Late in the afternoon, we reached Medina del Campo, formerly one of the principal cities of Spain, though at present an inconsiderable place. Immense ruins surround it in every direction, attesting the former grandeur of this "city of the plain." The great square or market-place is a remarkable spot, surrounded by a heavy massive piazza, over which rise black buildings of great antiquity. We found the town crowded with people awaiting the fair, which was to be held in a day or two. We experienced some difficulty in obtaining admission into the posada, which was chiefly occupied by Catalans from Valladolid. These people not only brought with them their merchandise but their wives and children. Some of them appeared to be people of the worst description: there was one in particular, a burly savage-looking fellow, of about forty, whose conduct was atrocious; he sat with his wife, or perhaps concubine, at the door of a room which opened upon the court: he was continually venting horrible and obscene oaths, both in Spanish and Catalan. The woman was remarkably handsome, but robust and seemingly as savage as himself; her conversation likewise was as frightful as his own. Both seemed to be under the influence of an incomprehensible fury. At last, upon some observation from the woman, he started up, and drawing a long knife from his girdle, stabbed at her naked bosom; she, however, interposed the palm of her hand, which was much cut. He stood for a moment viewing the blood trickling upon the ground, whilst she held up her wounded hand, then with an astounding oath he hurried up the court to the Plaza. I went up to the woman and said, "What is the cause of this? I hope the ruffian has not seriously injured you." She turned her countenance upon me with the glance of a demon, and at last with a sneer of contempt exclaimed, "Carals, que es eso? Cannot a Catalan gentleman be conversing with his lady upon their own private affairs without being interrupted by you?" She then bound up her hand with a handkerchief, and going into the room brought a small table to the door, on which she placed several things as if for the evening's repast, and then sat down on a stool: presently returned the Catalan, and without a word took his seat on the threshold; then, as if nothing had occurred, the extraordinary couple commenced eating and drinking, interlarding their meal with oaths and jests.
We spent the night at Medina, and departing early next morning, passed through much the same country as the day before, until about noon we reached a small venta, distant half a league from the Duero; here we reposed ourselves during the heat of the day, and then remounting, crossed the river by a handsome stone bridge, and directed our course to Valladolid. The banks of the Duero in this place have much beauty: they abound with trees and brushwood, amongst which, as we passed along, various birds were singing melodiously. A delicious coolness proceeded from the water, which in some parts brawled over stones or rippled fleetly over white sand, and in others glided softly over blue pools of considerable depth. By the side of one of these last, sat a woman of about thirty, neatly dressed as a peasant; she was gazing upon the water into which she occasionally flung flowers and twigs of trees. I stopped for a moment to ask a question; she, however, neither looked up nor answered, but continued gazing at the water as if lost to consciousness of all beside. "Who is that woman?" said I to a shepherd, whom I met the moment after. "She is mad, la pobrecita," said he; "she lost her child about a month ago in that pool, and she has been mad ever since; they are going to send her to Valladolid, to the Casa de los Locos. There are many who perish every year in the eddies of the Duero; it is a bad river; vaya usted con la Virgen, Caballero." So I rode on through the pinares, or thin scanty pine forests, which skirt the way to Valladolid in this direction.
Valladolid is seated in the midst of an immense valley, or rather hollow which seems to have been scooped by some mighty convulsion out of the plain ground of Castile. The eminences which appear in the neighbourhood are not properly high grounds, but are rather the sides of this hollow. They are jagged and precipitous, and exhibit a strange and uncouth appearance. Volcanic force seems at some distant period to have been busy in these districts. Valladolid abounds with convents, at present deserted, which afford some of the finest specimens of architecture in Spain. The principal church, though rather ancient, is unfinished: it was intended to be a building of vast size, but the means of the founders were insufficient to carry out their plan: it is built of rough granite. Valladolid is a manufacturing town, but the commerce is chiefly in the hands of the Catalans, of whom there is a colony of nearly three hundred established here. It possesses a beautiful alameda, or public walk, through which flows the river Escurva. The population is said to amount to sixty thousand souls.
We put up at the Posada de las Diligencias, a very magnificent edifice: this posada, however, we were glad to quit on the second day after our arrival, the accommodation being of the most wretched description, and the incivility of the people great; the master of the house, an immense tall fellow, with huge moustaches and an assumed military air, being far too high a cavalier to attend to the wants of his guests, with whom, it is true, he did not appear to be overburdened, as I saw no one but Antonio and myself. He was a leading man amongst the national guards of Valladolid, and delighted in parading about the city on a clumsy steed, which he kept in a subterranean stable.
Our next quarters were at the Trojan Horse, an ancient posada, kept by a native of the Basque provinces, who at least was not above his business. We found everything in confusion at Valladolid, a visit from the factious being speedily expected. All the gates were blockaded, and various forts had been built to cover the approaches to the city. Shortly after our departure the Carlists actually did arrive, under the command of the Biscayan chief, Zariategui. They experienced no opposition; the staunchest nationals retiring to the principal fort, which they, however, speedily surrendered, not a gun being fired throughout the affair. As for my friend the hero of the inn, on the first rumour of the approach of the enemy, he mounted his horse and rode off, and was never subsequently heard of. On our return to Valladolid, we found the inn in other and better hands, those of a Frenchman from Bayonne, from whom we received as much civility as we had experienced rudeness from his predecessor.
In a few days I formed the acquaintance of the bookseller of the place, a kind-hearted simple man, who willingly undertook the charge of vending the Testaments which I brought.
I found literature of every description at the lowest ebb at Valladolid. My newly-acquired friend merely carried on bookselling in connexion with other business; it being, as he assured me, in itself quite insufficient to afford him a livelihood. During the week, however, that I continued in this city, a considerable number of copies were disposed of, and a fair prospect opened that many more would be demanded. To call attention to my books, I had recourse to the same plan which I had adopted at Salamanca, the affixing of advertisements to the walls. Before leaving the city, I gave orders that these should be renewed every week; from pursuing which course I expected that much manifold good would accrue, as the people would have continual opportunities of learning that a book which contains the living word was in existence, and within their reach, which might induce them to secure it and consult it even unto salvation.
In Valladolid I found both an English and Scotch College. From my obliging friends, the Irish at Salamanca, I bore a letter of introduction to the rector of the latter. I found this college an old gloomy edifice, situated in a retired street. The rector was dressed in the habiliments of a Spanish ecclesiastic, a character which he was evidently ambitious of assuming. There was something dry and cold in his manner, and nothing of that generous warmth and eager hospitality which had so captivated me in the fine Irish rector of Salamanca; he was, however, civil and polite, and offered to show me the curiosities of the place. He evidently knew who I was, and on that account was, perhaps, more reserved than he otherwise would have been: not a word passed between us on religious matters, which we seemed to avoid by common consent. Under the auspices of this gentleman, I visited the college of the Philippine Missions, which stands beyond the gate of the city, where I was introduced to the superior, a fine old man of seventy, very stout, in the habiliments of a friar. There was an air of placid benignity on his countenance which highly interested me: his words were few and simple, and he seemed to have bid adieu to all worldly passions. One little weakness was, however, still clinging to him.
Myself.—This is a noble edifice in which you dwell, Father; I should think it would contain at least two hundred students.
Rector.—More, my son; it is intended for more hundreds than it now contains single individuals.
Myself.—I observe that some rude attempts have been made to fortify it; the walls are pierced with loopholes in every direction.
Rector.—The nationals of Valladolid visited us a few days ago, and committed much useless damage; they were rather rude, and threatened me with their clubs: poor men, poor men.
Myself.—I suppose that even these missions, which are certainly intended for a noble end, experience the sad effects of the present convulsed state of Spain?
Rector.—But too true: we at present receive no assistance from the government, and are left to the Lord and ourselves.
Myself.—How many aspirants for the mission are you at present instructing?
Rector.—Not one, my son; not one. They are all fled. The flock is scattered and the shepherd left alone.
Myself.—Your reverence has doubtless taken an active part in the mission abroad?
Rector.—I was forty years in the Philippines, my son, forty years amongst the Indians. Ah me! how I love those Indians of the Philippines.
Myself.—Can your reverence discourse in the language of the Indians?
