The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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Having nothing farther to detain me at Elvas, I proceeded to cross the frontier into Spain. My idiot guide was on his way back to Aldea Gallega; and, on the fifth of January, I mounted a sorry mule, without bridle or stirrups, which I guided by a species of halter, and followed by a lad who was to attend me on another, I spurred down the hill of Elvas to the plain, eager to arrive in old chivalrous, romantic Spain. But I soon found that I had no need to quicken the beast which bore me, for, though covered with sores, wall-eyed, and with a kind of halt in its gait, it cantered along like the wind.
In little more than half an hour we arrived at a brook, whose waters ran vigorously between steep banks. A man who was standing on the side directed me to the ford in the squeaking dialect of Portugal; but whilst I was yet splashing through the water, a voice from the other bank hailed me, in the magnificent language of Spain, in this guise: “O! Se?or Caballero, que me d? usted una limosna por amor de Dios, una limosnita para que yo me compre un traguillo de vino tinto.”7070
Badajoz was now in view, at the distance of little more than half a league. We soon took a turn to the left, towards a bridge of many arches across the Guadiana, which, though so famed in song and ballad, is a very unpicturesque stream, shallow and sluggish, though tolerably wide; its banks were white with linen which the washerwomen had spread out to dry in the sun, which was shining brightly; I heard their singing at a great distance, and the theme seemed to be the praises of the river where they were toiling, for as I approached I could distinguish “Guadiana, Guadiana,” which reverberated far and wide, pronounced by the clear and strong voices in chorus of many a dark-cheeked maid and matron. I thought there was some analogy between their employment and my own: I was about to tan my northern complexion by exposing myself to the hot sun of Spain, in the humble hope of being able to cleanse some of the foul stains of Popery from the minds of its children, with whom I had little acquaintance; whilst they were bronzing themselves on the banks of the river in order to make white the garments of strangers. The words of an Eastern poet returned forcibly to my mind —
Having crossed the bridge,7373
I was now at Badajoz in Spain, a country which for the next four years was destined to be the scene of my labours: but I will not anticipate. The neighbourhood of Badajoz did not prepossess me much in favour of the country which I had just entered. It consists chiefly of brown moors, which bear little but a species of brushwood, called in Spanish carrasco; blue mountains are, however, seen towering up in the far distance, which relieve the scene from the monotony which would otherwise pervade it.
It was at this town of Badajoz, the capital of Estremadura, that I first fell in with those singular people, the Zincali, Gitanos, or Spanish gypsies. It was here I met with the wild Paco,7676
After a stay of three weeks at Badajoz, I prepared to depart for Madrid: late one afternoon, as I was arranging my scanty baggage, the gypsy Antonio entered my apartment, dressed in his zamarra and high-peaked Andalusian hat.
Antonio. – Good evening, brother; they tell me that on the callicaste you intend to set out for Madrilati.
Myself. – Such is my intention; I can stay here no longer.
Antonio. – The way is far to Madrilati, there are, moreover, wars in the land, and many chories walk about; are you not afraid to journey?
Myself. – I have no fears; every man must accomplish his destiny: what befalls my body or soul was written in a gabicote a thousand years before the foundation of the world.
Antonio. – I have no fears myself, brother; the dark night is the same to me as the fair day, and the wild carrascal as the market-place or the chard?; I have got the bar lach? in my bosom, the precious stone to which sticks the needle.7979
Myself. – You mean the loadstone, I suppose. Do you believe that a lifeless stone can preserve you from the dangers which occasionally threaten your life?
Antonio. – Brother, I am fifty years old, and you see me standing before you in life and strength; how could that be unless the bar lach? had power? I have been soldier and contrabandista, and I have likewise slain and robbed the Busn?. The bullets of the Gabin? and of the jara canallis have hissed about my ears without injuring me, for I carried the bar lach?. I have twenty times done that which by Busn? law should have brought me to the filimicha, yet my neck has never yet been squeezed by the cold garrote. Brother, I trust in the bar lach?, like the Calor? of old: were I in the midst of the gulph of Bombard? without a plank to float upon, I should feel no fear; for if I carried the precious stone, it would bring me safe to shore. The bar lach? has power, brother.
Myself. – I shall not dispute the matter with you, more especially as I am about to depart from Badajoz: I must speedily bid you farewell, and we shall see each other no more.
Antonio. – Brother, do you know what brings me hither?
Myself. – I cannot tell, unless it be to wish me a happy journey: I am not gypsy enough to interpret the thoughts of other people.
