CHRONICLES OF SHADOW VALLEY
To WILLIAM BEEBE
After long and patient research I am still unable to give to the reader of these Chronicles the exact date of the times that they tell of. Were it merely a matter of history there could be no doubts about the period; but where magic is concerned, to however slight an extent, there must always be some element of mystery, arising partly out of ignorance and partly from the compulsion of those oaths by which magic protects its precincts from the tiptoe of curiosity.
Moreover, magic, even in small quantities, appears to affect time, much as acids affect some metals, curiously changing its substance, until dates seem to melt into a mercurial form that renders them elusive even to the eye of the most watchful historian.
It is the magic appearing in Chronicles III and IV that has gravely affected the date, so that all I can tell the reader with certainty of the period is that it fell in the later years of the Golden Age in Spain.
THE FIRST CHRONICLE HOW HE MET AND SAID FAREWELL TO MINE HOST OF THE DRAGON AND KNIGHT
THE SECOND CHRONICLE HOW HE HIRED A MEMORABLE SERVANT
THE THIRD CHRONICLE HOW HE CAME TO THE HOUSE OF WONDER
THE FOURTH CHRONICLE HOW HE CAME TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE SUN
THE FIFTH CHRONICLE HOW HE RODE IN THE TWILIGHT AND SAW SERAFINA
THE SIXTH CHRONICLE HOW HE SANG TO HIS MANDOLIN AND WHAT CAME OF HIS SINGING
THE SEVENTH CHRONICLE HOW HE CAME TO SHADOW VALLEY
THE EIGHTH CHRONICLE HOW HE TRAVELLED FAR
THE NINTH CHRONICLE HOW HE WON A CASTLE IN SPAIN
THE TENTH CHRONICLE HOW HE CAME BACK TO LOWLIGHT
THE ELEVENTH CHRONICLE HOW HE TURNED TO GARDENING AND HIS SWORD RESTED
THE TWELFTH CHRONICLE THE BUILDING OF CASTLE RODRIGUEZ AND THE ENDING OF THESE CHRONICLES
THE FIRST CHRONICLE
HOW HE MET AND SAID FAREWELL TO MINE HOST OF THE DRAGON AND KNIGHT
Being convinced that his end was nearly come, and having lived long on earth (and all those years in Spain, in the golden time), the Lord of the Valleys of Arguento Harez, whose heights see not Valladolid, called for his eldest son. And so he addressed him when he was come to his chamber, dim with its strange red hangings and august with the splendour of Spain: "O eldest son of mine, your younger brother being dull and clever, on whom those traits that women love have not been bestowed by God; and know my eldest son that here on earth, and for ought I know Hereafter, but certainly here on earth, these women be the arbiters of all things; and how this be so God knoweth only, for they are vain and variable, yet it is surely so: your younger brother then not having been given those ways that women prize, and God knows why they prize them for they are vain ways that I have in my mind and that won me the Valleys of Arguento Harez, from whose heights Angelico swore he saw Valladolid once, and that won me moreover also ... but that is long ago and is all gone now ... ah well, well ... what was I saying?" And being reminded of his discourse, the old lord continued, saying, "For himself he will win nothing, and therefore I will leave him these my valleys, for not unlikely it was for some sin of mine that his spirit was visited with dullness, as Holy Writ sets forth, the sins of the fathers being visited on the children; and thus I make him amends. But to you I leave my long, most flexible, ancient Castilian blade, which infidels dreaded if old songs be true. Merry and lithe it is, and its true temper singeth when it meets another blade as two friends sing when met after many years. It is most subtle, nimble and exultant; and what it will not win for you in the wars, that shall be won for you by your mandolin, for you have a way with it that goes well with the old airs of Spain. And choose, my son, rather a moonlight night when you sing under those curved balconies that I knew, ah me, so well; for there is much advantage in the moon. In the first place maidens see in the light of the moon, especially in the Spring, more romance than you might credit, for it adds for them a mystery to the darkness which the night has not when it is merely black. And if any statue should gleam on the grass near by, or if the magnolia be in blossom, or even the nightingale singing, or if anything be beautiful in the night, in any of these things also there is advantage; for a maiden will attribute to her lover all manner of things that are not his at all, but are only outpourings from the hand of God. There is this advantage also in the moon, that, if interrupters come, the moonlight is better suited to the play of a blade than the mere darkness of night; indeed but the merry play of my sword in the moonlight was often a joy to see, it so flashed, so danced, so sparkled. In the moonlight also one makes no unworthy stroke, but hath scope for those fair passes that Sevastiani taught, which were long ago the wonder of Madrid."
The old lord paused, and breathed for a little space, as it were gathering breath for his last words to his son. He breathed deliberately, then spoke again. "I leave you," he said, "well content that you have the two accomplishments, my son, that are most needful in a Christian man, skill with the sword and a way with the mandolin. There be other arts indeed among the heathen, for the world is wide and hath full many customs, but these two alone are needful." And then with that grand manner that they had at that time in Spain, although his strength was failing, he gave to his eldest son his Castilian sword. He lay back then in the huge, carved, canopied bed; his eyes closed, the red silk curtains rustled, and there was no sound of his breathing. But the old lord's spirit, whatever journey it purposed, lingered yet in its ancient habitation, and his voice came again, but feebly now and rambling; he muttered awhile of gardens, such gardens no doubt as the hidalgos guarded in that fertile region of sunshine in the proudest period of Spain; he would have known no others. So for awhile his memory seemed to stray, half blind among those perfumed earthly wonders; perhaps among these memories his spirit halted, and tarried those last few moments, mistaking those Spanish gardens, remembered by moonlight in Spring, for the other end of his journey, the glades of Paradise. However it be, it tarried. These rambling memories ceased and silence fell again, with scarcely the sound of breathing. Then gathering up his strength for the last time and looking at his son, "The sword to the wars," he said. "The mandolin to the balconies." With that he fell back dead.
Now there were no wars at that time so far as was known in Spain, but that old lord's eldest son, regarding those last words of his father as a commandment, determined then and there in that dim, vast chamber to gird his legacy to him and seek for the wars, wherever the wars might be, so soon as the obsequies of the sepulture were ended. And of those obsequies I tell not here, for they are fully told in the Black Books of Spain, and the deeds of that old lord's youth are told in the Golden Stories. The Book of Maidens mentions him, and again we read of him in Gardens of Spain. I take my leave of him, happy, I trust, in Paradise, for he had himself the accomplishments that he held needful in a Christian, skill with the sword and a way with the mandolin; and if there be some harder, better way to salvation than to follow that which we believe to be good, then are we all damned. So he was buried, and his eldest son fared forth with his legacy dangling from his girdle in its long, straight, lovely scabbard, blue velvet, with emeralds on it, fared forth on foot along a road of Spain. And though the road turned left and right and sometimes nearly ceased, as though to let the small wild flowers grow, out of sheer good will such as some roads never have; though it ran west and east and sometimes south, yet in the main it ran northward, though wandered is a better word than ran, and the Lord of the Valleys of Arguento Harez who owned no valleys, or anything but a sword, kept company with it looking for the wars. Upon his back he had slung his mandolin. Now the time of the year was Spring, not Spring as we know it in England, for it was but early March, but it was the time when Spring coming up out of Africa, or unknown lands to the south, first touches Spain, and multitudes of anemones come forth at her feet.