Rector.—No, my son. We teach the Indians Castilian. There is no better language, I believe. We teach them Castilian, and the adoration of the Virgin. What more need they know?
Myself.—And what did your reverence think of the Philippines as a country?
Rector.—I was forty years in the Philippines, but I know little of the country. I do not like the country. I love the Indians. The country is not very bad; it is, however, not worth Castile.
Myself.—Is your reverence a Castilian?
Rector.—I am an OLD Castilian, my son.
From the house of the Philippine Missions my friend conducted me to the English college; this establishment seemed in every respect to be on a more magnificent scale than its Scottish sister. In the latter there were few pupils, scarcely six or seven, I believe, whilst in the English seminary I was informed that between thirty and forty were receiving their education. It is a beautiful building, with a small but splendid church, and a handsome library. The situation is light and airy: it stands by itself in an unfrequented part of the city, and, with genuine English exclusiveness, is surrounded by a high wall, which encloses a delicious garden. This is by far the most remarkable establishment of the kind in the Peninsula, and I believe the most prosperous. From the cursory view which I enjoyed of its interior, I of course cannot be expected to know much of its economy. I could not, however, fall to be struck with the order, neatness, and system which pervaded it. There was, however, an air of severe monastic discipline, though I am far from asserting that such actually existed. We were attended throughout by the sub-rector, the principal being absent. Of all the curiosities of this college, the most remarkable is the picture gallery, which contains neither more nor less than the portraits of a variety of scholars of this house who eventually suffered martyrdom in England, in the exercise of their vocation in the angry times of the Sixth Edward and fierce Elizabeth. Yes, in this very house were many of those pale smiling half-foreign priests educated, who, like stealthy grimalkins, traversed green England in all directions; crept into old halls beneath umbrageous rookeries, fanning the dying embers of Popery, with no other hope nor perhaps wish than to perish disembowelled by the bloody hands of the executioner, amongst the yells of a rabble as bigoted as themselves: priests like Bedingfield and Garnet, and many others who have left a name in English story. Doubtless many a history, only the more wonderful for being true, could be wrought out of the archives of the English Popish seminary at Valladolid.
There was no lack of guests at the Trojan Horse, where we had taken up our abode at Valladolid. Amongst others who arrived during my sojourn was a robust buxom dame, exceedingly well dressed in black silk, with a costly mantilla. She was accompanied by a very handsome, but sullen and malicious-looking urchin of about fifteen, who appeared to be her son. She came from Toro, a place about a day's journey from Valladolid, and celebrated for its wine. One night, as we were seated in the court of the inn enjoying the fresco, the following conversation ensued between us.
Lady.—Vaya, vaya, what a tiresome place is Valladolid! How different from Toro.
Myself.—I should have thought that it is at least as agreeable as Toro, which is not a third part so large.
Lady.—As agreeable as Toro! Vaya, vaya! Were you ever in the prison of Toro, Sir Cavalier?
Myself.—I have never had that honour; the prison is generally the last place which I think of visiting.
Lady.—See the difference of tastes: I have been to see the prison of Valladolid, and it seems as tiresome as the town.
Myself.—Of course, if grief and tediousness exist anywhere, you will find them in the prison.
Lady.—Not in that of Toro.
Myself.—What does that of Toro possess to distinguish it from all others?
Lady.—What does it possess? Vaya! Am I not the carcelera? Is not my husband the alcayde? Is not that son of mine a child of the prison?
Myself.—I beg your pardon, I was not aware of that circumstance; it of course makes much difference.
Lady.—I believe you. I am a daughter of that prison, my father was alcayde, and my son might hope to be so, were he not a fool.
Myself.—His countenance then belies him strangely: I should be loth to purchase that youngster for a fool.
Gaoleress.—You would have a fine bargain if you did; he has more picardias than any Calabozero in Toro. What I mean is, that he does not take to the prison as he ought to do, considering what his fathers were before him. He has too much pride—too many fancies; and he has at length persuaded me to bring him to Valladolid, where I have arranged with a merchant who lives in the Plaza to take him on trial. I wish he may not find his way to the prison: if he do, he will find that being a prisoner is a very different thing from being a son of the prison.
Myself.—As there is so much merriment at Toro, you of course attend to the comfort of your prisoners.
Gaoleress.—Yes, we are very kind to them; I mean to those who are caballeros; but as for those with vermin and miseria, what can we do? It is a merry prison that of Toro; we allow as much wine to enter as the prisoners can purchase and pay duty for. This of Valladolid is not half so gay: there is no prison like Toro. I learned there to play on the guitar. An Andalusian cavalier taught me to touch the guitar and to sing a la Gitana. Poor fellow, he was my first novio. Juanito, bring me the guitar, that I may play this gentleman a tune of Andalusia.
The carcelera had a fine voice, and touched the favourite instrument of the Spaniards in a truly masterly manner. I remained listening to her performance for nearly an hour, when I retired to my apartment and my repose. I believe that she continued playing and singing during the greater part of the night, for as I occasionally awoke I could still hear her; and, even in my slumbers, the strings were ringing in my ears.
Duenas—Children of Egypt—Jockeyism—The Baggage Pony—The Fall— Palencia—Carlist Priests—The Lookout—Priestly Sincerity—Leon— Antonio alarmed—Heat and Dust.
After a sojourn of about ten days at Valladolid, we directed our course towards Leon. We arrived about noon at Duenas, a town at the distance of six short leagues from Valladolid. It is in every respect a singular place: it stands on a rising ground, and directly above it towers a steep conical mountain of calcareous earth, crowned by a ruined castle. Around Duenas are seen a multitude of caves scooped in the high banks and secured with strong doors. These are cellars, in which is deposited the wine, of which abundance is grown in the neighbourhood, and which is chiefly sold to the Navarrese and the mountaineers of Santander, who arrive in cars drawn by oxen, and convey it away in large quantities. We put up at a mean posada in the suburb for the purpose of refreshing our horses. Several cavalry soldiers were quartered there, who instantly came forth, and began, with the eyes of connoisseurs, to inspect my Andalusian entero. "A capital horse that would be for our troop," said the corporal; "what a chest he has. By what right do you travel with that horse, Senor, when so many are wanted for the Queen's service? He belongs to the requiso." "I travel with him by right of purchase, and being an Englishman," I replied. "Oh, your worship is an Englishman," answered the corporal; "that, indeed, alters the matter; the English in Spain are allowed to do what they please with their own, which is more than the Spaniards are. Cavalier, I have seen your countrymen in the Basque provinces; Vaya, what riders! what horses! They do not fight badly either. But their chief skill is in riding: I have seen them dash over barrancos to get at the factious, who thought themselves quite secure, and then they would fall upon them on a sudden and kill them to a man. In truth, your worship, this is a fine horse, I must look at his teeth."
I looked at the corporal—his nose and eyes were in the horse's mouth: the rest of the party, who might amount to six or seven, were not less busily engaged. One was examining his forefeet, another his hind; one fellow was pulling at his tail with all his might, while another pinched the windpipe, for the purpose of discovering whether the animal was at all touched there. At last perceiving that the corporal was about to remove the saddle that he might examine the back of the animal, I exclaimed:-
"Stay, ye chabes of Egypt, ye forget that ye are hundunares, and are no longer paruguing grastes in the chardy."
The corporal at these words turned his face full upon me, and so did all the rest. Yes, sure enough, there were the countenances of Egypt, and the fixed filmy stare of eye. We continued looking at each other for a minute at least, when the corporal, a villainous- looking fellow, at last said, in the richest gypsy whine imaginable, "the erray know us, the poor Calore! And he an Englishman! Bullati! I should not have thought that there was e'er a Busno would know us in these parts, where Gitanos are never seen. Yes, your worship is right; we are all here of the blood of the Calore; we are from Melegrana (Granada), your worship; they took us from thence and sent us to the wars. Your worship is right, the sight of that horse made us believe we were at home again in the mercado of Granada; he is a countryman of ours, a real Andalou. Por dios, your worship, sell us that horse; we are poor Calore, but we can buy him."
"You forget that you are soldiers," said I. "How should you buy my horse?"
