its first strains rise to heaven, the
archangels, their eyes flooded with tears, will with me cry out unto the
Lord, beseeching _Mercy_; and the Lord will be merciful to his unhappy
creature.”

The pilgrim, on reaching this point in his narrative, paused for an
instant, and then, heaving a sigh, took up again the thread of his
story. The lay-brother, a few dependents of the abbey, and two or three
shepherds from the friars’ farm--these who formed the circle about the
hearth--listened to him in the deepest silence.

“After travelling over all Germany,” he continued, “all Italy and the
greater part of this country whose sacred music is classic, I have not
yet heard a _Miserere_ that can give me my inspiration, not one,--not
one, and I have heard so many that I may say I have heard them all.”

“All?” broke in one of the upper shepherds. “But you have not heard,
have you, the _Miserere_ of the Mountain?”

[Illustration: A MONASTERY COURT]

“The _Miserere_ of the Mountain!” exclaimed the musician with an air of
amazement. “What _Miserere_ is that?”

“Didn’t I say so?” muttered the peasant under his breath, and then went
on in a mysterious tone: “This _Miserere_, which is only heard, as
chance may fall, by those who, like myself, wander day and night
following the sheep through the thickets and over the rocky hills, is,
in fact, a tradition, a very old tradition; yet incredible as it seems,
it is no less true.

“The case is that, in the most rugged part of yonder mountain chains
which bound the horizon of this valley in whose bosom the abbey stands,
there used to be, many years ago--why do I say many years!--many
centuries, rather, a famous monastery. This monastery, it seems, was
built at his own cost by a lord with the wealth that he would naturally
have left to his son, whom on his death-bed he disinherited, as a
punishment for the young profligate’s evil deeds.

“So far, all had gone well; but the trouble is that this son, who, from
what will be seen further on, must have been the skin of the Devil, if
not the Devil himself, learning that his goods were in the possession of
the monks, and that his castle had been transformed into a church,
gathered together a crew of banditti, comrades of his in the ruffian
life he had taken up on forsaking his father’s house, and one Holy
Thursday night, when the monks would be in the choir, and at the very
hour and minute when they would be just beginning or would have just
begun the _Miserere_, these outlaws set fire to the monastery, sacked
the church, and willy-nilly, left not a single monk alive.

“After this atrocity, the banditti and their leader went away, whither
no one knows, perhaps to hell.

“The flames reduced the monastery to ashes; of the church there still
remain standing the ruins upon the hollow crag whence springs the
cascade that after leaping down from rock to rock, forms the rill which
comes to bathe the walls of this abbey.”

“But,”--interrupted the musician impatiently, “the _Miserere_?”

“Wait a while,” said the shepherd with great deliberation, “and all will
be told in proper order.” Vouchsafing no further reply, he continued his
story:

“The people of all the country round about were shocked at the crime; it
was related with horror in the long winter evenings, handed down from
father to son, and from son to grandson; but what tends most of all to
keep it fresh in memory is that every year, on the anniversary of that
night when the church was burned, lights are seen shining out through
its shattered windows, and there is heard a sort of strange music, with
mournful, terrible chants that are borne at intervals upon the gusts of
wind.

“The singers are the monks, who, slain perchance before they were ready
to present themselves pure of all sin at the Judgment Seat of God, still
come from Purgatory to implore His mercy, chanting the _Miserere_.”

The group about the fire exchanged glances of incredulity; but the
pilgrim, who had seemed to be vitally interested in the recital of the
tradition, inquired eagerly of the narrator:

“And do you say that this marvel still takes place?”

“It will begin without fail in less than three hours, for the precise
reason that this is Holy Thursday night, and the abbey clock has just
struck eight.”

“How far is the monastery from here?”

“Barely a league and a half,--but what are you doing?” “Whither would
you go on a night like this?” “Have you fallen from the shelter of God’s
hand?” exclaimed one and another as they saw the pilgrim, rising from
his bench and taking his staff, leave the fireplace and move toward the
door.

“Whither am I going? To hear this miraculous music, to hear the great,
the true _Miserere_, the _Miserere_ of those who return to the world
after death, those who know what it is to die in sin.”

And so saying, he disappeared from the sight of the amazed lay-brother
and the no less astonished shepherds.

The wind shrilled without and shook the doors as if a powerful hand were
striving to tear them from their hinges; the rain fell in torrents,
beating against the window-panes, and from time to time a
lightning-flash lit up for an instant all the horizon that could be seen
from there.

After the first moment of bewilderment had passed the lay-brother
exclaimed:

“He is mad.”

“He is mad,” repeated the shepherds and, replenishing the fire, they
gathered closely around the hearth.


II.

After walking for an hour or two, the mysterious personage, to whom they
had given the degree of madman in the abbey, by following upstream the
course of the rill which the story-telling shepherd had pointed out to
him, reached the spot where rose the blackened, impressive ruins of the
monastery.

The rain had ceased; the clouds were drifting in long, dark masses, from
between whose shifting shapes there glided from time to time a furtive
ray of doubtful, pallid light; and one would say that the wind, as it
lashed the strong buttresses and swept with widening wings through the
deserted cloisters, was groaning in its flight. Yet nothing
supernatural, nothing extraordinary occurred to strike the imagination.
To him who had slept more nights than one without other shelter than
the ruins of an abandoned tower or a lonely castle,--to him who in his
far pilgrimage had encountered hundreds on hundreds of storms, all those
noises were familiar.

The drops of water which filtered through the cracks of the broken
arches and fell upon the stones below with a measured sound like the
ticking of a great clock; the hoots of the owl, screeching from his
refuge beneath the stone nimbus of an image still standing in a niche of
the wall; the stir of the reptiles that, wakened from their lethargy by
the tempest, thrust out their misshapen heads from the holes where they
sleep, or crawled among the wild mustard and the briers that grow at the
foot of the altar, rooted in the crevices between the sepulchral slabs
that form the pavement of the church,--all those strange and mysterious
murmurs of the open country, of solitude and of night, came perceptibly
to the ear of the pilgrim who, seated on the mutilated statue of a tomb,
was anxiously awaiting the hour when the marvellous event should take
place.

But still the time went by and nothing more was heard; those myriad
confused noises kept on sounding and combining with one another in a
thousand different ways, but themselves always the same.

“Ah, they have played a joke on me!” thought the musician; but at that
moment he heard a new sound, a sound inexplicable in such a place, like
that made by a clock a few seconds before striking the hour, a sound of
whirring wheels, of stretching cords, of machinery secretly setting to
work and making ready to use its mysterious mechanic vitality, and a
bell rang out the hour--one, two, three, up to eleven.

In the ruined church there was no bell nor clock, not even a bell-tower.

The last peal, lessening from echo to echo, had not yet died away; the
vibration was still perceptible, trembling in the air, when the granite
canopies which overhung the sculptures, the marble steps of the altars,
the hewn stones of the ogee arches, the fretted screens of the choir,
the festoons of trefoil on the cornices, the black buttresses of the
walls, the pavements, the vaulted ceiling, the entire church, began to
be lighted by no visible agency, nor was there in sight torch or lamp or
candle to shed abroad that unwonted radiance.

It suggested a skeleton over whose yellow bones spreads that phosphoric
gas which burns and puts forth fumes in the darkness like a blue light,
restless and terrible.

Everything seemed to be in motion, but with that galvanic movement which
lends to death contractions that parody life, instantaneous movement
more horrible even than the inertia of the corpse which stirs with that
unknown force. Stones reunited themselves to stones; the altar, whose
broken fragments had before been scattered about in disorder, rose
intact, as if the artificer had just given it the last blow of the
chisel, and simultaneously with the altar rose the ruined chapels, the
shattered capitals and the great, crumbled series of arches which,
crossing and interlacing at caprice, formed with their columns a
labyrinth of porphyry.

As soon as the church was rebuilt there grew upon the hearing a distant
harmony which might have been taken for the wailing of the wind, but
which was a chorus of far-off, solemn voices, that seemed to come from
the depths of the earth and rise to the surface little by little,
continually growing more distinct.

The daring pilgrim began to fear, but with his fear still battled his
passion for the bygone and the marvellous, and made valiant by the
strength of his desire, he left the tomb on which he was resting, leaned
over the brink of the abyss, amid whose rocks leapt the torrent, rushing
over the precipice with an incessant and terrifying thunder, and his
hair rose with horror.

Ill wrapped in the tatters of their habits, their cowls, beneath whose
folds the dark eye-cavities of the skulls contrasted with the fleshless
jaws and the white teeth, drawn forward over their heads, he saw the
skeletons of the monks who had been thrown from the battlements of the
church down that headlong steep, emerging from the depth of the waters
and, clutching with the long fingers of their bony hands at the fissures
in the rocks, clamber over them up to the brink, chanting in low,
sepulchral voice, but with a heartrending intonation of anguish, the
first verse of David’s Psalm:

_Miserere mei, Domine, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam!_

When the monks reached the peristyle of the church they arranged
themselves in two rows and, entering, went in procession to the choir
where they knelt in their places, while with voices louder and yet more
solemn they continued to intone the verses of the psalm. The music
sounded in accompaniment to their voices; that music was the distant
roll of the thunder which sank into murmurs as the tempest subsided; it
was the blowing of the wind which groaned in the hollow of the mountain;
it was the monotonous splash of the cascade falling down the crag; and
the drip of the filtered waterdrops, and the hoot of the hidden owl,
and the gliding sound of the uneasy reptiles. All this was in the
music, and something more that cannot be expressed nor scarcely
conceived,--something more that seemed like the echo of an organ
accompanying the verses of the Royal Psalmist’s giant hymn of
contrition, with notes and chords as tremendous as the awful words.

The service proceeded; the musician who witnessed it, absorbed and
terrified as he was, believed himself to be outside the actual world,
living in that fantastic region of dreams where all things reclothe
themselves in phenomenal and alien forms.

