TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Spellings are sometimes erratic. A few obvious misprints have been corrected, but in general the original spelling and typesetting conventions (e.g. ellipses as * * *) have been retained. Accents in foreign language phrases are inconsistent, and have not been standardised.
BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
NO. CCCLXI. NOVEMBER, 1845. VOL. LVIII.
THE STUDENT OF SALAMANCA. PART I., 521
HAKEM THE SLAVE, 560
THE LAY OF STARKATHER, 570
ACCOUNT OF A VISIT TO THE VOLCANO OF KIRAUEA, 591
THE DAYS OF THE FRONDE, 596
THE GRAND GENERAL JUNCTION AND INDEFINITE EXTENSION RAILWAY RHAPSODY, 614
SKETCHES OF ITALY—LUCCA, 617
THE RAILWAYS, 633
* * * * *
EDINBURGH: WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, 45, GEORGE STREET; AND 37, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON.
To whom all Communications (post paid) must be addressed.
SOLD BY ALL THE BOOKSELLERS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM. PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE AND HUGHES, EDINBURGH.
BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
No. CCCLXI. NOVEMBER, 1845. VOL. LVIII.
THE STUDENT OF SALAMANCA.
"Espana de la guerra Tremola la pendon." Cancion Patriotica.
It wanted about an hour of sunset on the last day of September 1833, when two young men, whose respective ages did not much exceed twenty years, emerged from a country lane upon the high-road from Tarazona to Tudela, in that small district of Navarre which lies south of the river Ebro.
The equipments of the travellers—for such the dusty state of their apparel, and the knapsacks upon their shoulders, indicated them to be—were exactly similar, and well calculated for a pedestrian journey across the steep sierras and neglected roads of Spain. They consisted, with little variation, of the national Spanish dress—short jackets of dark cloth, somewhat braided and embroidered, knee-breeches of the same material, and broad-brimmed hats, surrounded by velvet bands. Only, instead of the tight-fitting stockings and neat pumps, which should have completed the costume, long leathern gamashes extended from knee to ankle, and were met below the latter by stout high-quartered shoes. Each of the young men carried a stick in his hand, rather, as it appeared, from habit, or for purposes of defence, than as a support, and each of them had a cloak of coarse black serge folded and strapped upon his otter-skin knapsack. With their costume, however, the similarity in their appearance ceased; nothing could be more widely different than their style of person and countenance. The taller of the two, who was also apparently the elder, was of a slender, active figure, with well-moulded limbs, and a handsome, intelligent countenance, in which energy and decision of character were strongly marked. His complexion was dark olive; his eyes and short curling hair were of a coal black; what little beard he had was closely shaven, excepting upon the upper lip, which was fringed by a well-defined mustache, as gracefully curved and delicately penciled as any that Vandyke ever painted. At this time, however, there was a shade over his countenance other than that cast by the broad leaf of his sombrero; it was the look of mingled hope, anxiety, and suspense, sometimes worn by persons who are drawing near to a goal, their attainment of which is still doubtful, and at which, even when attained, it is not quite certain whether pleasure or pain awaits them.
No such thoughts or anxieties were to be read upon the joyous, careless countenance of the second traveller—a stout, square-built young man, whose ruddy complexion and light-brown hair contrasted as strongly with the dark locks and olive skin of his companion as they differed from the generally received notions of Spanish physiognomy. The face wore no particular expression, excepting that of good-humoured insouciance; his hazel eye had a merry twinkle, and a slight fulness of lip and chin seemed to denote a reasonable degree of addiction to the good things of this life. Altogether, and to judge them by their physiognomies only, one would have chosen the first for a friend, the latter for a pleasant and jovial boon-companion.
On leaving the cross-road, the two pedestrians took a northerly direction, in which they proceeded for nearly a quarter of an hour without exchanging a syllable, the one absorbed in meditations which the other was apparently unwilling to disturb. At the end of that time they paused, as if by preconcerted arrangement, in front of a small venta, or country inn, less remarkable for the accommodation it afforded, than for its pleasant situation and aspect. It stood a little back from the road, in a nook formed by the recession of a line of wooded hills which there skirt the highway. The front of the house, composed of rough blocks of grey stone, was overgrown by the twisted branches of a venerable vine, the age of which did not prevent it from becoming covered each spring with leaves and tendrils, nor from yielding in the autumn an abundant supply of delicious gold-coloured grapes. At a short distance in front of the door, which opened into the stable, whence a wooden step-ladder led to the upper floor, there stood a huge oak, throwing its broad shadow over a table and some benches placed beneath it for the accommodation of guests. On one side of the venta, and detached from it, but in a right line with its front, was a massive fragment of wall, which had probably, at no very remote period, formed part of a chapel or convent. Its summit, which was broken and irregular, rose full thirty feet from the ground throughout more than double that length, and along the wall, at about two-thirds of a man's height, ran a horizontal black line, indicating, as did also the numerous marks and bruises upon the whitewashed surface, that this ancient piece of masonry enabled the frequenters of the venta to indulge in the favourite juego de pelota, or a game at ball, to which the Navarrese and the northern Spaniards generally are much addicted, and at which most of them excel.
On the arrival of our travellers, the benches in front of the venta had already two occupants, belonging to classes of men which may rank amongst the chief supporters of Spanish roadside inns. One of them was a corporal of dragoons, returning to his garrison at Tudela, whence he had probably been sent with a despatch, or on some similar mission. He was a strapping, powerful fellow, well set up, as the phrase goes, and whose broad shoulders and soldierly figure showed to advantage in his dark-green uniform. His horse—a high-crested, fine-legged Andalusian, whose jetty coat looked yet blacker by contrast with the white sheep-skin that covered the saddle, and the flakes of foam with which his impatient champings had covered his broad chest—was tied up near the stable door, the bridle removed, finishing out of a nose-bag a plentiful feed of maize. The dragoon's sabre and his brass and leopard-skin helmet were hanging at the saddle-bow, their owner having temporarily covered his head with a smart foraging-cap of green and scarlet cloth, which set off to great advantage his bearded and martial countenance. Having provided for his horse, the trooper was now attending to the calls of his own appetite, and doing immense execution on some goat's-milk cheese and excellent white bread, which he moistened by copious draughts of the thick black wine of Navarre.
Seated opposite to the soldier, and similarly employed, was a hardy-looking man, who had arrived in company with two mules, which were also tethered to a ring in the venta wall, but at a respectful distance from the dragoon's charger. A heap of chopped straw and Indian corn leaves was lying before them, at which they assiduously munched—not, however, without occasionally casting wistful glances at the more luxurious repast of their neighbour. The soldier and the muleteer had apparently met before; and when the new-comers approached them, they were discussing with great animation the merits of the various players in a ball-match which they had recently witnessed near Tudela. Thence they glided into a discussion concerning ball-players in general; the muleteer, who was a Navarrese, asserting the invincibility of his country at the game of pelota, whilst the corporal, who came from the neighbourhood of Oviedo, was equally confident of the superiority of the Asturians.
Whilst the younger of the travellers was ascertaining from the patrona the state of the larder, which, as is usual enough in Spanish inns, was but meagrely provided, his companion sought out the landlord of the venta, whom he found in the chimney-corner, enjoying a supplementary siesta amidst a cloud of wood smoke.
"The Conde de Villabuena," enquired the young man, when he had shaken the drowsy host out of his slumbers—"is he still at his house between this and Tudela?"
The ventero, a greasy, ill-conditioned Valencian, rubbed his eyes, muttered a coarse oath, and seemed half disposed, instead of replying, to pick a quarrel with his interrogator; but a glance at the athletic figure and resolute countenance of the latter, dissipated the inclination, and he answered by a surly affirmative.
"And his daughter also?" continued the stranger in a lower tone.
"Dona Rita? To be sure she is, or was yesterday; for I saw her ride by with her father and some other cavaliers. What eyes the little beauty has; and what a foot! It was peeping from under her habit as she passed. Sant'Antonio, what a foot!"
And now thoroughly awakened, the ventero launched out into a panegyric on the lady's beauty, interlarded by appeals to various saints as to the justice of his praise, which was continued, in the manner of a soliloquy, for some time after the stranger had turned his back upon him and descended the stairs.
At the door of the venta the young man encountered his companion, who was issuing forth with a jug of wine in his hand.
"Well, Luis," said the latter, "have you ascertained it? Is she still here, or has our journey been in vain?"
"She is here," was the reply.
