The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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The gypsy remained for some time like one astounded, and, unwilling to listen to their discourse, which I imagined might relate to business of Egypt, I walked away amidst the thickets. I was absent for some time, but could occasionally hear passionate expressions and oaths. In about half an hour I returned; they had left the road, but I found them behind the broom clump, where the animals stood. Both were seated on the ground. The features of the gypsy were peculiarly dark and grim; he held his unsheathed knife in his hand, which he would occasionally plunge into the earth, exclaiming, “All! All!”
“Brother,” said he at last, “I can go no farther with you; the business which carried me to Castumba is settled. You must now travel by yourself and trust to your baji.”
“I trust in Undevel,” I replied, “who wrote my fortune long ago. But how am I to journey? I have no horse, for you doubtless want your own.”
The gypsy appeared to reflect. “I want the horse, it is true, brother,” he said, “and likewise the macho; but you shall not go en pindr?;102102
“The burra,” I replied, “appears both savage and vicious.”
“She is both, brother, and on that account I bought her; a savage and vicious beast has generally four excellent legs. You are a Cal?, brother, and can manage her; you shall therefore purchase the savage burra, giving my daughter Antonia a baria of gold. If you think fit, you can sell the beast at Talavera or Madrid, for Estremenian bestis are highly considered in Castumba.”
In less than an hour I was on the other side of the pass, mounted on the savage burra.
I proceeded down the pass of Mirabete, occasionally ruminating on the matter which had brought me to Spain, and occasionally admiring one of the finest prospects in the world. Before me outstretched lay immense plains, bounded in the distance by huge mountains, whilst at the foot of the hill which I was now descending rolled the Tagus, in a deep narrow stream, between lofty banks; the whole was gilded by the rays of the setting sun, for the day, though cold and wintry, was bright and clear. In about an hour I reached the river at a place where stood the remains of what had once been a magnificent bridge, which had, however, been blown up in the Peninsular war and never since repaired.
I crossed the river in a ferry-boat; the passage was rather difficult, the current very rapid and swollen, owing to the latter rains.
“Am I in New Castile?” I demanded of the ferryman, on reaching the further bank.“The raya is many leagues from hence,” replied the ferryman; “you seem a stranger. Whence do you come?” “From England,” I replied, and without waiting for an answer, I sprang on the burra, and proceeded on my way. The burra plied her feet most nimbly, and shortly after nightfall, brought me to a village at about two leagues’ distance from the river’s bank.
I sat down in the venta where I put up; there was a huge fire, consisting of the greater part of the trunk of an olive-tree. The company was rather miscellaneous: a hunter with his escopeta; a brace of shepherds with immense dogs, of that species for which Estremadura103103
“I would I were a wolf,” said one of the shepherds; “or, indeed, anything rather than what I am. A pretty life is this of ours, out in the campo, among the carrascales, suffering heat and cold for a peseta a day. I would I were a wolf; he fares better, and is more respected than the wretch of a shepherd.”
“But he frequently fares scurvily,” said I; “the shepherd and dogs fall upon him, and then he pays for his temerity with the loss of his head.”
“That is not often the case, se?or traveller,” said the shepherd; “he watches his opportunity, and seldom runs into harm’s way. And as to attacking him, it is no very pleasant task; he has both teeth and claws, and dog or man, who has once felt them, likes not to venture a second time within his reach. These dogs of mine will seize a bear singly with considerable alacrity, though he is a most powerful animal; but I have seen them run howling away from a wolf, even though there were two or three of us at hand to encourage them.”
“A dangerous person is the wolf,” said the other shepherd, “and cunning as dangerous. Who knows more than he? He knows the vulnerable point of every animal; see, for example, how he flies at the neck of a bullock, tearing open the veins with his grim teeth and claws. But does he attack a horse in this manner? I trow not.”
“Not he,” said the other shepherd, “he is too good a judge; but he fastens on the haunches, and hamstrings him in a moment. Oh, the fear of the horse when he comes near the dwelling of the wolf! My master was the other day riding in the despoblado, above the pass, on his fine Andalusian steed, which had cost him five hundred dollars. Suddenly the horse stopped, and sweated and trembled like a woman in the act of fainting. My master could not conceive the reason, but presently he heard a squealing and growling in the bushes, whereupon he fired off his gun and scared the wolves, who scampered away; but he tells me, that the horse has not yet recovered from his fright.”