Thence she comes north to our islands, no less wonderful in our woods than in Andalusian valleys, fresh as a new song, fabulous as a rune, but a little pale through travel, so that our flowers do not quite flare forth with all the myriad blaze of the flowers of Spain.
And all the way as he went the young man looked at the flame of those southern flowers, flashing on either side of him all the way, as though the rainbow had been broken in Heaven and its fragments fallen on Spain. All the way as he went he gazed at those flowers, the first anemones of the year; and long after, whenever he sang to old airs of Spain, he thought of Spain as it appeared that day in all the wonder of Spring; the memory lent a beauty to his voice and a wistfulness to his eyes that accorded not ill with the theme of the songs he sang, and were more than once to melt proud hearts deemed cold. And so gazing he came to a town that stood on a hill, before he was yet tired, though he had done nigh twenty of those flowery miles of Spain; and since it was evening and the light was fading away, he went to an inn and drew his sword in the twilight and knocked with the hilt of it on the oaken door. The name of it was the Inn of the Dragon and Knight. A light was lit in one of the upper windows, the darkness seemed to deepen at that moment, a step was heard coming heavily down a stairway; and having named the inn to you, gentle reader, it is time for me to name the young man also, the landless lord of the Valleys of Arguento Harez, as the step comes slowly down the inner stairway, as the gloaming darkens over the first house in which he has ever sought shelter so far from his father's valleys, as he stands upon the threshold of romance. He was named Rodriguez Trinidad Fernandez, Concepcion Henrique Maria; but we shall briefly name him Rodriguez in this story; you and I, reader, will know whom we mean; there is no need therefore to give him his full names, unless I do it here and there to remind you.
The steps came thumping on down the inner stairway, different windows took the light of the candle, and none other shone in the house; it was clear that it was moving with the steps all down that echoing stairway. The sound of the steps ceased to reverberate upon the wood, and now they slowly moved over stone flags; Rodriguez now heard breathing, one breath with every step, and at length the sound of bolts and chains undone and the breathing now very close. The door was opened swiftly; a man with mean eyes, and expression devoted to evil, stood watching him for an instant; then the door slammed to again, the bolts were heard going back again to their places, the steps and the breathing moved away over the stone floor, and the inner stairway began again to echo.
"If the wars are here," said Rodriguez to himself and his sword, "good, and I sleep under the stars." And he listened in the street for the sound of war and, hearing none, continued his discourse. "But if I have not come as yet to the wars I sleep beneath a roof."
For the second time therefore he drew his sword, and began to strike methodically at the door, noting the grain in the wood and hitting where it was softest. Scarcely had he got a good strip of the oak to look like coming away, when the steps once more descended the wooden stair and came lumbering over the stones; both the steps and the breathing were quicker, for mine host of the Dragon and Knight was hurrying to save his door.
When he heard the sound of the bolts and chains again Rodriguez ceased to beat upon the door: once more it opened swiftly, and he saw mine host before him, eyeing him with those bad eyes; of too much girth, you might have said, to be nimble, yet somehow suggesting to the swift intuition of youth, as Rodriguez looked at him standing upon his door-step, the spirit and shape of a spider, who despite her ungainly build is agile enough in her way.
Mine host said nothing; and Rodriguez, who seldom concerned himself with the past, holding that the future is all we can order the scheme of (and maybe even here he was wrong), made no mention of bolts or door and merely demanded a bed for himself for the night.
Mine host rubbed his chin; he had neither beard nor moustache but wore hideous whiskers; he rubbed it thoughtfully and looked at Rodriguez. Yes, he said, he could have a bed for the night. No more words he said, but turned and led the way; while Rodriguez, who could sing to the mandolin, wasted none of his words on this discourteous object. They ascended the short oak stairway down which mine host had come, the great timbers of which were gnawed by a myriad rats, and they went by passages with the light of one candle into the interior of the inn, which went back farther from the street than the young man had supposed; indeed he perceived when they came to the great corridor at the end of which was his appointed chamber, that here was no ordinary inn, as it had appeared from outside, but that it penetrated into the fastness of some great family of former times which had fallen on evil days. The vast size of it, the noble design where the rats had spared the carving, what the moths had left of the tapestries, all testified to that; and, as for the evil days, they hung about the place, evident even by the light of one candle guttering with every draught that blew from the haunts of the rats, an inseparable heirloom for all who disturbed those corridors.
And so they came to the chamber.
Mine host entered, bowed without grace in the doorway, and extended his left hand, pointing into the room. The draughts that blew from the rat-holes in the wainscot, or the mere action of entering, beat down the flame of the squat, guttering candle so that the chamber remained dim for a moment, in spite of the candle, as would naturally be the case. Yet the impression made upon Rodriguez was as of some old darkness that had been long undisturbed and that yielded reluctantly to that candle's intrusion, a darkness that properly became the place and was a part of it and had long been so, in the face of which the candle appeared an ephemeral thing devoid of grace or dignity or tradition. And indeed there was room for darkness in that chamber, for the walls went up and up into such an altitude that you could scarcely see the ceiling, at which mine host's eyes glanced, and Rodriguez followed his look.
He accepted his accommodation with a nod; as indeed he would have accepted any room in that inn, for the young are swift judges of character, and one who had accepted such a host was unlikely to find fault with rats or the profusion of giant cobwebs, dark with the dust of years, that added so much to the dimness of that sinister inn. They turned now and went back, in the wake of that guttering candle, till they came again to the humbler part of the building. Here mine host, pushing open a door of blackened oak, indicated his dining-chamber. There a long table stood, and on it parts of the head and hams of a boar; and at the far end of the table a plump and sturdy man was seated in shirt-sleeves feasting himself on the boar's meat. He leaped up at once from his chair as soon as his master entered, for he was the servant at the Dragon and Knight; mine host may have said much to him with a flash of his eyes, but he said no more with his tongue than the one word, "Dog": he then bowed himself out, leaving Rodriguez to take the only chair and to be waited upon by its recent possessor. The boar's meat was cold and gnarled, another piece of meat stood on a plate on a shelf and a loaf of bread near by, but the rats had had most of the bread: Rodriguez demanded what the meat was. "Unicorn's tongue," said the servant, and Rodriguez bade him set the dish before him, and he set to well content, though I fear the unicorn's tongue was only horse: it was a credulous age, as all ages are. At the same time he pointed to a three-legged stool that he perceived in a corner of the room, then to the table, then to the boar's meat, and lastly at the servant, who perceived that he was permitted to return to his feast, to which he ran with alacrity. "Your name?" said Rodriguez as soon as both were eating. "Morano," replied the servant, though it must not be supposed that when answering Rodriguez he spoke as curtly as this; I merely give the reader the gist of his answer, for he added Spanish words that correspond in our depraved and decadent language of to-day to such words as "top dog," "nut" and "boss," so that his speech had a certain grace about it in that far-away time in Spain.