"Good. Then I hope you will put aside your melancholy, and eat and drink with better appetite than you have lately done. We have plenty of time; it will not be dark for the next two hours. So let us to supper, such as it is; ham as rancid as an old oil-cask, eggs that would have been chickens to-morrow, and wine—but the wine may atone for the rest—it is old Peralta, or the patrona is perjured. I have had the table spread under the tree, in hopes that fresh air may sweeten musty viands, and in order that we may see the ball-play of yonder soldier and muleteer."
The young man who had been addressed by the name of Luis, glanced in the direction of the ball-court, where the two men to whom his companion referred were preparing for a match. The discussion as to the superiority of Navarrese or Asturian ball-players had increased in warmth, until the disputants, each obstinate in his opinion, finding themselves, perhaps, at a loss for verbal arguments, had agreed to refer the matter to a trial of individual skill. The challenge came from the dragoon, who, as soon as he heard it accepted, proceeded to lighten himself for his task. With great alacrity he threw aside his foraging-cap, stripped off his pouch-belt and uniform coat, and unfastened his spurs. The preparations of the muleteer were even more rapidly completed. When he had thrown off his jacket—the back of which was adorned, according to the custom of his class, with flowers and various quaint devices, cut out in cloth of many colours, and sewn upon the brown material of which the garment was composed—he stood in his shirt and trousers of unbleached linen, with light sandals of plaited hemp upon his feet. In this latter respect he had the advantage of the soldier, who, not choosing to play barefooted, was obliged to retain his heavy boots. In apparent activity, too, the advantage was greatly on the side of the Navarrese, who was spare and sinewy, without an ounce of superfluous flesh about him, but with muscles like iron, and limbs as elastic and springy as whalebone. His very face partook of the hard, wiry character of his person; the cheekbones were slightly prominent, and, although he evidently wanted some years of thirty, two deep furrows or lines, such as are rarely seen on the countenance of so young a man, curved outwards from either nostril to considerably below the mouth, increasing in depth when he talked or smiled, and giving, in conjunction with a quick grey eye, considerable character to his frank, and by no means disagreeable countenance.
The game began with great spirit, and with much appearance of equality between the players, who would both have been deemed first-rate in any ball-court in Europe. The great strength of the dragoon seemed at first to give him the advantage; the tremendous blows he delivered sent the ball against the wall with as much seeming force as if it had been driven out of a cannon, and caused it to rebound to an immense distance, keeping the muleteer continually at the very top of his speed. The match was to be the best two out of three games. The first of the three was won by the muleteer, after the victory had been long and well contested.
"Bien!" said the dragoon, as he wiped the perspiration from his face, and took a deep draught out of a jug of wine which the ventero presented to him. "Bien—that is one for you; the next may go differently. I only missed the ball through my foot slipping. Curse boots for playing ball in, say I! Hola, Valenciano! have you never a pair of shoes or espadrillas to lend me?"
The landlord, who acted as umpire, and who, as well as his wife and two or three loitering peasants, was taking an intense interest in the game, ran into the house and brought out a pair of sandals. These the soldier tied upon his feet, in lieu of the boots to which he attributed his defeat. Then, with renewed confidence, he took his place opposite the wall, where the muleteer was waiting for him.
But if, as the dragoon said, an accident had lost him the first game, it soon became evident that the superior activity and endurance of his antagonist were equally certain to make him lose the second. The idleness of a garrison life, fat feeding, and soft lying, had disqualified the soldier to compete for any length of time with a man like the Navarrese, accustomed to the severest hardships, whose most luxurious meal was a handful of boiled beans, his softest couch a bundle of straw or the packsaddles of his mules. Constant exposure and unceasing toil had given the muleteer the same insensibility to fatigue attributed to certain savage tribes. Whilst his antagonist, with inflamed features and short-drawn breath, and reeking with perspiration, was toiling after the ball, the Navarrese went through the same, or a greater amount of exertion, without the least appearance of distress. Not a bead of moisture upon his face, nor a pant from his broad, well-opened chest, gave token of the slightest inconvenience from the violent exercise he was going through. On the contrary, as he went on and got warm in the harness, he seemed to play better, to run faster, to catch the ball with greater address, and strike it with more force. Sometimes he would be standing close to the wall, when a mighty blow from the strong arm of the dragoon sent the ball scores of yards in his rear. It seemed impossible that he should arrive soon enough to strike it. But before it had time to rebound, he was behind it, and by a blow of his horny palm, less forcible perhaps, but more dexterously applied than the one his opponent had given, he sent it careering back to the wall with greater swiftness than it had left it. He rarely struck the ball in the air, even when the opportunity offered, but allowed it to rebound—a less dashing, but a surer game than he would perhaps have played, had he not considered the honour of "Navarra la bella" to be at stake, represented in his person. Again, when the ball fell near the wall, he would sometimes swing his arm as though about to strike it a violent blow, and, whilst the dragoon was already beginning to retire in the direction he expected it to take, he would change his apparent intention, and drop it gently just above the line, so that his opponent, although rushing up in desperate haste, could scarcely arrive in time to avoid being put out. It was by a feint of this description that the second game was decided in favour of the Navarrese.
"Viva la Navarra!" shouted the winner, bounding like a startled roebuck three or four feet from the ground, in front of the discomfited soldier.
"Viva el demonio!" growled the latter in reply. "Do you think that because you have beaten me to-day, thanks to your herring guts and dog's hide, that you could do the same if I were in training, or had a month's practice? You would find it very different, Master Paco."
"Viva la Navarra!" repeated Paco, chucking the small hard ball up into the air, to a height at which it appeared scarcely bigger than a bullet. Then replying to the words of the dragoon; "At your orders, Senor Velasquez," said he, "I shall pass through Tudela some time next month, and shall be ready to give you your revenge."
And catching the ball as it fell, the Navarrese, whom victory had put into extravagant spirits, began tossing it from one hand to the other, catching it behind his back, and performing various other small feats of address, looking the while at the corporal with a sort of jeering smile, which greatly aggravated the irritation of the latter.
"Pues," said Velasquez at last, after gazing at Paco for the space of a minute with a stern look, which was insufficient, however, to make the other lower his eyes, or alter the expression of his countenance; "Well, what do you stare at? Oh! I forgot—you may well stare. It is the first time that you have seen an Asturian caballero beaten at any thing by a cur of a Navarrese."
"Not at all," replied the muleteer coolly; "your Senoria is mistaken. It is only the first time that I have seen an Asturian caballero with a pipeclayed belt over his shoulder, and a corporal's bars upon his arm."
And he broke out into one of those wild shrill laughs of scorn and defiance with which the peasant soldiers of Navarre have so often, during recent Spanish wars, caused the rocks and ravines of their native province to ring again.
"Hijo de zorra!" muttered the soldier, enraged beyond endurance by this last taunt; and drawing back his right arm, he dealt so heavy and unexpected a blow upon the breast of the muleteer that the latter reeled a couple of paces backwards, and then fell headlong and with considerable violence to the ground. The dragoon gazed for an instant at the fallen man, as if expecting him to rise and attack him in turn; but, seeing that he did not do so, he turned round and walked slowly in the direction of his charger.
He had taken but a few steps when the Navarrese sprang to his feet, and thrust his hand into the red sash which girded his waist, as though seeking a weapon. He found none, and, instantly darting forward, he passed the soldier, and reached his mules a moment sooner than the former did his horse. The next instant a long brown barrel was projected across the packsaddles, and behind it was seen the blue cap and pale countenance of Paco, who, with glittering eye and face livid from fury, was taking a deadly aim at the soldier, now standing beside the shoulder of his charger. Without a moment's hesitation the Navarrese pulled the trigger. As he did so, the dragoon, suddenly aware of his danger, threw himself on one side, and at the same time his horse, either startled by the movement or tormented by a fly, tossed his head violently up and backwards. The muleteer's bullet, intended for the rider, entered the brain of the steed. There was a convulsive quivering of the animal's whole frame, and then, before the smoke cleared away, the horse fell over so heavily and suddenly that he bore down Velasquez under him. The soldier lay with the whole weight of the expiring animal resting upon his legs and thighs; and, before he could make an attempt to extricate himself, the Navarrese, with a large dagger-shaped knife gleaming in his hand, sprang across the space that separated him from his antagonist. The fate of the latter would speedily have been decided, had not the innkeeper, his wife, and the two young men, who had been observing with much interest these rapidly occurring incidents, thrown themselves between Paco and the object of his wrath.
