« AnteriorContinuar »
“ Perhaps not !” rejoined the trumpeter; "and perhaps you have no idea that yonder are the towers of the Alhambra ?”
“Son of a trumpet,” replied the stranger, “ do not trifle with me; if this be indeed the Alhambra, I have some strange matters to reveal to the governor."
“ You will have an opportunity,” said the corporal, “ for we mean to take you before him.” By this time the trumpeter had seized the bridle of the steed, the two privates had each secured an arm of the soldier, the corporal put himself in front, gave the word, “ Forward
march !” and away they marched for the Alhambra.
The sight of a ragged foot-soldier and a fine Arabian horse, brought in captive by the patrol, attracted the attention of all the idlers of the fortress, and of those gossip groups that generally assemble about wells and fountains at early dawn. The wheel of the cistern paused in its rotations, and the slip-shod servant-maid stood gaping, with pitcher in hand, as the corporal passed by with his prize. A motley train gradually gathered in the rear of the escort.
Knowing nods and winks and conjectures passed from one to another. “It is a deserter," said one; “A contrabandista," said another; “A bandolero,” said a third ; until it was affirmed that a captain of a desperate band of robbers had been captured by the prowess of the corporal and his patrol. “Well, well,” said the old crones, one to another, “ captain or not, let him get out of the grasp of old Governor Manco if he can, though he is but onehanded."
Governor Manco was seated in one of the inner halls of the Alhambra, taking his morning's cup of chocolate in company with his confessor, a fat Franciscan friar, from the neighboring convent. A demure, dark-eyed damsel of Malaga, the daughter of his housekeeper, was attending upon him. The world hinted that the damsel, who, with all her demureness, was a sly buxom baggage, had found out a soft spot in the iron heart of the old governor, and held complete control over him. But let that pass — the domestic affairs of these mighty potentates of the earth should not be too narrowly scrutinized.
When word was brought that a suspicious stranger had been
taken lurking about the fortress, and was actually in the outer court, in durance of the corporal, waiting the pleasure of his Excellency, the pride and stateliness of office swelled the bosom of the governor. Giving back his chocolate-cup into the hands of the demure damsel, he called for his basket-bilted sword, girded it to his side, twirled up his moustaches, took his seat in a large high-backed chair, assumed a bitter and forbidding aspect, and ordered the prisoner into his presence. The soldier was brought in, still closely pinioned by his captors, and guarded by the corporal. He maintained, however, a resolute, self-confident air, and returned the sharp, scrutinizing look of the governor with an easy squint, which by no means pleased the punctilious old potentate.
Well, culprit,” said the governor, after he had regarded him for a moment in silence, “what have you to say for yourself — who are you?”
“A soldier, just from the wars, who has brought away nothing but scars and bruises.''
“A soldier - humph-a foot-soldier by your garb. I understand you have a fine Arabian horse. I presume you brought him too from the wars, besides your scars and bruises."
"May it please your Excellency, I have something strange to tell about that horse. Indeed I have one of the most wonderful things to relate. Something too that concerns the security of this fortress, indeed of all Granada. But it is a matter to be imparted only to your private ear, or in presence of such only as are
confidence.” The governor considered for a moment, and then directed the corporal and his men to withdraw, but to post themselves outside of the door, and be ready at a call. “This holy friar,” said he,“ is my confessor, you may say anything in his presence; - and this damsel,” nodding towards the handmaid, who had loitered with an air of great curiosity, “ this damsel is of great secrecy and discretion, and to be trusted with anything."
The soldier gave a glance between a squint and a leer at the demure handmaid. “I am perfectly willing," said he, “that the damsel should remain."
When all the rest had withdrawn, the soldier commenced his
story. He was a fluent, smooth-tongued varlet, and had a command of language above his apparent rank.
"May it please your Excellency,” said he, “I am, as I before observed, a soldier, and have seen some hard service, but my term of enlistment being expired, I was discharged, not long since, from the army at Valladolid, and set out on foot for my native village in Andalusia. Yesterday evening the sun went down as I was traversing a great dry plain of old Castile.”
“ Hold !” cried the governor, what is this you say? Old Castile is some two or three hundred miles from this."
“Even so," replied the soldier, coolly. “I told your Excellency I had strange things to relate ; but not more strange than true, as your Excellency will find, if you will deign me a patient hearing.”
“Proceed, culprit,” said the governor, twirling up his moustaches.
“ As the sun went down,” continued the soldier, “I cast my eyes about in search of quarters for the night, but far as my sight could reach there were no signs of habitation. I saw that I should have to make my bed on the naked plain, with my knapsack for a pillow; but your Excellency is an old soldier, and knows that to one who has been in the wars, such a night's lodging is no great hardship.”