I have said that Rodriguez seldom concerned himself with the past, but considered chiefly the future: it was of the future that he was thinking now as he asked Morano this question:
"Why did my worthy and entirely excellent host shut his door in my face?"
"Did he so?" said Morano.
"He then bolted it and found it necessary to put the chains back, doubtless for some good reason."
"Yes," said Morano thoughtfully, and looking at Rodriguez, "and so he might. He must have liked you."
Verily Rodriguez was just the young man to send out with a sword and a mandolin into the wide world, for he had much shrewd sense. He never pressed a point, but when something had been said that might mean much he preferred to store it, as it were, in his mind and pass on to other things, somewhat as one might kill game and pass on and kill more and bring it all home, while a savage would cook the first kill where it fell and eat it on the spot. Pardon me, reader, but at Morano's remark you may perhaps have exclaimed, "That is not the way to treat one you like." Not so did Rodriguez. His attention passed on to notice Morano's rings which he wore in great profusion upon his little fingers; they were gold and of exquisite work and had once held precious stones, as large gaps testified; in these days they would have been priceless, but in an age when workers only worked at arts that they understood, and then worked for the joy of it, before the word artistic became ridiculous, exquisite work went without saying; and as the rings were slender they were of little value. Rodriguez made no comment upon the rings; it was enough for him to have noticed them. He merely noted that they were not ladies' rings, for no lady's ring would have fitted on to any one of those fingers: the rings therefore of gallants: and not given to Morano by their owners, for whoever wore precious stone needed a ring to wear it in, and rings did not wear out like hose, which a gallant might give to a servant. Nor, thought he, had Morano stolen them, for whoever stole them would keep them whole, or part with them whole and get a better price. Besides Morano had an honest face, or a face at least that seemed honest in such an inn: and while these thoughts were passing through his mind Morano spoke again: "Good hams," said Morano. He had already eaten one and was starting upon the next. Perhaps he spoke out of gratitude for the honour and physical advantage of being permitted to sit there and eat those hams, perhaps tentatively, to find out whether he might consume the second, perhaps merely to start a conversation, being attracted by the honest looks of Rodriguez.
"You are hungry," said Rodriguez.
"Praise God I am always hungry," answered Morano. "If I were not hungry I should starve."
"Is it so?" said Rodriguez.
"You see," said Morano, "the manner of it is this: my master gives me no food, and it is only when I am hungry that I dare to rob him by breaking in, as you saw me, upon his viands; were I not hungry I should not dare to do so, and so ..." He made a sad and expressive movement with both his hands suggestive of autumn leaves blown hence to die.
"He gives you no food?" said Rodriguez.
"It is the way of many men with their dog," said Morano. "They give him no food," and then he rubbed his hands cheerfully, "and yet the dog does not die."
"And he gives you no wages?" said Rodriguez.
"Just these rings."
Now Rodriguez had himself a ring upon his finger (as a gallant should), a slender piece of gold with four tiny angels holding a sapphire, and for a moment he pictured the sapphire passing into the hands of mine host and the ring of gold and the four small angels being flung to Morano; the thought darkened his gaiety for no longer than one of those fleecy clouds in Spring shadows the fields of Spain.
Morano was also looking at the ring; he had followed the young man's glance.
"Master," he said, "do you draw your sword of a night?"
"And you?" said Rodriguez.
"I have no sword," said Morano. "I am but as dog's meat that needs no guarding, but you whose meat is rare like the flesh of the unicorn need a sword to guard your meat. The unicorn has his horn always, and even then he sometimes sleeps."
"It is bad, you think, to sleep," Rodriguez said.
"For some it is very bad, master. They say they never take the unicorn waking. For me I am but dog's meat: when I have eaten hams I curl up and sleep; but then you see, master, I know I shall wake in the morning."
"Ah," said Rodriguez, "the morning's a pleasant time," and he leaned back comfortably in his chair. Morano took one shrewd look at him, and was soon asleep upon his three-legged stool.
The door opened after a while and mine host appeared. "It is late," he said. Rodriguez smiled acquiescently and mine host withdrew, and presently leaving Morano whom his master's voice had waked, to curl up on the floor in a corner, Rodriguez took the candle that lit the room and passed once more through the passages of the inn and down the great corridor of the fastness of the family that had fallen on evil days, and so came to his chamber. I will not waste a multitude of words over that chamber; if you have no picture of it in your mind already, my reader, you are reading an unskilled writer, and if in that picture it appear a wholesome room, tidy and well kept up, if it appear a place in which a stranger might sleep without some faint foreboding of disaster, then I am wasting your time, and will waste no more of it with bits of "descriptive writing" about that dim, high room, whose blackness towered before Rodriguez in the night. He entered and shut the door, as many had done before him; but for all his youth he took some wiser precautions than had they, perhaps, who closed that door before. For first he drew his sword; then for some while he stood quite still near the door and listened to the rats; then he looked round the chamber and perceived only one door; then he looked at the heavy oak furniture, carved by some artist, gnawed by rats, and all blackened by time; then swiftly opened the door of the largest cupboard and thrust his sword in to see who might be inside, but the carved satyr's heads at the top of the cupboard eyed him silently and nothing moved. Then he noted that though there was no bolt on the door the furniture might be placed across to make what in the wars is called a barricado, but the wiser thought came at once that this was too easily done, and that if the danger that the dim room seemed gloomily to forebode were to come from a door so readily barricadoed, then those must have been simple gallants who parted so easily with the rings that adorned Morano's two little fingers. No, it was something more subtle than any attack through that door that brought his regular wages to Morano. Rodriguez looked at the window, which let in the light of a moon that was getting low, for the curtains had years ago been eaten up by the moths; but the window was barred with iron bars that were not yet rusted away, and looked out, thus guarded, over a sheer wall that even in the moonlight fell into blackness. Rodriguez then looked round for some hidden door, the sword all the while in his hand, and very soon he knew that room fairly well, but not its secret, nor why those unknown gallants had given up their rings.