A terrible shock came to rouse him from that stupor which was clogging
all the faculties of his mind. His nerves sprang to the thrill of a
mighty emotion, his teeth chattered, shaking with a tremor he could in
no wise repress, and the chill penetrated to the marrow of his bones.

At that instant the monks were intoning those dread words of the
_Miserere_:

_In iniquitatibus conceptus sum; et in peccatis concepit me mater mea._

As the thunder of this verse went rolling in sonorous echo from vault to
vault, there arose a terrible outcry which seemed a wail of agony
breaking from all humanity for its sense of sin, a horrible wail made up
of all the laments of the unfortunate, all the shrieks of despair, all
the blasphemies of the impious, a monstrous consonance, fit interpreter
of those who live in sin and were conceived in iniquity.

The chant went on, now sad and deep, now like a sunbeam which breaks
through the dark storm cloud, succeeding the lightning-flash of terror
by another flash of joy, until by grace of a sudden transformation the
church stood resplendent, bathed in celestial light; the skeletons of
the monks were again clothed in their flesh, about their brows shone
lustrous aureoles, the roof vanished and above was seen heaven like a
sea of light open to the gaze of the righteous.

Seraphim, archangels, angels and all the heavenly hierarchy accompanied
with a hymn of glory this verse, which then rose sublime to the throne
of the Lord like the rhythmical notes of a trumpet, like a colossal
spiral of sonorous incense:

_Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam, et exultabunt ossa humiliata._

At this point the dazzling brightness blinded the pilgrim’s eyes, his
temples throbbed violently, there was a roaring in his ears, he fell
senseless to the ground and heard no more.


III.

On the following day, the peaceful monks of the Abbey of Fitero, to whom
the lay-brother had given an account of the strange visit of the night
before, saw the unknown pilgrim, pallid and like a man beside himself,
entering their doors.

“Did you hear the _Miserere_ at last?” the lay-brother asked him with a
certain tinge of irony, slyly casting a glance of intelligence at his
superiors.

“Yes,” replied the musician.

“And how did you like it?”

“I am going to write it. Give me a refuge in your house,” he continued,
addressing the abbot, “a refuge and bread for a few months, and I will
leave you an immortal work of art, a _Miserere_ which shall blot out my
sins from the sight of God, eternize my memory, and with it the memory
of this abbey.”

The monks, out of curiosity, counselled the abbot to grant his request;
the abbot, for charity, though he believed the man a lunatic, finally
consented; and the musician, thus installed in the monastery, began his
work.

Night and day he labored with unremitting zeal. In the midst of his task
he would pause and appear to be listening to something which sounded in
his imagination; his pupils would dilate and he would spring from his
seat exclaiming: “That is it; so; so; no doubt about it--so!” And he
would go on writing notes with a feverish haste which more than once
made those who kept him under secret observation wonder.

He wrote the first verses, and those following to about the middle of
the Psalm; but when he had written the last verse that he had heard upon
the mountain, it was impossible for him to proceed.

He made one, two, one hundred, two hundred rough drafts; all in vain.
His music was not like the music already written. Sleep fled from his
eyelids, he lost his appetite, fever seized upon his brain, he went mad,
and died, at last, without being able to finish the _Miserere_, which,
as a curiosity, the monks treasured till his death, and even yet
preserve in the archives of the abbey.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the old man had made an end of telling me this story, I could not
refrain from turning my eyes again to the dusty, ancient manuscript of
the _Miserere_, which still lay upon one of the tables.

_In peccatis concepit me mater mea._

These were the words on the page before me, seeming to mock me with
their notes, their keys and their scrawls unintelligible to lay-brothers
in music.

I would have given a world to be able to read them.

Who knows if they may not be mere nonsense?



STRANGE


I.

We were taking tea in the house of a lady who is a friend of mine, and
the talk turned upon the social dramas which develop from act to act,
unheeded of the world,--dramas with whose leading characters we have
been acquainted, if indeed we have not ourselves played a part in one or
another of their scenes.

Among numerous other persons whom I do not remember, there was a girl of
the blonde type, fair and slender, who, if she had had a lapful of
flowers in place of the blear-eyed little dog that growled half hidden
in the wide folds of her skirt, might have been compared without
exaggeration to Shakespeare’s Ophelia.

So pure was the white of her forehead, the azure of her eyes.

Conversing with the fair girl was a young man, who stood with one hand
resting on the _causeuse_ of blue velvet where she sat and the other
caressing the precious trinkets of his gold chain. In his affected
pronunciation a slight foreign accent was noticeable, despite the fact
that his look and bearing were as Spanish as those of the Cid or
Bernardo del Carpio.

A gentleman of mature years, tall, thin, of distinguished and courteous
manners, who seemed seriously preoccupied with the operation of
sweetening to the exact point his cup of tea, completed the group
nearest the fireplace, in whose warmth I sat down to tell this human
history. It seems like a fable, but it is not; one could make a book of
it; I have done so several times in imagination. Nevertheless, I will
tell it in few words, since for him to whom it is given to comprehend
it, these few will be more than enough.

Andrés, for so the hero of my tale was called, was one of those men
whose hearts abound with feeling for which they have found no outlet,
and with love that has no object on which to spend itself.

An orphan almost from his birth, he was left in the care of relatives. I
do not know the details of his childhood; I can only say that whenever
it was mentioned, his face would cloud and he would exclaim, with a
sigh: “That is over now.”

We all say the same, sadly recalling bygone joys. But was this the
explanation of his words? I repeat that I do not know; but I suspect
not.

As soon as he was grown, he launched out into the world. Though I would
not calumniate it, the fact remains that the world for the poor, and
especially for a certain class of the poor, is not a Paradise nor
anything like it. Andrés was, as the saying goes, one of those people
who rise, most days, with nothing to look forward to but twenty-four
hours more. Judge then, my readers, what would be the state of a spirit
all idealism, all love, put to the no less difficult than prosaic task
of seeking our daily bread.

Yet sometimes, sitting on the edge of his lonely bed, his elbows on his
knees and his head between his hands, he would exclaim:

“If I only had something to love with all my heart! A wife, a horse,
even a dog!”

As he had not a copper to spare, it was not possible for him to get
anything,--not any object on which to satisfy his hunger to love. This
waxed to such a point that in its acute attacks he came to feel an
affection for the wretched closet where he slept, the scanty furniture
that met his needs, his very landlady, that patron saint who was his
evil genius.

This is not at all surprising; Josephus relates that during the siege of
Jerusalem hunger reached such a point that mothers devoured their
children.

There came a day when he was able to secure a very small living wage.
The evening of that day, when he was returning to his boarding-house, on
crossing a narrow street he heard a sort of wail, like the crying of a
new-born child. He had taken but a few steps further after hearing those
doleful sounds, when he exclaimed, stopping short:

“What the deuce is that?”

And he touched with the toe of his shoe a soft object that moved, and
fell again to mewling and whining. It was one of those new-born puppies
that people cast out to the mercy of the rubbish heap.

“Providence has placed it in my path,” said Andrés to himself, picking
it up and wrapping it in the skirt of his coat; and he carried it to his
miserable lodging.

“What now!” grumbled the landlady on seeing him enter with the puppy;
“all we needed was this fresh nuisance in the house. Take it back this
minute to where you found it, or else look up new quarters for the two
of you to-morrow.”

The next day Andrés was turned out of the house, and in the course of
two or three months he left some two hundred more, for the same reason.
But for all these inconveniences, and a thousand others which it is
impossible to detail, he was richly compensated by the intelligence and
affection of the dog, with whom he diverted himself as with a person in
his long hours of solitude and _ennui_. They ate together, they enjoyed
their siestas together, and together they would take a turn in the
Ronda, or go to walk along the Carabanchel road.

Evening gatherings, fashionable promenades, theatres, cafés, places
where dogs are not allowed or would be in the way, were forbidden to our
hero, who sometimes exclaimed from the fulness of his heart, as he
responded to the caresses of his very own:

“Doggy mine! you can do everything but talk.”


II.

It would be wearisome to explain how, but it came to pass that Andrés
somewhat bettered his position, and seeing that he had money in hand, he
said:

“If I only had a wife! But having a wife is very expensive. Men like me,
before choosing a bride, should have a paradise to offer her, and a
paradise in Madrid is worth as much as a man’s eye.--If I could buy a
horse! A horse! There is no animal more noble or more beautiful. How he
would love my dog! what merry times they would have with each other, and
I with both!”

One afternoon he went to the bullfight, and before the entertainment
began, he unpremeditatedly strolled out into the court-yard, where the
horses who had to take part in the contest were waiting, already
saddled.

I do not know whether my readers have ever had the curiosity to go and
see them. For myself, without claiming to be as tender-hearted as the
protagonist of this tale, I can assure you that I have often had a mind
to buy them all. So great was the pity that I felt for them.

Andrés could not fail to experience a most grievous sensation on finding
himself in this place. Some of the horses, with drooping heads,
creatures all skin and bone, their manes rough and dirty, were standing
motionless, awaiting their turn, as if they had a foreboding of the
dreadful death which would put an end, within a few hours, to that
miserable life of theirs; others, half blind, were sniffing about for
the rack and eating, or, tearing the ground with the hoof and snorting
wildly, were struggling to pull themselves loose and flee from the peril
which they scented with horror. And all those animals had been young and
beautiful. What aristocratic hands had patted their necks! What
affectionate voices had urged on their speed! And now all was blows from
one side, oaths from the other, and death at last, death in terrible
agony accompanied by jests and hisses!

“If they think at all,” said Andrés, “what will these animals think at
the core of their dim intelligence, when in the middle of the ring they
bite their tongues and expire with a frightful spasm? Truly the
ingratitude of man is sometimes inconceivable.”

He was startled out of those reflections by the rough voice of one of
the _picadores_, who was swearing and cursing while he tested the legs
of one of the horses, striking the butt-end of his lance against the
wall. The horse did not seem entirely contemptible; apparently it was
crazy or had some mortal disease.