"We are soldiers, your worship," said the corporal, "but we are still Calore; we buy and sell bestis; the captain of our troop is in league with us. We have been to the wars, but not to fight; we left that to the Busne. We have kept together, and like true Calore, have stood back to back. We have made money in the wars, your worship. No tenga usted cuidao (be under no apprehension). We can buy your horse."
Here he pulled out a purse, which contained at least ten ounces of gold.
"If I were willing to sell," I replied, "what would you give me for that horse?"
"Then your worship wishes to sell your horse—that alters the matter. We will give ten dollars for your worship's horse. He is good for nothing."
"How is this?" said I. "You this moment told me he was a fine horse—an Andalusian, and a countryman of yours."
"No, Senor! we did not say that he was an Andalou. We said he was an Estremou, and the worst of his kind. He is eighteen years old, your worship, short-winded and galled."
"I do not wish to sell my horse," said I; "quite the contrary; I had rather buy than sell."
"Your worship does not wish to sell your horse," said the Gypsy. "Stay, your worship, we will give sixty dollars for your worship's horse."
"I would not sell him for two hundred and sixty. Meclis! Meclis! say no more. I know your Gypsy tricks. I will have no dealings with you."
"Did I not hear your worship say that you wished to buy a horse?" said the Gypsy.
"I do not want to buy a horse," said I; "if I need any thing, it is a pony to carry our baggage; but it is getting late. Antonio, pay the reckoning."
"Stay, your worship, do not be in a hurry," said the Gypsy: "I have got the very pony which will suit you."
Without waiting for my answer, he hurried into the stable, from whence he presently returned, leading an animal by a halter. It was a pony of about thirteen hands high, of a dark red colour; it was very much galled all over, the marks of ropes and thongs being visible on its hide. The figure, however, was good, and there was an extraordinary brightness in its eye.
"There, your worship," said the Gypsy; "there is the best pony in all Spain."
"What do you mean by showing me this wretched creature?" said I.
"This wretched creature," said the Gypsy, "is a better horse than your Andalou!"
"Perhaps you would not exchange," said I, smiling.
"Senor, what I say is, that he shall run with your Andalou, and beat him!"
"He looks feeble," said I; "his work is well nigh done."
"Feeble as he is, Senor, you could not manage him; no, nor any Englishman in Spain."
I looked at the creature again, and was still more struck with its figure. I was in need of a pony to relieve occasionally the horse of Antonio in carrying the baggage which we had brought from Madrid, and though the condition of this was wretched, I thought that by kind treatment I might possibly soon bring him round.
"May I mount this animal?" I demanded.
"He is a baggage pony, Senor, and is ill to mount. He will suffer none but myself to mount him, who am his master. When he once commences running, nothing will stop him but the sea. He springs over hills and mountains, and leaves them behind in a moment. If you will mount him, Senor, suffer me to fetch a bridle, for you can never hold him in with the halter."
"This is nonsense," said I. "You pretend that he is spirited in order to enhance the price. I tell you his work is done."
I took the halter in my hand and mounted. I was no sooner on his back than the creature, who had before stood stone still, without displaying the slightest inclination to move, and who in fact gave no farther indication of existence than occasionally rolling his eyes and pricking up an ear, sprang forward like a racehorse, at a most desperate gallop. I had expected that he might kick or fling himself down on the ground, in order to get rid of his burden, but for this escapade I was quite unprepared. I had no difficulty, however, in keeping on his back, having been accustomed from my childhood to ride without a saddle. To stop him, however, baffled all my endeavours, and I almost began to pay credit to the words of the Gypsy, who had said that he would run on until he reached the sea. I had, however, a strong arm, and I tugged at the halter until I compelled him to turn slightly his neck, which from its stiffness might almost have been of wood; he, however, did not abate his speed for a moment. On the left side of the road down which he was dashing was a deep trench, just where the road took a turn towards the right, and over this he sprang in a sideward direction; the halter broke with the effort, the pony shot forward like an arrow, whilst I fell back into the dust.
"Senor!" said the Gypsy, coming up with the most serious countenance in the world, "I told you not to mount that animal unless well bridled and bitted. He is a baggage pony, and will suffer none to mount his back, with the exception of myself who feed him." (Here he whistled, and the animal, who was scurring over the field, and occasionally kicking up his heels, instantly returned with a gentle neigh.) "Now, your worship, see how gentle he is. He is a capital baggage pony, and will carry all you have over the hills of Galicia."
"What do you ask for him?" said I.
"Senor, as your worship is an Englishman, and a good ginete, and, moreover, understands the ways of the Calore, and their tricks and their language also, I will sell him to you a bargain. I will take two hundred and sixty dollars for him and no less."
"That is a large sum," said I.
"No, Senor, not at all, considering that he is a baggage pony, and belongs to the troop, and is not mine to sell."
Two hours' ride brought us to Palencia, a fine old town, beautifully situated on the Carrion, and famous for its trade in wool. We put up at the best posada which the place afforded, and I forthwith proceeded to visit one of the principal merchants of the town, to whom I was recommended by my banker in Madrid. I was told, however, that he was taking his siesta. "Then I had better take my own," said I, and returned to the posada. In the evening I went again, when I saw him. He was a short bulky man about thirty, and received me at first with some degree of bluntness; his manner, however, presently became more kind, and at last he scarcely appeared to know how to show me sufficient civility. His brother had just arrived from Santander, and to him he introduced me. This last was a highly-intelligent person, and had passed many years of his life in England. They both insisted upon showing me the town, and, indeed, led me all over it, and about the neighbourhood. I particularly admired the cathedral, a light, elegant, but ancient Gothic edifice. Whilst we walked about the aisles, the evening sun, pouring its mellow rays through the arched windows, illumined some beautiful paintings of Murillo, with which the sacred edifice is adorned. From the church my friends conducted me to a fulling mill in the neighbourhood, by a picturesque walk. There was no lack either of trees or water, and I remarked, that the environs of Palencia were amongst the most pleasant places that I had ever seen.
Tired at last with rambling, we repaired to a coffee-house, where they regaled me with chocolate and sweet-meats. Such was their hospitality; and of hospitality of this simple and agreeable kind there is much in Spain.
On the next day we pursued our journey, a dreary one, for the most part, over bleak and barren plains, interspersed with silent and cheerless towns and villages, which stood at the distance of two or three leagues from each other. About midday we obtained a dim and distant view of an immense range of mountains, which are in fact those which bound Castile on the north. The day, however, became dim and obscure, and we speedily lost sight of them. A hollow wind now arose and blew over these desolate plains with violence, wafting clouds of dust into our faces; the rays of the sun were few, and those red and angry. I was tired of my journey, and when about four we reached -, a large village, half way between Palencia and Leon, I declared my intention of stopping for the night. I scarcely ever saw a more desolate place than this same town or village of -. The houses were for the most part large, but the walls were of mud, like those of barns. We saw no person in the long winding street to direct us to the venta, or posada, till at last, at the farther end of the place, we descried two black figures standing at a door, of whom, on making inquiry, we learned that the door at which they stood was that of the house we were in quest of. There was something strange in the appearance of these two beings, who seemed the genii of the place. One was a small slim man, about fifty, with sharp, ill-natured features. He was dressed in coarse black worsted stockings, black breeches, and an ample black coat with long trailing skirts. I should at once have taken him for an ecclesiastic, but for his hat, which had nothing clerical about it, being a pinched diminutive beaver. His companion was of low stature, and a much younger man. He was dressed in similar fashion, save that he wore a dark blue cloak. Both carried walking sticks in their hands, and kept hovering about the door, now within and now without, occasionally looking up the road, as if they expected some one.
"Trust me, mon maitre," said Antonio to me, in French, "those two fellows are Carlist priests, and are awaiting the arrival of the Pretender. Les imbeciles!"
We conducted our horses to the stable, to which we were shown by the woman of the house. "Who are those men?" said I to her.
"The eldest is head curate to our pueblo," said she; "the other is brother to my husband. Pobrecito! he was a friar in our convent before it was shut up and the brethren driven forth."
We returned to the door. "I suppose, gentlemen," said the curate, "that you are Catalans. Do you bring any news from that kingdom?"