It is much to know of an unknown danger that it really is unknown. Many have met their deaths through looking for danger from one particular direction, whereas had they perceived that they were ignorant of its direction they would have been wise in their ignorance. Rodriguez had the great discretion to understand clearly that he did not know the direction from which danger would come. He accepted this as his only discovery about that portentous room which seemed to beckon to him with every shadow and to sigh over him with every mournful draught, and to whisper to him unintelligible warnings with every rustle of tattered silk that hung about his bed. And as soon as he discovered that this was his only knowledge he began at once to make his preparations: he was a right young man for the wars. He divested himself of his shoes and doublet and the light cloak that hung from his shoulder and cast the clothes on a chair. Over the back of the chair he slung his girdle and the scabbard hanging therefrom and placed his plumed hat so that none could see that his Castilian blade was not in its resting-place. And when the sombre chamber had the appearance of one having undressed in it before retiring Rodriguez turned his attention to the bed, which he noticed to be of great depth and softness. That something not unlike blood had been spilt on the floor excited no wonder in Rodriguez; that vast chamber was evidently, as I have said, in the fortress of some great family, against one of whose walls the humble inn had once leaned for protection; the great family were gone: how they were gone Rodriguez did not know, but it excited no wonder in him to see blood on the boards: besides, two gallants may have disagreed; or one who loved not dumb animals might have been killing rats. Blood did not disturb him; but what amazed him, and would have surprised anyone who stood in that ruinous room, was that there were clean new sheets on the bed. Had you seen the state of the furniture and the floor, O my reader, and the vastness of the old cobwebs and the black dust that they held, the dead spiders and huge dead flies, and the living generation of spiders descending and ascending through the gloom, I say that you also would have been surprised at the sight of those nice clean sheets. Rodriguez noted the fact and continued his preparations. He took the bolster from underneath the pillow and laid it down the middle of the bed and put the sheets back over it; then he stood back and looked at it, much as a sculptor might stand back from his marble, then he returned to it and bent it a little in the middle, and after that he placed his mandolin on the pillow and nearly covered it with the sheet, but not quite, for a little of the curved dark-brown wood remained still to be seen. It looked wonderfully now like a sleeper in the bed, but Rodriguez was not satisfied with his work until he had placed his kerchief and one of his shoes where a shoulder ought to be; then he stood back once more and eyed it with satisfaction. Next he considered the light. He looked at the light of the moon and remembered his father's advice, as the young often do, but considered that this was not the occasion for it, and decided to leave the light of his candle instead, so that anyone who might be familiar with the moonlight in that shadowy chamber should find instead a less sinister light. He therefore dragged a table to the bedside, placed the candle upon it, and opened a treasured book that he bore in his doublet, and laid it on the bed near by, between the candle and his mandolin-headed sleeper; the name of the book was Notes in a Cathedral and dealt with the confessions of a young girl, which the author claimed to have jotted down, while concealed behind a pillow near the Confessional, every Sunday for the entire period of Lent. Lastly he pulled a sheet a little loose from the bed, until a corner of it lay on the floor; then he lay down on the boards, still keeping his sword in his hand, and by means of the sheet and some silk that hung from the bed, he concealed himself sufficient for his purpose, which was to see before he should be seen by any intruder that might enter that chamber.
And if Rodriguez appear to have been unduly suspicious, it should be borne in mind not only that those empty rings needed much explanation, but that every house suggests to the stranger something; and that whereas one house seems to promise a welcome in front of cosy fires, another good fare, another joyous wine, this inn seemed to promise murder; or so the young man's intuition said, and the young are wise to trust to their intuitions.
The reader will know, if he be one of us, who have been to the wars and slept in curious ways, that it is hard to sleep when sober upon a floor; it is not like the earth, or snow, or a feather bed; even rock can be more accommodating; it is hard, unyielding and level, all night unmistakable floor. Yet Rodriguez took no risk of falling asleep, so he said over to himself in his mind as much as he remembered of his treasured book, Notes in a Cathedral, which he always read to himself before going to rest and now so sadly missed. It told how a lady who had listened to a lover longer than her soul's safety could warrant, as he played languorous music in the moonlight and sang soft by her low balcony, and how she being truly penitent, had gathered many roses, the emblems of love (as surely, she said at confession, all the world knows), and when her lover came again by moonlight had cast them all from her from the balcony, showing that she had renounced love; and her lover had entirely misunderstood her. It told how she often tried to show him this again, and all the misunderstandings are sweetly set forth and with true Christian penitence. Sometimes some little matter escaped Rodriguez's memory and then he longed to rise up and look at his dear book, yet he lay still where he was: and all the while he listened to the rats, and the rats went on gnawing and running regularly, scared by nothing new; Rodriguez trusted as much to their myriad ears as to his own two. The great spiders descended out of such heights that you could not see whence they came, and ascended again into blackness; it was a chamber of prodigious height. Sometimes the shadow of a descending spider that had come close to the candle assumed a frightening size, but Rodriguez gave little thought to it; it was of murder he was thinking, not of shadows; still, in its way it was ominous, and reminded Rodriguez horribly of his host; but what of an omen, again, in a chamber full of omens. The place itself was ominous; spiders could scarce make it more so. The spider itself was big enough, he thought, to be impaled on his Castilian blade; indeed, he would have done it but that he thought it wiser to stay where he was and watch. And then the spider found the candle too hot and climbed in a hurry all the way to the ceiling, and his horrible shadow grew less and dwindled away.
It was not that the rats were frightened: whatever it was that happened happened too quietly for that, but the volume of the sound of their running had suddenly increased: it was not like fear among them, for the running was no swifter, and it did not fade away; it was as though the sound of rats running, which had not been heard before, was suddenly heard now. Rodriguez looked at the door, the door was shut. A young Englishman would long ago have been afraid that he was making a fuss over nothing and would have gone to sleep in the bed, and not seen what Rodriguez saw. He might have thought that hearing more rats all at once was merely a fancy, and that everything was all right. Rodriguez saw a rope coming slowly down from the ceiling, he quickly determined whether it was a rope or only the shadow of some huge spider's thread, and then he watched it and saw it come down right over his bed and stop within a few feet of it. Rodriguez looked up cautiously to see who had sent him that strange addition to the portents that troubled the chamber, but the ceiling was too high and dim for him to perceive anything but the rope coming down out of the darkness. Yet he surmised that the ceiling must have softly opened, without any sound at all, at the moment that he heard the greater number of rats. He waited then to see what the rope would do; and at first it hung as still as the great festoons dead spiders had made in the corners; then as he watched it it began to sway. He looked up into the dimness then to see who was swaying the rope; and for a long time, as it seemed to him lying gripping his Castilian sword on the floor he saw nothing clearly. And then he saw mine host coming down the rope, hand over hand quite nimbly, as though he lived by this business. In his right hand he held a poniard of exceptional length, yet he managed to clutch the rope and hold the poniard all the time with the same hand.