"Out of the way!" roared the infuriated muleteer. "He has struck me, and by the Holy Trinity I will have his blood. He has struck me, a free Navarrese!" repeated he, striking his own breast with the points of his fingers, one of the expressive and customary gestures of his countrymen.
"Let him be, Senor Don Paco!" yelled the ventero and his wife, greatly alarmed at the prospect of a murder in broad daylight and at their very threshold. "You have done enough already to send you to the galleys. Get on your mules, and ride away before worse comes of it."
"A los infiernos!" shouted Paco. "As the horse now is, so shall be the rider." And he gave a long sweep of his arm, making the bright blade of his knife flash in the last red sun-rays like a curved line of burnished gold. The point of the weapon passed within an inch or two of the face of the innkeeper, who started back with a cry of alarm. At the same moment the wrist of the Navarrese was caught in a firm grasp by the elder of the two travellers, and the knife was wrested from his hand. The muleteer turned like a madman upon his new antagonist. The latter had laid aside the hat which shaded his face, and now fixed his eyes upon the angry countenance of the Navarrese.
"Do you not know me, Paco?" said he, repulsing the first furious onset of the muleteer.
Paco stared at him for a moment with a look of doubt and astonishment.
"Don Luis!" he at last exclaimed.
"The same," replied the stranger. "You have been too hasty, Paco, and we expose ourselves to blame by not detaining you to answer for your attempt on yonder soldier's life, and for the death of his horse. But you had some provocation, and I, for one, am willing to take the risk. Begone, and that immediately."
"I shall do your bidding, Senorito," said Paco, "were it only for old acquaintance sake. But let that cowardly Asturian beware how he meets me in the mountains. I have missed him once, but will answer for not doing so again."
"And you," retorted the soldier, whom the innkeeper and a peasant had dragged from under the dead horse, and placed upon a bench, where he sat rubbing his legs, which were numbed and bruised by the weight that had fallen upon them—"and you, have a care how you show yourself in Tudela. If there is a stirrup-leather or sword-scabbard in the garrison, I promise you as sound a beating as you ever yet received."
The Navarrese, who had returned to his mules and was busied reloading his gun, snapped his fingers scornfully at this menace. Don Luis walked up to him.
"Listen, Paco," said he, in a low voice, "take my advice, and avoid this neighbourhood for a while. Are you still in the service of Count Villabuena?"
"No, Senor," replied the man, "I have left his Senoria, and the mules are my own. I shall be passing near the count's house to-morrow, if you have any thing to send."
"I have nothing," answered Don Luis. "Should you by chance see any of the family, it is unnecessary to mention our meeting."
Paco nodded his head significantly, seated himself sideways on one of his mules, his gun across his knees, and, leading the other by the bridle, trotted off at a brisk pace down a mountain path nearly opposite to the venta. Ten minutes later the dragoon, having regained, in some degree, the use of his legs, resumed his boots, took his saddle and valise on his shoulders, and set out on foot for his garrison.
The sun had set, and the twilight passed away, the night was clear and starlight, but moonless, when Luis and his companion left the venta and resumed their progress northwards. After following the highway for a short league, they took a cross-road, on either side of which the richly cultivated plain was sprinkled with farmhouses, and with a few country villas. In spite of the darkness, which was increased by the overhanging foliage of the fruit-trees that on either hand bordered the road, Luis moved rapidly and confidently forward, in the manner of one perfectly acquainted with the ground; and presently, leaving the beaten track, he passed through a plantation of young trees, crossed a field, and arrived with his companion at a low hedge surrounding a spacious garden. Jumping over this boundary, the young men penetrated some distance into the enclosure, and soon found themselves within fifty yards of a house, of which the white walls were partially visible, rising out of a thick garland of trees and bushes in which the building was embowered. Several of the windows were lighted up, and the sound of music reached the ears of Luis and his companion.
"This is far enough, Mariano," said the former. "To the right, amongst the trees, you will find an old moss-grown bench, upon which I have often sat in happier days than these. There await my return."
"Let me accompany you further," replied Mariano. "There is no saying what reception the count may give you."
"I shall not see the count," answered Luis; "and if by chance I should, there is nothing to apprehend. But my plan, as I have already explained to you, is only to seek one moment's interview with Rita. I am well acquainted with the arrangements of the house, and you may depend that I shall be seen by no one whom I wish to avoid."
Mariano turned into the shrubbery, and Luis, with rapid but silent step, advanced towards the villa, favoured in his clandestine approach by the darkness of the night and the trees of the thickly-planted garden.
The house was a square edifice, without balconies, and the windows that were lighted up were those of the first floor. On the side on which Luis first approached the building, the windows were closed, but, upon moving noiselessly round to the front, he perceived one which the fineness of the weather, still mild and genial although at the end of September, had induced the occupants of the room to leave open. The sound of laughter and merriment issued from it; but this was presently hushed, and two voices, accompanied by guitars, began to sing a lively seguidilla, of which, at the end of each piquant couplet, the listeners testified their approbation by a hum of mirthful applause. Before the song was over, Luis had sought and found a means of observing what was passing within doors. Grasping the lower branch of a tree which grew within a few feet of the corner of the house, he swung himself up amongst the foliage. A large bough extended horizontally below the open window, and by climbing along this, he was enabled to look completely into the apartment; whilst, owing to the thickness of the leafage and the dark colour of his dress, there was scarcely a possibility of his being discovered.
The room was occupied by about twenty persons, the majority of whom were visitors, inhabitants of Tudela or of neighbouring country-houses. With four or five exceptions, the party consisted of men, for the most part elderly or middle-aged. One of the ladies and a young officer of the royal guard were the singers, and their performance seemed partially to interrupt the conversation of a group of the seniors who were seated round a card-table at the further end of the apartment. The cards, however, if they had been used at all, had long been thrown aside, and replaced by a discussion carried on in low tones, and with an earnestness of countenance and gesture, which gave to those engaged in it the appearance rather of conspirators than of friends met together for the enjoyment of each other's society. The ladies, and a few of the younger men, did not appear disposed to let the gravity of their elders interfere with their own pleasures. The song and the dance, the pointed epigram and witty repartee, all the varied resourccs which Spaniards know so well how to bring into play, and which render a Spanish tertulia so agreeable, had been in turn resorted to. When the seguidilla—during the continuance of which Luis had gained his post of observation—was brought to a close, there seemed to ensue a sort of break in the amusements of the evening. The younger members of the company, whose conversation had previously been general, separated into groups of two or three persons; and in more than one of those composed of the former number, the flashing eye, coquettish smile, and rapidly significant motions of the fan, bespoke the existence of an animated flirtation.
Two ladies, neither of whom could have seen more than eighteen summers, now left the sofa upon which they had been sitting, and, with arms intertwined, approached the open window. Luis remained motionless as the leaves that surrounded him, and which were undisturbed by a breath of wind. The ladies leaned forward over the window-sill, enjoying the freshness of the night; and one of them, the lively brunette who had taken a part in the seguidilla, plucked some sprays of jasmine which reared their pointed leaves and white blossoms in front of the window, and began to entwine them in the hair of her companion—a pale and somewhat pensive beauty, in whose golden locks and blue eyes the Gothic blood of old Spain was yet to be traced. Presently she was interrupted in this fanciful occupation by a voice within the room calling upon her to sing. She obeyed the summons, and her friend remained alone at the window.
No sooner was this the case than a slight rustling occurred amongst the branches of the tree, and the name of "Rita" was uttered in a cautious whisper. The lady started, and but half suppressed a cry of terror. The next instant the leaves were put aside, and the light from the apartment fell upon the countenance of Luis, who, with uplifted finger, warned the agitated girl to restrain her emotion.
"Santa Virgen!" she exclaimed, leaning far out of the window, and speaking in a hurried whisper, "this is madness, Luis. My father is unchanged in his sentiments, and I dread his anger should he find you here."
"I will instantly depart," replied Luis, "if you promise me an interview. I am about to leave Spain—perhaps for ever; but I cannot go without bidding you farewell. You will not refuse me a meeting which may probably be our last."
"What mean you?" exclaimed the lady. "Why do you leave Spain, and when? But we shall be overheard. To-morrow my father goes to Tudela. Be here at mid-day. Brigida will admit you."
She held out her hand, which Luis pressed to his lips. At that moment the clatter of a horse's hoofs, rapidly approaching, was heard upon the hard ground of the avenue. The lady hastily withdrew her land and left the window, whilst Luis again concealed himself behind the screen of foliage. Scarcely had he done so, when a horseman dashed up to the house, forced his steed up the three or four broad steps leading to the door, and, without dismounting or looking for a bell or other means of announcing his arrival, struck several blows upon the oaken panels with the butt of his heavy riding-whip. Whilst the party above-stairs hurried to the windows, and endeavoured to discern who it was that disturbed them in so unceremonious a manner, a servant opened the small grated wicket in the centre of the door, and enquired the stranger's pleasure.