Andrés thought of buying it. As for the cost, it ought not to cost much;
but how about its keep? The _picador_ plunged the spur into its flank
and started to ride toward the gate of the ring; our youth wavered for
an instant and then stopped him. How he did it, I do not know; but in
less than a quarter of an hour he had induced the horseman to leave the
beast behind, had hunted up the contractor, made his bargain for the
horse and taken it away.

I suppose it is superfluous to say that on that afternoon he did not see
the bullfight.

He led off the horse in triumph; but the horse, in fact, was or appeared
to be crazy.

“Use plenty of stick on him,” said one authority.

“Don’t give him much to eat,” advised a blacksmith.

The horse was still unruly. “Bah!” at last exclaimed his owner. “Let him
eat what he likes and do as he chooses.” The horse was not old, and now
began to fatten and grow more docile. It is true that he still had his
whims, and that nobody but Andrés could mount him; but his master said:
“So I shall not be teased to lend him; and as for his oddities, each of
us will get accustomed to those of the other.” And they came to such a
good understanding that Andrés knew when the horse felt like doing a
thing and when not, and as for the horse, the voice of his master was
enough to make him take a leap, stand still, or set off at a gallop,
swift as a hurricane.

Of the dog we need say nothing; he came to be so friendly with his new
comrade that neither could go out, even to drink, without the other.
From this time on, when Andrés set off at a gallop in a cloud of dust on
the Carabanchel road, with his dog frisking along beside him, dashing
ahead to turn back and hunt for him, or letting him pass to scamper up
and overtake him, he believed himself the happiest of men.

Time went by; our young man was rich, or almost rich.

One day, after a long gallop, he alighted, tired out, near a tree and
stretched himself in its shade.

It was a spring day, bright and blue,--one of those days in which men
breathe voluptuously the warm air impregnated with passion, in which the
blowing of the wind comes to the ear like distant harmonies, in which
the clear horizons are outlined in gold, and there float before our eyes
shining motes of I know not what, motes like transparent forms that
follow us, encompass us and intoxicate us with sadness and with
happiness at once.

“I dearly love these two beings,” exclaimed Andrés as he reclined there
stroking his dog with one hand and with the other giving to his horse a
handful of grass, “dearly; but yet there is a vacancy in my heart which
has never been filled; I still have it in me to lavish a love greater,
holier, purer. Decidedly I need a wife.”

At that moment there passed along the road a young girl with a water-jar
upon her head.

Andrés was not thirsty, but yet he begged a drink of water. The girl
stopped to offer it to him, and did so with such gentle grace that our
youth comprehended perfectly one of the most patriarchal episodes of the
Bible.

“What is your name?” he asked when he had drunk.

“Placida.”

“And what do you do with yourself?”

“I am the daughter of a merchant who died ruined and persecuted for his
political opinions. After his death, my mother and I retired to a
hamlet, where we get on very badly with a pension of three _reales_
[fifteen cents a day] for all our living. My mother is ill, and
everything comes on me.”

“And why haven’t you married?”

“I don’t know; in the village they say that I am good for nothing about
work, that I am very delicate, very much the _señorita_.”

The girl, with a courteous good-bye, moved away.

While she was still in sight, Andrés watched her retreating form in
silence; when she was lost to view, he said with the satisfaction of one
who solves a problem:

“This is the woman for me.”

He mounted his horse and, followed by his dog, took his way to the
village. He promptly made the acquaintance of the mother and, almost as
soon, utterly lost his heart to the daughter. When at the end of a few
months she was left an orphan, he married her, a man in love with his
wife, which is one of the greatest blessings life affords.

To marry, and to set up housekeeping in a country mansion situated in
one of the most picturesque spots of his native land, was the work of a
few days.

When he saw himself in this residence, rich, with his wife, his dog and
his horse, he had to rub his eyes; he thought he must be dreaming. So
happy, so perfectly happy was poor Andrés.


IV.

So he lived for a period of several years, in divine bliss, when one
afternoon he thought he noticed that some one was prowling about his
house, and later he surprised a man fitting his eye to the key-hole of
one of the garden-doors.

“There are robbers about,” he said. And he determined to inform the
nearest town, where there was a brace of civil guards.

“Where are you going?” asked his wife.

“To the town.”

“What for?”

“To inform the civil guards that I suspect some one is prowling about
our house.”

When his wife heard that, she paled slightly. He, giving her a kiss,
continued:

“I am going on foot, for it is not far. Good-bye till I come again.”

On passing through the court-yard to reach the gate, he stepped into the
stable a moment, looked his horse over and, patting him, said:

“Good-bye, old fellow, good-bye; to-day you shall rest, for yesterday I
put you to your paces.”

The horse, who was accustomed to go out every day with his master,
whinnied sadly on hearing him depart.

When Andrés was about to leave the premises, the dog began to frolic for
joy.

“No, you are not coming with me,” he exclaimed, speaking as if the dog
would understand. “When you go to the town, you bark at the boys and
chase the hens, and some fine day somebody will give you such a blow
that you will have no spirit left to go back for another. Don’t let him
out until I am gone,” he continued, addressing a servant, and he shut
the gate that the dog might not follow him.

He had taken the turn in the road before he ceased hearing the prolonged
howls.

He went to the town, despatched his business, had a pleasant half-hour
with the _alcalde_, chatting of this and that, and returned home. On
reaching the neighborhood of his estate, he was greatly surprised that
the dog did not come out to welcome him, the dog that on other
occasions, as if aware of his movements, would meet him half way down
the road.--He whistles--no response! He enters the outer gates. Not a
servant! “What the deuce is the meaning of this?” he exclaims
disquieted, and proceeds to the house.

Arrived, he enters the court. The first sight that meets his eyes is the
dog stretched in a pool of blood at the stable door. A few pieces of
cloth scattered over the ground, some threads still hanging from his
jaws, covered with crimson foam, witness that he made a good defence and
that in the defence he had received the wounds so thick upon him.

Andrés calls him by his name; the dying dog half opens his eyes, tries
in vain to get upon his feet, feebly wags his tail, licks the hand that
caresses him, and dies.

“My horse! where is my horse?” then exclaimed Andrés with a voice hoarse
and stifled by emotion, as he saw the stall empty and the halter broken.

He dashes thence like a madman; he calls his wife,--no answer; his
servants,--nothing. Beside himself, he rushes over the whole
house,--vacant, abandoned. Again he goes out to the street, sees the
hoof-marks of his horse, his own,--no doubt of it,--for he knows, or
thinks he knows, even the tracks of his cherished animal.

“I understand it all,” he says, as if illumined by a sudden idea. “The
robbers have taken advantage of my absence to accomplish their design,
and they are carrying off my wife to exact of me for her ransom a great
sum of money. Money! my blood, my soul’s salvation, would I give for
her.--My poor dog!” he exclaims, returning to look at him, and then he
starts forth running like a man out of his wits, following the direction
of the hoof-prints.

And he ran, he ran without resting for an instant after those tracks;
one hour, two, three.

“Have you seen,” he asked of everybody, “a man on horseback with a woman
on the crupper?”

“Yes,” they answered.

“Which way did they go?”

“That way.”

And Andrés would gather fresh force and keep on running.

The night commenced to fall. To the same question he had ever the same
reply; and he ran, and he ran, until at last he discerned a village, and
near the entrance, at the foot of a cross which marked the point where
the road divided into two, he saw a group of people, laborers, old men,
boys, who were regarding with curiosity something that he could not
distinguish.

He arrives, puts the same question as ever, and one of the group says:

“Yes, we have had sight of that pair; look! for a clearer trace see the
horse that carried them, who fell here ruptured with running.”

Andrés turns his eyes in the direction they indicated, and indeed sees
his horse, his beloved horse, which some men of the place were preparing
to flay for the sake of its hide. He could scarcely resist his grief,
but recovering himself, he turned again to the thought of his wife.

“And tell me,” he exclaimed impetuously; “how you failed to render aid
to that woman in distress.”

“And didn’t we aid her!” said another of the circle. “Didn’t I sell them
another saddle-horse so that they might press on their way with all the
speed that seemed so important to them!”

“But,” interrupted Andrés, “that woman was stolen away by force; that
man is a bandit, who, regardless of her tears and her laments, drags her
I know not whither.”

The sly rustics exchanged glances and compassionate smiles.

“Not so, _señorito_! what tales are you telling us?” slowly continued
the man with whom he was talking. “Stolen away by force! But how if it
were she herself who said with the greatest earnestness: ‘Quick, quick,
let us flee from this district! I shall not be at rest until it is out
of my sight forever.’”

Andrés comprehended all; a cloud of blood passed before his eyes--eyes
which shed no tear, and he fell to the earth prone as the dead.

He went mad; in a few days, he died.

There was an autopsy; no organic trouble was found. Ah! if it were
possible to dissect the soul, how many deaths similar to this would be
explained!

       *       *       *       *       *

“And did he actually die of that?” exclaimed the youth, who was still
playing with the charms that hung from his watch chain, as I finished my
story.

I glanced at him as if to say: “Does it seem to you so little?” He
continued with a certain air of profundity: “Strange! I know what it is
to suffer; when in the last races my Herminia stumbled, killed the
jockey and broke a leg, the misfortune of that animal vexed me
horribly; but, frankly, not so much as that--not so much as that.”

I was still regarding him with astonishment, when I heard a melodious
and slightly veiled voice, the voice of the girl with the azure eyes.

“Strange, indeed! I love my Medoro dearly,” she said, dropping a kiss on
the snout of the sluggish and blear-eyed lap-dog, who gave a little
grunt, “but if he should die, or somebody should kill him, I do not
believe that I would go mad nor anything like it.”

My astonishment was passing into stupefaction; these people had not
understood me, nor wished to understand me.

Finally I turned to the gentleman who was taking tea, for at his years
he might be expected to be somewhat more reasonable.

“And you? how does it seem to you?” I asked.