If there had been something hideous about the shadow of the spider that came down from that height the shadow of mine host was indeed demoniac. He too was like a spider, with his body at no time slender all bunched up on the rope, and his shadow was six times his size: you could turn from the spider's shadow to the spider and see that it was for the most part a fancy of the candle half crazed by the draughts, but to turn from mine host's shadow to himself and to see his wicked eyes was to say that the candle's wildest fears were true. So he climbed down his rope holding his poniard upward. But when he came within perhaps ten feet of the bed he pointed it downward and began to sway about. It will be readily seen that by swaying his rope at a height mine host could drop on any part of the bed. Rodriguez as he watched him saw him scrutinise closely and continue to sway on his rope. He feared that mine host was ill satisfied with the look of the mandolin and that he would climb away again, well warned of his guest's astuteness, into the heights of the ceiling to devise some fearfuller scheme; but he was only looking for the shoulder. And then mine host dropped; poniard first, he went down with all his weight behind it and drove it through the bolster below where the shoulder should be, just where we slant our arms across our bodies, when we lie asleep on our sides, leaving the ribs exposed: and the soft bed received him. And the moment that mine host let go of his rope Rodriguez leaped to his feet. He saw Rodriguez, indeed their eyes met as he dropped through the air, but what could mine host do? He was already committed to his stroke, and his poniard was already deep in the mattress when the good Castilian blade passed through his ribs.
THE SECOND CHRONICLE
HOW HE HIRED A MEMORABLE SERVANT
When Rodriguez woke, the birds were singing gloriously. The sun was up and the air was sparkling over Spain. The gloom had left his high chamber, and much of the menace had gone from it that overnight had seemed to bode in the corners. It had not become suddenly tidy; it was still more suitable for spiders than men, it still mourned and brooded over the great family that it had nursed and that evil days had so obviously overtaken; but it no longer had the air of finger to lips, no longer seemed to share a secret with you, and that secret Murder. The rats still ran round the wainscot, but the song of the birds and the jolly, dazzling sunshine were so much larger than the sombre room that the young man's thoughts escaped from it and ran free to the fields. It may have been only his fancy but the world seemed somehow brighter for the demise of mine host of the Dragon and Knight, whose body still lay hunched up on the foot of his bed. Rodriguez jumped up and went to the high, barred window and looked out of it at the morning: far below him a little town with red roofs lay; the smoke came up from the chimneys toward him slowly, and spread out flat and did not reach so high. Between him and the roofs swallows were sailing.
He found water for washing in a cracked pitcher of earthenware and as he dressed he looked up at the ceiling and admired mine host's device, for there was an open hole that had come noiselessly, without any sounds of bolts or lifting of trap-doors, but seemed to have opened out all round on perfectly oiled grooves, to fit that well-to-do body, and down from the middle of it from some higher beam hung the rope down which mine host had made his last journey.
Before taking leave of his host Rodriguez looked at his poniard, which was a good two feet in length, not counting the hilt, and was surprised to find it an excellent blade. It bore a design on the steel representing a town, which Rodriguez recognised for the towers of Toledo; and had held moreover a jewel at the end of the hilt, but the little gold socket was empty. Rodriguez therefore perceived that the poniard was that of a gallant, and surmised that mine host had begun his trade with a butcher's knife, but having come by the poniard had found it to be handier for his business. Rodriguez being now fully dressed, girt his own blade about him, and putting the poniard under his cloak, for he thought to find a use for it at the wars, set his plumed hat upon him and jauntily stepped from the chamber. By the light of day he saw clearly at what point the passages of the inn had dared to make their intrusion on the corridors of the fortress, for he walked for four paces between walls of huge grey rocks which had never been plastered and were clearly a breach in the fortress, though whether the breach were made by one of the evil days that had come upon the family in their fastness, and whether men had poured through it with torches and swords, or whether the gap had been cut in later years for mine host of the Dragon and Knight, and he had gone quietly through it rubbing his hands, nothing remained to show Rodriguez now.
When he came to the dining-chamber he found Morano astir. Morano looked up from his overwhelming task of tidying the Inn of the Dragon and Knight and then went on with his pretended work, for he felt a little ashamed of the knowledge he had concerning the ways of that inn, which was more than an honest man should know about such a place.
"Good morning, Morano," said Rodriguez blithely.
"Good morning," answered the servant of the Dragon and Knight.
"I am looking for the wars. Would you like a new master, Morano?"
"Indeed," said Morano, "a good master is better to some men's minds than a bad one. Yet, you see senor, my bad master has me bound never to leave him, by oaths that I do not properly understand the meaning of, and that might blast me in any world were I to forswear them. He hath bound me by San Sathanas, with many others. I do not like the sound of that San Sathanas. And so you see, senor, my bad master suits me better than perhaps to be whithered in this world by a levin-stroke, and in the next world who knows?"
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "there is a dead spider on my bed."
"A dead spider, master?" said Morano, with as much concern in his voice as though no spider had ever sullied that chamber before.
"Yes," said Rodriguez, "I shall require you to keep my bed tidy on our way to the wars."
"Master," said Morano, "no spider shall come near it, living or dead."
And so our company of one going northward through Spain looking for romance became a company of two.
"Master," said Morano, "as I do not see him whom I serve, and his ways are early ways, I fear some evil has overtaken him, whereby we shall be suspect, for none other dwells here: and he is under special protection of the Garda Civil; it would be well therefore to start for the wars right early."
"The guard protect mine host then." Rodriguez said with as much surprise in his tones as he ever permitted himself.
"Master," Morano said, "it could not be otherwise. For so many gallants have entered the door of this inn and supped in this chamber and never been seen again, and so many suspicious things have been found here, such as blood, that it became necessary for him to pay the guard well, and so they protect him." And Morano hastily slung over his shoulder by leather straps an iron pot and a frying-pan and took his broad felt hat from a peg on the wall.
Rodriguez' eyes looked so curiously at the great cooking utensils dangling there from the straps that Morano perceived his young master did not fully understand these preparations: he therefore instructed him thus: "Master, there be two things necessary in the wars, strategy and cooking. Now the first of these comes in use when the captains speak of their achievements and the historians write of the wars. Strategy is a learned thing, master, and the wars may not be told of without it, but while the war rageth and men be camped upon the foughten field then is the time for cooking; for many a man that fights the wars, if he hath not his food, were well content to let the enemy live, but feed him and at once he becometh proud at heart and cannot a-bear the sight of the enemy walking among his tents but must needs slay him outright. Aye, master, the cooking for the wars; and when the wars are over you who are learned shall study strategy."
And Rodriguez perceived that there was wisdom in the world that was not taught in the College of San Josephus, near to his father's valleys, where he had learned in his youth the ways of books.
"Morano," he said, "let us now leave mine host to entertain la Garda."
And at the mention of the guard hurry came on Morano, he closed his lips upon his store of wisdom, and together they left the Inn of the Dragon and Knight. And when Rodriguez saw shut behind him that dark door of oak that he had so persistently entered, and through which he had come again to the light of the sun by many precautions and some luck, he felt gratitude to Morano. For had it not been for Morano's sinister hints, and above all his remark that mine host would have driven him thence because he liked him, the evil look of the sombre chamber alone might not have been enough to persuade him to the precautions that cut short the dreadful business of that inn. And with his gratitude was a feeling not unlike remorse, for he felt that he had deprived this poor man of a part of his regular wages, which would have been his own gold ring and the setting that held the sapphire, had all gone well with the business. So he slipped the ring from his finger and gave it to Morano, sapphire and all.
