The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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This race brought me to the foot of the hill, where I waited till the gypsy rejoined me. We left the hill, which seemed quite inaccessible, on our right, passing through a small and wretched village. The sun went down, and dark night presently came upon us; we proceeded on, however, for nearly three hours, until we heard the barking of dogs, and perceived a light or two in the distance. “That is Trujillo,” said Antonio, who had not spoken for a long time. “I am glad of it,” I replied; “I am thoroughly tired; I shall sleep soundly in Trujillo.” “That is as it may be,” said the gypsy, and spurred his mule to a brisker pace. We soon entered the town, which appeared dark and gloomy enough; I followed close behind the gypsy, who led the way I knew not whither, through dismal streets and dark places, where cats were squalling. “Here is the house,” said he at last, dismounting before a low mean hut. He knocked – no answer was returned; he knocked again, but still there was no reply; he shook the door and essayed to open it, but it appeared firmly locked and bolted. “Caramba!” said he; “they are out – I feared it might be so. Now, what are we to do?”
“There can be no difficulty,” said I, “with respect to what we have to do; if your friends are gone out, it is easy enough to go to a posada.”
“You know not what you say,” replied the gypsy. “I dare not go to the mesuna, nor enter any house in Trujillo save this, and this is shut. Well, there is no remedy; we must move on, and, between ourselves, the sooner we leave this place the better; my own planor? was garroted at Trujillo.”
He lighted a cigar, by means of a steel and yesca, sprang on his mule, and proceeded through streets and lanes equally dismal as those which we had already traversed, till we again found ourselves out of the town.
I confess I did not much like this decision of the gypsy; I felt very slight inclination to leave the town behind, and to venture into unknown places in the dark night, amidst rain and mist, for the wind had now dropped, and the rain began again to fall briskly. I was, moreover, much fatigued, and wished for nothing better than to deposit myself in some comfortable manger, where I might sink to sleep, lulled by the pleasant sound of horses and mules despatching their provender. I had, however, put myself under the direction of the gypsy, and I was too old a traveller to quarrel with my guide under the present circumstances. I therefore followed close at his crupper, our only light being the glow emitted from the gypsy’s cigar; at last he flung it from his mouth into a puddle, and we were then in darkness.
We proceeded in this manner for a long time. The gypsy was silent; I myself was equally so; the rain descended more and more. I sometimes thought I heard doleful noises, something like the hooting of owls. “This is a strange night to be wandering abroad in,” I at length said to Antonio. “It is, brother,” said he; “but I would sooner be abroad in such a night, and in such places, than in the estaripel of Trujillo.”
We wandered at least a league farther, and appeared now to be near a wood, for I could occasionally distinguish the trunks of immense trees.Suddenly Antonio stopped his mule. “Look, brother,” said he, “to the left, and tell me if you do not see a light; your eyes are sharper than mine.” I did as he commanded me. At first I could see nothing, but, moving a little farther on, I plainly saw a large light at some distance, seemingly amongst the trees. “Yonder cannot be a lamp or candle,” said I; “it is more like the blaze of a fire.” “Very likely,” said Antonio. “There are no queres in this place; it is doubtless a fire made by durotunes. Let us go and join them, for, as you say, it is doleful work wandering about at night amidst rain and mire.”
We dismounted and entered what I now saw was a forest, leading the animals cautiously amongst the trees and brushwood. In about five minutes we reached a small open space, at the farther side of which, at the foot of a large cork-tree, a fire was burning, and by it stood or sat two or three figures; they had heard our approach, and one of them now exclaimed, “Quien vive!”9595
“And what,” said I, “could have induced them to leave their house in Trujillo and come into this dark forest, in the midst of wind and rain, to pass the night?”
“They come on business of Egypt, brother, doubtless,” replied Antonio; “and that business is none of ours. Calla boca!9696
“My ro is prisoner at the village yonder,” said the woman, pointing with her hand in a particular direction; “he is prisoner yonder for choring a mailla.9797
One of the striplings now gave us barley for our animals in a large bag, into which we successively introduced their heads, allowing the famished creatures to regale themselves till we conceived that they had satisfied their hunger. There was a puchero simmering at the fire, half full of bacon, garbanzos, and other provisions; this was emptied into a large wooden platter, and out of this Antonio and myself supped. The other gypsies refused to join us, giving us to understand that they had eaten before our arrival; they all, however, did justice to the leathern bottle of Antonio, which, before his departure from Merida, he had the precaution to fill.
