The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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I started, and beheld the face of a woman peering under my hat. Notwithstanding the dusk, I could see that the features were hideously ugly and almost black; they belonged, in fact, to a gypsy crone, at least seventy years of age, leaning upon a staff.
“Is your worship the London Calor??” repeated she.
“I am he whom you seek,” said I; “where is Antonio?”
“Curelando, curelando; baribustres curel?s terela,”8585
I followed the crone, who led the way into the town, which was ruinous and seemingly half deserted; we went up the street, from which she turned into a narrow and dark lane, and presently opened the gate of a large dilapidated house. “Come in,” said she.
“And the gras?” I demanded.
“Bring the gras in too, my chab?, bring the gras in too; there is room for the gras in my little stable.” We entered a large court, across which we proceeded till we came to a wide doorway. “Go in, my child of Egypt,” said the hag – “go in; that is my little stable.”
“The place is as dark as pitch,” said I, “and may be a well for what I know: bring a light, or I will not enter.”
“Give me the solabarri,” said the hag, “and I will lead your horse in, my chab? of Egypt – yes, and tether him to my little manger.” She led the horse through the doorway, and I heard her busy in the darkness; presently the horse shook himself: “Grasti terelamos,”8686
We entered the house, and found ourselves in a vast room, which would have been quite dark but for a faint glow which appeared at the farther end: it proceeded from a brasero, beside which were squatted two dusky figures.
“These are Callees,” said the hag; “one is my daughter, and the other is her chab?. Sit down, my London Calor?, and let us hear you speak.”
I looked about for a chair, but could see none; at a short distance, however, I perceived the end of a broken pillar lying on the floor; this I rolled to the brasero, and sat down upon it.
“This is a fine house, mother of the gypsies,” said I to the hag, willing to gratify the desire she had expressed of hearing me speak; “a fine house is this of yours, rather cold and damp, though; it appears large enough to be a barrack for hundunares.”
“Plenty of houses in this foros, plenty of houses in Merida, my London Calor?, some of them just as they were left by the Corahan?s.Ah! a fine people are the Corahan?s; I often wish myself in their chim once more.”
“How is this, mother?” said I; “have you been in the land of the Moors?”
“Twice have I been in their country, my Calor?– twice have I been in the land of the Corahai. The first time is more than fifty years ago; I was then with the Ses?, for my husband was a soldier of the Crallis of Spain, and Oran at that time belonged to Spain.”
“You were not then with the real Moors,” said I, “but only with the Spaniards who occupied part of their country.”
“I have been with the real Moors, my London Calor?. Who knows more of the real Moors than myself? About forty years ago I was with my ro in Ceuta, for he was still a soldier of the king, and he said to me one day, ‘I am tired of this place, where there is no bread and less water; I will escape and turn Corahan?; this night I will kill my sergeant, and flee to the camp of the Moor.’ ‘Do so,’ said I, ‘my chab?, and as soon as may be I will follow you and become a Corahan?.’ That same night he killed his sergeant, who five years before had called him Cal? and cursed him; then running to the wall he dropped from it, and, amidst many shots, he escaped to the land of the Corahai. As for myself, I remained in the presidio of Ceuta as a suttler, selling wine and repa?i to the soldiers. Two years passed by, and I neither saw nor heard from my ro. One day there came a strange man to my cachimani; he was dressed like a Corahan?, and yet he did not look like one; he looked more like a callard?, and yet he was not a callard? either, though he was almost black; and as I looked upon him, I thought he looked something like the Errate; and he said to me, ‘Zincali; chachip?!’ and then he whispered to me in queer language, which I could scarcely understand, ‘Your ro is waiting; come with me, my little sister, and I will take you unto him.’ ‘Where is he?’ said I, and he pointed to the west, to the land of the Corahai, and said, ‘He is yonder away; come with me, little sister, the ro is waiting.’ For a moment I was afraid, but I bethought me of my husband, and I wished to be amongst the Corahai; so I took the little parn? I had, and, locking up the cachimani, went with the strange man. The sentinel challenged us at the gate, but I gave him repa?i, and he let us pass; in a moment we were in the land of the Corahai. About a league from the town, beneath a hill, we found four people, men and women, all very black like the strange man, and we joined ourselves with them, and they all saluted me and called me little sister. That was all I understood of their discourse, which was very crabbed; and they took away my dress, and gave me other clothes, and I looked like a Corahan?, and away we marched for many days amidst deserts and small villages, and more than once it seemed to me that I was amongst the Errate, for their ways were the same. The men would hokkawar with mules and asses, and the women told baji,8787
