The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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At five the next morning the mules were at the door. A lad of some nineteen or twenty years of age attended them. He was short, but exceedingly strong built, and possessed the largest head which I ever beheld upon mortal shoulders; neck he had none, at least I could discern nothing which could be entitled to that name. His features were hideously ugly, and upon addressing him I discovered that he was an idiot. Such was my intended companion in a journey of nearly a hundred miles, which would occupy four days, and which lay over the most savage and ill-noted track in the whole kingdom. I took leave of my servant almost with tears, for he had always served me with the greatest fidelity, and had exhibited an assiduity and a wish to please which afforded me the utmost satisfaction.
We started, my uncouth guide sitting tailor-fashion on the sumpter mule, upon the baggage. The moon had just gone down, and the morning was pitchy dark, and, as usual, piercingly cold. We soon entered the dismal wood, which I had already traversed, and through which we wended our way for some time, slowly and mournfully. Not a sound was to be heard save the trampling of the animals, not a breath of air moved the leafless branches, no animal stirred in the thickets, no bird, not even the owl, flew over our heads, all seemed desolate and dead; and during my many and far wanderings, I never experienced a greater sensation of loneliness, and a greater desire for conversation and an exchange of ideas than then. To speak to the idiot was useless, for though competent to show the road, with which he was well acquainted, he had no other answer than an uncouth laugh to any question put to him. Thus situated, like many other persons when human comfort is not at hand, I turned my heart to God, and began to commune with Him, the result of which was that my mind soon became quieted and comforted.
We passed on our way uninterrupted; no thieves showed themselves, nor indeed did we see a single individual until we arrived at Peg?es, and from thence to Vendas Novas our fortune was the same. I was welcomed with great kindness by the people of the hostelry of the latter place, who were well acquainted with me on account of my having twice passed the night under their roof. The name of the keeper of this inn is, or was, Joz? Dias Azido, and, unlike the generality of those of the same profession as himself in Portugal, he is an honest man; and a stranger and foreigner who takes up his quarters at his inn may rest assured that he will not be most unmercifully pillaged and cheated when the hour of reckoning shall arrive, as he will not be charged a single r?5959
At twelve next day we arrived at Monte Moro, and, as I was not pressed for time, I determined upon viewing the ruins which cover the top and middle part of the stately hill which towers above the town. Having ordered some refreshment at the inn where we dismounted, I ascended till I arrived at a large wall or rampart, which, at a certain altitude, embraces the whole hill. I crossed a rude bridge of stones, which bestrides a small hollow or trench; and passing by a large tower, entered through a portal into the enclosed part of the hill. On the left hand stood a church, in good preservation, and still devoted to the purposes of religion, but which I could not enter, as the door was locked, and I saw no one at hand to open it.
I soon found that my curiosity had led me to a most extraordinary place, which quite beggars the scanty powers of description with which I am gifted. I stumbled on amongst ruined walls, and at one time found I was treading over vaults, as I suddenly started back from a yawning orifice into which my next step, as I strolled musing along, would have precipitated me. I proceeded for a considerable way by the eastern wall, till I heard a tremendous bark, and presently an immense dog, such as those which guard the flocks in the neighbourhood against the wolves, came bounding to attack me “with eyes that glowed, and fangs that grinned.” Had I retreated, or had recourse to any other mode of defence than that which I invariably practise under such circumstances, he would probably have worried me; but I stooped till my chin nearly touched my knee, and looked him full in the eyes, and, as John Leyden says, in the noblest ballad which the Land of Heather has produced: —
It is a fact known to many people, and I believe it has been frequently stated, that no large and fierce dog or animal of any kind, with the exception of the bull, which shuts its eyes and rushes blindly forward, will venture to attack an individual who confronts it with a firm and motionless countenance. I say large and fierce, for it is much easier to repel a bloodhound or bear of Finland in this manner than a dung-hill cur or a terrier, against which a stick or a stone is a much more certain defence. This will astonish no one who considers that the calm reproving glance of reason, which allays the excesses of the mighty and courageous in our own species, has seldom any other effect than to add to the insolence of the feeble and foolish, who become placid as doves upon the infliction of chastisements, which, if attempted to be applied to the former, would only serve to render them more terrible, and, like gunpowder cast on a flame, cause them, in mad desperation, to scatter destruction around them.