“I will tell you,” he replied. “I am married; I loved my wife; I have,
it seems to me, a regard for her still; there came up between us a
domestic unpleasantness, that by its publicity forced me to demand
satisfaction; a duel followed; I had the good luck to wound my
adversary, an excellent fellow, as full of jest and wit as any man
alive, with whom I am still in the habit of taking coffee occasionally
in the Iberia. Since then I have ceased to live with my wife, and have
devoted myself to travel.--When I am in Madrid, I stay with her as a
friend visiting a friend; and all this has taken place without any
violent passions, without any great emotions, without any extraordinary
sufferings. After this slight sketch of my character and of my life,
what shall I say to you about these phenomenal explosions of feeling
except that all this seems to me strange, very strange?”

When he had finished speaking, the blonde girl and the young man who was
making love to her looked over together an album of Gabarni’s
caricatures. In those few moments the elder gentleman treated himself
with exquisite enjoyment to his third cup of tea.

When I called to mind that on hearing the outcome of my story they all
had said--_Strange!_--I for my part exclaimed to myself--_Natural!_



WITHERED LEAVES


The sun had set. The wheeling masses of cloud were hastening to heap
themselves one above another in the distant horizon. The cold wind of
autumn evenings was whirling the withered leaves about my feet.

I was sitting by the side of a road [the road to the cemetery] where
ever there return fewer than those who go.

I do not know of what I was thinking, if, indeed, I was just then
thinking of anything at all. My soul was trembling on the point of
soaring into space, as the bird trembles and flutters its wings before
taking flight.

There are moments in which, thanks to a series of abstractions, the
spirit withdraws from its environment and, self-absorbed, analyzes and
comprehends the mysterious phenomena of the inner life of man.

There are other moments in which the soul slips free from the flesh,
loses its personality, mingles with the elements of nature, relates
itself to their mode of being and translates their incomprehensible
language.

In one of these latter moments was I, when, alone and in the midst of a
clear tract of level ground, I heard talking near me.

The speakers were two withered leaves, and this, a little more or less
exact, was their strange dialogue:

“Whence comest thou, sister?”

“I come from riding on the whirlwind, enveloped in the cloud of dust and
of withered leaves, our companions, all the length of the interminable
plain. And thou?”

“I drifted for a time with the current of the river, until the strong
south wind snatched me up from the mud and reeds of the bank.”

“And whither bound?”

“I know not. Doth perchance the wind that driveth me know?”

“Woe is me! Who would have said that we should end like this, faded and
withered, dragging ourselves along the ground--we who lived clothed in
color and light, dancing in the air?”

“Rememberest thou the beautiful days of our budding--that peaceful
morning when, at the breaking of the swollen sheath which had served us
for a cradle, we unfolded to the gentle kiss of the sun, like a fan of
emeralds?”

“Oh, how sweet it was to be swayed at that height by the breeze,
drinking in through every pore the air and the light!”

“Oh, how beautiful it was to watch the flowing water of the river that
lapped the twisted roots of the ancient tree which sustained us, that
limpid, transparent water, reflecting like a mirror the azure of the
sky, so that we seemed to live suspended between two blue abysses!”

“With what delight we used to peep over the green foliage to see
ourselves pictured in the tremulous stream!”

“How we would sing together, imitating the murmur of the breeze and
following the rhythm of the waves!”

“Brilliant insects would flit about us, spreading their gauzy wings.”

“And the white butterflies and blue dragon-flies, gyrating in strange
circles through the air, would alight for a moment on our dentate edges
to tell each other the secrets of that mysterious love lasting but an
instant and burning up their lives.”

“Each of us was a note in the concert of the groves.”

“Each of us was a tone in their harmony of color.”

“In the silver nights when the moonbeams glided over the mountain tops,
dost remember how we would chat in low voices amid the translucent
shadows?”

“And we would relate in soft whispers stories of the sylphs who swing in
the golden threads that the spiders hang from tree to tree.”

“Until we hushed our murmurous speech to listen enraptured to the
plaints of the nightingale, who had chosen our tree for her throne of
song.”

“And so sad and so tender were her lamenting strains that, though filled
with joy to hear her, the dawn found us weeping.”

“Oh, how sweet were those tears which the dew of night would shed upon
us, and which would sparkle with all the colors of the rainbow in the
first gleam of dawn!”

“Then came the jocund flock of linnets to pour into the grove life and
sound with the gleeful, gay confusion of their songs.”

“And one enamoured pair hung close to us their round nest of straws and
feathers.”

“We served to shelter the little ones from the troublesome rain-drops in
the summer tempests.”

“We served as a canopy to shield them from the fierce rays of the sun.”

“Our life passed like a golden dream from which we had no thought there
could be an awakening.”

“One beautiful afternoon, when everything around us seemed to smile,
when the setting sun was kindling the west and crimsoning the clouds,
and from the earth, touched by the evening damp, were rising exhalations
of life and the perfumes of flowers, two lovers stayed their steps on
the river bank at the foot of our parent tree.”

“Never will that memory fade! She was young, scarcely more than a child,
beautiful and pallid. He asked her tenderly, ‘Why weepest thou?’
‘Forgive this involuntary selfishness,’ she replied, brushing away a
tear; ‘I weep for myself; I weep for the life which is slipping from me.
When the sky is crowned with sunshine and the earth is clothed with
verdure and flowers, and the wind is laden with perfumes, with the songs
of birds and with far-off harmonies, and when one loves and feels
herself beloved, life is good.’ ‘And why wilt thou not live?’ he
insisted, deeply moved, clasping her hands close in his. ‘Because I
cannot. When these leaves, which whisper in unison above our heads, fall
withered, I, too, shall die, and the wind will some day bear away their
dust, and mine--whither, who knoweth?’”

“I heard, and thou did’st hear, and we shuddered and were silent. We
must wither! We must die, and be whirled about by the rushing wind! Mute
and full of terror we remained even till nightfall. O, how terrible was
that night!”

“For the first time the love-lorn nightingale failed at the tryst which
she had enchanted with her mournful lays.”

“Soon the birds flew away, and with them their little ones now clothed
with plumage, and only the nest remained, rocking slowly and sadly, like
the empty cradle of a dead child.”

“And the white butterflies and the blue dragonflies fled, leaving their
place to obscure insects which came to eat away our fibre and to deposit
in our bosoms their nauseous larvae.”

“Oh, and how we shivered, shrinking from the icy touch of the night
frosts!”

“We lost our color and freshness.”

“We lost our pliancy and grace, and what before had been to us like the
soft sound of kisses, like the murmur of love words, now became a harsh,
dry call, unwelcome, dismal.”

“And at last, dislodged, we flew away.”

“Trodden under foot by the careless passers-by, whirled incessantly
from one point to another in the dust and the mire, I accounted myself
happy when I could rest for an instant in the deep rut of a road.”

“I have revolved unceasingly in the grip of the turbid stream; and in
the course of my long travels I saw, alone, in mourning garb and with
clouded brow, gazing absently upon the running waters and the withered
leaves which shared and marked their movement, one of those two lovers
whose words gave us our first presentment of death.”

“She, too, has lost her hold on life, and perchance will sleep in an
open, new-made grave over which I paused a moment.”

“Ah, she sleeps and rests at last; but we, when shall we come to the end
of our long journey?”

“Never!--Even now the wind, which has given us a brief repose, blows
once more, and I feel myself constrained to rise from the ground and
follow. Adieu, sister!”

“Adieu!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The wind, quiet for a moment, whistled again, and the leaves rose in a
whirling confusion, to be lost afar in the darkness of the night.

And then there came to me a thought that I cannot remember and that,
even though I were to remember it, I could find no words to utter.



THE SET OF EMERALDS


We were pausing on the Street of San Jerónimo, in front of Durán’s and
were reading the title of a book by Mery.

As my attention was called to that extraordinary title, and as I spoke
of it to the friend who accompanied me, he, leaning lightly on my arm,
exclaimed: “The day could not be more beautiful. Let us take a turn by
the Fuente Castellana. While we are walking, I will tell you a story in
which I am the principal hero. You will see how, after hearing it, you
will not only understand this title, but will find its explanation the
easiest thing in the world.”

I had plenty to do; but as I am always glad of an excuse for doing
nothing, I accepted the proposition, and my friend began his story as
follows:

“Some time ago, one night when I had set out to stroll the streets,
without any more definite object,--after having examined all the
collections of prints and photographs in the shop-windows, after having
chosen in imagination in front of the Savoyard store the bronzes with
which I would adorn my house, if I had one, after having made a minute
survey, in fine, of all the objects of art and luxury exposed to public
view upon the shelves behind the lighted plate-glass, I stopped a moment
before Samper’s.

“I do not know how long it was that I remained there, adorning, in
fancy, all the pretty women I know, one with a collar of pearls, another
with a cross of diamonds, another with ear-rings of amethyst and gold. I
was deliberating at that point to whom to offer--who would be worthy of
it--a magnificent set of emeralds as rich as it was elegant, which
among all the other jewelled ornaments claimed attention for the beauty
and clearness of its stones, when I heard at my side the softest,
sweetest voice exclaim with an accent which could not fail to put my
fancies to flight: ‘What beautiful emeralds!’

“I turned my head in the direction of that voice, a woman’s voice, for
only so could it have left such an echo, and I confronted, in fact, a
woman supremely beautiful. I could look at her only a moment, and yet
her loveliness made on me a profound impression.

“At the door of the jeweller’s shop from which she had come out, there
was a carriage. She was accompanied by a lady of mature age, too young
to be her mother, too old to be her friend. When both had entered the
_coupé_, the horses started, and I stood like a fool staring after her
until she was lost to sight.

“‘What beautiful emeralds!’ she had said. The emeralds were indeed
superb. That collar, around her snowy neck, would look like a garland of
young almond leaves besprent with dew; that brooch upon her bosom, a
lotus-flower when it sways on its pulsing wave, crowned with foam. ‘What
beautiful emeralds!’ Would she like them, perhaps? And if she would like
them, why not have them? She must be rich, a lady of high rank. She has
an elegant carriage, and on the door of that carriage I thought I saw a
crest. Doubtless in the life of this woman there is some mystery.