"Is the Conde de Villabuena at home?" demanded the horseman. "I must see him instantly."
"The name of your Senoria," enquired the domestic.
"It is unnecessary. Say that I have a message to him from friends at Madrid."
The servant disappeared, and in another moment his place was occupied by a grave, stern-looking man, between fifty and sixty years of age.
"I am Count Villabuena," said he; "what is your business?"
The stranger bent forward over his horse's mane, so as to bring his face close to the wicket, and uttered three words in a tone audible only to the count, who replied to them by an exclamation of surprise. The door was immediately opened, and Villabuena stood beside the horseman.
"When?" said he.
"Yesterday. I have ridden night and day to bring you the intelligence, and shall now push on to the interior of Navarre. At the same time as myself, others of our friends started, north and south, east and west. Early this morning, Santos Ladron heard it at Valladolid, and Merino in Castile. To-day the news has reached Vittoria; this night they will be at Bilboa and Tolosa. It is from the northern provinces that most is expected; but 'El Rey y la Religion' is a rallying-cry that will rouse all Spaniards worthy of the name. You are prepared for the event, and know what to do. Farewell, and success attend us!"
The stranger set spurs to his horse, and galloped down the avenue at the same rapid pace at which he had arrived. The count re-entered the house; and, as soon as he had done so, Luis dropped from his tree, and hurried to rejoin Mariano. In another hour they had returned to the venta.
Luis Herrera was the son of a Castilian gentleman, who had suffered much, both in person and property, for his steady adherence to the constitutional cause in Spain. Severely wounded whilst fighting against the Royalists and their French allies in 1823, Don Manuel Herrera with difficulty escaped to England, taking with him his only son, then a boy of eleven years of age. In 1830 he changed his residence to the south of France, and thence, taking advantage of his proximity to the frontier, and wishing his son's education to be completed in Spain, he dispatched Luis to Madrid, with a recommendation to the Conde de Villabuena, who, notwithstanding that his political principles were diametrically opposed to those of Don Manuel, was one of the oldest friends of the latter. The count welcomed Luis kindly, and received him into his house, where for some months he prosecuted his studies in company with the young Villabuenas, and, at the end of that time, went with them to the university of Salamanca. The vacations were passed by the young men either at the count's house at Madrid, or at a country residence near Tudela, north of which, in the central valleys of his native province of Navarre, the Conde de Villabuena owned extensive estates. The count was a widower, and, besides his two sons, had an only daughter, who, at the time of Luis's arrival was in her sixteenth year, and who added to great personal attractions a share of accomplishment and instruction larger than is usually found even amongst the higher classes of Spanish women. During the first sojourn of Luis at the count's house, he was naturally thrown a great deal into Dona Rita's society, and a reciprocal attachment grew up between them, which, if it occasionally afforded the young Villabuenas a subject of good-humoured raillery, on the other hand was unobserved or uncared for by the count—a stern silent man, whose thoughts and time were engrossed by political intrigues. When Luis went to Salamanca, his attachment to Rita, instead of becoming weakened or obliterated, appeared to acquire strength from absence; and she, on her part, as each vacation approached, unconsciously looked forward with far more eagerness to the return of Herrera than to that of her brothers.
The autumn of 1832 arrived, and the count and his family, including Luis, were assembled at the villa near Tudela. The attachment existing between Rita and Luis had become evident to all who knew them; and even the count himself seemed occasionally, by a quiet glance and grave smile, to recognise and sanction its existence. Nor was there any very obvious or strong reason for disapproval. The family of Herrera was ancient and honourable; and, although Don Manuel's estates had been confiscated when he fled the country, he had previously remitted to England a sum that secured him a moderate independence. The state of things in Spain was daily becoming more favourable to the hopes of political exiles. The declining health of Ferdinand had thrown the reins of government almost entirely into the hands of Queen Christina, who, in order to increase the number of her adherents, and ensure her daughter's succession to the throne, favoured the return to Spain of the Liberal party. Although Don Manuel, who was known to be obstinate and violent in his political views, had not yet been included in the amnesties published, it was thought that he speedily would be so; and then time and importunity, and an adherence to the established order of things, might perhaps procure him the restitution of some part of his confiscated property.
It chanced, that on the fourth day after the arrival of Luis and the Villabuenas from Salamanca, the two latter rode over to the Ebro, below Tudela, for the purpose of bathing. They were not good swimmers, and were moreover unaccustomed to bathe in so rapid and powerful a stream. A peasant, who observed two horses tied to a tree, and some clothes upon the grass by the river side, but who could see nothing of the owners, suspected an accident, and gave the alarm. A search was instituted, and the dead bodies of the unfortunate young men were found upon the sandy shore of an island some distance down the river.
This melancholy event was destined to have an important influence on the position of Luis Herrera in the family of Count Villabuena, and on his future fortunes. Mingled with the natural grief felt by the count at the untimely death of his children, were the pangs of disappointed pride and ambition. He had reckoned upon the gallant and promising young men, thus prematurely snatched away, for the continuance and aggrandizement of his ancient name. Upon his daughter he had hitherto scarcely bestowed a thought. She would marry—honourably of course, richly if possible; but even in this last respect he would not be inflexible, for where his pride of birth did not interfere, Villabuena was not an unkind father. But the death of his sons brought about great changes. The next heir to his title and estates was a distant and unmarried cousin, and to him the count determined to marry his daughter, whose beauty and large fortune in money and unentailed estates, rendered any objection to the match on the part of her kinsman a most improbable occurrence. As a first step towards the accomplishment of this scheme, the count resolved to put an end at once to what he considered the childish attachment existing between Rita and Luis. Within a week after the death of his sons, he had a conversation with young Herrera, in which he informed him of his intentions with regard to his daughter, and pointed out to him the necessity of forgetting her. In vain did Luis declare this to be impossible, and plead the strength which his attachment had acquired by his long permitted intercourse with Rita. The count cared little for such lover-like arguments; he assured Luis that he was mistaken, that time and absence brought oblivion in their train, and that after a few months, perhaps weeks, of separation, he would wonder at the change in his sentiments, and laugh at the importance he had attached to a mere boyish fancy. It so happened, that on the day preceding the one upon which this conversation took place, a letter had been received from Don Manuel Herrera, announcing his speedy return to Spain, the much-desired permission having at length been obtained. In order to give Luis an opportunity of speedily testing the effects of absence, the count proposed that he should at once set out for the French frontier to meet his father. Under the existing circumstances, he said, it was undesirable that he should remain under the same roof with his daughter longer than could be avoided.
Although bitterly deploring the prospect of an immediate and lasting separation from Rita, Luis had no choice but to adopt the course proposed; nor would his pride have allowed him to remain in the count's house an instant longer than his presence there was acceptable. He feared that the count would prevent his having a last interview with Rita; but this Villabuena did not think it worth while to do, contenting himself with repeating to his daughter the communication he had already made to Luis. When the latter sought his mistress, he found her in tears and great affliction. The blow was so sudden and unexpected, that she could scarcely believe in its reality, and still less could she bring herself to think that the count would persist in his cruel resolution. "He will surely relent," she said, "when he sees how unhappy his decision makes me; but should he not do so, rest assured, Luis, that I will never be forced into this odious marriage. Sooner than submit to it, a convent shall receive me." And once more repeating the vows of constancy which they had so often interchanged, the lovers separated. At daybreak upon the following morning, Luis set out for Bayonne.