“Yet the mares know, occasionally, how to balk him,” replied his companion. “There is great craft and malice in mares, as there is in all females. See them feeding in the campo with their young cria about them; presently the alarm is given that the wolf is drawing near; they start wildly and run about for a moment, but it is only for a moment – amain they gather together, forming themselves into a circle, in the centre of which they place the foals. Onward comes the wolf, hoping to make his dinner on horseflesh. He is mistaken, however; the mares have balked him, and are as cunning as himself. Not a tail is to be seen – not a hinder quarter – but there stand the whole troop, their fronts towards him ready to receive him, and as he runs round them barking and howling, they rise successively on their hind legs, ready to stamp him to the earth, should he attempt to hurt their cria or themselves.”
“Worse than the he-wolf,” said the soldier, “is the female; for, as the se?or pastor has well observed, there is more malice in women than in males. To see one of these she-demons with a troop of the males at her heels is truly surprising: where she turns they turn, and what she does that do they; for they appear bewitched, and have no power but to imitate her actions. I was once travelling with a comrade over the hills of Galicia, when we heard a howl. ‘Those are wolves,’ said my companion; ‘let us get out of the way.’ So we stepped from the path and ascended the side of the hill a little way, to a terrace, where grew vines, after the manner of Galicia. Presently appeared a large grey she-wolf, deshonesta, snapping and growling at a troop of demons, who followed close behind, their tails uplifted, and their eyes like firebrands. What do you think the perverse brute did? Instead of keeping to the path, she turned in the very direction in which we were; there was now no remedy, so we stood still. I was the first upon the terrace, and by me she passed so close that I felt her hair brush against my legs; she, however, took no notice of me, but pushed on, neither looking to the right nor left, and all the other wolves trotted by me without offering the slightest injury, or even so much as looking at me. Would that I could say as much for my poor companion, who stood farther on, and was, I believe, less in the demon’s way than I was; she had nearly passed him, when suddenly she turned half round and snapped at him. I shall never forget what followed: in a moment a dozen wolves were upon him, tearing him limb from limb, with howlings like nothing in this world. In a few moments he was devoured; nothing remained but the skull and a few bones; and then they passed on in the same manner as they came. Good reason had I to be grateful that my lady wolf took less notice of me than my poor comrade.”
Listening to this and similar conversation, I fell into a doze before the fire, in which I continued for a considerable time, but was at length roused by a voice exclaiming in a loud tone, “All are captured!” These were the exact words which, when spoken by his daughter, confounded the gypsy upon the moor. I looked around me. The company consisted of the same individuals to whose conversation I had been listening before I sank into slumber; but the beggar was now the spokesman, and he was haranguing with considerable vehemence.
“I beg your pardon, Caballero” said I, “but I did not hear the commencement of your discourse. Who are those who have been captured?”
“A band of accursed Gitanos, Caballero,” replied the beggar, returning the title of courtesy which I had bestowed upon him. “During more than a fortnight they have infested the roads on the frontier of Castile, and many have been the gentlemen travellers like yourself whom they have robbed and murdered. It would seem that the gypsy canaille must needs take advantage of these troublous times, and form themselves into a faction. It is said that the fellows of whom I am speaking expected many more of their brethren to join them, which is likely enough, for all gypsies are thieves: but praised be God, they have been put down before they became too formidable. I saw them myself conveyed to the prison at – . Thanks be to God. Todos estan presos.”104104
“The mystery is now solved,” said I to myself, and proceeded to despatch my supper, which was now ready.
The next day’s journey brought me to a considerable town, the name of which I have forgotten. It is the first in New Castile, in this direction.105105
“What mountains are those?” I inquired of a barber-surgeon who, mounted like myself on a grey burra, joined me about noon, and proceeded in my company for several leagues. “They have many names, Caballero,” replied the barber; “according to the names of the neighbouring places, so they are called. Yon portion of them is styled the Serrania of Plasencia; and opposite to Madrid they are termed the Mountains of Guadarrama, from a river of that name, which descends from them. They run a vast way, Caballero, and separate the two kingdoms, for on the other side is Old Castile. They are mighty mountains, and, though they generate much cold, I take pleasure in looking at them, which is not to be wondered at, seeing that I was born amongst them, though at present, for my sins, I live in a village of the plain. Caballero, there is not another such range in Spain; they have their secrets, too – their mysteries. Strange tales are told of those hills, and of what they contain in their deep recesses, for they are a broad chain, and you may wander days and days amongst them without coming to any termino. Many have lost themselves on those hills, and have never again been heard of. Strange things are told of them: it is said that in certain places there are deep pools and lakes, in which dwell monsters, huge serpents as long as a pine-tree, and horses of the flood, which sometimes come out and commit mighty damage. One thing is certain, that yonder, far away to the west, in the heart of those hills, there is a wonderful valley, so narrow that only at mid-day is the face of the sun to be descried from it. That valley lay undiscovered and unknown for thousands of years; no person dreamed of its existence. But at last, a long time ago, certain hunters entered it by chance, and then what do you think they found, Caballero? They found a small nation or tribe of unknown people, speaking an unknown language, who, perhaps, had lived there since the creation of the world, without intercourse with the rest of their fellow-creatures, and without knowing that other beings besides themselves existed! Caballero, did you never hear of the valley of the Batuecas?106106