Antonio. – All last night I lay awake, thinking of the affairs of Egypt; and when I arose in the morning I took the bar lach? from my bosom, and scraping it with a knife, swallowed some of the dust in aguardiente, as I am in the habit of doing when I have made up my mind; and I said to myself, I am wanted on the frontiers of Castumba on a certain matter. The strange Calor? is about to proceed to Madrilati; the journey is long, and he may fall into evil hands, peradventure into those of his own blood; for let me tell you, brother, the Cal?s are leaving their towns and villages, and forming themselves into troops to plunder the Busn?, for there is now but little law in the land, and now or never is the time for the Calor? to become once more what they were in former times. So I said, the strange Calor? may fall into the hands of his own blood and be ill-treated by them, which were shame: I will therefore go with him through the Chim del Manr? as far as the frontiers of Castumba, and upon the frontiers of Castumba I will leave the London Calor? to find his own way to Madrilati, for there is less danger in Castumba than in the Chim del Manr?, and I will then betake me to the affairs of Egypt which call me from hence.
Myself. – This is a very hopeful plan of yours, my friend; and in what manner do you propose that we shall travel?
Antonio. – I will tell you, brother. I have a gras in the stall, even the one which I purchased at Oliven?as, as I told you on a former occasion;8080
Myself. – Before I answer you, I shall wish you to inform me what business it is which renders your presence necessary in Castumba; your son-in-law, Paco, told me that it was no longer the custom of the gypsies to wander.
Antonio. – It is an affair of Egypt, brother, and I shall not acquaint you with it; peradventure it relates to a horse or an ass, or peradventure it relates to a mule or a macho; it does not relate to yourself, therefore I advise you not to inquire about it —Dosta. With respect to my offer, you are free to decline it; there is a drungruje between here and Madrilati, and you can travel it in the birdoche, or with the drom?lis; but I tell you, as a brother, that there are chories upon the drun, and some of them are of the Errate.
Certainly few people in my situation would have accepted the offer of this singular gypsy. It was not, however, without its allurements for me; I was fond of adventure, and what more ready means of gratifying my love of it than by putting myself under the hands of such a guide? There are many who would have been afraid of treachery, but I had no fears on this point, as I did not believe that the fellow harboured the slightest ill intention towards me; I saw that he was fully convinced that I was one of the Errate, and his affection for his own race, and his hatred for the Busn?, were his strongest characteristics. I wished, moreover, to lay hold of every opportunity of making myself acquainted with the ways of the Spanish gypsies, and an excellent one here presented itself on my first entrance into Spain. In a word, I determined to accompany the gypsy. “I will go with you,” I exclaimed; “as for my baggage, I will despatch it to Madrid by the birdoche.” “Do so, brother,” he replied, “and the gras will go lighter. Baggage, indeed! – what need of baggage have you? How the Busn? on the road would laugh if they saw two Cal?s with baggage behind them!”
During my stay at Badajoz I had but little intercourse with the Spaniards, my time being chiefly devoted to the gypsies, with whom, from long intercourse with various sections of their race in different parts of the world, I felt myself much more at home than with the silent, reserved men of Spain, with whom a foreigner might mingle for half a century without having half a dozen words addressed to him, unless he himself made the first advances to intimacy, which, after all, might be rejected with a shrug and a no entiendo;8181
Early one morning, before sunrise, I found myself at the house of Antonio; it was a small mean building, situated in a dirty street. The morning was quite dark; the street, however, was partially illumined by a heap of lighted straw, round which two or three men were busily engaged, apparently holding an object over the flames. Presently the gypsy’s door opened, and Antonio made his appearance; and, casting his eye in the direction of the light, exclaimed, “The swine have killed their brother; would that every Busn? was served as yonder hog is. Come in, brother, and we will eat the heart of that hog.” I scarcely understood his words, but following him, he led me into a low room, in which was a brasero, or small pan full of lighted charcoal; beside it was a rude table, spread with a coarse linen cloth, upon which was bread and a large pipkin full of a mess which emitted no disagreeable savour. “The heart of the balich? is in that puchera,” said Antonio; “eat, brother.” We both sat down and ate – Antonio voraciously. When we had concluded he arose: – “Have you got your li?” he demanded. “Here it is,” said I, showing him my passport. “Good,” said he; “you may want it. I want none; my passport is the bar lach?. Now for a glass of repa?i, and then for the road.”
We left the room, the door of which he locked, hiding the key beneath a loose brick in a corner of the passage. “Go into the street, brother, whilst I fetch the caballerias from the stable.” I obeyed him. The sun had not yet risen, and the air was piercingly cold; the grey light, however, of dawn enabled me to distinguish objects with tolerable accuracy; I soon heard the clattering of the animals’ feet, and Antonio presently stepped forth, leading the horse by the bridle; the macho followed behind. I looked at the horse, and shrugged my shoulders. As far as I could scan it, it appeared the most uncouth animal I had ever beheld. It was of a spectral white, short in the body, but with remarkably long legs. I observed that it was particularly high in the cruz, or withers. “You are looking at the grasti,” said Antonio; “it is eighteen years old, but it is the very best in the Chim del Manr?; I have long had my eye upon it; I bought it for my own use for the affairs of Egypt. Mount, brother, mount, and let us leave the foros– the gate is about being opened.”