Morano's expressions of gratitude were in keeping with that flowery period in Spain, and might appear ridiculous were I to expose them to the eyes of an age in which one in Morano's place on such an occasion would have merely said, "Damned good of you old nut, not half," and let the matter drop.
I merely record therefore that Morano was grateful and so expressed himself; while Rodriguez, in addition to the pleasant glow in the mind that comes from a generous action, had another feeling that gives all of us pleasure, or comfort at least (until it grows monotonous), a feeling of increased safety; for while he had the ring upon his finger and Morano went unpaid the thought could not help occurring, even to a generous mind, that one of these windy nights Morano might come for his wages.
"Master," said Morano looking at the sapphire now on his own little finger near the top joint, the only stone amongst his row of rings, "you must surely have great wealth."
"Yes," said Rodriguez slapping the scabbard that held his Castilian blade. And when he saw that Morano's eyes were staring at the little emeralds that were dotted along the velvet of the scabbard he explained that it was the sword that was his wealth:
"For in the wars," he said, "are all things to be won, and nothing is unobtainable to the sword. For parchment and custom govern all the possessions of man, as they taught me in the College of San Josephus. Yet the sword is at first the founder and discoverer of all possessions; and this my father told me before he gave me this sword, which hath already acquired in the old time fair castles with many a tower."
"And those that dwelt in the castles, master, before the sword came?" said Morano.
"They died and went dismally to Hell," said Rodriguez, "as the old songs say."
They walked on then in silence. Morano, with his low forehead and greater girth of body than of brain to the superficial observer, was not incapable of thought. However slow his thoughts may have come, Morano was pondering surely. Suddenly the puckers on his little forehead cleared and he brightly looked at Rodriguez as they went on side by side.
"Master," Morano said, "when you choose a castle in the wars, let it above all things be one of those that is easy to be defended; for castles are easily got, as the old songs tell, and in the heat of combat positions are quickly stormed, and no more ado; but, when wars are over, then is the time for ease and languorous days and the imperilling of the soul, though not beyond the point where our good fathers may save it."
"Nay, Morano," Rodriguez said, "no man, as they taught me well in the College of San Josephus, should ever imperil his soul."
"But, master," Morano said, "a man imperils his body in the wars yet hopes by dexterity and his sword to draw it safely thence: so a man of courage and high heart may surely imperil his soul and still hope to bring it at the last to salvation."
"Not so," said Rodriguez, and gave his mind to pondering upon the exact teaching he had received on this very point, but could not clearly remember.
So they walked in silence, Rodriguez thinking still of this spiritual problem, Morano turning, though with infinite slowness, to another thought upon a lower plane.
And after a while Rodriguez' eyes turned again to the flowers, and he felt his meditation, as youth will, and looking abroad he saw the wonder of Spring calling forth the beauty of Spain, and he lifted up his head and his heart rejoiced with the anemones, as hearts at his age do: but Morano clung to his thought.
It was long before Rodriguez' fanciful thoughts came back from among the flowers, for among those delicate earliest blooms of Spring his youthful visions felt they were with familiars; so they tarried, neglecting the dusty road and poor gross Morano. But when his fancies left the flowers at last and looked again at Morano, Rodriguez perceived that his servant was all troubled with thought: so he left Morano in silence for his thought to come to maturity, for he had formed a liking already for the judgments of Morano's simple mind.
They walked in silence for the space of an hour, and at last Morano spoke. It was then noon. "Master," he said, "at this hour it is the custom of la Garda to enter the Inn of the Dragon and to dine at the expense of mine host."
"A merry custom," said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "if they find him in less than his usual health they will get their dinners for themselves in the larder and dine and afterwards sleep. But after that; master, after that, should anything inauspicious have befallen mine host, they will seek out and ask many questions concerning all travellers, too many for our liking."
"We are many good miles from the Inn of the Dragon and Knight," said Rodriguez.
"Master, when they have eaten and slept and asked questions they will follow on horses," said Morano.
"We can hide," said Rodriguez, and he looked round over the plain, very full of flowers, but empty and bare under the blue sky of any place in which a man might hide to escape from pursuers on horse back. He perceived then that he had no plan.
"Master," said Morano, "there is no hiding like disguises."
Once more Rodriguez looked round him over the plain, seeing no houses, no men; and his opinion of Morano's judgment sank when he said disguises. But then Morano unfolded to him that plan which up to that day had never been tried before, so far as records tell, in all the straits in which fugitive men have been; and which seems from my researches in verse and prose never to have been attempted since.
The plan was this, astute as Morano, and simple as his naive mind. The clothing for which Rodriguez searched the plain vainly was ready to hand. No disguise was effective against la Garda, they had too many suspicions, their skill was to discover disguises. But in the moment of la Garda's triumph, when they had found out the disguise, when success had lulled the suspicions for which they were infamous, then was the time to trick la Garda. Rodriguez wondered; but the slow mind of Morano was sure, and now he came to the point, the fruit of his hour's thinking. Rodriguez should disguise himself as Morano. When la Garda discovered that he was not the man he appeared to be, a study to which they devoted their lives, their suspicions would rest and there would be an end of it. And Morano should disguise himself as Rodriguez.
It was a new idea. Had Rodriguez been twice his age he would have discarded it at once; for age is guided by precedent which, when pursued, is a dangerous guide indeed. Even as it was he was critical, for the novelty of the thing coming thus from his gross servant surprised him as much as though Morano had uttered poetry of his own when he sang, as he sometimes did, certain merry lascivious songs of Spain that any one of the last few centuries knew as well as any of the others.
And would not la Garda find out that he was himself, Rodriguez asked, as quickly as they found out he was not Morano.
"That," said Morano, "is not the way of la Garda. For once let la Garda come by a suspicion, such as that you, master, are but Morano, and they will cling to it even to the last, and not abandon it until they needs must, and then throw it away as it were in disgust and ride hence at once, for they like not tarrying long near one who has seen them mistaken."
"They will soon then come by another suspicion," said Rodriguez.
"Not so, master," answered Morano, "for those that are as suspicious as la Garda change their suspicions but slowly. A suspicion is an old song to them."
"Then," said Rodriguez, "I shall be hard set ever to show that I am not you if they ever suspect I am."
"It will be hard, master," Morano answered; "but we shall do it, for we shall have truth upon our side."
"How shall we disguise ourselves?" said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "when you came to our town none knew you and all marked your clothes. As for me my fat body is better known than my clothes, yet am I not too well known by la Garda, for, being an honest man, whenever la Garda came I used to hide."
"You did well," said Rodriguez.
"Certainly I did well," said Morano, "for had they seen me they might, on account of certain matters, have taken me to prison, and prison is no place for an honest man."
"Let us disguise ourselves," said Rodriguez.
"Master," answered Morano, "the brain is greater than the stomach, and now more than at any time we need the counsel of the brain; let us therefore appease the clamours of the stomach that it be silent."