"Why do you suppose we are Catalans?" I demanded.
"Because I heard you this moment conversing in that language."
"I bring no news from Catalonia," said I. "I believe, however, that the greater part of that principality is in the hands of the Carlists."
"Ahem, brother Pedro! This gentleman says that the greater part of Catalonia is in the hands of the royalists. Pray, sir, where may Don Carlos be at present with his army?"
"He may be coming down the road this moment," said I, "for what I know;" and, stepping out, I looked up the way.
The two figures were at my side in a moment; Antonio followed, and we all four looked intently up the road.
"Do you see anything?" said I at last to Antonio.
"Non, mon maitre."
"Do you see anything, sir?" said I to the curate.
"I see nothing," said the curate, stretching out his neck.
"I see nothing," said Pedro, the ex-friar; "I see nothing but the dust, which is becoming every moment more blinding."
"I shall go in, then," said I. "Indeed, it is scarcely prudent to be standing here looking out for the Pretender: should the nationals of the town hear of it, they might perhaps shoot us."
"Ahem," said the curate, following me; "there are no nationals in this place: I would fain see what inhabitant would dare become a national. When the inhabitants of this place were ordered to take up arms as nationals, they refused to a man, and on that account we had to pay a mulet; therefore, friend, you may speak out if you have anything to communicate; we are all of your opinion here."
"I am of no opinion at all," said I, "save that I want my supper. I am neither for Rey nor Roque. You say that I am a Catalan, and you know that Catalans think only of their own affairs."
In the evening I strolled by myself about the village, which I found still more forlorn and melancholy than it at first appeared; perhaps, however, it had been a place of consequence in its time. In one corner of it I found the ruins of a large clumsy castle, chiefly built of flint stones: into these ruins I attempted to penetrate, but the entrance was secured by a gate. From the castle I found my way to the convent, a sad desolate place, formerly the residence of mendicant brothers of the order of St. Francis. I was about to return to the inn, when I heard a loud buzz of voices, and, following the sound, presently reached a kind of meadow, where, upon a small knoll, sat a priest in full canonicals, reading in a loud voice a newspaper, while around him, either erect or seated on the grass, were assembled about fifty vecinos, for the most part dressed in long cloaks, amongst whom I discovered my two friends the curate and friar. A fine knot of Carlist quid-nuncs, said I to myself, and turned away to another part of the meadow, where the cattle of the village were grazing. The curate, on observing me, detached himself instantly from the group, and followed. "I am told you want a pony," said he; "there now is mine feeding amongst those horses, the best in all the kingdom of Leon." He then began with all the volubility of a chalan to descant on the points of the animal. Presently the friar joined us, who, observing his opportunity, pulled me by the sleeve and whispered, "Have nothing to do with the curate, master, he is the greatest thief in the neighbourhood; if you want a pony, my brother has a much better, which he will dispose of cheaper." "I shall wait till I arrive at Leon," I exclaimed, and walked away, musing on priestly friendship and sincerity.
From—to Leon, a distance of eight leagues, the country rapidly improved: we passed over several small streams, and occasionally found ourselves amongst meadows in which grass was growing in the richest luxuriance. The sun shone out brightly, and I hailed his re-appearance with joy, though the heat of his beams was oppressive. On arriving within two leagues of Leon, we passed numerous cars and waggons, and bands of people with horses and mules, all hastening to the celebrated fair which is held in the city on St. John's or Mid-summer day, and which took place within three days after our arrival. This fair, though principally intended for the sale of horses, is frequented by merchants from many parts of Spain, who attend with goods of various kinds, and amongst them I remarked many of the Catalans whom I had previously seen at Medina and Valladolid.
There is nothing remarkable in Leon, which is an old gloomy town, with the exception of its cathedral, in many respects a counterpart of the church of Palencia, exhibiting the same light and elegant architecture, but, unlike its beautiful sister, unadorned with splendid paintings. The situation of Leon is highly pleasant, in the midst of a blooming country, abounding with trees, and watered by many streams, which have their source in the mighty mountains in the neighbourhood. It is, however, by no means a healthy place, especially in summer, when the heats raise noxious exhalations from the waters, generating many kinds of disorders, especially fevers.
I had scarcely been at Leon three days when I was seized with a fever, against which I thought the strength even of my constitution would have yielded, for it wore me almost to a skeleton, and when it departed, at the end of about a week, left me in such a deplorable state of weakness that I was scarcely able to make the slightest exertion. I had, however, previously persuaded a bookseller to undertake the charge of vending the Testaments, and had published my advertisements as usual, though without very sanguine hope of success, as Leon is a place where the inhabitants, with very few exceptions, are furious Carlists, and ignorant and blinded followers of the old papal church. It is, moreover, a bishop's see, which was once enjoyed by the prime counsellor of Don Carlos, whose fierce and bigoted spirit still seems to pervade the place. Scarcely had the advertisements appeared, when the clergy were in motion. They went from house to house, banning and cursing, and denouncing misery to whomsoever should either purchase or read "the accursed books," which had been sent into the country by heretics for the purpose of perverting the innocent minds of the population. They did more; they commenced a process against the bookseller in the ecclesiastical court. Fortunately this court is not at present in the possession of much authority; and the bookseller, a bold and determined man, set them at defiance, and went so far as to affix an advertisement to the gate of the very cathedral. Notwithstanding the cry raised against the book, several copies were sold at Leon: two were purchased by ex-friars, and the same number by parochial priests from neighbouring villages. I believe the whole number disposed of during my stay amounted to fifteen; so that my visit to this dark corner was not altogether in vain, as the seed of the gospel has been sown, though sparingly. But the palpable darkness which envelops Leon is truly lamentable, and the ignorance of the people is so great, that printed charms and incantations against Satan and his host, and against every kind of misfortune, are publicly sold in the shops, and are in great demand. Such are the results of Popery, a delusion which, more than any other, has tended to debase and brutalize the human mind.
I had scarcely risen from my bed where the fever had cast me, when I found that Antonio had become alarmed. He informed me that he had seen several soldiers in the uniform of Don Carlos lurking at the door of the posada, and that they had been making inquiries concerning me.
It was indeed a singular fact connected with Leon, that upwards of fifty of these fellows, who had on various accounts left the ranks of the Pretender, were walking about the streets dressed in his livery, and with all the confidence which the certainty of protection from the local authorities could afford them should any one be disposed to interrupt them.
I learned moreover from Antonio, that the person in whose house we were living was a notorious "alcahuete," or spy to the robbers in the neighbourhood, and that unless we took our departure speedily and unexpectedly, we should to a certainty be plundered on the road. I did not pay much attention to these hints, but my desire to quit Leon was great, as I was convinced that as long as I continued there I should be unable to regain my health and vigour.
Accordingly, at three in the morning, we departed for Galicia. We had scarcely proceeded half a league when we were overtaken by a thunder-storm of tremendous violence. We were at that time in the midst of a wood which extends to some distance in the direction in which we were going. The trees were bowed almost to the ground by the wind or torn up by the roots, whilst the earth was ploughed up by the lightning, which burst all around and nearly blinded us. The spirited Andalusian on which I rode became furious, and bounded into the air as if possessed. Owing to my state of weakness, I had the greatest difficulty in maintaining my seat, and avoiding a fall which might have been fatal. A tremendous discharge of rain followed the storm, which swelled the brooks and streams and flooded the surrounding country, causing much damage amongst the corn. After riding about five leagues, we began to enter the mountainous district which surrounds Astorga: the heat now became almost suffocating; swarms of flies began to make their appearance, and settling down upon the horses, stung them almost to madness, whilst the road was very flinty and trying. It was with great difficulty that we reached Astorga, covered with mud and dust, our tongues cleaving to our palates with thirst.
Astorga—The Inn—The Maragatos—The Habits of the Maragatos—The Statue.