He locked the door, and deposited the key in his faja. In less than a quarter of an hour we had left the town behind us. “This does not appear to be a very good horse,” said I to Antonio, as we proceeded over the plain; “it is with difficulty that I can make him move.”
“He is the swiftest horse in the Chim del Manr?, brother,” said Antonio; “at the gallop, and at the speedy trot, there is no one to match him. But he is eighteen years old, and his joints are stiff, especially of a morning; but let him once become heated, and the genio del viejo8282
About noon we arrived at a small village in the neighbourhood of a high lumpy hill. “There is no Cal? house in this place,” said Antonio; “we will therefore go to the posada of the Busn? and refresh ourselves, man and beast.” We entered the kitchen, and sat down at the board, calling for wine and bread. There were two ill-looking fellows in the kitchen, smoking cigars. I said something to Antonio in the Cal? language.
“What is that I hear?” said one of the fellows, who was distinguished by an immense pair of moustaches. “What is that I hear? Is it in Cal? that you are speaking before me, and I a chalan and national? Accursed gypsy, how dare you enter this posada and speak before me in that speech? Is it not forbidden by the law of the land in which we are, even as it is forbidden for a gypsy to enter the mercado? I tell you what, friend, if I hear another word of Cal? come from your mouth, I will cudgel your bones and send you flying over the house-tops with a kick of my foot.”
“You would do right,” said his companion; “the insolence of these gypsies is no longer to be borne. When I am at Merida or Badajoz I go to the mercado, and there in a corner stand the accursed gypsies, jabbering to each other in a speech which I understand not. ‘Gypsy gentleman,’ say I to one of them, ‘what will you have for that donkey?’ ‘I will have ten dollars for it, Caballero nacional,’ says the gypsy; ‘it is the best donkey in all Spain.’ ‘I should like to see its paces,’ say I. ‘That you shall, most valorous!’ says the gypsy, and jumping upon its back, he puts it to its paces, first of all whispering something into its ear in Cal?, and truly the paces of the donkey are most wonderful, such as I have never seen before. ‘I think it will just suit me;’ and, after looking at it awhile, I take out the money and pay for it. ‘I shall go to my house,’ says the gypsy; and off he runs. ‘I shall go to my village,’ say I, and I mount the donkey. ‘Vamonos,’ say I, but the donkey won’t move. I give him a switch, but I don’t get on the better for that. ‘How is this?’ say I, and I fall to spurring him. What happens then, brother? The wizard no sooner feels the prick than he bucks down, and flings me over his head into the mire. I get up and look about me; there stands the donkey staring at me, and there stand the whole gypsy canaille squinting at me with their filmy eyes. ‘Where is the scamp who has sold me this piece of furniture?’ I shout. ‘He is gone to Granada, valorous,’ says one. ‘He is gone to see his kindred among the Moors,’ says another. ‘I just saw him running over the field, in the direction of – , with the devil close behind him,’ says a third. In a word I am tricked. I wish to dispose of the donkey; no one, however, will buy him; he is a Cal? donkey, and every person avoids him. At last the gypsies offer thirty reals for him; and after much chaffering I am glad to get rid of him at two dollars. It is all a trick, however; he returns to his master, and the brotherhood share the spoil amongst them, all which villany would be prevented, in my opinion, were the Cal? language not spoken; for what but the word of Cal? could have induced the donkey to behave in such an unaccountable manner?”
Both seemed perfectly satisfied with the justness of this conclusion, and continued smoking till their cigars were burnt to stumps, when they arose, twitched their whiskers, looked at us with fierce disdain, and dashing the tobacco-ends to the ground, strode out of the apartment.
“Those people seem no friends to the gypsies,” said I to Antonio, when the two bullies had departed, “nor to the Cal? language either.”
“May evil glanders seize their nostrils,” said Antonio; “they have been jonjabadoed8383
Towards evening we drew near to a large town or village. “That is Merida,” said Antonio, “formerly, as the Busn? say, a mighty city of the Corahai. We shall stay here to-night, and perhaps for a day or two, for I have some business of Egypt to transact in this place. Now, brother, step aside with the horse, and wait for me beneath yonder wall. I must go before and see in what condition matters stand.”
I dismounted from the horse, and sat down on a stone beneath the ruined wall to which Antonio had motioned me. The sun went down, and the air was exceedingly keen; I drew close around me an old tattered gypsy cloak with which my companion had provided me, and, being somewhat fatigued, fell into a doze which lasted for nearly an hour.
“Is your worship the London Calor??” said a strange voice close beside me.
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