“These were the thoughts that agitated my mind after I lost sight of
her,--when not even the sound of her carriage wheels came to my ears.
And truly there was in her life, apparently so peaceful and enviable, a
horrible mystery. I found it out--I will not tell you how.

“Married when a mere child to a profligate who, after squandering his
own fortune, had sought a profitable alliance, as the best means of
squandering another’s, that woman, a model of wives and mothers, had
refused to gratify the least of her caprices that she might save some
part of her inheritance for her daughter and that she might maintain in
outer appearance the dignity of her house at the height which it had
always held in Spanish society.

“People tell of some women’s great sacrifices. I believe that,
considering their peculiar organization, there is none comparable with
the sacrifice of an ardent desire in which vanity and coquetry are
concerned.

“From the time when I penetrated the mystery of her life, all my
aspirations, through one of these freakish enthusiasms of my character,
were reduced to this only,--to get possession of that marvellous set of
jewels and to give it to her in such a way that she could not refuse it,
nor even know from whose hand it might have come.

“Among other difficulties which I at once encountered in the realization
of my idea, assuredly not the least was that I had not money, neither
much nor little, to buy the gems.

“Yet I did not despair.

“‘Where shall I look for money?’ I said to myself, and I remembered the
marvels of _The Thousand and One Nights_; those cabalistic words at
whose echo the earth opened and revealed hidden treasures; those rods of
such rare virtue that, when rocks were smitten by them, there bubbled
from the clefts not a spring of water, which was a small miracle, but
rubies, topazes, pearls and diamonds.

“Being ignorant of the words and not knowing where to find a rod, I
decided at last to write a book and sell it. To get money out of the
rock of a publisher is nothing short of miraculous; but I did it.

“I wrote a book of original quality, which few people liked, as only one
person could understand it; for the rest it was merely a collection of
phrases.

[Illustration: A SEÑORITA

From the painting by F. Goya]

“The book was entitled _The Set of Emeralds_, and I signed it with my
initials only.

“Since I am not Victor Hugo, nor anybody of the sort, I need not tell
you that I did not get for my novel what the author of _Notre Dame de
Paris_ had for his latest; but what with one thing and another I
gathered together a sufficient sum to begin my plan of campaign.

“The emeralds in question would be worth from fourteen to fifteen
thousand dollars, and toward the purchase I now counted up the
respectable sum of one hundred and fifty. It was necessary, then, to
game.

“I gamed; and I gamed with such good sense and good fortune that in a
single night I won what I needed.

“Apropos of gambling, I have made an observation in which every day has
confirmed me more and more. If one puts down his money with the full
expectation of winning, he wins. One must not approach the green table
with the hesitancy of a man who is going to try his luck, but with the
coolness of him who comes to take his own. For myself, I can assure you
that I should have been as much surprised to lose that night as if a
substantial bank had refused me money on a check with Rothschild’s
signature.

“The next day I went to Samper’s. Will you believe that in throwing down
upon the jeweller’s counter that handful of many-colored notes, those
notes which represented for me at least a year of pleasure, many
beautiful women, a journey to Italy, and champagne and cigars at
discretion, that I wavered a moment? Then don’t believe it. I threw them
down with the same nonchalance--do I say nonchalance?--with the same
satisfaction with which Buckingham, breaking the thread on which they
were strung, strewed with pearls the carpet of his beloved’s palace.

“I bought the jewels and carried them to my lodgings. You can picture
nothing more glorious than that set of emeralds. No wonder the women
sigh now and then as they pass in front of those shops which present to
their eyes such glittering temptations; no wonder that Mephistopheles
selected a collar of precious stones as the object most likely to seduce
Marguerite. I, man that I am, could have wished for an instant to live
in the Orient and be one of those fabulous monarchs who wreathe their
brows with a coil of gold and gems, that I might adorn myself with those
magnificent emerald leaves and diamond flowers.

“A gnome, to buy a kiss from a sylph, would not have been able to find
among the immense treasures hoarded in the avaricious heart of the earth
and known to those elves alone, an emerald larger, clearer, more
beautiful than that which sparkled, fastening a knot of rubies, in the
centre of the diadem.

“Now that I had the gems, I began to think out a way of placing them in
possession of the woman for whom they were intended.

“At the end of several days, I prevailed upon one of her maids--thanks
to the money that I still had left--to promise me that she, when
unobserved, would place the set in the jewel-box; and to assure myself
that she should not, by her conduct, betray the source of the gift, I
gave her what money was left over, several hundred dollars, on condition
that she, as soon as she had put the emeralds in the place agreed upon,
should leave the capital and remove to Barcelona. This, in fact, she
did.

“Judge for yourself what must have been the surprise of her mistress
when, after noticing her sudden disappearance and suspecting that
perhaps she had fled from the house with something stolen, she found in
the jewel-box the magnificent set of emeralds. Who had divined her
thought? Who had been able to surmise that she still, from time to time,
remembered those gems with a sigh?

“The weeks and the months passed on. I knew that she kept my gift; I
knew that great efforts had been made to discover whence it came; and
yet I had never seen her adorned with it.--Did she scorn the offering?
‘Ah!’ I said, ‘if she knew all the merit of that gift! if she knew that
its desert is scarcely surpassed by the gift of that lover who pawned
his cloak in winter to buy a nosegay! Does she perhaps think that it
comes from the hands of some great personage who will one day present
himself, if admitted, to claim its price? What a mistake she makes!’

“One night when there was to be a royal ball I stationed myself at the
door of the palace and, lost in the crowd, waited for her carriage that
I might see her. When it arrived and, the footman opening the door, she
appeared in radiant beauty, a murmur of admiration went up from among
the pressing multitude. The women beheld her with envy; the men with
longing; from me there broke a low, involuntary cry. She was wearing the
set of emeralds.

“That night I went to bed without my supper; I do not remember whether
it was because emotion had taken away my appetite or because I had no
money. In either case, I was happy. In my dreams I thought I heard the
music of the ball and saw her crossing before my eyes, flashing sparks
of a thousand colors, until I dreamed even that I was dancing with her.

“The romance of the emeralds had been conjectured, since they had been
talked about when they first appeared in the cabinet, by some ladies of
rank.

“Now that the set had been seen, there was no longer room for doubt, and
idle tongues began to comment on the affair. She enjoyed a spotless
reputation. Notwithstanding the dissipation of her husband and his
neglect of her, calumny could never reach to the height on which her
virtue had placed her; but yet, on this occasion, there began to stir
that little breath of gossip from which, according to Don Basilio,
scandal begins.

“On a day when I chanced to be in a circle of young men, the
conversation fell on the famous emeralds, and finally a coxcomb said, as
if settling the matter:

“There is no need of discussion. These jewels have as vulgar an origin
as all such presents in this world of ours. The time has gone by when
invisible spirits placed marvellous gifts under the pillows of lovely
ladies, and the man who makes a present of this value makes it with the
hope of a recompense--and this recompense, who knows that it was not
given in advance?”

“The words of that idiot roused my wrath, and all the more because they
found response in those who heard them. Yet I controlled myself. What
right had I to go to the defence of that woman?

“Not a quarter of an hour had passed when I had opportunity to
contradict this man who had insulted her. I do not know exactly what the
point was on which I contradicted him; what I can assure you of is that
I did it with so much sharpness, not to say rudeness, that out of our
dispute grew a quarrel. That is what I was seeking.

“My friends, knowing my disposition, wondered, not only that I should
have sought a duel for so trifling a cause, but at my firm refusal to
give or receive explanations of any kind.

“I fought, I do not know whether to say with good fortune or not, for
although on firing I saw my adversary sway an instant and fall to the
ground, a second after I felt my ears buzzing and my eyes clouding over.
I was wounded, too, and seriously, in the breast.

“They carried me, already in a burning fever, to my mean lodging. There
I know not how many days went by, while I called aloud I know not on
whom; undoubtedly on her. I would have had courage to suffer in silence
all my life for one look of gratitude on the brink of the grave; but to
die without leaving her even a memory of me!

“These ideas were tormenting my imagination one wakeful, fevered night,
when I saw the curtains of my alcove part and in the opening appeared a
woman. I thought that I was dreaming; but no. That woman approached my
bed, that poor, hot bed on which I was tossing in pain, and lifting the
veil which covered her face, disclosed a tear trembling on her long,
dark lashes. It was she!

“I started up with frightened eyes, I started up and--at that moment I
arrived in front of Durán’s bookstore--”

“What!” I exclaimed, interrupting my friend on hearing that change of
tone. “Then you were not wounded and in bed?”

“In bed!--ah! what the deuce! I had forgotten to tell you that all this
is what I was thinking as I came from the jewelry shop of Samper,--where
in sober truth I saw the set of emeralds and heard, on the lips of a
beautiful woman, the exclamation which I have mentioned to you,--to the
_Carrera de San Jerónimo_, where a thrust from the elbow of a porter
roused me from my revery in front of Durán’s, in whose window I observed
a book by Mery with this title, _Histoire de ce qui n’est pas arrivé_,
‘The Story of that which did not happen.’ Do you understand it now?”

On hearing this _dénouement_, I could not repress a shout of laughter.
Really I do not know of what Mery’s book may treat, but I now see how,
with that title, a million incomparable stories might be written.



THE TAVERN OF THE CATS


In Seville, at the half-way point of the road that runs from the
Macarena gate to the convent of San Jerónimo, there is, among other
famous taverns, one which, because of its location and the special
features that attach to it, may be said to have been, if it is not now,
the _real thing_, the most characteristic of all the Andalusian roadside
inns.