“Oh, what a strange town it was that I found myself in, full of people who had once been Candor? but had renegaded and become Corahai! There were Ses? and Lalor?, and men of other nations, and amongst them were some of the Errate from my own country; all were now soldiers of the Crallis of the Corahai, and followed him to his wars; and in that town I remained with my ro a long time, occasionally going out with him to the wars, and I often asked him about the black men who had brought me thither, and he told me that he had had dealings with them, and that he believed them to be of the Errate. Well, brother, to be short, my ro was killed in the wars, before a town to which the king of the Corahai laid siege, and I became a piul?, and I returned to the village of the renegades, as it was called, and supported myself as well as I could; and one day, as I was sitting weeping, the black man, whom I had never seen since the day he brought me to my ro, again stood before me, and he said, ‘Come with me, little sister, come with me, the ro is at hand,’ and I went with him, and beyond the gate in the desert was the same party of black men and women which I had seen before. ‘Where is my ro?’ said I. ‘Here he is, little sister,’ said the black man, ‘here he is; from this day I am the ro and you the romi. Come, let us go, for there is business to be done.’
“And I went with him, and he was my ro, and we lived amongst the deserts, and hokkawar’d and choried and told baji; and I said to myself, ‘This is good; sure I am amongst the Errate in a better chim than my own.’ And I often said that they were of the Errate, and then they would laugh and say that it might be so, and that they were not Corahai, but they could give no account of themselves.
“Well, things went on in this way for years, and I had three chai by the black man; two of them died, but the youngest, who is the Call? who sits by the brasero, was spared. So we roamed about and choried and told baji; and it came to pass that once in the winter time our company attempted to pass a wide and deep river, of which there are many in the Chim del Corahai, and the boat overset with the rapidity of the current, and all our people were drowned, all but myself and my chab?, whom I bore in my bosom. I had now no friends amongst the Corahai, and I wandered about the despoblados howling and lamenting till I became half lil?, and in this manner I found my way to the coast, where I made friends with the captain of a ship, and returned to this land of Spain. And now I am here, I often wish myself back again amongst the Corahai.”
Here she commenced laughing loud and long, and when she had ceased, her daughter and grandchild took up the laugh, which they continued so long that I concluded they were all lunatics.
Hour succeeded hour, and still we sat crouching over the brasero, from which, by this time, all warmth had departed; the glow had long since disappeared, and only a few dying sparks were to be distinguished. The room or hall was now involved in utter darkness; the women were motionless and still; I shivered and began to feel uneasy. “Will Antonio be here to-night?” at length I demanded.
“No tenga usted cuidao,8888
I was about to rise from my seat and attempt to escape from the house, when I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder, and in a moment I heard the voice of Antonio.
“Be not afraid; ’tis I, brother. We will have a light anon, and then supper.”
The supper was rude enough, consisting of bread, cheese, and olives; Antonio, however, produced a leathern bottle of excellent wine. We despatched these viands by the light of an earthen lamp, which was placed upon the floor.
“Now,” said Antonio to the youngest female, “bring me the pajand?, and I will sing a gachapla.”
The girl brought the guitar, which, with some difficulty, the gypsy tuned, and then, strumming it vigorously, he sang —
He continued playing and singing for a considerable time, the two younger females dancing in the meanwhile with unwearied diligence, whilst the aged mother occasionally snapped her fingers or beat time on the ground with her stick. At last Antonio suddenly laid down the instrument, exclaiming —
“I see the London Calor? is weary; enough, enough, to-morrow more thereof. We will now to the charip?.”
“With all my heart,” said I; “where are we to sleep?”
“In the stable,” said he, “in the manger; however cold the stable may be, we shall be warm enough in the bufa.”
We remained three days at the gypsies’ house, Antonio departing early every morning, on his mule, and returning late at night. The house was large and ruinous, the only habitable part of it, with the exception of the stable, being the hall, where we had supped, and there the gypsy females slept at night, on some mats and mattresses in a corner.