The governor nodded assent, as he drew his pocket-handkerchief out of the basket-hilt to drive away a fly that buzzed about his nose.
“Well, to make a long story short," continued the soldier, “I trudged forward for several miles until I came to a bridge over a deep ravine, through which ran a little thread of water, almost dried up by the summer heat. At one end of the bridge was a Moorish tower, the upper end all in ruins, but a vault in the foundation quite entire. Here, thinks I, is a good place to make a halt; so I went down to the stream, and took a hearty drink, for the water was pure and sweet, and I was parched with thirst; then, opening my wallet, I took out an onion and a few crusts, which were all my provisions, and seating myself on a stone on the margin of the stream, began to make my supper, - intending afterwards to quarter myself for the night in the vault of the tower; and capi
tal quarters they would have been for a campaigner just from the wars, as your Excellency, who is an old soldier, may suppose.”
“I have put up gladly with worse in my time," said the governor, returning his pocket-handkerchief into the hilt of his sword.
“While I was quietly crunching my crust,” pursued the soldier, “I heard something stir within the vault; I listened — it was the tramp of a horse. By-and-by a man came forth from a door in the foundation of the tower, close by the water's edge, leading a powerful horse by the bridle. I could not well make out what he was, by the starlight. It had a suspicious look to be lurking among the ruins of a tower, in that wild solitary place. He might be a mere wayfarer, like myself; he might be a contrabandista; he might be a bandolero! what of that? thank heaven and my poverty, I had nothing to lose ; so I sat still and crunched my crust.
"He led his horse to the water, close by where I was sitting, so that I had a fair opportunity of reconnoitring him. To my surprise he was dressed in a Moorish garb, with a cuirass of steel, and a polished skull-cap that I distinguished by the reflection of the stars upon it. His horse, too, was harnessed in the Morisco fashion, with great shovel stirrups. He led him, as I said, to the side of the stream, into which the animal plunged his head almost to the eyes, and drank until I thought he would have burst.
“Comrade,' said I, your steed drinks well ; it's a good sign when a horse plunges his muzzle bravely into the water.'
“He may well drink,' said the stranger, speaking with a Moorish accent; 'it is a good year since he had his last draught.'
“By Santiago !' said I, 'that beats even the camels I have seen in Africa. But come, you seem to be something of a soldier, will you sit down and take part of a soldier's fare?' In fact, I felt the want of a companion in that lonely place, and was willing to put up with an infidel. Besides, as your Excellency well knows, a soldier is never very particular about the faith of his company, and soldiers of all countries are comrades on peaceable ground.”
The governor again nodded assent.
“Well, as I was saying, I invited him to share my supper, such as it was, for I could not do less in common hospitality. "I have
no time to pause for meat or drink,' said he ; 'I have a long journey to make before morning.'
«In which direction?' said I. “Andalusia,' said he.
Exactly my route,' said I ; 'so, as you won't stop and eat with me, perhaps you will let me mount and ride with you. your horse is of a powerful frame; I'll warrant he'll carry double.'
Agreed,' said the trooper; and it would not have been civil and soldier-like to refuse, especially as I had offered to share my supper with him. So up he mounted, and up I mounted behind him.
“ Hold fast,' said he; 'my steed goes like the wind.' «« Never fear me,' said I, and so off we set.
“From a walk the horse soon passed to a trot, from a trot to a gallop, and from a gallop to a harum-scarum scamper. It seemed as if rocks, trees, houses, everything flew hurry-scurry behind us. 66. What town is this?' said I.
Segovia,' said he; and before the words were out of his mouth, the towers of Segovia were out of sight. We swept up the Guadarama Mountains, and down by the Escurial ; and we skirted the walls of Madrid, and we scoured away across the plains of La Mancha. In this way we went up hill and down dale, by towns and cities, all buried in deep sleep, and across mountains, and plains, and rivers, just glimmering in the starlight.
“To make a long story short, and not to fatigue your Excellency, the trooper suddenly pulled up on the side of a mountain. 'Here we are,' said he, at the end of our journey. I looked about, but could see no signs of habitation; nothing but the mouth of a cavern. While I looked I saw multitudes of people in Moorish dresses, some on horseback, some on foot, arriving as if borne by the wind from all points of the compass, and hurrying into the mouth of the cavern like bees into a hive. Before I could ask a question, the trooper struck his long Moorish spurs into the horse's flanks, and dashed in with the throng. We passed along a steep winding way, that descended into the very bowels of the mountain. As we pushed on, a light began to glimmer up, by little and little, like the first glimmerings of day, but what caused it I could not discern. It grew stronger and