Picture to yourself a little house, white as the driven snow, under its
roof of tiles, some reddish, some deep green, with an endless growth of
yellow mustard and sprigs of mignonette springing up among them. A
wooden overhang shadows the door, which has on either side a bench of
cemented brick. Mortised into the wall, which is broken by various
little casements, opened at caprice to give light to the interior, some
lower, some higher, one square, another imitating a Moorish arched
window with its dividing colonnettes, or a dormer, are seen at regular
distances iron spikes and rings for hitching the horses. A vine, full of
years, which twists its blackening stems in and out of the sustaining
wooden lattice, clothing it with clusters of grapes and broad green
leaves, covers like a canopy the guest-hall, that consists of three pine
benches, half a dozen rickety rush chairs, and as many as six or seven
crippled tables made of ill-joined boards. On one side of the house
climbs a honeysuckle, clinging to the cracks in the wall, up to the
roof, from whose eaves droop sprays that sway with the wind, like
floating curtains of verdure. On the other side runs a fence of wattled
twigs, defining the bounds of a little garden that looks like a basket
of rushes overflowing with flowers. The tops of two great trees,
towering up behind the tavern, form the dark background against which
stand out its white chimneys; the decoration is completed by the
orchard-plots full of century-plants and blackberries, the broom that
grows on the borders of the river, and the Guadalquivir, which flows
into the distance, slowly winding its tortuous way between those rural
banks to the foot of the ancient convent of San Jerónimo, that peers
above the thick olive groves surrounding it and traces the black
silhouette of its towers against a transparent, azure sky.

Imagine this landscape animated by a multitude of figures--men, women,
children and animals, forming groups that vie with one another in the
characteristic and the picturesque; here the innkeeper, round and ruddy,
seated in the sun on a low chair, rolling between his hands the tobacco
to make a cigarette, with the paper in his mouth; there a huckster of
Macarena who sings, rolling up his eyes, to the accompaniment of his
guitar, while others beat time by clapping their hands or striking their
glasses on the tables; over yonder a group of peasant girls with their
gauzy kerchiefs of a million colors, and a whole flower-pot of pinks in
their hair, who play the tambourine, and scream, and laugh, and talk at
the top of their voices as they push like mad the swing hung between two
trees; and the serving-boys of the tavern who come and go with trays of
wine-glasses full of manzanilla and with plates of olives; and the group
of village people who swarm in the road; two drunken fellows quarrelling
with a dandy who is making love, in passing, to a pretty girl; a cock
that, proudly spreading out its wings, crows from the thatch of the
poultry-yard; a dog that barks at the boys who tease him with sticks and
stones; olive-oil boiling and bubbling in the pan where fish is frying;
the cracking of the whips of the cab-drivers who arrive in a cloud of
dust; a din of songs, castanets, peals of laughter, voices, whistles and
guitars, and blows on the tables, and clappings, and crash of breaking
pitchers, and thousands of strange, discordant sounds forming a jocund
hullabaloo impossible to describe. Fancy all this on a pleasant calm
afternoon, the afternoon of one of the most beautiful days in Andalusia
where all the days are so beautiful, and you will have an idea of the
spectacle that presented itself for the first time to my eyes, when, led
by its fame, I came to visit that celebrated tavern.

This was many years ago; ten or twelve, at least. I was there as a
stranger, away from my natural environment, and everything about me,
from the cut of my clothes to the astonished expression of my face, was
out of keeping with that picture of frank and boisterous jollity. It
seemed to me that the passers-by turned their heads to stare at me with
the dislike with which one regards an intruder.

Not wishing to attract attention nor choosing that my appearance should
be made the butt of mockeries more or less dissembled, I took a seat at
one side of the tavern door, called for something to drink, which I did
not drink, and when all had forgotten my alien presence, I drew out a
sheet of sketching paper from the portfolio which I carried with me,
sharpened a pencil, and began to look about for a characteristic figure
to copy and preserve as a souvenir of that day.

Soon my eyes fastened on one of the girls forming the merry group around
the swing. She was tall, slender, brunette, with sleepy eyes, big and
black, and hair blacker than her eyes. While I was making the sketch a
group of men, among them one who played lively flourishes on the guitar
with much skill, chorused songs that alluded to personal qualities, the
secrets of love, the likings of the girls who were sporting about the
swing or stories of their jealousy and their disdain,--songs to which
these in their turn responded with others no less saucy, piquant and
gay.

The slender brunette, quick of wit, whom I had chosen for model, led the
singing of the women, composing the quatrains and reciting them to her
companions who greeted them with clapping and laughter, while the
guitar-player seemed to be the leader of the lads and the one eminent
among them all for his cleverness and ready retorts.

For my part, it did not take me long to understand that between these
two there was a feeling of affection which betrayed itself in their
songs, full of transparent allusions and enamoured phrases.

When I finished my drawing, night was beginning to fall. Already there
had been lighted in the tower of the cathedral the two lanterns of the
shrine of the bells, and their lustres seemed like fiery eyes from that
giant of brick and mortar which dominates all the city. The groups were
going, melting away little by little and disappearing up the road in the
dim twilight silvered by the moon, that now began to show against the
violet dusk of the sky. The girls went singing away together, and their
clear, bright voices gradually lessened until they became but a part of
the other indistinct and distant sounds that trembled in the air. All
was over at once,--the day, the jollity, the animation and the impromptu
festival; and of all there remained only an echo in the ear and in the
soul, like the softest of vibrations, like a sweet drowsiness such as
one experiences on waking from a pleasant dream.

When the last loiterers were gone, I folded my drawing, placed it safely
in the portfolio, called the waiter with a hand-clap, paid my trifling
account, and was just on the point of departing when I felt myself
caught gently by the arm. It was the young guitar-player whom I had
noticed before and who while I was drawing had often stared at me with
unusual curiosity. I had not observed that, after the fun was over, he
approached under some pretext the place where I was sitting in order to
see what I was doing that I should be looking so steadily at the woman
in whom he seemed to have a special interest.

“_Señorito_,” he said to me in a tone which he strove to soften as much
as possible, “I am going to ask you to do me a favor.”

“A favor!” I exclaimed, without comprehending what he could want of me.
“Name it, and if it is in my power, count on it as done.”

“Would you give me the picture you have made?” On hearing this, I could
not help pausing a moment in perplexity, surprised both by the request,
rare enough in itself, and by the tone, which baffled me to determine
whether it was one of threat or of entreaty. He must have understood my
hesitation, and he immediately hastened to add:

“I beg it of you for the sake of your mother, for the sake of the woman
whom you hold dearest in the world, if you hold any dear; ask of me in
return all that my poverty affords.”

I did not know how to make my way out of this difficulty, I would almost
have preferred that it had come in guise of a quarrel, if so I might
have kept the sketch of that woman who had so deeply impressed me; but
whether it was the surprise of the moment, or my inability to say no to
anything, the fact is that I opened my portfolio, took out the drawing
and handed it to him without a word.

To repeat the lad’s expressions of gratitude, his exclamations as he
gazed at it anew by the light of the tavern’s metal lamp, the care with
which he folded it to put it away securely in his sash, the offers of
devotion he made me, and the extravagant praises with which he cried up
his good fortune in that he had met one whom he called, in his clipped
Andalusian speech, a “reg’lar _señorito_,” would be a task most
difficult, not to say impossible. I will only say that, as the night,
what with one delay and another, was now fully upon us, he insisted,
willy-nilly, on going with me to the Macarena gate; and he laid so much
stress on it, that finally I decided that it would be better to take the
road together. The way is very short, but while it lasted he managed to
tell me from beginning to end all the story of his love.

The tavern where the merry-making had taken place belonged to his
father, who had promised him, when he should marry, an orchard which
adjoined the house and was part of its holding. As to the girl, the
object of his love, whom he described to me with the most vivid colors
and most picturesque phrases, he told me that her name was Amparo, that
she had been brought up in his father’s house from her babyhood, and
that it was not known who her parents were. All this and a hundred other
details of less interest he related to me on the way. When he had come
to the gates of the city he gave me a strong pressure of the hands,
again put himself at my service, and made off trolling a song whose
echoes spread far and wide through the silence of the night. I stood a
moment watching him depart. His happiness seemed contagious, and I felt
joyous with a strange and nameless joy--a reflected joy, if I may say
so.

He sang till he could sing no longer. One of his refrains ran thus:

    “Too long our separation;
      Soul of my soul thou art,
     The Virgin of Consolation
      On the altar of my heart.”

When his voice began to die away, I heard borne on the evening wind
another voice, delicate and vibrating, that sounded at a further
distance yet. It was she, she who impatiently awaited his coming.

A few days later I left Seville, and many years went by before my
return. I forgot many things which happened to me there, but the memory
of such happiness, so humble and so content, was never erased from my
memory.


II.

As I have said, many years passed after my leaving Seville without my
forgetting in the least that afternoon whose recollection sometimes
passed over my imagination like a reviving breeze that cools the heated
brow.

When chance brought me again to the great city which is called with so
much reason the Queen of Andalusia, one of the things that most
attracted my attention was the remarkable change effected during my
absence. Great buildings, blocks of houses and entire suburbs had risen
at the magic touch of industry and capital; on every side were
factories, public gardens, parks, shady walks, but unhappily many
venerable monuments of antiquity had disappeared.

I visited again many proud edifices full of historical and artistic
memories; again I wandered and lost my way amid the million turns of the
curious suburb of _Santa Cruz_; I surprised in the course of my strolls
many new buildings which had been erected I know not how; I missed many
old ones which had vanished I know not why; and finally I took my way to
the bank of the river. The river-bank has ever been in Seville the
chosen field for my excursions.

After I had admired the magnificent panorama which offers itself to the
view at the point where the iron bridge connects the opposite shores;
after I had noticed, with absorbed gaze, the myriad details,--palaces
and rows of small white houses; after I had passed in review the
innumerable ships at anchor in the stream, unfurling to the wind their
airy pennants of a thousand colors, and when I heard the confused hum of
the wharves, where everything breathes activity and movement, I
transported myself, following in imagination the river, against its
current, to San Jerónimo.