The joy experienced by Don Manuel Herrera upon once more treading his native soil, did not so engross him as to prevent his observing the melancholy of his son. In reply to his father's enquiries, Luis informed him of his attachment to Rita, and of the interdict which the count had put upon its continuance. Don Manuel was indignant at what he termed the selfish and unfeeling conduct of Villabuena, who would thus sacrifice his daughter's happiness to his own pride and ambition. He then endeavoured to rouse the pride of Luis, and to convert his regrets into indignation; but, finding himself unsuccessful, he resolved to try the effect of change of scene and constant occupation. He set out with his son for Old Castile, of which he was a native, and undertook various journeys through the province in search of a small estate, such as his means would permit him to purchase, and upon which he might in future reside. This he at last found, a few leagues to the south of Burgos. The purchase completed, there were still many arrangements to make before Don Manuel could settle down and enjoy the peaceful country life which he had planned for himself, and in making these arrangements he took care to find his son abundant and varied employment. But all his well-meant efforts were in vain. Luis could not detach his thoughts from one all-engrossing subject; and at last, although Count Villabuena had expressly forbidden any correspondence between his daughter and young Herrera, the latter, after some weeks' absence, unable to resist any longer his desire to hear from Rita, ventured to write to her. The letter was intercepted by the count, and returned unopened, with a few haughty lines expressive of his indignation at the ingratitude of Luis, who was requiting the kindness he had received at his hands by endeavouring to thwart his plans and seduce the affections of his daughter. The terms in which this letter was couched roused the ire of Don Manuel, who in his turn forbade his son to expose himself to a repetition of similar insults by any communication with the count or his daughter. Shortly afterwards Luis returned to Salamanca to complete his studies.
The profession of the law, to which young Herrera was destined, had never had any charms for him. His own inclinations pointed to a military career, which he had on various occasions urged his father to allow him to adopt; but Don Manuel had invariably refused his request, alleging the poor prospect of advancement in time of peace, and in a service in which nearly all promotion was gained by interest and court-favour. Nevertheless, from his earliest youth Luis had devoted his leisure hours to the attainment of accomplishments qualifying him for the trade of war. He was the boldest horseman, most skilful swordsman, and best shot in the University of Salamanca. His superiority in these respects, his decided character, and agreeable manners, had gained him considerable popularity amongst his fellow-students, who frequently expressed their surprise, that one whose vocation was evidently military should abide by the dusty folios and dry intricacies of the law.
More insupportable than ever did his studies now appear to Luis, who nevertheless persevered in them for several months after his father's return to Spain, endeavouring by strenuous application to divert his thoughts from his hopeless attachment. Weary at length of the effort, he determined to abandon a pursuit so uncongenial to his tastes, and to seek a more active course of life, and one for which he felt he was better suited. His plan was to repair to Africa, and endeavour to obtain a commission in one of the foreign corps which the French were raising for their campaign against the Bedouins. Should he fail in this, he would serve as a volunteer, and trust to his courage and merits for procuring him advancement. Previously, however, to the execution of this scheme, he resolved to see Rita once more, ascertain from her own lips whether there was a chance of the count's relenting, and, should there be none, bid her a last farewell. He would then return to his father's house, and obtain Don Manuel's sanction to his project.
Since the unfortunate death of the young Villabuenas, Herrera's chief intimate at the University had been Mariano Torres, a hot-headed, warm-hearted Arragonese, entirely devoted to Luis, to whom he looked up as a model of perfection. To this young man Luis had confided his love for Rita, and her father's opposition, and to him he now communicated his new plans. To his infinite surprise, scarcely had he done so when Mariano, instead of expressing regret at his approaching departure, threw his three-cornered student's hat to the ceiling, tore off his gown, and declared his intention of accompanying his friend to Africa, or to any other part of the world to which he chose to betake himself. Luis tried to persuade him to abandon so mad a resolution; but Torres persisted in it, protesting that it would suit his taste much better to fight against Bedouins than to become a bachelor of arts, and that he had always intended to leave the University with his friend, and to accompany him wherever he might go. Trusting that, by the time they should reach Navarre, Mariano's enthusiasm would cool down, and his resolution change, Luis at length yielded, and the two friends left Salamanca together. Travelling by the public conveyances, they reached Valladolid, and subsequently the town of Soria, whence they had still nearly twenty leagues of high-road to Tudela. The path across the mountains being considerably shorter, and in order to diminish the risk of being seen by persons who might inform the count of his arrival, Luis resolved to complete the journey on foot; and after two short days' march, the young men reached the neighbourhood of Count Villabuena's residence.
The church and convent clocks of the right Catholic city of Tudela had not yet chimed out the hour of noon, when Luis, impatient for the interview promised by Rita, entered the count's domain by the same path as on the previous evening. Before he came in sight of the house, he was met at an angle of the shrubbery by Rita herself.
"I was sure you would take this path," said she, with a smile in which melancholy was mingled with the pleasure she felt at seeing her lover; "it was your favourite in days gone by. Our interview must be very brief. My father was to have remained at Tudela till evening, but something has occurred to derange his plans. He sat up the whole night in close conference with some gentlemen. At daybreak two couriers were dispatched, and the count rode away with his friends without having been in bed. He may return at any moment."
Luis drew the arm of his mistress through his own, and they slowly walked down one of the alleys of the garden. Rita had little to tell him favourable to the hopes which he still, in spite of himself, continued to cherish. The appeals which she had ventured to make to her father's affection, and to his regard for her happiness, had been met by severe reproof. Her evident depression and melancholy remained unnoticed, or at least unadverted to, by the count. All that she said only confirmed Luis in his resolution of seeking high distinction or an honourable death in a foreign service. He was deliberating, with eyes fixed upon the ground, on the best manner of breaking his intentions to Rita, when an exclamation of alarm from her lips caused him to look up, and he saw Villabuena crossing on horseback the end of the walk along which they were advancing. The count's head was turned towards them, and he had without doubt seen and recognised them.
Herrera's resolution was instantly taken. He would seek the count's presence, take upon himself the whole blame of his clandestine meeting with Rita, and appease her father's anger by informing him of his proposed self-banishment. Before, however, he had succeeded in calming Rita's fears, he again perceived the count, who had left his horse, and was advancing slowly towards them, with a grave, but not an angry countenance. On his near approach, Luis was about to address him; but by a wave of his hand Villabuena enjoined silence.
"Return to the house, Rita," said he in a calm voice: "and, you, Senor de Herrera, remain here; I would speak a few words with you."
Tremblingly, and with one last lingering look at Luis, Rita withdrew.
"We will walk, sir, if you please," said the count; and the two men walked for some distance side by side and in silence; Villabuena apparently plunged in reflection, Luis wondering at his forbearance, and impatient for its explanation.
"You are surprised," said the count at last, "after all that has passed, that I show so little resentment at your uninvited presence here, and at Rita's infringement of my positive commands."
Luis would have spoken, but Villabuena resumed.
"You will be still more astonished to learn, that there is a possibility of your attachment receiving my sanction."
Herrera started, and his face was lighted up with sudden rapture.
"You will of course have heard," continued the count, "of the important intelligence received here last night, and with which this morning all the country is ringing. I allude to the death of Ferdinand VII."
"I had not heard of it," replied Luis, much surprised; for, although the desperate state of the king's health was well known, his malady had lasted so long that men had almost left off expecting his death.
"I know I can depend upon your honour, Luis," said the count; "and I am therefore about to speak to you with a confidence which I should repose in few so young and inexperienced."
"Although," resumed Villabuena, "his Majesty Charles the Fifth is at this moment absent from Spain, his faithful subjects will not allow that absence to be prejudicial to him. They intend to vindicate his just rights, and to overturn the contemptible faction which, headed by an intriguing woman, supports the unfounded claims of a sickly infant. In anticipation of Ferdinand's death, all necessary measures have been taken; and, before three days elapse, you will see a flame lighted up through the land, which will speedily consume and destroy the enemies of Spain, and of her rightful monarch. Navarre and Biscay, Valentia and Arragon, Catalonia and Castile, will rise almost to a man in defence of their king; the other provinces must follow their example, or be compelled to submission. Although confident of success, it yet behoves us to neglect no means of securing it; nor are we so blinded as to think that the faction which at present holds the reins of government will resign them without a struggle. Avoiding overconfidence, therefore, which so often leads to failure, each man must put his shoulder to the wheel, and contribute his best efforts to the one great end, regardless of private sacrifices. What I have to propose to you is this. Time was when our universities were the strongholds of loyalty and religion; but that time is unfortunately past, and the baneful doctrines of republicanism and equality have found their way even into those nurseries of our priesthood and statesmen. We are well informed that at Salamanca especially, many of the students, even of the better class, incline to the self-styled Liberal party. You, Luis, are ready of speech, bold and prompt in action, and, moreover, you are known to have great influence amongst your fellow-students. Return, then, to Salamanca, and exert that influence to bring back into the right path those who have been led astray. Urge the just claims of Charles V., hold out the prospect of military glory and distinction, and of the gratitude of an admiring country. Let your efforts be chiefly directed to gain over young men of wealthy and influential families, and to induce them to take up arms for the king. Form them into a squadron, of which you shall have the command, and the private soldiers of which shall rank as officers in the army, and subsequently be transferred to other corps to act as such. Appoint a place of rendezvous; and, when your men are assembled there, march them to join the nearest division of the Royalist army. I guarantee to you a captain's commission; and as soon as the king, with whom I have some influence, arrives in Spain, I will strongly recommend you to his favour. Our campaign, however brief, must afford opportunities of distinction to brave men who seek them. With your energy, and with the natural military talents which I am persuaded you possess, high rank, honours, and riches may speedily be yours. And when Charles V., firmly seated on the throne of Spain, points you out to me as one of those to whom he owes his crown, and as a man whom he delights to honour, I will no longer refuse to you my daughter's hand."