And he drew out from amongst his clothing a piece of sacking in which was a mass of bacon and some lard, and unslung his huge frying-pan. Rodriguez had entirely forgotten the need of food, but now the memory of it had rushed upon him like a flood over a barrier, as soon as he saw the bacon. And when they had collected enough of tiny inflammable things, for it was a treeless plain, and Morano had made a fire, and the odour of the bacon became perceptible, this memory was hugely intensified.
"Let us eat while they eat, master," said Morano, "and plan while they sleep, and disguise ourselves while they pursue."
And this they did: for after they had eaten they dug up earth and gathered leaves with which to fill the gaps in Morano's garments when they should hang on Rodriguez, they plucked a geranium with whose dye they deepened Rodriguez' complexion, and with the sap from the stalk of a weed Morano toned to a pallor the ruddy brown of his tough cheeks. Then they changed clothes altogether, which made Morano gasp: and after that nothing remained but to cut off the delicate black moustachios of Rodriguez and to stick them to the face of Morano with the juice of another flower that he knew where to find. Rodriguez sighed when he saw them go. He had pictured ecstatic glances cast some day at those moustachios, glances from under long eyelashes twinkling at evening from balconies; and looking at them where they were now, he felt that this was impossible.
For one moment Morano raised his head with an air, as it were preening himself, when the new moustachios had stuck; but as soon as he saw, or felt, his master's sorrow at their loss he immediately hung his head, showing nothing but shame for the loss he had caused his master, or for the impropriety of those delicate growths that so ill become his jowl. And now they took the road again, Rodriguez with the great frying-pan and cooking-pot; no longer together, but not too far apart for la Garda to take them both at once, and to make the doubly false charge that should so confound their errand. And Morano wore that old triumphant sword, and carried the mandolin that was ever young.
They had not gone far when it was as Morano had said; for, looking back, as they often did, to the spot where their road touched the sky-line, they saw la Garda spurring, seven of them in their unmistakable looped hats, very clear against the sky which a moment ago seemed so fair.
When the seven saw the two they did not spare the dust; and first they came to Morano.
"You," they said, "are Rodriguez Trinidad Fernandez, Concepcion Henrique Maria, a Lord of the Valleys of Arguento Harez."
"No, masters," said Morano.
Oh but denials were lost upon la Garda.
Denials inflamed their suspicions as no other evidence could. Many a man had they seen with his throat in the hands of the public garrotter; and all had begun with denials who ended thus. They looked at the mandolin, at the gay cloak, at the emeralds in the scabbard, for wherever emeralds go there is evidence to identify them, until the nature of man changes or the price of emeralds. They spoke hastily among themselves.
"Without doubt," said one of them, "you are whom we said." And they arrested Morano.
Then they spurred on to Rodriguez. "You are," they said, "as no man doubts, one Morano, servant at the Inn of the Dragon and Knight, whose good master is, as we allege, dead."
"Masters," answered Rodriguez, "I am but a poor traveller, and no servant at any inn."
Now la Garda, as I have indicated, will hear all things except denials; and thus to receive two within the space of two moments infuriated them so fiercely that they were incapable of forming any other theory that day except the one they held.
There are many men like this; they can form a plausible theory and grasp its logical points, but take it away from them and destroy it utterly before their eyes, and they will not so easily lash their tired brains at once to build another theory in place of the one that is ruined.
"As the saints live," they said, "you are Morano." And they arrested Rodriguez too.
Now when they began to turn back by the way they had come Rodriguez began to fear overmuch identification, so he assured la Garda that in the next village ahead of them were those who would answer all questions concerning him, as well as being the possessors of the finest vintage of wine in the kingdom of Spain.
Now it may be that the mention of this wine soothed the anger caused in the men of la Garda by two denials, or it may be that curiosity guided them, at any rate they took the road that led away from last night's sinister shelter, Rodriguez and five of la Garda. Two of them stayed behind with Morano, undecided as yet which way to take, though looking wistfully the way that that wine was said to be; and Rodriguez left Morano to his own devices, in which he trusted profoundly.
Now Rodriguez knew not the name of the next village that they would come to nor the names of any of the dwellers in it.
Yet he had a plan. As he went by the side of one of the horses he questioned the rider.
"Can Morano write?" he said. La Garda laughed.
"Can Morano talk Latin?" he said. La Garda crossed themselves, all five men. And after some while of riding, and hard walking for Rodriguez, to whom they allowed a hand on a stirrup leather, there came in sight the tops of the brown roofs of a village over a fold of the plain. "Is this your village?" said one of his captors.
"Surely," answered Rodriguez.
"What is its name?" said one.
"It has many names," said Rodriguez.
And then another one of them recognised it from the shape of its roofs. "It is Saint Judas-not-Iscariot," he said.
"Aye, so strangers call it," said Rodriguez.
And where the road turned round that fold of the plain, lolling a little to its left in the idle Spanish air, they came upon the village all in view. I do not know how to describe this village to you, my reader, for the words that mean to you what it was are all the wrong words to use. "Antique," "old-world," "quaint," seem words with which to tell of it. Yet it had no antiquity denied to the other villages; it had been brought to birth like them by the passing of time, and was nursed like them in the lap of plains or valleys of Spain. Nor was it quainter than any of its neighbours, though it was like itself alone, as they had their characters also; and, though no village in the world was like it, it differed only from the next as sister differs from sister. To those that dwelt in it, it was wholly apart from all the world of man.
Most of its tall white houses with green doors were gathered about the market-place, in which were pigeons and smells and declining sunlight, as Rodriguez and his escort came towards it, and from round a corner at the back of it the short, repeated song of one who would sell a commodity went up piercingly.
This was all very long ago. Time has wrecked that village now. Centuries have flowed over it, some stormily, some smoothly, but so many that, of the village Rodriguez saw, there can be now no more than wreckage. For all I know a village of that name may stand on that same plain, but the Saint Judas-not-Iscariot that Rodriguez knew is gone like youth.
Queerly tiled, sheltered by small dense trees, and standing a little apart, Rodriguez recognised the house of the Priest. He recognised it by a certain air it had. Thither he pointed and la Garda rode. Again he spoke to them. "Can Morano speak Latin?" he said.
"God forbid!" said la Garda.
They dismounted and opened a gate that was gilded all over, in a low wall of round boulders. They went up a narrow path between thick ilices and came to the green door. They pulled a bell whose handle was a symbol carved in copper, one of the Priest's mysteries. The bell boomed through the house, a tiny musical boom, and the Priest opened the door; and Rodriguez addressed him in Latin. And the Priest answered him.
