The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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Shortly before we reached the summit of the pass thick mists began to envelope the tops of the hills, and a drizzling rain descended. “These mists,” said Antonio, “are what the Gallegans call bretima; and it is said there is never any lack of them in their country.” “Have you ever visited the country before?” I demanded. “Non, mon ma?tre; but I have frequently lived in houses where the domestics were in part Gallegans, on which account I know not a little of their ways, and even something of their language.” “Is the opinion which you have formed of them at all in their favour?” I inquired. “By no means, mon ma?tre; the men in general seem clownish and simple, yet they are capable of deceiving the most clever filou of Paris; and as for the women, it is impossible to live in the same house with them, more especially if they are camareras, and wait upon the se?ora; they are continually breeding dissensions and disputes in the house, and telling tales of the other domestics. I have already lost two or three excellent situations in Madrid, solely owing to these Gallegan chambermaids. We have now come to the frontier, mon ma?tre, for such I conceive this village to be.”
We entered the village, which stood on the summit of the mountain, and, as our horses and ourselves were by this time much fatigued, we looked round for a place in which to obtain refreshment. Close by the gate stood a building which, from the circumstance of a mule or two and a wretched pony standing before it, we concluded was the posada, as in effect it proved to be. We entered: several soldiers were lolling on heaps of coarse hay, with which the place, which much resembled a stable, was half filled. All were exceedingly ill-looking fellows, and very dirty. They were conversing with each other in a strange-sounding dialect, which I supposed to be Gallegan. Scarcely did they perceive us when two or three of them, starting from their couch, ran up to Antonio, whom they welcomed with much affection, calling him companheiro. “How came you to know these men?” I demanded in French: “Ces messieurs sont presque tous de ma connoissance,” he replied, “et, entre nous, ce sont de v?ritables vauriens; they are almost all robbers and assassins. That fellow with one eye, who is the corporal, escaped a little time ago from Madrid, more than suspected of being concerned in an affair of poisoning; but he is safe enough here in his own country, and is placed to guard the frontier, as you see? but we must treat them civilly, man ma?tre; we must give them wine, or they will be offended. I know them, mon ma?tre– I know them. Here, hostess, bring an azumbre of wine.”
Whilst Antonio was engaged in treating his friends, I led the horses to the stable; this was through the house, inn, or whatever it might be called. The stable was a wretched shed, in which the horses sank to their fetlocks in mud and puddle.On inquiring for barley, I was told that I was now in Galicia, where barley was not used for provender, and was very rare. I was offered in lieu of it Indian corn, which, however, the horses ate without hesitation. There was no straw to be had; coarse hay, half green, being the substitute. By trampling about in the mud of the stable my horse soon lost a shoe, for which I searched in vain. “Is there a blacksmith in the village?” I demanded of a shock-headed fellow who officiated as ostler.
Ostler. —Si, Senhor;267267
Myself. – What do you mean? Is the blacksmith unequal to his trade? Cannot he put on a horseshoe?
Ostler. —Si, Senhor; he can put on a horseshoe, if you give it him; but there are no horseshoes in Galicia, at least in these parts.
Myself. – Is it not customary, then, to shoe the horses in Galicia?
Ostler. —Senhor, there are no horses in Galicia, there are only ponies; and those who bring horses to Galicia – and none but madmen ever do – must bring shoes to fit them; only shoes of ponies are to be found here.
Myself. – What do you mean by saying that only madmen bring horses to Galicia?
Ostler. —Senhor, no horse can stand the food of Galicia and the mountains of Galicia long, without falling sick; and then, if he does not die at once, he will cost you in farriers more than he is worth. Besides, a horse is of no use here, and cannot perform amongst the broken ground the tenth part of the service which a little pony mare can. By-the-by, Senhor, I perceive that yours is an entire horse; now out of twenty ponies that you see on the roads of Galicia, nineteen are mares; the males are sent down into Castile to be sold. Senhor, your horse will become heated on our roads, and will catch the bad glanders, for which there is no remedy. Senhor, a man must be mad to bring any horse to Galicia, but twice mad to bring an entero, as you have done.
“A strange country this of Galicia,” said I, and went to consult with Antonio.