“A strange house is this,” said I to Antonio, one morning as he was on the point of saddling his mule and departing, as I supposed, on the affairs of Egypt; “a strange house and strange people. That gypsy grandmother has all the appearance of a sowanee.”
“All the appearance of one!” said Antonio; “and is she not really one? She knows more crabbed things and crabbed words than all the Errate betwixt here and Catalonia. She has been amongst the wild Moors, and can make more draos,8989
“Have you been long acquainted with her?” said I. “You appear to be quite at home in this house.”
“Acquainted with her!” said Antonio. “Did not my own brother marry the black Call?, her daughter, who bore him the chab?, sixteen years ago, just before he was hanged by the Busn??”
In the afternoon I was seated with the gypsy mother in the hall, the two Callees were absent telling fortunes about the town and neighbourhood, which was their principal occupation. “Are you married, my London Calor??” said the old woman to me. “Are you a ro?”
Gypsy Mother. – It is high time that the lacha9191
Myself. – I am a stranger in this land, O mother of the gypsies, and scarcely know how to provide for myself, much less for a rom?.
Gypsy Mother. – She wants no one to provide for her, my London Calor?; she can at any time provide for herself and her ro. She can hokkawar, tell baji, and there are few to equal her at stealing ? pastesas.9292
Myself. – Your plan is a plausible one, mother, or at least some people would think so; but I am, as you are aware, of another chim, and have no inclination to pass my life in this country.
Gypsy Mother. – Then return to your own country, my Calor?, the chab? can cross the pa??. Would she not do business in London with the rest of the Calor?? Or why not go to the land of the Corahai? In which case I would accompany you; I and my daughter, the mother of the chab?.
Myself. – And what should we do in the land of the Corahai? It is a poor and wild country, I believe.
Gypsy Mother. – The London Calor? asks me what we could do in the land of the Corahai! Aromali! I almost think that I am speaking to a lilipendi. Are there not horses to chore? Yes, I trow there are, and better ones than in this land, and asses and mules. In the land of the Corahai you must hokkawar and chore even as you must here, or in your own country, or else you are no Calor?. Can you not join yourselves with the black people who live in the despoblados? Yes, surely; and glad they would be to have among them the Errate from Spain and London. I am seventy years of age, but I wish not to die in this chim, but yonder, far away, where both my roms are sleeping. Take the chab?, therefore, and go to Madrilati to win the parn?, and when you have got it, return, and we will give a banquet to all the Busn? in Merida, and in their food I will mix drao, and they shall eat and burst like poisoned sheep… And when they have eaten we will leave them, and away to the land of the Moor, my London Calor?.
During the whole time that I remained at Merida I stirred not once from the house; following the advice of Antonio, who informed me that it would not be convenient. My time lay rather heavily on my hands, my only source of amusement consisting in the conversation of the women, and in that of Antonio when he made his appearance at night. In these tertulias the grandmother was the principal spokeswoman, and astonished my ears with wonderful tales of the land of the Moors, prison escapes, thievish feats, and one or two poisoning adventures, in which she had been engaged, as she informed me, in her early youth.
There was occasionally something very wild in her gestures and demeanour; more than once I observed her, in the midst of much declamation, to stop short, stare in vacancy, and thrust out her palms as if endeavouring to push away some invisible substance; she goggled frightfully with her eyes, and once sank back in convulsions, of which her children took no farther notice than observing that she was only lil?, and would soon come to herself.
Late in the afternoon of the third day, as the three women and myself sat conversing as usual over the brasero, a shabby-looking fellow in an old rusty cloak walked into the room. He came straight up to the place where we were sitting, produced a paper cigar, which he lighted at a coal, and taking a whiff or two, looked at me: “Carracho,” said he, “who is this companion?”
I saw at once that the fellow was no gypsy: the women said nothing, but I could hear the grandmother growling to herself, something after the manner of an old grimalkin when disturbed.
“Carracho,” reiterated the fellow, “how came this companion here?”
“No le penela chi, min chabor?,” said the black Callee to me, in an undertone; “sin un balich? de los chineles;”9393
“Then let him give me some tobacco,” said the fellow; “I suppose he has brought some with him.”
“He has no tobacco,” said the black Callee; “he has nothing but old iron. This cigar is the only tobacco there is in the house; take it, smoke it, and go away!”