I was by this time completely overcome with fatigue and sleep. Antonio flung me an immense horse-cloth, of which he bore more than one beneath the huge cushion on which he rode; in this I wrapped myself, and placing my head upon a bundle, and my feet as near as possible to the fire, I lay down.
Antonio and the other gypsies remained seated by the fire conversing. I listened for a moment to what they said, but I did not perfectly understand it, and what I did understand by no means interested me. The rain still drizzled, but I heeded it not, and was soon asleep.
The sun was just appearing as I awoke. I made several efforts before I could rise from the ground; my limbs were quite stiff, and my hair was covered with rime, for the rain had ceased and a rather severe frost set in. I looked around me, but could see neither Antonio nor the gypsies. The animals of the latter had likewise disappeared, so had the horse which I had hitherto rode; the mule, however, of Antonio still remained fastened to the tree. This latter circumstance quieted some apprehensions which were beginning to arise in my mind. “They are gone on some business of Egypt,” I said to myself, “and will return anon.” I gathered together the embers of the fire, and heaping upon them sticks and branches, soon succeeded in calling forth a blaze, beside which I again placed the puchero, with what remained of the provision of last night. I waited for a considerable time in expectation of the return of my companions, but as they did not appear, I sat down and breakfasted. Before I had well finished I heard the noise of a horse approaching rapidly, and presently Antonio made his appearance amongst the trees, with some agitation in his countenance. He sprang from the horse, and instantly proceeded to untie the mule. “Mount, brother, mount!” said he, pointing to the horse. “I went with the Callee and her chab?s to the village where the ro is in trouble; the chinobar?, however, seized them at once with their cattle, and would have laid hands also on me, but I set spurs to the grasti, gave him the bridle, and was soon far away. Mount, brother, mount, or we shall have the whole rustic canaille upon us in a twinkling.”
I did as he commanded: we were presently in the road which we had left the night before. Along this we hurried at a great rate, the horse displaying his best speedy trot; whilst the mule, with its ears pricked up, galloped gallantly at his side. “What place is that on the hill yonder?” said I to Antonio, at the expiration of an hour, as we prepared to descend a deep valley.
“If it is such a bad place,” said I, “I hope we shall not have to pass through it.”
“We must pass through it,” said Antonio, “for more reasons than one: first, forasmuch as the road lies through Jaraicejo; and, second, forasmuch as it will be necessary to purchase provisions there, both for ourselves and horses. On the other side of Jaraicejo there is a wild desert, a despoblado, where we shall find nothing.”
We crossed the valley, and ascended the hill, and as we drew near to the town, the gypsy said, “Brother, we had best pass through that town singly. I will go in advance; follow slowly, and when there purchase bread and barley; you have nothing to fear. I will await you on the despoblado.”
Without waiting for my answer he hastened forward, and was speedily out of sight.
I followed slowly behind, and entered the gate of the town, an old dilapidated place, consisting of little more than one street. Along this street I was advancing, when a man with a dirty foraging cap on his head, and holding a gun in his hand, came running up to me. “Who are you?” said he, in rather rough accents; “from whence do you come?”
“From Badajoz and Trujillo,” I replied; “why do you ask?”
“I am one of the national guard,” said the man, “and am placed here to inspect strangers. I am told that a gypsy fellow just now rode through the town; it is well for him that I had stepped into my house. Do you come in his company?”
“Do I look a person,” said I, “likely to keep company with gypsies?”
The national measured me from top to toe, and then looked me full in the face with an expression which seemed to say, “likely enough.” In fact, my appearance was by no means calculated to prepossess people in my favour. Upon my head I wore an old Andalusian hat, which, from its condition, appeared to have been trodden underfoot; a rusty cloak, which had perhaps served half a dozen generations, enwrapped my body. My nether garments were by no means of the finest description, and, as far as could be seen, were covered with mud, with which my face was likewise plentifully bespattered, and upon my chin was a beard of a week’s growth.
“Have you a passport?” at length demanded the national.