It appeared that the information of the ostler was literally true with regard to the horseshoe; at least, the blacksmith of the village, to whom we conducted the animal, confessed his inability to shoe him, having none that would fit his hoof. He said it was very probable that we should be obliged to lead the animal to Lugo, which being a cavalry station, we might perhaps find there what we wanted. He added, however, that the greatest part of the cavalry soldiers were mounted on the ponies of the country, the mortality amongst the horses brought from the level ground into Galicia being frightful. Lugo was ten leagues distant: there seemed, however, to be no remedy at hand but patience, and, having refreshed ourselves, we proceeded, leading our horses by the bridle.
We were now on level ground, being upon the very top of one of the highest mountains in Galicia. This level continued for about a league, when we began to descend. Before we had crossed the plain, which was overgrown with furze and brushwood, we came suddenly upon half a dozen fellows, armed with muskets, and wearing a tattered uniform. We at first supposed them to be banditti: they were, however, only a party of soldiers, who had been detached from the station we had just quitted to escort one of the provincial posts or couriers. They were clamorous for cigars, but offered us no further incivility. Having no cigars to bestow, I gave them in lieu thereof a small piece of silver. Two of the worst looking were very eager to be permitted to escort us to Nogales, the village where we proposed to spend the night. “By no means permit them, mon ma?tre,” said Antonio. “They are two famous assassins of my acquaintance; I have known them at Madrid. In the first ravine they will shoot and plunder us.” I therefore civilly declined their offer and departed. “You seem to be acquainted with all the cut-throats in Galicia,” said I to Antonio, as we descended the hill.
“With respect to those two fellows,” he replied, “I knew them when I lived as cook in the family of General Q-, who is a Gallegan: they were sworn friends of the repostero. All the Gallegans in Madrid know each other, whether high or low makes no difference; there, at least, they are all good friends, and assist each other on all imaginable occasions; and if there be a Gallegan domestic in a house, the kitchen is sure to be filled with his countrymen, as the cook frequently knows to his cost, for they generally contrive to eat up any little perquisites which he may have reserved for himself and family.”
Somewhat less than halfway down the mountain we reached a small village. On observing a blacksmith’s shop, we stopped, in the faint hope of finding a shoe for the horse, who, for want of one, was rapidly becoming lame. To our great joy we found that the smith was in possession of one single horseshoe, which some time previously he had found upon the way. This, after undergoing much hammering and alteration, was pronounced by the Gallegan Vulcan to be capable of serving in lieu of a better; whereupon we again mounted, and slowly continued our descent.
Shortly ere sunset we arrived at Nogales, a hamlet situate in a narrow valley at the foot of the mountain, in traversing which we had spent the day. Nothing could be more picturesque than the appearance of this spot: steep hills, thickly clad with groves and forests of chestnuts, surrounded it on every side; the village itself was almost embowered in trees, and close beside it ran a purling brook. Here we found a tolerably large and commodious posada.
I was languid and fatigued, but felt little desire to sleep. Antonio cooked our supper, or rather his own, for I had no appetite. I sat by the door, gazing at the wood-covered heights above me, or on the waters of the rivulet, occasionally listening to the people who lounged about the house, conversing in the country dialect. What a strange tongue is the Gallegan, with its half-singing, half-whining accent, and with its confused jumble of words from many languages, but chiefly from the Spanish and Portuguese!268268
As the night closed in I retired to bed, where I remained four or five hours, restless and tossing about, the fever of Leon still clinging to my system. It was considerably past midnight when, just as I was sinking into a slumber, I was aroused by a confused noise in the village, and the glare of lights through the lattice of the window of the room where I lay; presently entered Antonio, half dressed. “Mon ma?tre,” said he, “the grand post from Madrid to Corunna has just arrived in the village, attended by a considerable escort, and an immense number of travellers. The road, they say, between here and Lugo is infested with robbers and Carlists, who are committing all kinds of atrocities; let us, therefore, avail ourselves of the opportunity, and by midday to-morrow we shall find ourselves safe in Lugo.” On hearing these words, I instantly sprang out of bed and dressed myself, telling Antonio to prepare the horses with all speed.