Throughout the day I pressed the burra forward, only stopping once in order to feed the animal; but, notwithstanding that she played her part very well, night came on, and I was still about two leagues from Talavera. As the sun went down, the cold became intense; I drew the old gypsy cloak, which I still wore, closer around me, but I found it quite inadequate to protect me from the inclemency of the atmosphere. The road, which lay over a plain, was not very distinctly traced, and became in the dusk rather difficult to find, more especially as cross-roads leading to different places were of frequent occurrence. I, however, proceeded in the best manner I could, and when I became dubious as to the course which I should take, I invariably allowed the animal on which I was mounted to decide. At length the moon shone out faintly, when suddenly by its beams I beheld a figure moving before me at a slight distance. I quickened the pace of the burra, and was soon close at its side. It went on, neither altering its pace nor looking round for a moment. It was the figure of a man, the tallest and bulkiest that I had hitherto seen in Spain, dressed in a manner strange and singular for the country. On his head was a hat with a low crown and broad brim, very much resembling that of an English waggoner; about his body was a long loose tunic or slop, seemingly of coarse ticken,107107
There was something peculiarly strange about the figure; but what struck me the most was the tranquillity with which it moved along, taking no heed of me, though of course aware of my proximity, but looking straight forward along the road, save when it occasionally raised a huge face and large eyes towards the moon, which was now shining forth in the eastern quarter.
“A cold night,” said I at last. “Is this the way to Talavera?”
“It is the way to Talavera, and the night is cold.”
“I am going to Talavera,” said I, “as I suppose you are yourself.”
“I am going thither, so are you, bueno.”
The tones of the voice which delivered these words were in their way quite as strange and singular as the figure to which the voice belonged. They were not exactly the tones of a Spanish voice, and yet there was something in them that could hardly be foreign; the pronunciation also was correct, and the language, though singular, faultless. But I was most struck with the manner in which the last word, bueno, was spoken. I had heard something like it before, but where or when I could by no means remember.108108
“Are you not afraid,” said I at last, “to travel these roads in the dark? It is said that there are robbers abroad.”
“Are you not rather afraid,” replied the figure, “to travel these roads in the dark? – you who are ignorant of the country, who are a foreigner, an Englishman?”
“How is it that you know me to be an Englishman?” demanded I, much surprised.
“That is no difficult matter,” replied the figure; “the sound of your voice was enough to tell me that.”
“You speak of voices,” said I; “suppose the tone of your own voice were to tell me who you are?”
“That it will not do,” replied my companion; “you know nothing about me – you can know nothing about me.
“Be not sure of that, my friend; I am acquainted with many things of which you have little idea.”
“Por exemplo,” said the figure.
“For example,” said I, “you speak two languages.”
The figure moved on, seemed to consider a moment and then said slowly, “Bueno.”
“You have two names,” I continued; “one for the house, and the other for the street; both are good, but the one by which you are called at home is the one which you like best.”
The man walked on about ten paces, in the same manner as he had previously done; all of a sudden he turned, and taking the bridle of the burra gently in his hand, stopped her. I had now a full view of his face and figure, and those huge features and Herculean form still occasionally revisit me in my dreams. I see him standing in the moonshine, staring me in the face with his deep calm eyes. At last he said —
“Are you then one of us?”
It was late at night when we arrived at Talavera. We went to a large gloomy house, which my companion informed me was the principle posada of the town. We entered the kitchen, at the extremity of which a large fire was blazing. “Pepita,”109109
Myself. – Of course you have conversed with Englishmen before, else you could not have recognized me by the tone of my voice.
Myself. – And what kind of life do you pursue, and by what means do you obtain support?
Abarbenel. – I experience no difficulty. I live much in the same way as I believe my forefathers lived: certainly as my father did, for his course has been mine. At his death I took possession of the herencia, for I was his only child. It was not requisite that I should follow any business, for my wealth was great; yet, to avoid remark, I followed that of my father, who was a longanizero. I have occasionally dealt in wool, but lazily – lazily – as I had no stimulus for exertion. I was, however, successful; in many instances strangely so; much more than many others who toiled day and night, and whose whole soul was in the trade.
Myself. – Have you any children? Are you married?
Abarbenel. – I have no children, though I am married. I have a wife, and an amiga, or I should rather say two wives, for I am wedded to both.111111
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