We went to a posada in the suburbs, the only one, indeed, which the place afforded. The courtyard was full of arrieros and carriers, brawling loudly; the master of the house was fighting with two of his customers, and universal confusion reigned around. As I dismounted I received the contents of a wineglass in my face, of which greeting, as it was probably intended for another, I took no notice. Antonio, however, was not so patient, for on being struck with a cudgel, he instantly returned the salute with his whip, scarifying the countenance of a carman. In my endeavours to separate these two antagonists, my horse broke loose, and rushing amongst the promiscuous crowd, overturned several individuals and committed no little damage. It was a long time before peace was restored: at last we were shown to a tolerably decent chamber. We had, however, no sooner taken possession of it, than the waggon from Madrid arrived on its way to Coruna, filled with dusty travellers, consisting of women, children, invalid officers and the like. We were now forthwith dislodged, and our baggage flung into the yard. On our complaining of this treatment, we were told that we were two vagabonds whom nobody knew; who had come without an arriero, and had already set the whole house in confusion. As a great favour, however, we were at length permitted to take up our abode in a ruinous building down the yard, adjoining the stable, and filled with rats and vermin. Here there was an old bed with a tester, and with this wretched accommodation we were glad to content ourselves, for I could proceed no farther, and was burnt with fever. The heat of the place was intolerable, and I sat on the staircase with my head between my hands, gasping for breath: soon appeared Antonio with vinegar and water, which I drank and felt relieved.
We continued in this suburb three days, during the greatest part of which time I was stretched on the tester bed. I once or twice contrived to make my way into the town, but found no bookseller, nor any person willing to undertake the charge of disposing of my Testaments. The people were brutal, stupid, and uncivil, and I returned to my tester bed fatigued and dispirited. Here I lay listening from time to time to the sweet chimes which rang from the clock of the old cathedral. The master of the house never came near me, nor indeed, once inquired about me. Beneath the care of Antonio, however, I speedily waxed stronger. "Mon maitre," said he to me one evening, "I see you are better; let us quit this bad town and worse posada to-morrow morning. Allons, mon maitre! Il est temps de nous mettre en chemin pour Lugo et Galice."
Before proceeding, however, to narrate what befell us in this journey to Lugo and Galicia, it will perhaps not be amiss to say a few words concerning Astorga and its vicinity. It is a walled town, containing about five or six thousand inhabitants, with a cathedral and college, which last is, however, at present deserted. It is situated on the confines, and may be called the capital of a tract of land called the country of the Maragatos, which occupies about three square leagues, and has for its north-western boundary a mountain called Telleno, the loftiest of a chain of hills which have their origin near the mouth of the river Minho, and are connected with the immense range which constitutes the frontier of the Asturias and Guipuscoa.
The land is ungrateful and barren, and niggardly repays the toil of the cultivator, being for the most part rocky, with a slight sprinkling of red brick earth.
The Maragatos are perhaps the most singular caste to be found amongst the chequered population of Spain. They have their own peculiar customs and dress, and never intermarry with the Spaniards. Their name is a clue to their origin, as it signifies, "Moorish Goths," and at the present day their garb differs but little from that of the Moors of Barbary, as it consists of a long tight jacket, secured at the waist by a broad girdle, loose short trousers which terminate at the knee, and boots and gaiters. Their heads are shaven, a slight fringe of hair being only left at the lower part. If they wore the turban or barret, they could scarcely be distinguished from the Moors in dress, but in lieu thereof they wear the sombrero, or broad slouching hat of Spain. There can be little doubt that they are a remnant of those Goths who sided with the Moors on their invasion of Spain, and who adopted their religion, customs, and manner of dress, which, with the exception of the first, are still to a considerable degree retained by them. It is, however, evident that their blood has at no time mingled with that of the wild children of the desert, for scarcely amongst the hills of Norway would you find figures and faces more essentially Gothic than those of the Maragatos. They are strong athletic men, but loutish and heavy, and their features, though for the most part well formed, are vacant and devoid of expression. They are slow and plain of speech, and those eloquent and imaginative sallies so common in the conversation of other Spaniards, seldom or never escape them; they have, moreover, a coarse thick pronunciation, and when you hear them speak, you almost imagine that it is some German or English peasant attempting to express himself in the language of the Peninsula. They are constitutionally phlegmatic, and it is very difficult to arouse their anger; but they are dangerous and desperate when once incensed; and a person who knew them well, told me that he would rather face ten Valencians, people infamous for their ferocity and blood-thirstiness, than confront one angry Maragato, sluggish and stupid though he be on other occasions.
The men scarcely ever occupy themselves in husbandry, which they abandon to the women, who plough the flinty fields and gather in the scanty harvests. Their husbands and sons are far differently employed: for they are a nation of arrieros or carriers, and almost esteem it a disgrace to follow any other profession. On every road of Spain, particularly those north of the mountains which divide the two Castiles, may be seen gangs of fives and sixes of these people lolling or sleeping beneath the broiling sun, on gigantic and heavily laden mutes and mules. In a word, almost the entire commerce of nearly one half of Spain passes through the hands of the Maragatos, whose fidelity to their trust is such, that no one accustomed to employ them would hesitate to confide to them the transport of a ton of treasure from the sea of Biscay to Madrid; knowing well that it would not be their fault were it not delivered safe and undiminished, even of a grain, and that bold must be the thieves who would seek to wrest it from the far feared Maragatos, who would cling to it whilst they could stand, and would cover it with their bodies when they fell in the act of loading or discharging their long carbines.
But they are far from being disinterested, and if they are the most trustworthy of all the arrieros of Spain, they in general demand for the transport of articles a sum at least double to what others of the trade would esteem a reasonable recompense: by this means they accumulate large sums of money, notwithstanding that they indulge themselves in far superior fare to that which contents in general the parsimonious Spaniard;—another argument in favour of their pure Gothic descent; for the Maragatos, like true men of the north, delight in swilling liquors and battening upon gross and luscious meats, which help to swell out their tall and goodly figures. Many of them have died possessed of considerable riches, part of which they have not unfrequently bequeathed to the erection or embellishment of religious houses.
On the east end of the cathedral of Astorga, which towers over the lofty and precipitous wall, a colossal figure of lead may be seen on the roof. It is the statue of a Maragato carrier who endowed the cathedral with a large sum. He is in his national dress, but his head is averted from the lands of his fathers, and whilst he waves in his hand a species of flag, he seems to be summoning his race from their unfruitful region to other climes, where a richer field is open to their industry and enterprise.
I spoke to several of these men respecting the all-important subject of religion; but I found "their hearts gross, and their ears dull of hearing, and their eyes closed." There was one in particular to whom I showed the New Testament, and whom I addressed for a considerable time. He listened or seemed to listen patiently, taking occasionally copious draughts from an immense jug of whitish wine which stood between his knees. After I had concluded he said, "To-morrow I set out for Lugo, whither, I am told, yourself are going. If you wish to send your chest, I have no objection to take it at so much (naming an extravagant price). As for what you have told me, I understand little of it, and believe not a word of it; but in respect to the books which you have shown me, I will take three or four. I shall not read them, it is true, but I have no doubt that I can sell them at a higher price than you demand."
So much for the Maragatos.
Departure from Astorga—The Venta—The By-path—Narrow Escape—The Cup of Water—Sun and Shade—Bembibre—Convent of the Rocks— Sunset—Cacabelos—Midnight Adventure—Villafrancs.
It was four o'clock of a beautiful morning when we sallied from Astorga, or rather from its suburbs, in which we had been lodged: we directed our course to the north, in the direction of Galicia. Leaving the mountain Telleno on our left, we passed along the eastern skirts of the land of the Maragatos, over broken uneven ground, enlivened here and there by small green valleys and runnels of water. Several of the Maragatan women, mounted on donkeys, passed us on their way to Astorga, whither they were carrying vegetables. We saw others in the fields handling their rude ploughs, drawn by lean oxen. We likewise passed through a small village, in which we, however, saw no living soul. Near this village we entered the high road which leads direct from Madrid to Coruna, and at last, having travelled near four leagues, we came to a species of pass, formed on our left by a huge lumpish hill (one of those which descend from the great mountain Telleno), and on our right by one of much less altitude. In the middle of this pass, which was of considerable breadth, a noble view opened itself to us. Before us, at the distance of about a league and a half, rose the mighty frontier chain, of which I have spoken before; its blue sides and broken and picturesque peaks still wearing a thin veil of the morning mist, which the fierce rays of the sun were fast dispelling. It seemed an enormous barrier, threatening to oppose our farther progress, and it reminded me of the fables respecting the children of Magog, who are said to reside in remotest Tartary, behind a gigantic wall of rocks, which can only be passed by a gate of steel a thousand cubits in height.