I remembered that tranquil landscape, reposeful, luminous, where the
rich vegetation of Andalusia displays without cultivation her natural
charms. As if I had been in a boat rowed upstream, again, with memory’s
aid, I saw file by, on one side, the _Cartuja_ [Carthusian convent] with
its groves and its lofty, slender towers; on the other, the _Barrio de
los Humeros_ [the old gypsy quarter], the ancient city walls, half Arab,
half Roman, the orchards with their fences covered with brambles, and
the water-wheels shaded by great, isolated trees, and finally, San
Jerónimo.--On reaching this point in my imagination, those memories that
I still cherished of the famous inn rose before me more vividly than
ever, and I fancied myself present once again at those peasant
merry-makings; I heard the girls singing, as they flew through the air
in the swing; and I saw the groups of village folk wandering over the
meadows, some picnicking, some quarrelling, some laughing, some dancing,
and all in motion, overflowing with youth, vivacity and glee. There was
she, surrounded by her children, now holding herself aloof from the
group of merry girls who were still laughing and singing, and there was
he, tranquil and content with his felicity, looking with tenderness at
the persons whom he loved best in the world, all together about him and
all happy,--his wife, his children, his father, who was there as ten
years ago, seated at the door of his inn, impassively twisting the paper
about his cigarette, without more change than that his head, which then
was gray, would now be white as snow.

A friend who accompanied me in the walk, noting the sort of blissful
revery in which for several moments I had been rapt with these
imaginings, shook me at last by the arm, asking:

“What are you thinking about?”

“I was thinking,” I replied, “of the Tavern of the Cats, and revolving
in my mind all the pleasant recollections I cherish of an afternoon when
I was at San Jerónimo.--This very instant I was ending a love story
which I left there well begun, and I ended it so much to my liking that
I believe there cannot be any other conclusion than that which I have
made for it. And speaking of the Tavern of the Cats,” I continued,
turning to my friend, “when shall we take a day and go there for
luncheon or to enjoy an hour of revel?”

“An hour of revel!” exclaimed my friend, with an expression of
astonishment which I did not at that time succeed in explaining to
myself, “an hour of revel! A very appropriate place it is for that!”

“And why not?” I rejoined, wondering in my turn at his surprise.

“The reason is very simple,” he told me at last, “for at one hundred
paces from the tavern they have laid out the new cemetery” [of San
Fernando].

Then it was I who gazed at him with astonished eyes and remained some
minutes silent before speaking a single word.

We returned to the city, and that day went by, and still more days,
without my being able entirely to throw off the impression which news so
unexpected had made upon me. The more variations I played upon it, still
the love story of the brunette had no conclusion, for what I had
invented before was not conceivable, since I could not make natural a
picture of happiness and mirth with a cemetery for a background.

One afternoon, determined to resolve my doubts, I pleaded a slight
indisposition as an excuse for not accompanying my friend in our
accustomed rambles, and I started out alone for the inn. When I had left
behind me the Macarena gate and its picturesque suburb and had begun to
cross by a narrow footpath that labyrinth of orchards, already I seemed
to perceive something strange in my surroundings.

Whether it was because the afternoon had become a little clouded, or
that the tendency of my mind inclined me to melancholy ideas, the fact
is that I felt cold and sad, and noticed a silence about me which
reminded me of utter solitude, as sleep reminds us of death.

I walked a little without stopping, crossed the orchards to shorten the
distance and came out into the street of San Lázaro, whence already may
be seen in the distance the convent of San Jerónimo.

Perhaps it is an illusion, but it seems to me that along the road where
pass the dead even the trees and the vegetation come to take on a
different color. I fancied there, at least, that warm and harmonious
tones were lacking,--no freshness in the groves, no atmosphere in space,
no light upon the earth. The landscape was monotonous; its figures black
and isolated.

Here was a hearse moving slowly, covered with mourning draperies,
raising no dust, cracking no whip, without shout to the horses, almost
without movement; further on a man of ill countenance with a spade on
his shoulder, or a priest in long, dark robe, or a group of old men
poorly clad and of repugnant aspect, with extinguished candles in their
hands, who were returning in silence, with lowered heads, and eyes fixed
on the ground. I believed myself transported I know not whither; for all
that I saw reminded me of a landscape whose contours were the same as
ever, but whose colors had been, as it were, blotted out, there being
left of them merely a vague half-tone. The impression that I experienced
can be compared only to that which we feel in those dreams where, by an
inexplicable phenomenon, things are and are not at one and the same
time, and the places in which we believe ourselves to be, partially
transform themselves in an eccentric and impossible fashion.

At last I reached the roadside inn; I recognized it more by the name,
which it still keeps printed in large letters on one of its walls, than
by anything else; for as to the little house itself, it seemed to me
that it had changed even its outlines and its proportions. At once I saw
that it was much more ruinous, that it was forsaken and sad. The shadow
of the cemetery, which rose just beyond it, appeared to fall over it,
enveloping it in a dark covering, like the cloth laid on the face of the
dead. The innkeeper was there, utterly alone. I recognized him as the
same of ten years back; I recognized him I know not why, for in this
time he had aged even to the point of appearing a decrepit old man on
the edge of the grave, whereas when I first saw him he seemed fifty,
abounding in health, satisfaction and vitality.

I sat down at one of the deserted tables; I asked for something to
drink, which the innkeeper brought me, and from one detached remark
after another we fell finally into continuous conversation relating to
that love story of whose last chapter I was still in ignorance, although
I had several times attempted to divine it.

“Everything,” said the poor old man to me, “everything seems to have
conspired against us since the period in which you remember me. You know
how it was with us. Amparo was the delight of our eyes; she had been
reared here from her birth; she was the joy of the house; never could
she miss her own parents, for I loved her like a father; my son had
loved her, too, from his boyhood, first as a brother, afterwards with a
devotion greater yet. They were on the eve of marriage; I was ready to
make over to them the better part of my modest property, for with the
profits of my business it seemed to me that I should have more than
enough to live at ease, when some evil spirit--I know not what--envied
our happiness and destroyed it in a moment. In the first place the
whisper went about that they were going to locate a cemetery on this
side of San Jerónimo; some said close by, others further off, and while
we were all uneasy and anxious, fearing that they might carry out this
project, a greater and more certain trouble fell upon us.

“One day two gentlemen arrived here in a carriage; they put to me
thousands of questions about Amparo whom I had taken in her babyhood
from the foundling hospital; they asked to see the swaddling-clothes
which she wore when she was abandoned and which I had kept, with the
final result that Amparo proved to be the daughter of a very rich
gentleman, who went to law to recover her from us and persisted until he
gained his end. I do not wish even to call to memory the day when they
took her away. She wept like a Magdalen, my son would have made a mad
resistance, I was like one dumfounded, not understanding what was
happening to me. She went. Rather, she did not go, for she loved us too
much to go of her own accord, but they carried her off, and a curse fell
upon the house. My son, after an attack of terrible despair, fell into a
sort of lethargy. I do not know how to express my own state of mind. I
believed that for me the world had ended.

“While these things were going on, they began to lay out the cemetery.
The village-folk fled from this neighborhood. There were no more
festivals, songs and music; all the merriment of this countryside was
over, even as the joy of our souls.

“And Amparo was no happier than we; bred here in the open air, in the
bustle and animation of the inn, brought up to be joyous in poverty,
they plucked her from this life, and she withered, as wither the flowers
gathered in a garden to adorn a drawing-room. My son made incredible
efforts to see her again, to have a moment’s speech with her. All was
in vain; her family did not wish it. At last he saw her, but he saw her
dead. The funeral train passed by here. I knew nothing about it and I
cannot tell why I fell to weeping when I saw her hearse. The heart,
loyal to love, clamored to me:

“‘She is young like Amparo; she, too, must be beautiful; who knows if it
may not be herself?’ And it was. My son followed the train, entered the
enclosure and, when the coffin was opened, uttered a cry and fell
senseless to the ground; and so they brought him back to me. Afterwards
he went mad, and is now a lunatic.”

When the poor old man had reached this point in his narrative, there
entered the inn two gravediggers of sinister bearing and repellent look.
Having finished their task, they had come to take a drink “_to the
health of the dead_,” as one of them said, accompanying the jest with a
silly leer. The innkeeper brushed off a tear with the back of his hand
and went to serve them.

Night was beginning to fall, a dark night and most gloomy. The sky was
black and so was the landscape. From the boughs of the trees still hung,
half rotted, the ropes of the swing swaying in the wind; it reminded me
of a gallows-rope quivering yet after the body of the felon had been
taken down. Only confused noises reached my ears,--the distant barking
of dogs on guard in the orchards; the creaking of a water-wheel,
prolonged, melancholy and shrill like a lament; disconnected, horrible
words of the gravediggers who were plotting in low tones a sacrilegious
robbery--I know not what; my memory has kept of this fantastic scene of
desolation as of that other scene of merriment only a confused
recollection that I cannot reproduce. What I still seem to hear as I
heard it then is this refrain intoned in a plaintive voice, suddenly
disturbing the silence that reigned about:

    “The coach of the dead was grand
      As it passed our humble door,
     But from it beckoned a pallid hand,
      And I saw my love once more.”

It was the poor boy, who was locked up in one of the rooms of the inn,
where he passed his days in motionless contemplation of the picture of
his beloved, without speaking a word, scarcely eating, never weeping,
hardly opening his lips save to sing this simple, tender verse enclosing
a poem of sorrow that I then learned to decipher.



ALL SOULS’ NIGHT


The gloaming of a misty, melancholy autumn day is succeeded by a cold,
dark night. For several hours now, the continuous stir of the town seems
to have ceased.

Some near, others far, some with grave and measured beat and others with
a quick and tremulous vibration, the bells are swinging in their towers,
flinging out upon the air their metallic notes which float and mingle,
lessen and die away to yield place to a new rain of sounds pouring
continually from the deep brazen throats as from a spring of
inexhaustible harmonies.