The barking of the dog brought out from a kind of alley an elderly man, whom I supposed to be his master, and of whom I made some inquiries respecting the place. The man was civil, and informed me that he served as a soldier in the British army, under the “great lord,” during the Peninsula war. He said that there was a convent of nuns a little farther on, which he would show me, and thereupon led the way to the south-east part of the wall, where stood a large dilapidated edifice.
We entered a dark stone apartment, at one corner of which was a kind of window occupied by a turning table, at which articles were received into the convent or delivered out. He rang the bell, and, without saying a word, retired, leaving me rather perplexed; but presently I heard, though the speaker was invisible, a soft feminine voice demanding who I was, and what I wanted. I replied, that I was an Englishman travelling into Spain; and that, passing through Monte Moro, I had ascended the hill for the purpose of seeing the ruins. The voice then said, “I suppose you are a military man going to fight against the king, like the rest of your countrymen?” “No,” said I, “I am not a military man, but a Christian; and I go not to shed blood, but to endeavour to introduce the gospel of Christ into a country where it is not known;” whereupon there was a stifled titter. I then inquired if there were any copies of the Holy Scriptures in the convent; but the friendly voice could give me no information on that point, and I scarcely believe that its possessor understood the purport of my question. It informed me, that the office of lady abbess of the house was an annual one, and that every year there was a fresh superior. On my inquiring whether the nuns did not frequently find the time exceedingly heavy on their hands, it stated that, when they had nothing better to do, they employed themselves in making cheesecakes, which were disposed of in the neighbourhood. I thanked the voice for its communications, and walked away. Whilst proceeding under the wall of the house towards the south-west, I heard a fresh and louder tittering above my head, and, looking up, saw three or four windows crowded with dusky faces, and black waving hair; these belonged to the nuns, anxious to obtain a view of the stranger. After kissing my hand repeatedly, I moved on, and soon arrived at the south-west end of this mountain of curiosities. There I found the remains of a large building, which seemed to have been originally erected in the shape of a cross. A tower at its eastern entrance was still entire; the western side was quite in ruins, and stood on the verge of the hill overlooking the valley, at the bottom of which ran the stream I have spoken of on a former occasion.
The day was intensely hot, notwithstanding the coldness of the preceding nights; and the brilliant sun of Portugal now illumined a landscape of entrancing beauty. Groves of cork-trees covered the farther side of the valley and the distant acclivities, exhibiting here and there charming vistas, where various flocks of cattle were feeding; the soft murmur of the stream, which was at intervals chafed and broken by huge stones, ascended to my ears and filled my mind with delicious feelings. I sat down on the broken wall and remained gazing, and listening, and shedding tears of rapture; for of all the pleasures which a bountiful God permitteth his children to enjoy, none are so dear to some hearts as the music of forests and streams, and the view of the beauties of his glorious creation. An hour elapsed, and I still maintained my seat on the wall; the past scenes of my life flitting before my eyes in airy and fantastic array, through which every now and then peeped trees and hills, and other patches of the real landscape which I was confronting. The sun burnt my visage, but I heeded it not; and I believe that I should have remained till night, buried in these reveries, which, I confess, only serve to enervate the mind and steal many a minute which might be more profitably employed, had not the report of the gun of a fowler in the valley, which awakened the echoes of the woods, hills, and ruins, caused me to start on my feet, and remember that I had to proceed three leagues before I could reach the hostelry where I intended to pass the night.