We shortly after arrived at Manzanal, a village consisting of wretched huts, and exhibiting every sign of poverty and misery. It was now time to refresh ourselves and horses, and we accordingly put up at a venta, the last habitation in the village, where, though we found barley for the animals, we had much difficulty in procuring anything for ourselves. I was at length fortunate enough to obtain a large jug of milk, for there were plenty of cows in the neighbourhood, feeding in a picturesque valley which we had passed by, where was abundance of grass, and trees, and a rivulet broken by tiny cascades. The jug might contain about half a gallon, but I emptied it in a few minutes, for the thirst of fever was still burning within me, though I was destitute of appetite. The venta had something the appearance of a German baiting-house. It consisted of an immense stable, from which was partitioned a kind of kitchen and a place where the family slept. The master, a robust young man, lolled on a large solid stone bench, which stood within the door. He was very inquisitive respecting news, but I could afford him none; whereupon he became communicative, and gave me the history of his life, the sum of which was, that he had been a courier in the Basque provinces, but about a year since had been dispatched to this village, where he kept the post-house. He was an enthusiastic liberal, and spoke in bitter terms of the surrounding population, who, he said, were all Carlists and friends of the friars. I paid little attention to his discourse, for I was looking at a Maragato lad of about fourteen, who served in the house as a kind of ostler. I asked the master if we were still in the land of the Maragatos; but he told me that we had left it behind nearly a league, and that the lad was an orphan and was serving until he could rake up a sufficient capital to become an arriero. I addressed several questions to the boy, but the urchin looked sullenly in my face, and either answered by monosyllables or was doggedly silent. I asked him if he could read. "Yes," said he, "as much as that brute of yours who is tearing down the manger."
Quitting Manzanal, we continued our course. We soon arrived at the verge of a deep valley amongst mountains, not those of the chain which we had seen before us, and which we now left to the right, but those of the Telleno range, just before they unite with that chain. Round the sides of this valley, which exhibited something of the appearance of a horse-shoe, wound the road in a circuitous manner; just before us, however, and diverging from the road, lay a footpath which seemed, by a gradual descent, to lead across the valley, and to rejoin the road on the other side, at the distance of about a furlong; and into this we struck in order to avoid the circuit.
We had not gone far before we met two Galicians, on their way to cut the harvests of Castile. One of them shouted, "Cavalier, turn back: in a moment you will be amongst precipices, where your horses will break their necks, for we ourselves could scarcely climb them on foot." The other cried, "Cavalier, proceed, but be careful, and your horses, if sure-footed, will run no great danger: my comrade is a fool." A violent dispute instantly ensued between the two mountaineers, each supporting his opinion with loud oaths and curses; but without stopping to see the result, I passed on, but the path was now filled with stones and huge slaty rocks, on which my horse was continually slipping. I likewise heard the sound of water in a deep gorge, which I had hitherto not perceived, and I soon saw that it would be worse than madness to proceed. I turned my horse, and was hastening to regain the path which I had left, when Antonio, my faithful Greek, pointed out to me a meadow by which, he said, we might regain the high road much lower down than if we returned on our steps. The meadow was brilliant with short green grass, and in the middle there was a small rivulet of water. I spurred my horse on, expecting to be in the high road in a moment; the horse, however, snorted and stared wildly, and was evidently unwilling to cross the seemingly inviting spot. I thought that the scent of a wolf, or some other wild animal might have disturbed him, but was soon undeceived by his sinking up to the knees in a bog. The animal uttered a shrill sharp neigh, and exhibited every sign of the greatest terror, making at the same time great efforts to extricate himself, and plunging forward, but every moment sinking deeper. At last he arrived where a small vein of rock showed itself: on this he placed his fore feet, and with one tremendous exertion freed himself, from the deceitful soil, springing over the rivulet and alighting on comparatively firm ground, where he stood panting, his heaving sides covered with a foamy sweat. Antonio, who had observed the whole scene, afraid to venture forward, returned by the path by which we came, and shortly afterwards rejoined me. This adventure brought to my recollection the meadow with its footpath which tempted Christian from the straight road to heaven, and finally conducted him to the dominions of the giant Despair.
We now began to descend the valley by a broad and excellent carretera or carriage road, which was cut out of the steep side of the mountain on our right. On our left was the gorge, down which tumbled the runnel of water which I have before mentioned. The road was tortuous, and at every turn the scene became more picturesque. The gorge gradually widened, and the brook at its bottom, fed by a multitude of springs, increased in volume and in sound, but it was soon far beneath us, pursuing its headlong course till it reached level ground, where it flowed in the midst of a beautiful but confined prairie. There was something sylvan and savage in the mountains on the farther side, clad from foot to pinnacle with trees, so closely growing that the eye was unable to obtain a glimpse of the hill sides, which were uneven with ravines and gulleys, the haunts of the wolf, the wild boar, and the corso, or mountain-stag; the latter of which, as I was informed by a peasant who was driving a car of oxen, frequently descended to feed in the prairie, and were there shot for the sake of their skins, for their flesh, being strong and disagreeable, is held in no account.
But notwithstanding the wildness of these regions, the handiworks of man were visible. The sides of the gorge, though precipitous, were yellow with little fields of barley, and we saw a hamlet and church down in the prairie below, whilst merry songs ascended to our ears from where the mowers were toiling with their scythes, cutting the luxuriant and abundant grass. I could scarcely believe that I was in Spain, in general so brown, so arid and cheerless, and I almost fancied myself in Greece, in that land of ancient glory, whose mountain and forest scenery Theocritus has so well described.
At the bottom of the valley we entered a small village, washed by the brook, which had now swelled almost to a stream. A more romantic situation I had never witnessed. It was surrounded, and almost overhung by mountains, and embowered in trees of various kinds; waters sounded, nightingales sang, and the cuckoo's full note boomed from the distant branches, but the village was miserable. The huts were built of slate stones, of which the neighbouring hills seemed to be principally composed, and roofed with the same, but not in the neat tidy manner of English houses, for the slates were of all sizes, and seemed to be flung on in confusion. We were spent with heat and thirst, and sitting down on a stone bench, I entreated a woman to give me a little water. The woman said she would, but added that she expected to be paid for it. Antonio, on hearing this, became highly incensed, and speaking Greek, Turkish, and Spanish, invoked the vengeance of the Panhagia on the heartless woman, saying, "If I were to offer a Mahometan gold for a draught of water he would dash it in my face; and you are a Catholic, with the stream running at your door." I told him to be silent, and giving the woman two cuartos, repeated my request, whereupon she took a pitcher, and going to the stream filled it with water. It tasted muddy and disagreeable, but it drowned the fever which was devouring me.
We again remounted and proceeded on our way, which, for a considerable distance, lay along the margin of the stream, which now fell in small cataracts, now brawled over stones, and at other times ran dark and silent through deep pools overhung with tall willows,—pools which seemed to abound with the finny tribe, for large trout frequently sprang from the water, catching the brilliant fly which skimmed along its deceitful surface. The scene was delightful. The sun was rolling high in the firmament, casting from its orb of fire the most glorious rays, so that the atmosphere was flickering with their splendour, but their fierceness was either warded off by the shadow of the trees or rendered innocuous by the refreshing coolness which rose from the waters, or by the gentle breezes which murmured at intervals over the meadows, "fanning the cheek or raising the hair" of the wanderer. The hills gradually receded, till at last we entered a plain where tall grass was waving, and mighty chestnut trees, in full blossom, spread out their giant and umbrageous boughs. Beneath many stood cars, the tired oxen prostrate on the ground, the crossbar of the poll which they support pressing heavily on their heads, whilst their drivers were either employed in cooking, or were enjoying a delicious siesta in the grass and shade. I went up to one of the largest of these groups and demanded of the individuals whether they were in need of the Testament of Jesus Christ. They stared at one another, and then at me, till at last a young man, who was dangling a long gun in his hands as he reclined, demanded of me what it was, at the same time inquiring whether I was a Catalan, "for you speak hoarse," said he, "and are tall and fair like that family." I sat down amongst them and said that I was no Catalan, but that I came from a spot in the Western Sea, many leagues distant, to sell that book at half the price it cost; and that their souls' welfare depended on their being acquainted with it. I then explained to them the nature of the New Testament, and read to them the parable of the Sower. They stared at each other again, but said that they were poor, and could not buy books. I rose, mounted, and was going away, saying to them: "Peace bide with you." Whereupon the young man with the gun rose, and saying, "Caspita! this is odd," snatched the book from my hand and gave me the price I had demanded.