Thereupon she produced a cigar from out her shoe, which she presented to the alguazil.
“This will not do,” said the fellow, taking the cigar; “I must have something better. It is now three months since I received anything from you. The last present was a handkerchief, which was good for nothing; therefore hand me over something worth taking, or I will carry you all to the Carcel.”
“The Busn? will take us to prison,” said the black Callee; “ha! ha! ha!”
“The Chinel will take us to prison,” giggled the young girl; “he! he! he!”
“The Bengui will carry us all to the estaripel,” grunted the gypsy grandmother; “ho! ho! ho!”
The three females arose and walked slowly round the fellow, fixing their eyes steadfastly on his face; he appeared frightened, and evidently wished to get away. Suddenly the two youngest seized his hands, and whilst he struggled to release himself, the old woman exclaimed, “You want tobacco, hijo– you come to the gypsy house to frighten the Callees and the strange Calor? out of their plako– truly, hijo, we have none for you, and right sorry I am; we have, however, plenty of the dust ? su servicio.”9494
Here, thrusting her hand into her pocket, she discharged a handful of some kind of dust or snuff into the fellow’s eyes; he stamped and roared, but was for some time held fast by the two Callees. He extricated himself, however, and attempted to unsheath a knife which he bore at his girdle; but the two younger females flung themselves upon him like furies, while the old woman increased his disorder by thrusting her stick into his face; he was soon glad to give up the contest, and retreated, leaving behind him his hat and cloak, which the chab? gathered up and flung after him into the street.
“This is a bad business,” said I; “the fellow will of course bring the rest of the justicia upon us, and we shall all be cast into the estaripel.”
“Ca!” said the black Callee, biting her thumb-nail, “he has more reason to fear us than we him. We could bring him to the filimicha; we have, moreover, friends in this town – plenty, plenty.”
“Yes,” mumbled the grandmother, “the daughters of the baji have friends, my London Calor?, friends among the Busn?, baributre, barib?.”
Nothing farther of any account occurred in the gypsy house. The next day, Antonio and myself were again in the saddle; we travelled at least thirteen leagues before we reached the venta, where we passed the night. We rose early in the morning, my guide informing me that we had a long day’s journey to make. “Where are we bound to?” I demanded. “To Trujillo,” he replied.
When the sun arose, which it did gloomily, and amidst threatening rain-clouds, we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of a range of mountains which lay on our left, and which, Antonio informed me, were called the Sierra of San Selvan. Our route, however, lay over wide plains, scantily clothed with brushwood, with here and there a melancholy village, with its old and dilapidated church. Throughout the greater part of the day, a drizzling rain was falling, which turned the dust of the roads into mud and mire, considerably impeding our progress. Towards evening we reached a moor, a wild place enough, strewn with enormous stones and rocks. Before us, at some distance, rose a strange conical hill, rough and shaggy, which appeared to be neither more nor less than an immense assemblage of the same kind of rocks which lay upon the moor. The rain had now ceased, but a strong wind rose and howled at our backs. Throughout the journey, I had experienced considerable difficulty in keeping up with the mule of Antonio; the walk of the horse was slow, and I could discover no vestige of the spirit which the gypsy had assured me lurked within him. We were now upon a tolerably clear spot of the moor: “I am about to see,” I said, “whether this horse has any of the quality which you have described.” “Do so,” said Antonio, and spurred his beast onward, speedily leaving me far behind. I jerked the horse with the bit, endeavouring to arouse his dormant spirit, whereupon he stopped, reared, and refused to proceed. “Hold the bridle loose, and touch him with your whip,” shouted Antonio from before. I obeyed, and forthwith the animal set off at a trot, which gradually increased in swiftness till it became a downright furious speedy trot; his limbs were now thoroughly lithy, and he brandished his fore-legs in a manner perfectly wondrous. The mule of Antonio, which was a spirited animal of excellent paces, would fain have competed with him, but was passed in a twinkling. This tremendous trot endured for about a mile, when the animal, becoming yet more heated, broke suddenly into a gallop. Hurrah! no hare ever ran so wildly or blindly; it was, literally, ventre ? terre; and I had considerable difficulty in keeping him clear of rocks, against which he would have rushed in his savage fury, and dashed himself and rider to atoms.
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