It is said that joy is contagious, but I believe that sadness is much
more so. There are melancholy spirits who succeed in eluding the
intoxication of delight that our great popular festivals carry in their
atmosphere. It is hard to find one who is able to bear unaffected the
icy touch of the atmosphere of sorrow, if this comes to seek us in the
privacy of our own fireside,--comes in the wearisome, slow vibration of
the bell that is like a grieving voice, uttering its tale of troubles at
one’s very ear.

I cannot hear the bells, even when they ring out merry peals as for a
festival, without having my soul possessed by a sentiment of
inexplicable and involuntary sadness. In the great capitals, by good or
evil hap, the confused murmur of the multitude which beats on every
sense, full of the noisy giddiness of action, ordinarily drowns the
clamor of the bells to such a degree as to make one believe it does not
exist. To me at least it seems that on All Souls’ Night, the only night
of the year when I hear them, the towers of the Madrid

[Illustration: A RUINED CLOISTER]

churches, thanks to a miracle, regain their voices, breaking for a few
hours only their long silence. Whether it be that my imagination,
predisposed to melancholy thoughts, aids in producing this effect, or
that the novelty of the sound strikes me the more profoundly; always
when I perceive, borne on the wind, the separate notes of this harmony,
a strange phenomenon takes place in my senses. I think that I
distinguish the different voices of the bells one from another; I think
that each of them has its own tone and expresses a special feeling; I
think, in fine, that after lending for some time profound attention to
the discordant combination of sounds, deep or shrill, dull or silvery,
which they breathe forth, I succeed in surprising mysterious words that
palpitate upon the air enveloped in its prolonged vibrations.

These words without connection, without meaning, that float in space
accompanied by sighs scarcely perceptible and by long sobs, commence to
reunite one with another as the vague ideas of a dream combine on
waking, and reunited, they form an immense, dolorous poem, in which each
bell chants its strophe, and all together interpret by means of symbolic
sounds the dumb thought that seethes in the brain of those who harken,
plunged in profound meditation.

A bell of hollow, deafening tone, swinging heavily in its lofty tower
with ceremonial slowness, that seems to have a mathematical rhythm and
moves by some perfect mechanism, says in peals punctiliously adjusted to
the ritual:

“I am the empty sound that melts away without having made vibrate a
single one of the infinite chords of feeling in the heart of man. I bear
in my echoes neither sobs nor sighs. I perform correctly my part in the
lugubrious, aerial symphony of grief, my sonorous strokes never falling
behind nor going in advance by a single second. I am the bell of the
parish church, the official bell of funeral honors. My voice proclaims
the mourning of etiquette; my voice laments from the heights of the
belfry announcing to the neighborhood the fatality, groan by groan; my
voice, which sorrows at so much a sob, releases the rich heir and the
young widow from other cares than those of the formalities attending the
reading of the will, and the orders for elegant mourning.

“At my peal the artisans of death come out of their atrophy: the
carpenter hastens to adorn with gold braid the most comfortable of his
coffins; the marble worker strikes in his chisel seeking a new allegory
for the ostentatious sepulchre; even the horses of the grotesque hearse,
theatre of the last triumph of vanity, proudly shake their antique tufts
of flywing-colored plumes, while the pillars of the church are wound
about with black baize, the traditional catafalque is set up under the
dome, and the choir-master rehearses on the violin a new _Dies Irae_ for
the last mass of the _Requiem_.

“I am the grief of tinsel tears, of paper flowers and of distichs in
letters of gold.

“To-day it is my duty to commemorate my fellow-countrymen, the
illustrious dead for whom I mourn officially, and on doing this with all
the pomp and all the noise befitting their social position, my only
regret is that I cannot utter one by one their names, titles and
decorations; perchance this new formula would be a comfort to their
families.”

“When the measured hammering of the heavy bell ceases an instant and its
distant echo, blent with the cloud of tones that the wind carries away,
is lost, there begins to be heard the sad, uneven, piercing melody of a
little clapper-bell.”

“I am,” it says, “the voice that sings the joys and bewails the sorrows
of the village which I dominate from my spire; I am the humble bell of
the hamlet, that calls down with ardent petitions water from heaven upon
the parched fields, the bell that with its pious conjurations puts the
storms to flight, the bell that whirls, quivering with emotion, and in
wild outcries pleads for succour when fire is devouring the crops.

“I am the friendly voice that bids the poor his last farewell; I am the
groan that grief chokes in the throat of the orphan and that mounts on
the winged notes of the bell to the throne of the Father of Mercies.

“On hearing my melody, a prayer breaks involuntarily from the lip, and
my last echo goes to breathe itself away on the brink of hidden
graves--an echo borne by the wind that seems to pray in a low voice as
it waves the tall grass that covers them.

“I am the weeping that scalds the cheeks; I am the woe that dries the
fount of tears; I am the anguish that presses on the heart with an iron
hand; I am the supreme sorrow, the sorrow of the forsaken and forlorn.

“To-day I toll for that nameless multitude which passes through life
unheeded, leaving no more trace behind than the broad stream of sweat
and tears that marks its course; to-day I toll for those who sleep in
earth forgotten, without other monument than a rude cross of wood which,
perchance, is hidden by the nettles and the spear-plume thistles, but
amid their leaves arise these humble, yellow-petaled flowers that the
angels sow over the graves of the just.”

The echo of the clapper-bell grows fainter little by little till it is
lost amid the whirlwind of tones, above which are distinguished the
crashing, broken strokes of one of those gigantic bells which set
shuddering, as they sound, even the deep foundations of the ancient
Gothic cathedrals in whose towers we see them suspended.

“I am,” says the bell with its terrible, stentorian peal, “the voice of
the stupendous mass of stone which your forefathers raised for the
amazement of the ages. I am the mysterious voice familiar to the
long-robed virgins, the angels, the kings and the marble prophets who
keep watch by night and by day at the church doors, enveloped in the
shadows of their arches. I am the voice of the misshapen monsters, of
the griffins and prodigious reptiles that crawl among the intertwined
stone leaves along the spires of the towers. I am the phantasmal bell of
tradition and of legend that swings alone on All Souls’ Night, rung by
an invisible hand.

“I am the bell of fearsome folk-tales, stories of ghosts and souls in
pain,--the bell whose strange and indescribable vibration finds an echo
only in ardent imaginations.

“At my voice, knights armed with all manner of arms rise from their
Gothic sepulchres; monks come forth from the dim vaults in which they
are sleeping their last sleep to the foot of their abbey altars; and the
cemeteries open their gates little by little to let pass the troops of
yellow skeletons that run nimbly to dance in giddy round about the
pointed spire which shelters me.

“When my tremendous clamor surprises the credulous old woman before the
antique shrine whose lights she tends, she believes that she sees for a
moment the spirits of the picture dance amid the vermilion and ochre
flames by the glimmer of the dying lantern.

“When my mighty vibrations accompany the monotonous recital of an
old-time fable to which the children, grouped about the hearth, listen
all absorbed, the tongues of red and blue fire that glide along the
glowing logs, and the fiery sparks that leap up against the obscure
background of the kitchen, are taken for spirits circling in the air,
and the noise of the wind shaking the doors, for the work of souls
knocking at the leaded panes of the windows with the fleshless knuckles
of their bony hands.

“I am the bell that prays to God for the souls condemned to hell; I am
the voice of superstitious terror; I cause not weeping, but rising of
the hair, and I carry the chill of fright to the marrow of his bones who
harkens to me.”

So one after another, or all at once, the bells go pealing on, now as
the musical theme that rises clearly above the full orchestra in a grand
symphony, now as a fantasia that lingers and recedes, dilating on the
wind.

Only the daylight and the noises that come up from the heart of the town
at the first dawn can put to flight the strange abortions of the mind
and the doleful, persistent tolling of the bells, which even in sleep is
felt as an exhausting nightmare through the eternal _Noche de Difuntos_.


FOOTNOTES:

 [1] To the posthumous edition of Becquer’s _Works_, Señor Correa
 prefixed an account of the poet’s life. This, brief and often
 indefinite as it is, remains the authentic biography. It has been
 partially reproduced in English by Mrs. Humphry Ward, who published
 in _Macmillan’s Magazine_, February, 1883, pp. 305-320, a valuable
 article entitled: _A Spanish Romanticist: Gustavo Becquer_. Professor
 Olmsted of Cornell, in his recent class-room edition of selected
 _Legends, Tales and Poems_ by Becquer (Ginn and Company, Boston,
 1907) contributes additional facts gathered from Spanish periodical
 articles--of which he gives a bibliography--and in conversation with
 Spaniards who had known the poet.

 [2] Of the seventy-six poems that make up the _Rimas_, thirty-two
 are given in literal English rendering by Lucy White Jennison (“Owen
 Innsley”) as the third section of her _Love Songs and Other Poems_
 (The Grafton Press, New York, 1883), and a few are similarly rendered
 by Mrs. Humphry Ward in the article already mentioned. A complete
 translation in English verse, by Jules Renard of Seattle, has just
 come (1908) from The Gorham Press, Richard G. Badger, Boston.

 [3] Not, to my knowledge, translated into English.

 [4] Except for a few magazine waifs and strays, usually in abridged
 form, and for seven out of the twelve stories in W. W. Gibbings’
 _Terrible Tales_, where the translation, according to Professor
 Olmsted, is “often inaccurate,” these legends have not before been
 translated into English. The twenty-one here given include everything
 even remotely in the nature of a tale contained in the three volumes,
 with the exception of the two East Indian legends already mentioned,
 and the two witchcraft tales in _From My Cell_. Good as these witch
 stories are, it seemed a pity to take them out of their context.
 What might be considered further omission is noted later. Of the
 translations in this volume, several have appeared in _Short Stories_,
 two in _The Churchman_, and one in the _Boston Evening Transcript_.

 [5] And therefore has not been included in this volume.

 [6] Not included in this volume because it should not be taken from
 its context.





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