I bent my steps to the inn, passing along a kind of rampart. Shortly before I reached the portal, which I have already mentioned, I observed a kind of vault on my right hand, scooped out of the side of the hill; its roof was supported by three pillars, though part of it had given way towards the farther end, so that the light was admitted through a chasm in the top. It might have been intended for a chapel, a dungeon, or a cemetery, but I should rather think for the latter. One thing I am certain of, that it was not the work of Moorish hands; and indeed throughout my wandering in this place I saw nothing which reminded me of that most singular people. The hill on which the ruins stand was doubtless originally a strong fortress of the Moors, who, upon their first irruption into the peninsula, seized and fortified most of the lofty and naturally strong positions, but they had probably lost it at an early period, so that the broken walls and edifices, which at present cover the hill, are probably remains of the labours of the Christians after the place had been rescued from the hands of the terrible enemies of their faith. Monte Moro will perhaps recall Cintra to the mind of the traveller, as it exhibits a distant resemblance to that place; nevertheless, there is something in Cintra wild and savage, to which Monte Moro has no pretension. Its scathed and gigantic crags are piled upon each other in a manner which seems to menace headlong destruction to whatever is in the neighbourhood; and the ruins which still cling to those crags seem more like eagles’ nests than the remains of the habitations even of Moors; whereas those of Monte Moro stand comparatively at their ease on the broad back of a hill, which, though stately and commanding, has no crags nor precipices, and which can be ascended on every side without much difficulty. Yet I was much gratified by my visit, and I shall wander far indeed before I forget the voice in the dilapidated convent, the ruined walls amongst which I strayed, and the rampart, where, sunk in dreamy rapture, I sat during a bright sunny hour at Monte Moro.
I returned to the inn, where I refreshed myself with tea and very sweet and delicious cheesecakes, the handiwork of the nuns in the convent above. Observing gloom and unhappiness on the countenances of the people of the house, I inquired the reason of the hostess, who sat almost motionless on the hearth by the fire; whereupon she informed me that her husband was deadly sick with a disorder which, from her description, I supposed to be a species of cholera; she added, that the surgeon who attended him entertained no hopes of his recovery. I replied that it was quite in the power of God to restore her husband in a few hours from the verge of the grave to health and vigour, and that it was her duty to pray to that Omnipotent Being with all fervency. I added, that if she did not know how to pray upon such an occasion, I was ready to pray for her, provided she would join in the spirit of the supplication. I then offered up a short prayer in Portuguese, in which I entreated the Lord to remove, if he thought proper, the burden of affliction under which the family was labouring.
The woman listened attentively, with her hands devoutly clasped, until the prayer was finished, and then gazed at me seemingly with astonishment, but uttered no word by which I could gather that she was pleased or displeased with what I had said. I now bade the family farewell, and having mounted my mule, set forward to Arroyolos.6161
After proceeding about a league and a half, a blast came booming from the north, rolling before it immense clouds of dust; happily it did not blow in our faces, or it would have been difficult to proceed, so great was its violence. We had left the road in order to take advantage of one of those short cuts, which, though passable for a horse or a mule, are far too rough to permit any species of carriage to travel along them. We were in the midst of sands, brushwood, and huge pieces of rock, which thickly studded the ground. These are the stones which form the sierras of Spain and Portugal; those singular mountains which rise in naked horridness, like the ribs of some mighty carcass from which the flesh has been torn. Many of these stones, or rocks, grew out of the earth, and many lay on its surface unattached, perhaps wrested from their beds by the waters of the deluge. Whilst toiling along these wild wastes, I observed, a little way to my left, a pile of stones of rather a singular appearance, and rode up to it. It was a Druidical altar, and the most perfect and beautiful one of the kind which I had ever seen. It was circular, and consisted of stones immensely large and heavy at the bottom, which towards the top became thinner and thinner, having been fashioned by the hand of art to something of the shape of scollop shells. These were surmounted by a very large flat stone, which slanted down towards the south, where was a door. Three or four individuals might have taken shelter within the interior, in which was growing a small thorn-tree.