I remembered having read that the best way to win a Spaniard’s heart is to treat him with ceremonious civility. I therefore dismounted, and taking off my hat, made a low bow to the constitutional soldier, saying, “Se?or nacional, you must know that I am an English gentleman, travelling in this country for my pleasure. I bear a passport, which, on inspecting, you will find to be perfectly regular; it was given me by the great Lord Palmerston, minister of England, whom you of course have heard of here; at the bottom you will see his own handwriting. Look at it and rejoice; perhaps you will never have another opportunity. As I put unbounded confidence in the honour of every gentleman, I leave the passport in your hands whilst I repair to the posada to refresh myself. When you have inspected it, you will perhaps oblige me so far as to bring it to me. Cavalier, I kiss your hands.”
I then made him another low bow, which he returned with one still lower, and leaving him now staring at the passport and now looking at myself, I went into a posada, to which I was directed by a beggar whom I met.
I fed the horse, and procured some bread and barley, as the gypsy had directed me; I likewise purchased three fine partridges of a fowler, who was drinking wine in the posada. He was satisfied with the price I gave him, and offered to treat me with a copita, to which I made no objection. As we sat discoursing at the table, the national entered with the passport in his hand, and sat down by us.
National. —Caballero! I return you your passport; it is quite in form. I rejoice much to have made your acquaintance; I have no doubt that you can give me some information respecting the present war.
Myself. – I shall be very happy to afford so polite and honourable a gentleman any information in my power.
National. – What is England doing? Is she about to afford any assistance to this country? If she pleased she could put down the war in three months.
Myself. – Be under no apprehension, Se?or nacional; the war will be put down, don’t doubt. You have heard of the English legion,9999
National. – It appears to me that this Caballero Balmerson must be a very honest man.
Myself. – There can be no doubt of it.
National. – I have heard that he is a great general.
Myself. – There can be no doubt of it. In some things neither Napoleon nor the Sawyer100100
National. – I am glad to hear it. Does he intend to head the legion himself?
Myself. – I believe not; but he has sent over, to head the fighting men, a friend of his, who is thought to be nearly as much versed in military matters as himself.
National. – I am rejoiced to hear it. I see that the war will soon be over. Caballero, I thank you for your politeness, and for the information which you have afforded me. I hope you will have a pleasant journey. I confess that I am surprised to see a gentleman of your country travelling alone, and in this manner, through such regions as these. The roads are at present very bad; there have of late been many accidents, and more than two deaths in this neighbourhood. The despoblado out yonder has a particularly evil name; be on your guard, Caballero. I am sorry that gypsy was permitted to pass; should you meet him and not like his looks, shoot him at once, stab him, or ride him down. He is a well-known thief, contrabandista, and murderer, and has committed more assassinations than he has fingers on his hands. Caballero, if you please, we will allow you a guard to the other side of the pass. You do not wish it? Then, farewell. Stay, before I go I should wish to see once more the signature of the Caballero Balmerson.
I showed him the signature, which he looked upon with profound reverence, uncovering his head for a moment. We then embraced and parted.
I mounted the horse and rode from the town, at first proceeding very slowly. I had no sooner, however, reached the moor, than I put the animal to his speedy trot, and proceeded at a tremendous rate for some time, expecting every moment to overtake the gypsy. I, however, saw nothing of him, nor did I meet with a single human being. The road along which I sped was narrow and sandy, winding amidst thickets of broom and brushwood, with which the despoblado was overgrown, and which in some places were as high as a man’s head. Across the moor, in the direction in which I was proceeding, rose a lofty eminence, naked and bare. The moor extended for at least three leagues; I had nearly crossed it, and reached the foot of the ascent. I was becoming very uneasy, conceiving that I might have passed the gypsy amongst the thickets, when I suddenly heard his well-known Ola! and his black savage head and staring eyes suddenly appeared from amidst a clump of broom.
“You have tarried long, brother,” said he; “I almost thought you had played me false.”
He bade me dismount, and then proceeded to lead the horse behind the thicket, where I found the mule picqueted to the ground. I gave him the barley and provisions, and then proceeded to relate to him my adventure with the national.
“I would I had him here,” said the gypsy, on hearing the epithets which the former had lavished upon him – “I would I had him here, then should my chul? and his carlo become better acquainted.”
“And what are you doing here yourself,” I demanded, “in this wild place, amidst these thickets?”