We were soon mounted and in the street, amidst a confused throng of men and quadrupeds. The light of a couple of flambeaus, which were borne before the courier, shone on the arms of several soldiers, seemingly drawn up on either side of the road; the darkness, however, prevented me from distinguishing objects very clearly. The courier himself was mounted on a little shaggy pony; before and behind him were two immense portmanteaus, or leather sacks, the ends of which nearly touched the ground. For about a quarter of an hour there was much hubbub, shouting, and trampling, at the end of which period the order was given to proceed. Scarcely had we left the village when the flambeaus were extinguished, and we were left in almost total darkness; for some time we were amongst woods and trees, as was evident from the rustling of leaves on every side. My horse was very uneasy and neighed fearfully, occasionally raising himself bolt upright. “If your horse is not more quiet, cavalier, we shall be obliged to shoot him,” said a voice in an Andalusian accent; “he disturbs the whole cavalcade.” “That would be a pity, sergeant,” I replied, “for he is a Cordovese by the four sides; he is not used to the ways of this barbarous country.” “Oh, he is a Cordovese,” said the voice; “vaya, I did not know that; I am from Cordova myself. Pobrecito! let me pat him – yes, I know by his coat that he is my countryman. Shoot him, indeed! vaya, I would fain see the Gallegan devil who would dare to harm him. Barbarous country, yo lo creo:269269
In this manner we proceeded for several hours, up hill and down dale, but generally at a very slow pace. The soldiers who escorted us from time to time sang patriotic songs, breathing love and attachment to the young Queen Isabel, and detestation of the grim tyrant Carlos. One of the stanzas which reached my ears ran something in the following style: —
At last the day began to break, and I found myself amidst a train of two or three hundred people, some on foot, but the greater part mounted, either on mules or the pony mares: I could not distinguish a single horse except my own and Antonio’s. A few soldiers were thinly scattered along the road. The country was hilly, but less mountainous and picturesque than the one which we had traversed the preceding day; it was for the most part partitioned into small fields, which were planted with maize. At the distance of every two or three leagues we changed our escort, at some village where was stationed a detachment. The villages were mostly an assemblage of wretched cabins; the roofs were thatched, dank, and moist, and not unfrequently covered with rank vegetation. There were dung-hills before the doors, and no lack of pools and puddles. Immense swine were stalking about, intermingled with naked children. The interior of the cabins corresponded with their external appearance: they were filled with filth and misery.
We reached Lugo about two hours past noon. During the last two or three leagues I became so overpowered with weariness, the result of want of sleep and my late illness, that I was continually dozing in my saddle, so that I took but little notice of what was passing. We put up at a large posada without the wall of the town, built upon a steep bank, and commanding an extensive view of the country towards the east. Shortly after our arrival, the rain began to descend in torrents, and continued without intermission during the next two days, which was, however, to me but a slight source of regret, as I passed the entire time in bed, and I may almost say in slumber. On the evening of the third day I arose.
There was much bustle in the house, caused by the arrival of a family from Corunna; they came in a large jaunting car, escorted by four carabineers. The family was rather numerous, consisting of a father, son, and eleven daughters, the eldest of whom might be about eighteen. A shabby-looking fellow, dressed in a jerkin and wearing a high-crowned hat, attended as domestic. They arrived very wet and shivering, and all seemed very disconsolate, especially the father, who was a well-looking middle-aged man. “Can we be accommodated?” he demanded in a gentle voice of the man of the house; “can we be accommodated in this fonda?”
“Certainly, your worship,” replied the other; “our house is large. How many apartments does your worship require for your family?”
“One will be sufficient,” replied the stranger.
The host, who was a gouty personage and leaned upon a stick, looked for a moment at the traveller, then at every member of his family, not forgetting the domestic, and, without any farther comment than a slight shrug, led the way to the door of an apartment containing two or three flock beds, and which on my arrival I had objected to as being small, dark, and incommodious; this he flung open, and demanded whether it would serve.
“It is rather small,” replied the gentleman; “I think, however, that it will do.”
“I am glad of it,” replied the host. “Shall we make any preparations for the supper of your worship and family?”
“No, I thank you,” replied the stranger; “my own domestic will prepare the slight refreshment we are in need of.”