Perhaps the whole world might be searched in vain for a spot whose natural charms could rival those of this plain or valley of Bembibre, as it is called, with its wall of mighty mountains, its spreading chestnut trees, and its groves of oaks and willows, which clothe the banks of its stream, a tributary to the Minho. True it is, that when I passed through it, the candle of heaven was blazing in full splendour, and everything lighted by its rays looked gay, glad, and blessed. Whether it would have filled me with the same feelings of admiration if viewed beneath another sky, I will not pretend to determine; but it certainly possesses advantages which at no time could fail to delight, for it exhibits all the peaceful beauties of an English landscape blended with something wild and grand, and I thought within myself that he must be a restless dissatisfied man, who, born amongst those scenes, would wish to quit them. At the time I would have desired no better fate than that of a shepherd on the prairies, or a hunter in the hills of Bembibre.
Three hours passed away and we were in another situation. We had halted and refreshed ourselves and horses at Bembibre, a village of mud and slate, and which possessed little to attract attention: we were now ascending, for the road was over one of the extreme ledges of those frontier hills which I have before so often mentioned; but the aspect of heaven had blackened, clouds were rolling rapidly from the west over the mountains, and a cold wind was moaning dismally. "There is a storm travelling through the air," said a peasant, whom we overtook, mounted on a wretched mule; "and the Asturians had better be on the lookout, for it is speeding in their direction." He had scarce spoken, when a light, so vivid and dazzling that it seemed as if the whole lustre of the fiery element were concentrated in it, broke around us, filling the whole atmosphere, and covering rock, tree and mountain with a glare not to be described. The mule of the peasant tumbled prostrate, while the horse I rode reared himself perpendicularly, and turning round, dashed down the hill at headlong speed, which for some time it was impossible to cheek. The lightning was followed by a peal almost as terrible, but distant, for it sounded hollow and deep; the hills, however, caught up its voice, seemingly repeating it from summit to summit, till it was lost in interminable space. Other flashes and peals succeeded, but slight in comparison, and a few drops of rain descended. The body of the tempest seemed to be over another region. "A hundred families are weeping where that bolt fell," said the peasant when I rejoined him, "for its blaze has blinded my mule at six leagues' distance." He was leading the animal by the bridle, as its sight was evidently affected. "Were the friars still in their nest above there," he continued, "I should say that this was their doing, for they are the cause of all the miseries of the land."
I raised my eyes in the direction in which he pointed. Half way up the mountain, over whose foot we were wending, jutted forth a black frightful crag, which at an immense altitude overhung the road, and seemed to threaten destruction. It resembled one of those ledges of the rocky mountains in the picture of the Deluge, up to which the terrified fugitives have scrambled from the eager pursuit of the savage and tremendous billows, and from whence they gaze down in horror, whilst above them rise still higher and giddier heights, to which they seem unable to climb. Built on the very edge of this crag, stood an edifice, seemingly devoted to the purposes of religion, as I could discern the spire of a church rearing itself high over wall and roof. "That is the house of the Virgin of the Rocks," said the peasant, "and it was lately full of friars, but they have been thrust out, and the only inmates now are owls and ravens." I replied, that their life in such a bleak exposed abode could not have been very enviable, as in winter they must have incurred great risk of perishing with cold. "By no means," said he; "they had the best of wood for their braseros and chimneys, and the best of wine to warm them at their meals, which were not the most sparing. Moreover, they had another convent down in the vale yonder, to which they could retire at their pleasure." On my asking him the reason of his antipathy to the friars, he replied, that he had been their vassal, and that they had deprived him every year of the flower of what he possessed. Discoursing in this manner, we reached a village just below the convent, where he left me, having first pointed out to me a house of stone, with an image over the door, which, he said, once also belonged to the canalla (rabble) above.
The sun was setting fast, and eager to reach Villafranca, where I had determined on resting, and which was still distant three leagues and a half, I made no halt at this place. The road was now down a rapid and crooked descent, which terminated in a valley, at the bottom of which was a long and narrow bridge; beneath it rolled a river, descending from a wide pass between two mountains, for the chain was here cleft, probably by some convulsion of nature. I looked up the pass, and on the hills on both sides. Far above, on my right, but standing forth bold and clear, and catching the last rays of the sun, was the Convent of the Precipices, whilst directly over against it, on the farther side of the valley, rose the perpendicular side of the rival hill, which, to a considerable extent intercepting the light, flung its black shadow over the upper end of the pass, involving it in mysterious darkness. Emerging from the centre of this gloom, with thundering sound, dashed a river, white with foam, and bearing along with it huge stones and branches of trees, for it was the wild Sil hurrying to the ocean from its cradle in the heart of the Asturian hills, and probably swollen by the recent rains.
Hours again passed away. It was now night, and we were in the midst of woodlands, feeling our way, for the darkness was so great that I could scarcely see the length of a yard before my horse's head. The animal seemed uneasy, and would frequently stop short, prick up his ears, and utter a low mournful whine. Flashes of sheet lightning frequently illumined the black sky, and flung a momentary glare over our path. No sound interrupted the stillness of the night, except the slow tramp of the horses' hoofs, and occasionally the croaking of frogs from some pool or morass. I now bethought me that I was in Spain, the chosen land of the two fiends, assassination and plunder, and how easily two tired and unarmed wanderers might become their victims.
We at last cleared the woodlands, and after proceeding a short distance, the horse gave a joyous neigh, and broke into a smart trot. A barking of dogs speedily reached my ears, and we seemed to be approaching some town or village. In effect we were close to Cacabelos, a town about five miles distant from Villafranca.
It was near eleven at night, and I reflected that it would be far more expedient to tarry in this place till the morning than to attempt at present to reach Villafranca, exposing ourselves to all the horrors of darkness in a lonely and unknown road. My mind was soon made up on this point; but I reckoned without my host, for at the first posada which I attempted to enter, I was told that we could not be accommodated, and still less our horses, as the stable was full of water. At the second, and there were but two, I was answered from the window by a gruff voice, nearly in the words of the Scripture: "Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot arise to let you in." Indeed, we had no particular desire to enter, as it appeared a wretched hovel, though the poor horses pawed piteously against the door, and seemed to crave admittance.
We had now no choice but to resume our doleful way to Villafranca, which, we were told, was a short league distant, though it proved a league and a half. We found it no easy matter to quit the town, for we were bewildered amongst its labyrinths, and could not find the outlet. A lad about eighteen was, however, persuaded, by the promise of a peseta, to guide us: whereupon he led us by many turnings to a bridge, which he told us to cross, and to follow the road, which was that of Villafranca; he then, having received his fee, hastened from us.
We followed his directions, not, however, without a suspicion that he might be deceiving us. The night had settled darker down upon us, so that it was impossible to distinguish any object, however nigh. The lightning had become more faint and rare. We heard the rustling of trees, and occasionally the barking of dogs, which last sound, however, soon ceased, and we were in the midst of night and silence. My horse, either from weariness, or the badness of the road, frequently stumbled; whereupon I dismounted, and leading him by the bridle, soon left Antonio far in the rear.
I had proceeded in this manner a considerable way, when a circumstance occurred of a character well suited to the time and place.
I was again amidst trees and bushes, when the horse stopping short, nearly pulled me back. I know not how it was, but fear suddenly came over me, which, though in darkness and in solitude, I had not felt before. I was about to urge the animal forward, when I heard a noise at my right hand, and listened attentively. It seemed to be that of a person or persons forcing their way through branches and brushwood. It soon ceased, and I heard feet on the road. It was the short staggering kind of tread of people carrying a very heavy substance, nearly too much for their strength, and I thought I heard the hurried breathing of men over-fatigued. There was a short pause, during which I conceived they were resting in the middle of the road; then the stamping recommenced, until it reached the other side, when I again heard a similar rustling amidst branches; it continued for some time and died gradually away.