“I am expecting a messenger down yon pass,” said the gypsy; “and till that messenger arrive I can neither go forward nor return. It is on business of Egypt, brother, that I am here.”
As he invariably used this last expression when he wished to evade my inquiries, I held my peace, and said no more. The animals were fed, and we proceeded to make a frugal repast on bread and wine.
“Why do you not cook the game which I brought?” I demanded; “in this place there is plenty of materials for a fire.”
“The smoke might discover us, brother,” said Antonio. “I am desirous of lying escondido in this place until the arrival of the messenger.”
It was now considerably past noon. The gypsy lay behind the thicket, raising himself up occasionally and looking anxiously towards the hill which lay over against us; at last, with an exclamation of disappointment and impatience, he flung himself on the ground, where he lay a considerable time, apparently ruminating; at last he lifted up his head and looked me in the face.
Antonio. – Brother, I cannot imagine what business brought you to this country.
Myself. – Perhaps the same which brings you to this moor – business of Egypt.
Antonio. – Not so, brother; you speak the language of Egypt, it is true, but your ways and words are neither those of the Cal?s nor of the Busn?.
Myself. – Did you not hear me speak in the foros about God and Tebleque? It was to declare His glory to the Cal?s and Gentiles that I came to the land of Spain.
Antonio. – And who sent you on this errand?
Myself. – You would scarcely understand me were I to inform you. Know, however, that there are many in foreign lands who lament the darkness which envelops Spain, and the scenes of cruelty, robbery, and murder which deform it.
Antonio. – Are they Calor? or Busn??
Myself. – What matters it? Both Calor? and Busn? are sons of the same God.
Antonio. – You lie, brother; they are not of one father nor of one Errate. You speak of robbery, cruelty, and murder. There are too many Busn?, brother; if there were no Busn? there would be neither robbery nor murder. The Calor? neither rob nor murder each other, the Busn? do; nor are they cruel to their animals, their law forbids them. When I was a child I was beating a burra, but my father stopped my hand, and chided me. “Hurt not the animal,” said he; “for within it is the soul of your own sister!”
Myself. – And do you believe in this wild doctrine, O Antonio?
Antonio. – Sometimes I do, sometimes I do not. There are some who believe in nothing; not even that they live! Long since, I knew an old Calor?– he was old, very old, upwards of a hundred years – and I once heard him say, that all we thought we saw was a lie; that there was no world, no men nor women, no horses nor mules, no olive-trees. But whither are we straying? I asked what induced you to come to this country – you tell me, the glory of God and Tebleque. Disparate! tell that to the Busn?. You have good reasons for coming, no doubt, else you would not be here. Some say you are a spy of the London?. Perhaps you are; I care not. Rise, brother, and tell me whether any one is coming down the pass.
“I see a distant object,” I replied; “like a speck on the side of the hill.”
The gypsy started up, and we both fixed our eyes on the object: the distance was so great that it was at first with difficulty that we could distinguish whether it moved or not. A quarter of an hour, however, dispelled all doubts, for within this time it had nearly reached the bottom of the hill, and we could descry a figure seated on an animal of some kind.
“It is a woman,” said I, at length, “mounted on a grey donkey.”
“Then it is my messenger,” said Antonio, “for it can be no other.”
The woman and the donkey were now upon the plain, and for some time were concealed from us by the copse and brushwood which intervened. They were not long, however, in making their appearance at the distance of about a hundred yards. The donkey was a beautiful creature of a silver grey, and came frisking along, swinging her tail, and moving her feet so quick that they scarcely seemed to touch the ground. The animal no sooner perceived us than she stopped short, turned round, and attempted to escape by the way she had come; her rider, however, detained her, whereupon the donkey kicked violently, and would probably have flung the former, had she not sprung nimbly to the ground. The form of the woman was entirely concealed by the large wrapping man’s cloak which she wore. I ran to assist her, when she turned her face full upon me, and I instantly recognized the sharp, clever features of Antonia, whom I had seen at Badajoz, the daughter of my guide. She said nothing to me, but advancing to her father, addressed something to him in a low voice, which I did not hear. He started back, and vociferated “All!” “Yes,” said she in a louder tone, probably repeating the words which I had not caught before, “All are captured.”
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