I gazed with reverence and awe upon the pile where the first colonies of Europe offered their worship to the unknown God.6262
We arrived at Arroyolos about seven at night. I took possession of a large two-bedded room, and, as I was preparing to sit down to supper, the hostess came to inquire whether I had any objection to receive a young Spaniard for the night. She said he had just arrived with a train of muleteers, and that she had no other room in which she could lodge him. I replied that I was willing, and in about half an hour he made his appearance, having first supped with his companions. He was a very gentlemanly, good-looking lad of seventeen. He addressed me in his native language, and, finding that I understood him, he commenced talking with astonishing volubility. In the space of five minutes he informed me that, having a desire to see the world, he had run away from his friends, who were people of opulence at Madrid, and that he did not intend to return until he had travelled through various countries. I told him that if what he said was true, he had done a very wicked and foolish action; wicked, because he must have overwhelmed those with grief whom he was bound to honour and love, and foolish, inasmuch as he was going to expose himself to inconceivable miseries and hardships, which would shortly cause him to rue the step he had taken; that he would be only welcome in foreign countries so long as he had money to spend, and when he had none, he would be repulsed as a vagabond, and would perhaps be allowed to perish of hunger. He replied that he had a considerable sum of money with him, no less than a hundred dollars, which would last him a long time, and that when it was spent he should perhaps be able to obtain more. “Your hundred dollars,” said I, “will scarcely last you three months in the country in which you are, even if it be not stolen from you; and you may as well hope to gather money on the tops of the mountains as expect to procure more by honourable means.” But he had not yet sufficiently drank of the cup of experience to attend much to what I said, and I soon after changed the subject. About five next morning he came to my bedside to take leave, as his muleteers were preparing to depart. I gave him the usual Spanish valediction, Vaya usted con Dios,6363
At nine, after having paid a most exorbitant sum for slight accommodation, I started from Arroyolos, which is a town or large village situated on very elevated ground, and discernible afar off. It can boast of the remains of a large ancient and seemingly Moorish castle, which stands on a hill on the left as you take the road to Estremoz.
About a mile from Arroyolos I overtook a train of carts, escorted by a number of Portuguese soldiers conveying stores and ammunition into Spain. Six or seven of these soldiers marched a considerable way in front; they were villanous-looking ruffians, upon whose livid and ghastly countenances were written murder, and all the other crimes which the Decalogue forbids. As I passed by, one of them, with a harsh, croaking voice, commenced cursing all foreigners. “There,” said he, “is this Frenchman riding on horseback” (I was on a mule), “with a man” (the idiot) “to take care of him, and all because he is rich; whilst I, who am a poor soldier, am obliged to tramp on foot. I could find it in my heart to shoot him dead, for in what respect is he better than I? But he is a foreigner, and the devil helps foreigners and hates the Portuguese.” He continued shouting his remarks until I got about forty yards in advance, when I commenced laughing; but it would have been more prudent in me to have held my peace, for the next moment, with bang – bang, two bullets, well aimed, came whizzing past my ears. A small river lay just before me, though the bridge was a considerable way on my left. I spurred my animal through it, closely followed by the terrified guide, and commenced galloping along a sandy plain on the other side, and so escaped with my life.
These fellows, with the look of banditti, were in no respect better; and the traveller who should meet them in a solitary place would have little reason to bless his good fortune. One of the carriers (all of whom were Spaniards from the neighbourhood of Badajoz, and had been despatched into Portugal for the purpose of conveying the stores), whom I afterwards met in the aforesaid town, informed me that the whole party were equally bad, and that he and his companions had been plundered by them of various articles, and threatened with death if they attempted to complain. How frightful to figure to one’s self an army of such beings in a foreign land, sent thither either to invade or defend; and yet Spain at the time I am writing this is looking forward to armed assistance from Portugal! May the Lord in his mercy grant that the soldiers who proceed to her assistance may be of a different stamp: and yet, from the lax state of discipline which exists in the Portuguese army, in comparison with that of England and France, I am afraid that the inoffensive population of the disturbed provinces will say that wolves have been summoned to chase away foxes from the sheep-fold. Oh, may I live to see the day when soldiery will no longer be tolerated in any civilized, or at least Christian country!
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