However distant the perspective of happiness thus offered to his view, and although the avenue leading to it was beset with dangers and uncertainties, it promised to realize the ardent hopes which Luis Herrera had once ventured to indulge. Sanguine and confident, he would at once have caught at the count's proposal, but for one consideration that flashed across his mind. He was himself wedded to no political creed, and had as yet scarcely bestowed a thought upon the different parties into which his countrymen were split. But his father, who had so strenuously adhered to the Liberal side, who had poured out his blood with Mina, fought side by side with Riego, sacrificed his property, and endured a long and wearisome exile for conscience and his opinions' sake—what would be his feelings if he saw his only son range himself beneath the banner of absolutism? The struggle in the mind of Luis, between love on the one hand and filial duty and affection on the other, was too severe and too equally balanced to be instantly decided. He remained silent, and the count, mistaking the cause of his hesitation, resumed.
"You are surprised," said he, "to find me so willing to abandon my dearest projects for the sake of a remote advantage to the king's cause. But remember that I promise nothing—all is contingent on your own conduct and success. And although you may have thought me unfeeling and severe, I shall gladly, if possible, indulge the inclinations of my only surviving child."
It required all Herrera's firmness and sense of duty to prevent him from yielding to the temptation held out, and pledging himself at once to the cause of Charles V.
"You will not expect me, Senor Conde," said he, "to give an immediate answer to a proposal of such importance. I feel sincerely grateful to you, but must crave a short delay for consideration."
"Let that delay be as brief as possible," said Villabuena. "In the present circumstances, the value of assistance will be doubled by its promptness. When love and loyalty are both in one scale," added he, with a slight smile, "methinks a decision were easy."
They had now approached the gate of the garden, and Luis, desirous of finding himself alone, to arrange his thoughts and reflect on his future conduct, took his leave. The count held out his hand with some of his former cordiality.
"You will write to me from Salamanca?" said he.
Herrera bowed his head, and then, fearful lest his assent should be misconstrued, he replied—
"From Salamanca, or from elsewhere, you shall certainly hear from me, Senor Conde, and that with all speed."
The count nodded and turned towards the house, whilst Luis retook the road to the venta.
He found Mariano impatiently waiting his return, and eager to learn the result of his interview with Rita. Upon being informed of the proposal that had been made to Luis, Torres, seeing in it only a means of happiness for his friend, strongly urged him to accept it. To this, however, Luis could not make up his mind; and finally, after some deliberation, he resolved to proceed to Old Castile, and endeavour to obtain his father's consent to his joining the party of Don Carlos. Should he succeed in this, of which he could not help entertaining a doubt, he would no longer hesitate, but at once inform the count of his decision, and hasten to Salamanca to put his instructions into execution. Without further delay the two friends set out for Tarazona, where they trusted to find some means of speedy conveyance to the residence of Don Manuel.
* * * * *
In the kingdom of Old Castile, and more especially in its mountainous portions and the districts adjacent to the Ebro, an extraordinary bustle and agitation were observable during the first days of October 1833. There was great furbishing of rusty muskets, an eager search for cartridges, much dusting of old uniforms that had long served but as hiding-places for moths, and which were now donned by men, many of whom seemed but ill at ease in their military equipments. For ten years Spain had been tranquil, if not happy; but now, as if even this short period of repose were too long for the restless spirit of her sons, a new pretext for discord had been found, and an ominous stir, the forerunner of civil strife, was perceptible through the land. Whilst Santos Ladron, an officer of merit, who had served through the whole of the war against Napoleon, raised the standard of Charles V. in Navarre, various partisans did the same in the country south of the Ebro. In the northeastern corner of Castile, known as the Rioja, Basilio Garcia, agent for the Pope's bulls in the province of Soria—a man destitute of military knowledge, and remarkable only for his repulsive exterior and cold-blooded ferocity—collected and headed a small body of insurgents; whilst, in other districts of the same province, several battalions of the old Royalist volunteers—a loose, ill-disciplined militia, as motely and unsoldierlike in appearance as they were unsteady and inefficient in the field—ranged themselves under the orders of a general-officer named Cuevillas, and of the veteran Merino. To these soon joined themselves various individuals of the half-soldier half-bandit class, so numerous in Spain—men who had served in former wars, and asked no better than again to enact the scenes of bloodshed and pillage which were their element. The popularity and acknowledged skill of Merino as a guerilla-leader, secured to him the services of many of these daring and desperate ruffians, who flocked joyously to the banner of the soldier-priest, under whose orders some of them had already fought.
Through a tract of champaign country in the province of Burgos, a column of these newly-assembled troops was seen marching early upon the third morning after the interview between Luis Herrera and Count Villabuena. It consisted of a battalion of the Realista militia, for the most part middle-aged citizens, who, although they had felt themselves bound to obey the call to arms, seemed but indifferently pleased at having left their families and occupations. Their equipment was various: few had complete uniform, although most of them displayed some part of one; but all had belts and cartridge-box, musket and bayonet. Although they had as yet gone but a short distance, many of them appeared footsore and weary; and it was pretty evident that, in the event of a campaign, their ranks would be thinned nearly as much by the fatigues of the march as by the fire of the enemy. In front and rear of the battalion marched a squadron of cavalry, of a far more soldierly aspect than the foot-soldiers, although even amongst them but little uniformity of costume was found. The bronzed and bearded physiognomy, athletic form and upright carriage, which bespeak the veteran soldier, were not wanting in their ranks; their horses were active and hardy, their arms clean and serviceable.
At the head of the column, a few paces in advance, rode a small group of officers, the chief amongst whom was only to be distinguished by the deference shown to him by his companions. Insignia of rank he had none, nor any indications of his military profession, excepting the heavy sabre that dangled against the flank of his powerful black charger. His dress was entirely civilian, consisting of a long surtout something the worse for wear, and a round hat. Heavy spurs upon his heels, and an ample cloak, now strapped across his holsters, completed the equipment of the cura Merino, in whose hard and rigid features, and wiry person, scarcely a sign of decay or infirmity was visible after more than sixty years of life, a large portion of which had been passed amidst the fatigues and hardships of incessant campaigning.
As if infected by the sombre and taciturn character of their leader, the party of officers had been riding for some time in silence, when they came in sight of a house situated at a short distance from the road, and of a superior description to the caserias and peasants' cottages which they had hitherto passed. It was a building of moderate size, with an appearance of greater comfort and neatness about it than is usually found in Spanish houses. Stables adjoined it, and, at some distance in its rear, a range of barns and outhouses served to store the crops produced by the extensive tract of well-cultivated land in the centre of which the dwelling was situated. The front of the house was partially masked from the road by an orchard, and behind it a similar growth of fruit trees seemed intended to intercept the keen blasts from a line of mountains which rose, grey and gloomy, at the distance of a few miles.
"Who lives yonder?" abruptly enquired Merino, pointing to the house, which he had been gazing at for some time from under his bushy eyebrows. The officer to whom the question was addressed referred to another of the party, a native of that part of the country.
"Senor de Herrera," was the answer. "We have been riding for some minutes through his property. He purchased the estate about a year ago, on his return from France."
"What had he been doing in France?"
"Living there, which he could not have done here unless he had been bullet-proof, or had a neck harder than the iron collar of the garrote."
"Herrera!" repeated the cura musingly—"I know the name, but there are many who bear it. There was a Manuel Herrera who sat in the Cortes in the days of the constitutionalists, and afterwards commanded a battalion of their rabble. You do not mean him?"
"The same, general," replied the officer, addressing Merino by the rank which he held in the Spanish army since the war of Independence. A most unpriestly ejaculation escaped the lips of the cura.
"Manuel Herrera," he repeated; "the dog, the negro, the friend of the scoundrel Riego! I will hang him up at his own door!"