The key was delivered to the domestic, and the whole family ensconced themselves in their apartment: before, however, this was effected, the escort were dismissed, the principal carabineer being presented with a peseta. The man stood surveying the gratuity for about half a minute, as it glittered in the palm of his hand; then with an abrupt Vamos! he turned upon his heel, and without a word of salutation to any person, departed with the men under his command.
“Who can these strangers be?” said I to the host, as we sat together in a large corridor open on one side, and which occupied the entire front of the house.
“I know not,” he replied, “but by their escort I suppose they are people holding some official situation. They are not of this province, however, and I more than suspect them to be Andalusians.”
In a few minutes the door of the apartment occupied by the strangers was opened, and the domestic appeared, bearing a cruise in his hand. “Pray, Se?or Patron,” demanded he, “where can I buy some oil?”
“There is oil in the house,” replied the host, “if you want to purchase any; but if, as is probable, you suppose that we shall gain a cuarto by selling it, you will find some over the way. It is as I suspected,” continued the host, when the man had departed on his errand; “they are Andalusians, and are about to make what they call gazpacho, on which they will all sup. Oh, the meanness of these Andalusians! they are come here to suck the vitals of Galicia, and yet envy the poor innkeeper the gain of a cuarto in the oil which they require for their gazpacho. I tell you one thing, master, when that fellow returns, and demands bread and garlic to mix with the oil, I will tell him there is none in the house: as he has bought the oil abroad, so he may the bread and garlic; ay, and the water too, for that matter.”
At Lugo I found a wealthy bookseller, to whom I brought a letter of recommendation from Madrid. He willingly undertook the sale of my books. The Lord deigned to favour my feeble exertions in his cause at Lugo. I brought thither thirty Testaments, all of which were disposed of in one day; the bishop of the place – for Lugo is an episcopal see – purchasing two copies for himself, whilst several priests and ex-friars, instead of following the example of their brethren at Leon, by persecuting the work, spoke well of it and recommended its perusal. I was much grieved that my stock of these holy books was exhausted, there being a great demand; and had I been able to supply them, quadruple the quantity might have been sold during the few days that I continued at Lugo.
Lugo contains about six thousand inhabitants. It is situated on lofty ground, and is defended by ancient walls. It possesses no very remarkable edifice, and the cathedral church itself is a small mean building. In the centre of the town is the principal square, a light cheerful place, not surrounded by those heavy cumbrous buildings with which the Spaniards both in ancient and modern times have encircled their plazas. It is singular enough that Lugo, at present a place of very little importance, should at one period have been the capital of Spain;270270
There are many Roman remains in the vicinity of this place, the most remarkable of which are the ruins of the ancient medicinal baths, which stand on the southern side of the river Minho, which creeps through the valley beneath the town. The Minho in this place is a dark and sullen stream, with high, precipitous, and thickly wooded banks.
One evening I visited the baths, accompanied by my friend the bookseller. They had been built over warm springs which flow into the river. Notwithstanding their ruinous condition, they were crowded with sick, hoping to derive benefit from the waters, which are still famed for their sanative power. These patients exhibited a strange spectacle as, wrapped in flannel gowns much resembling shrouds, they lay immersed in the tepid waters amongst disjointed stones, and overhung with steam and reek.
Three or four days after my arrival I was seated in the corridor, which, as I have already observed, occupied the entire front of the house. The sky was unclouded, and the sun shone most gloriously, enlivening every object around. Presently the door of the apartment in which the strangers were lodged opened, and forth walked the whole family, with the exception of the father, who, I presumed, was absent on business. The shabby domestic brought up the rear, and on leaving the apartment, carefully locked the door, and secured the key in his pocket. The one son and the eleven daughters were all dressed remarkably well: the boy something after the English fashion, in jacket and trousers, the young ladies in spotless white. They were, upon the whole, a very good-looking family, with dark eyes and olive complexions, but the eldest daughter was remarkably handsome. They arranged themselves upon the benches of the corridor, the shabby domestic sitting down amongst them without any ceremony whatever. They continued for some time in silence, gazing with disconsolate looks upon the houses of the suburb and the dark walls of the town, until the eldest daughter, or se?orita as she was called, broke silence with an ‘Ay Dios mio!’271271
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