I continued my road, musing on what had just occurred, and forming conjectures as to the cause. The lightning resumed its flashing, and I saw that I was approaching tall black mountains.
This nocturnal journey endured so long that I almost lost all hope of reaching the town, and had closed my eyes in a doze, though I still trudged on mechanically, leading the horse. Suddenly a voice at a slight distance before me roared out, "Quien vive?" for I had at last found my way to Villafranca. It proceeded from the sentry in the suburb, one of those singular half soldiers half guerillas, called Miguelets, who are in general employed by the Spanish government to clear the roads of robbers. I gave the usual answer, "Espana," and went up to the place where he stood. After a little conversation, I sat down on a stone, awaiting the arrival of Antonio, who was long in making his appearance. On his arrival, I asked if any one had passed him on the road, but he replied that he had seen nothing. The night, or rather the morning, was still very dark, though a small corner of the moon was occasionally visible. On our inquiring the way to the gate, the Miguelet directed us down a street to the left, which we followed. The street was steep, we could see no gate, and our progress was soon stopped by houses and wall. We knocked at the gates of two or three of these houses (in the upper stories of which lights were burning), for the purpose of being set right, but we were either disregarded or not heard. A horrid squalling of cats, from the tops of the houses and dark corners, saluted our ears, and I thought of the night arrival of Don Quixote and his squire at Toboso, and their vain search amongst the deserted streets for the palace of Dulcinea. At length we saw light and heard voices in a cottage at the other side of a kind of ditch. Leading the horses over, we called at the door, which was opened by an aged man, who appeared by his dress to be a baker, as indeed he proved, which accounted for his being up at so late an hour. On begging him to show us the way into the town, he led us up a very narrow alley at the end of his cottage, saying that he would likewise conduct us to the posada.
The alley led directly to what appeared to be the market-place, at a corner house of which our guide stopped and knocked. After a long pause an upper window was opened, and a female voice demanded who we were. The old man replied, that two travellers had arrived who were in need of lodging. "I cannot be disturbed at this time of night," said the woman; "they will be wanting supper, and there is nothing in the house; they must go elsewhere." She was going to shut the window, but I cried that we wanted no supper, but merely resting place for ourselves and horses—that we had come that day from Astorga, and were dying with fatigue. "Who is that speaking?" cried the woman. "Surely that is the voice of Gil, the German clock-maker from Pontevedra. Welcome, old companion; you are come at the right time, for my own is out of order. I am sorry I have kept you waiting, but I will admit you in a moment."
The window was slammed to, presently a light shone through the crevices of the door, a key turned in the lock, and we were admitted.
Villafranca—The Pass—Gallegan Simplicity—The Frontier Guard—The Horse-shoe—Gallegan Peculiarities—A Word on Language—The Courier—Wretched Cabins—Host and Guests—Andalusians.
"Ave Maria," said the woman; "whom have we here? This is not Gil the clock-maker." "Whether it be Gil or Juan," said I, "we are in need of your hospitality, and can pay for it." Our first care was to stable the horses, who were much exhausted. We then went in search of some accommodation for ourselves. The house was large and commodious, and having tasted a little water, I stretched myself on the floor of one of the rooms on some mattresses which the woman produced, and in less than a minute was sound asleep.
The sun was shining bright when I awoke. I walked forth into the market-place, which was crowded with people, I looked up, and could see the peaks of tall black mountains peeping over the tops of the houses. The town lay in a deep hollow, and appeared to be surrounded by hills on almost every side. "Quel pays barbare!" said Antonio, who now joined me; "the farther we go, my master, the wilder everything looks. I am half afraid to venture into Galicia; they tell me that to get to it we must clamber up those hills: the horses will founder." Leaving the market-place I ascended the wall of the town, and endeavoured to discover the gate by which we should have entered the preceding night; but I was not more successful in the bright sunshine than in the darkness. The town in the direction of Astorga appeared to be hermetically sealed.
I was eager to enter Galicia, and finding that the horses were to a certain extent recovered from the fatigue of the journey of the preceding day, we again mounted and proceeded on our way. Crossing a bridge, we presently found ourselves in a deep gorge amongst the mountains, down which rushed an impetuous rivulet, overhung by the high road which leads into Galicia. We were in the far-famed pass of Fuencebadon.
It is impossible to describe this pass or the circumjacent region, which contains some of the most extraordinary scenery in all Spain; a feeble and imperfect outline is all that I can hope to effect. The traveller who ascends it follows for nearly a league the course of the torrent, whose banks are in some places precipitous, and in others slope down to the waters, and are covered with lofty trees, oaks, poplars, and chestnuts. Small villages are at first continually seen, with low walls, and roofs formed of immense slates, the eaves nearly touching the ground; these hamlets, however, gradually become less frequent as the path grows more steep and narrow, until they finally cease at a short distance before the spot is attained where the rivulet is abandoned, and is no more seen, though its tributaries may yet be heard in many a gully, or descried in tiny rills dashing down the steeps. Everything here is wild, strange, and beautiful: the hill up which winds the path towers above on the right, whilst on the farther side of a profound ravine rises an immense mountain, to whose extreme altitudes the eye is scarcely able to attain; but the most singular feature of this pass are the hanging fields or meadows which cover its sides. In these, as I passed, the grass was growing luxuriantly, and in many the mowers were plying their scythes, though it seemed scarcely possible that their feet could find support on ground so precipitous: above and below were drift- ways, so small as to seem threads along the mountain side. A car, drawn by oxen, is creeping round yon airy eminence; the nearer wheel is actually hanging over the horrid descent; giddiness seizes the brain, and the eye is rapidly withdrawn. A cloud intervenes, and when again you turn to watch their progress, the objects of your anxiety have disappeared. Still more narrow becomes the path along which you yourself are toiling, and its turns more frequent. You have already come a distance of two leagues, and still one- third of the ascent remains unsurmounted. You are not yet in Galicia; and you still hear Castilian, coarse and unpolished, it is true, spoken in the miserable cabins placed in the sequestered nooks which you pass by in your route.
Shortly before we reached the summit of the pass thick mists began to envelop 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 maitre; 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 maitre; 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 Senora; 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 maitre, 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 des veritables 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, mon maitre; we must give them wine, or they will be offended. I know them, mon maitre—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; but I suppose you have brought horse-shoes with you, or that large beast of yours cannot be shod in this village.
Myself.—What do you mean? Is the blacksmith unequal to his trade? Cannot he put on a horse-shoe?
Ostler.—Si, Senhor; he can put on a horse-shoe if you give it him; but there are no horse-shoes 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 horse-shoe; 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 farther 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 maitre," 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 half way 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 horse-shoe, 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 on 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. "Can you understand this conversation?" I demanded of Antonio, who had by this time rejoined me. "I cannot, mon maitre," he replied; "I have acquired at various times a great many words amongst the Gallegan domestics in the kitchens where I have officiated as cook, but am quite unable to understand any long conversation. I have heard the Gallegans say that in no two villages is it spoken in one and the same manner, and that very frequently they do not understand each other. The worst of this language is, that everybody on first hearing it thinks that nothing is more easy than to understand it, as words are continually occurring which he has heard before: but these merely serve to bewilder and puzzle him, causing him to misunderstand everything that is said; whereas, if he were totally ignorant of the tongue, he would occasionally give a shrewd guess at what was meant, as I myself frequently do when I hear Basque spoken, though the only word which I know of that language is jaunguicoa."
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 maitre," said he, "the grand post from Madrid to Coruna 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 flambeaux, 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 portmanteaux, 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 flambeaux 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, io lo creo: neither oil nor olives, bread nor barley. You have been at Cordova. Vaya; oblige me, cavalier, by taking this cigar."
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:-
"Don Carlos is a hoary churl, Of cruel heart and cold; But Isabel's a harmless girl, Of only six years old."
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 dunghills 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.