All the old hatreds and bitter party animosities of Merino seemed wakened into new life by the name of one of his former opponents. His eyes flashed, his lips quivered with rage, and he half turned his horse, as if about to proceed to Herrera's house and put his threat into execution. The impulse, however, was checked almost as soon as felt.
"Another time will do," said he, with a grin smile. "Let us once get Charles V. at Madrid, and we will make short work of the Senor Herrera and of all who resemble him." And the cura continued his march, silent as before.
He had proceeded but a short half mile when the officer commanding the cavalry rode up beside him.
"We have no forage, general," said he—"not a blade of straw, or a grain in our corn-sacks. Shall I send on an orderly, that we may find it ready on reaching the halting-place?"
"No!" replied Merino. "Send a party to that house on the left of the road which we passed ten minutes ago. Let them press all the carts they find there, load them with corn, and bring them after us."
The officer fell back to his squadron, and the next minute a subaltern and twenty men detached themselves from the column, and, at a brisk trot, began retracing their steps along the road. Upon arriving in sight of the house to which they were proceeding, they leaped their horses over a narrow ditch dividing the road from the fields and struck across the latter in a straight line, compelled, however, by the heaviness of the ground to slacken their pace to a walk. They had not got over more than half the distance which they had to traverse, when they heard the clang of a bell, continuously rung; and this was followed by the appearance of two men, who issued from the stables and out-buildings, and hurried to the house. Scarcely had they entered when the shutters of the lower windows were pushed to, and the heavy door closed and barred. The soldiers were now within a hundred yards of the dwelling.
"Hallo!" cried the officer contemptuously, "they will not stand a siege, will they? The old don is a black-hearted rebel, I know; but he will hardly be fool enough to resist us."
The trooper was mistaken. The courage of Don Manuel Herrera was of that obstinate and uncalculating character which would have induced him to defend his house, single-handed, against a much larger force than that now brought against it. When he had learned, three days previously, that risings were taking place in his own neighbourhood in the name of Charles V., he had attached very little importance to the intelligence. An old soldier himself, he entertained the most unmitigated contempt for the Realista volunteers, whom he looked upon as a set of tailors, whose muskets would rather encumber them than injure any body else; and who, on the first appearance of regular troops, would infallibly throw down their arms, and betake themselves to their homes. As to the parties of insurgent guerillas which he was informed were beginning to show themselves at various points of the vicinity, he considered them as mere bandits, availing themselves of the stir and excitement in the country to exercise their nefarious profession; and, should any such parties attempt to molest him, he was fully determined to resist their attacks. In this resolution he now persevered, although he rightly conjectured that the horsemen approaching his house were either the rearguard or a detachment of the disorderly-looking column of which he had a short time previously observed the passage.
"Hola! Don Manolo!" shouted the officer, as he halted his party in front of the house; "what scurvy hospitality is this? What are you fastening doors and ringing alarm-bells for, as if there were more thieves than honest men in the land? We come to pay you a friendly visit, and, instead of welcome and the wine-skin, you shut the door in our faces. Devilish unfriendly, that, Don Manolito!"
The speaker, who, like many of Merino's followers, was an inhabitant of the neighbouring country, knew Don Manuel well by name and reputation, and was also known to him as a deserter from the Constitutionalists in 1823, and as one of the most desperate smugglers and outlaws in the province.
"What do you want with me, Pedro Rufin?" demanded Don Manuel, who now showed himself at one of the upper windows; "and what is the meaning of this assemblage of armed men?"
"The meaning is," replied Rufin, "that I have been detached from the division of his Excellency General Merino, to demand from you a certain quantity of maize or barley, or both, for the service of his Majesty King Charles V."
"I know no such persons," retorted Don Manuel, "as General Merino or King Charles V. But I know you well, Rufin, and the advice I give you is to begone, yourself and your companions. We shall have troops here to-day or to-morrow, and you will find the country too hot to hold you."
The officer laughed.
"Troops are here already," he said; "you may have seen our column march by not half an hour ago. But we have no time to lose. Once more, Senor Herrera, open the door, and that quickly."
"My door does not open at your bidding," replied Don Manuel. "I give you two minutes to draw off your followers, and, if you are not gone by that time, you shall be fired upon."
"Morral," said the officer to one of his men, "your horse is a kicker, I believe. Try the strength of the door."
The soldier left the ranks, and turning his rawboned, vicious-looking chestnut horse with its tail to the house-door, he pressed his knuckles sharply upon the animal's loins, just behind the saddle. The horse lashed out furiously, each kick of his iron-shod heels making the door crack and rattle, and striking out white splinters from the dark surface of the oak of which it was composed. At the first kick Don Manuel left the window. The soldiers stood looking on, laughing till they rolled in their saddles at this novel species of sledge-hammer. Owing, however, to the great solidity of the door, and the numerous fastenings with which it was provided on the other side, the kicks of the horse, although several times repeated, failed to burst it open; and at last the animal, as if wearied by the resistance it met with, relaxed the vigour of its applications.
"Famous horse that of yours, Morral!" said the officer; "as good as a locksmith or a six-pounder. Try it again, my boy. You have made some ugly marks already. Another round of kicks, and the way is open."
"And if another blow is struck upon my door," said Don Manuel, suddenly reappearing at the window, to the soldier, "your horse will go home with an empty saddle."
"Silence! you old rebel," shouted Rufin, drawing a pistol from his holster. "And you, Morral, never fear. At it again, man."
The soldier again applied his knuckles to his horse's back, and the animal gave a tremendous kick. At the same instant a puff of smoke issued from the window at which Don Manuel had stationed himself, the report of a musket was heard, and the unlucky Morral, shot through the body, fell headlong to the ground.
"Damnation!" roared the officer, firing his pistol at the window whence the shot had proceeded; and immediately his men, without waiting for orders, commenced an irregular fire of carbines and pistols against the house. It was replied to with effect from three of the windows. A man fell mortally wounded, and two of the horses were hit. Rufin, alarmed at the loss the party had experienced, drew his men back under shelter of some trees, till he could decide on what was best to be done. It seemed at first by no means improbable that the Carlists would have to beat a retreat, or at any rate wait the arrival of infantry, which it was not improbable Merino might have sent to their assistance when the sound of the firing reached his ears. The lower windows of the house were protected by strong iron bars; and, although the defenders were so few in number, their muskets, and the shelter behind which they fought, gave them a great advantage over the assailants, whose carbines would not carry far, and who had no cover from the fire of their opponents. At last a plan was devised which offered some chance of success. The party dismounted; and whilst four men, making a circuit, and concealing themselves as much as possible behind trees and hedges, endeavoured to get in rear of the building, the others, with the exception of two or three who remained with the horses, advanced towards the front of the house, firing as rapidly as they could, in order, by the smoke and by attracting the attention of the besieged, to cover the manoeuvre of their comrades. The stratagem was completely successful. Whilst Don Manuel and his servants were answering the fire of their assailants with some effect, the four men got round the house, climbed over a wall, found a ladder in an out-building, and applied it to one of the back-windows, which they burst open. A shout of triumph, and the report of their pistols, informed their companions of their entrance, and the next moment one of them threw open the front door, and the guerillas rushed tumultuously into the house.
It was about two hours after these occurrences, that Luis Herrera and Mariano Torres arrived at Don Manuel's residence. They had been delayed upon the road by the disturbed state of the country, which rendered it difficult to procure conveyances, and had at last been compelled to hire a couple of indifferent horses, upon which, accompanied by a muleteer, they had made but slow progress across the mountainous district they had to traverse. The news of the Carlist insurrection had inspired Luis with some alarm on account of his father, whom he knew to be in the highest degree obnoxious to many of that party. At the same time he had not yet heard of the perpetration of any acts of violence, and was far from anticipating the spectacle which met his eyes when he at last came in view of the Casa Herrera. With an exclamation of horror he forced his horse, up a bank bordering the road, and, followed by Mariano, galloped towards the house.
Of the dwelling, so lately a model of rural ease and comfort, the four walls alone were now standing. The roof had fallen in, and the tongues of flame which licked and flickered round the apertures where windows had been, showed that the devouring element was busy completing its work. The adjoining stables, owing to their slighter construction, and to the combustibles they contained, had been still more rapidly consumed. Of them, a heap of smoking ashes and a few charred beams and blackened bricks were all that remained. The paling of the tastefully distributed garden was broken down in several places; the parterres and melon-beds were trampled and destroyed by the hoofs of the Carlist horses, which had seemingly been turned in there to feed, or perhaps been ridden through it in utter wantonness by their brutal owners. The ground in front of the house was strewed with broken furniture, and with articles of wearing apparel, the latter of which appeared to have belonged to the Carlists, and to have been exchanged by them for others of a better description found in the house. Empty bottles, fragments of food, and a couple of wine-skins, of which the greater part of the contents had been poured out upon the ground, lay scattered about near the carcass of a horse and three human corpses, two of the latter being those of Carlists, and the third that of one of the defenders of the house. A few peasants stood by, looking on in open-mouthed stupefaction; and above the whole scene of desolation, a thick cloud of black smoke floated like a funereal pall.
In an agony of suspense Luis enquired for his father. The peasant to whom he addressed the question, pointed to the buildings in rear of the house, which the Carlists, weary perhaps of the work of destruction, had left uninjured.
"Don Manuel is there," said he, "if he still lives."
The latter part of the sentence was drowned in the noise of the horse's feet, as Luis spurred furiously towards the buildings indicated, which consisted of barns, and of a small dwelling-house inhabited by his father's steward. On entering the latter, his worst fears were realized.
Upon a bed in a room on the ground floor, Don Manuel Herrera was lying, apparently insensible. His face was overspread with an ashy paleness, his eyes were closed, his lips blue and pinched. He was partially undressed, and his linen, and the bed upon which he lay, were stained with blood. A priest stood beside him, a crucifix in one hand and a cordial in the other; whilst an elderly peasant woman held a linen cloth to a wound in the breast of the expiring man. In an adjacent room were heard the sobbings and lamentations of women and children. With a heart swollen almost to bursting, Luis approached the bed.
"Father!" he exclaimed as he took Don Manuel's hand, which hung powerless over the side of the couch—"Father, is it thus I find you!"
The voice of his son seemed to rouse the sufferer from the swoon or lethargy in which he lay. He opened his eyes, a faint smile of recognition and affection came over his features, and his feeble fingers strove to press those of Luis. The priest made a sign to the woman, and, whilst she gently raised Don Manuel's head, he held the cordial to his lips. The effect of the draught was instantaneous and reviving.
"This is a sad welcome for you, Luis," said Don Manuel. "Your home destroyed, and your father dying. God be thanked for sending you now, and no sooner! I can die happy since you are here to close my eyes."
He paused, exhausted by the exertion of speaking. A slight red foam stood upon his lips, which the priest wiped away, and another draught of the cordial enabled him to proceed.
"My son," said he, "my minutes are numbered. Mark my last words, and attend to them as you value my blessing, and your own repose. I foresee that this country is on the eve of a long and bloody struggle. How it may end, and whether it is to be the last that shall rend unhappy Spain, who can tell? But your course is plain before you. By the memory of your sainted mother, and the love you bear to me, be stanch to the cause I have ever defended. You are young, and strong, and brave; your arm and your heart's best blood are due to the cause of Spanish freedom. My son, swear that you will defend it!"
No selfish thought of his own happiness, which would be marred by the oath he was required to take, nor any but the one absorbing idea of smoothing his dying father's pillow by a prompt and willing compliance with his wishes, crossed the mind of Luis as he took the crucifix from the hand of the priest, and, kneeling by the bedside, swore on the sacred emblem to obey Don Manuel's injunctions both in letter and spirit, and to resist to his latest breath the traitors who would enslave his country. His father listened to the fervent vow with a well-pleased smile. By a last effort he raised himself in his bed, and laid his hand upon the head of his kneeling son.
"May God and his saints prosper thee, Luis," said he, "as thou observest this oath!"
He sank back, his features convulsed by the pain which the movement occasioned him.
"Mother of God!" exclaimed the woman, who was still holding the bandage to the wound. The bleeding, which had nearly ceased, had recommenced with redoubled violence, and a crimson stream was flowing over the bed. The death-rattle was in Don Manuel's throat, but his eyes were still fixed upon his son, and he seemed to make an effort to extend his arms towards him. With feelings of unutterable agony, Luis bent forward and kissed his father's cheek. It was that of a corpse.
For the space of a minute did the bereaved son gaze at the rigid features before him, as if unable to comprehend that one so dear was gone from him for ever. At last the sad truth forced itself upon his mind; he bowed his face upon the pillow of his murdered parent, and his overcharged feelings found relief in a passion of tears. The priest and the woman left the apartment. Mariano Torres remained standing behind his friend, and after a time made an effort to lead him from the room. But Luis motioned him away. His grief was of those that know not human consolation.
It was evening when Mariano, who had been watching near the chamber of death, without venturing to intrude upon his friend's sorrow, saw the door open and Luis come forth. Torres started at seeing him, so great was the change that had taken place in his aspect. His cheeks were pale and his eyes inflamed with weeping, but the expression of his countenance was no longer sorrowful; it was stern even to fierceness, and his look was that of an avenger rather than a mourner. Taking Mariano's arm, he led him out of the house, and, entering the stable, began to saddle his horse with his own hands. Torres followed his example in silence, and then both mounted and rode off in the direction of the high-road. Upon reaching it, Mariano first ventured to address a question to his friend.
"What are your plans, Luis?" said he. "Whither do we now proceed?"
"To provide for my father's funeral," was the reply.
"And afterwards?" said his friend, with some hesitation.
"To revenge his death!" hoarsely shouted Herrera, as he spurred his horse to its utmost speed along the rough road that led to the nearest village.
 Negro, or black, was the term commonly applied to the Liberals by their antagonists.
We hear much, and much that is true, of the ephemeral character of a large part of our literature; but to no branch of it are the observations more truly applicable, than to the greater number of travels which now issue from the British press. It may safely be affirmed that our writers of travels, both male and female, have of late years arrived at a pitch of weakness, trifling, and emptiness, which is unparalleled in the previous history of literature in this or perhaps any other country. When we see two post octavos of travels newly done up by the binder, we are prepared for a series of useless remarks, weak attempts at jokes, disquisitions on dishes, complaints of inns, stale anecdotes and vain flourishes, which almost make us blush for our country, and the cause of intelligence over the world. The Russian Emperor, who unquestionably has the power of licensing or prohibiting any of his subjects to travel at his own pleasure, is said to concede the liberty only to the men of intelligence and ability in his dominions; the fools are all obliged to remain at home. Hence the high reputation which the Muscovites enjoy abroad and the frequent disappointment which is felt by travellers of other nations, when they visit their own country. It is evident, from the character of the books of travels which every spring issue from the London press, with a few honourable exceptions, that no such restraining power exists in the British dominions. We have no individuals or particular works in view in these observations. We speak of things in general. If any one doubts their truth, let him enquire how many of the numberless travels which annually issue from the British press are ever sought after, or heard of, five years after their publication.
Our annual supply of ephemeral travels is far inferior in point of merit to the annual supply of novels. This is the more remarkable, because travels, if written in the right spirit, and by persons of capacity and taste, are among the most delightful, and withal instructive, species of composition of which literature can boast. They are so, because by their very nature they take the reader, as well as the writer, out of the sphere of every-day observation and commonplace remark. This is an immense advantage: so great indeed, that, if made use of with tolerable capacity, it should give works of this sort a decided superiority in point of interest and utility over all others, excepting History and the higher species of Romance. Commonplace is the bane of literature, especially in an old and civilized state; monotony—the thing to be principally dreaded. The very air is filled with ordinary ideas. General education, universal reading, unhappily make matters worse; they tend only to multiply the echoes of the original report—a new one has scarce any chance of being heard amidst the ceaseless reverberation of the old. The more ancient a nation is, the more liable is it to be overwhelmed by this dreadful evil. The Byzantine empire, during a thousand years of civilisation and opulence, did not produce one work of original thought; five hundred years after the light of Athenian genius had been extinguished, the schools of Greece were still pursuing the beaten paths, and teaching the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. It is the peculiar and prodigious advantage of travelling, that it counteracts this woful and degrading tendency, and by directing men's thoughts, as well as their steps, into foreign lands, has a tendency to induce into their ideas a portion of the variety and freshness which characterize the works of nature. Every person knows how great an advantage this proves in society. All must have felt what a relief it is to escape from the eternal round of local concerns or county politics, of parish grievances or neighbouring railroads, with which in every-day life we are beset, to the conversation of a person of intelligence who has visited foreign lands, and can give to the inquisitive at home a portion of the new ideas, images, and recollections with which his mind is stored. How, then, has it happened, that the same acquaintance with foreign and distant countries, which is universally felt to be such an advantage in conversation, is attended with such opposite effects in literature; and that, while our travellers are often the most agreeable men in company, they are beyond all question the dullest in composition?