At first la Garda had not realised what had happened. And then the Priest beckoned and they all entered his house, for Rodriguez had asked him for ink. Into a room they came where a silver ink-pot was, and the grey plume of the goose. Picture no such ink-pot, my reader, as they sell to-day in shops, the silver no thicker than paper, and perhaps a pattern all over it guaranteed artistic. It was molten silver well wrought, and hollowed for ink. And in the hollow there was the magical fluid, the stuff that rules the world and hinders time; that in which flows the will of a king, to establish his laws for ever; that which gives valleys unto new possessors; that whereby towers are held by their lawful owners; that which, used grimly by the King's judge, is death; that which, when poets play, is mirth for ever and ever.
No wonder la Garda looked at it in awe, no wonder they crossed themselves again: and then Rodriguez wrote. In the silence that followed the jaws of la Garda dropped, while the old Priest slightly smiled, for he somewhat divined the situation already; and, being the people's friend, he loved not la Garda more than he was bound by the rules of his duty to man.
Then one of la Garda spoke, bringing back his confidence with a bluster. "Morano has sold his soul to Satan," he said, "in exchange for Satan's aid, and Satan has taught his tongue Latin and guides his fingers in the affairs of the pen." And so said all la Garda, rejoicing at finding an explanation where a moment ago there was none, as all men at such times do: little it matters what the explanation be: does a man in Sahara, who finds water suddenly, inquire with precision what its qualities are?
And then the Priest said a word and made a sign, against which Satan himself can only prevail with difficulty, and in presence of which his spells can never endure. And after this Rodriguez wrote again. Then were la Garda silent.
And at length the leader said, and he called on them all to testify, that he had made no charge whatever against this traveller; moreover, they had escorted him on his way out of respect for him, because the roads were dangerous, and must now depart because they had higher duties. So la Garda departed, looking before them with stern, preoccupied faces and urging their horses on, as men who go on an errand of great urgency. And Rodriguez, having thanked them for their protection upon the road, turned back into the house and the two sat down together, and Rodriguez told his rescuer the story of the hospitality of the Inn of the Dragon and Knight.
Not as confession he told it, but as a pleasant tale, for he looked on the swift demise of la Garda's friend, in the night, in the spidery room, as a fair blessing for Spain, a thing most suited to the sweet days of Spring. The spiritual man rejoiced to hear such a tale, as do all men of peace to hear talk of violent deeds in which they may not share. And when the tale was ended he reproved Rodriguez exceedingly, explaining to him the nature of the sin of blood, and telling him that absolution could be come by now, though hardly, but how on some future occasion there might be none to be had. And Rodriguez listened with all the gravity of expression that youth knows well how to wear while its thoughts are nimbly dancing far away in fair fields of adventure or love.
And darkness came down and lamps were carried in: and the reverend father asked Rodriguez in what other affairs of violence his sword had unhappily been. And Rodriguez knew well the history of that sword, having gathered all that concerned it out of spoken legend or song. And although the reverend man frowned minatorily whenever he heard of its passings through the ribs of the faithful, and nodded as though his head gave benediction when he heard of the destruction of God's most vile enemy the infidel, and though he gasped a little through his lips when he heard of certain tarryings of that sword, in scented gardens, while Christian knights should sleep and their swords hang on the wall, though sometimes even a little he raised his hands, yet he leaned forward always, listening well, and picturing clearly as though his gleaming eyes could see them, each doleful tale of violence or sin. And so night came, and began to wear away, and neither knew how late the hour was. And then as Rodriguez spoke of an evening in a garden, of which some old song told well, a night in early summer under the evening star, and that sword there as always; as he told of his grandfather as poets had loved to tell, going among the scents of the huge flowers, familiar with the dark garden as the moths that drifted by him; as he spoke of a sigh heard faintly, as he spoke of danger near, whether to body or soul; as the reverend father was about to raise both his hands; there came a thunder of knockings upon the locked green door.
THE THIRD CHRONICLE
HOW HE CAME TO THE HOUSE OF WONDER
It was the gross Morano. Here he had tracked Rodriguez, for where la Garda goes is always known, and rumour of it remains long behind them, like the scent of a fox. He told no tale of his escape more than a dog does who comes home some hours late; a dog comes back to his master, that is all, panting a little perhaps; someone perhaps had caught him and he escaped and came home, a thing too natural to attempt to speak of by any of the signs that a dog knows.
Part of Morano's method seems to have resembled Rodriguez', for just as Rodriguez spoke Latin, so Morano fell back upon his own natural speech, that he as it were unbridled and allowed to run free, the coarseness of which had at first astounded, and then delighted, la Garda.
"And did they not suspect that you were yourself?" said Rodriguez.
"No, master," Morano answered, "for I said that I was the brother of the King of Aragon."
"The King of Aragon!" Rodriguez said, going to the length of showing surprise. "Yes, indeed, master." said Morano, "and they recognised me."
"Recognised you!" exclaimed the Priest.
"Indeed so," said Morano, "for they said that they were themselves the Kings of Aragon; and so, father, they recognised me for their brother."
"That you should not have said," the Priest told Morano.
"Reverend father," replied Morano, "as Heaven shines, I believed that what I said was true." And Morano sighed deeply. "And now," he said, "I know it is true no more."
Whether he sighed for the loss of his belief in that exalted relationship, or whether for the loss of that state of mind in which such beliefs come easily, there was nothing in his sigh to show. They questioned him further, but he said no more: he was here, there was no more to say: he was here and la Garda was gone.
And then the reverend man brought for them a great supper, even at that late hour, for many an hour had slipped softly by as he heard the sins of the sword; and wine he set out, too, of a certain golden vintage, long lost—I fear—my reader: but this he gave not to Morano lest he should be once more, what the reverend father feared to entertain, that dread hidalgo, the King of Aragon's brother. And after that, the stars having then gone far on their ways, the old Priest rose and offered a bed to Rodriguez; and even as he eyed Morano, wondering where to put him, and was about to speak, for he had no other bed, Morano went to a corner of the room and curled up and lay down. And by the time his host had walked over to him and spoken, asking anxiously if he needed nothing more, he was almost already asleep, and muttered in answer, after having been spoken to twice, no more than "Straw, reverend father, straw."
An armful of this the good man brought him, and then showed Rodriguez to his room; and they can scarcely have reached it before Morano was back in Aragon again, walking on golden shoes (which were sometimes wings), proud among lesser princes.
As precaution for the night Rodriguez took one more glance at his host's kind face; and then, with sword out of reach and an unlocked door, he slept till the songs of birds out of the deeps of the ilices made sleep any longer impossible.
The third morning of Rodriguez' wandering blazed over Spain like brass; flowers and grass and sky were twinkling all together.
When Rodriguez greeted his host Morano was long astir, having awakened with dawn, for the simpler and humbler the creature the nearer it is akin to the earth and the sun. The forces that woke the birds and opened the flowers stirred the gross lump of Morano, ending his sleep as they ended the nightingale's song.
They breakfasted hurriedly and Rodriguez rose to depart, feeling that he had taken hospitality that had not been offered. But against his departure was the barrier of all the politeness of Spain. The house was his, said his host, and even the small grove of ilices.
If I told you half of the things that the reverend man said, you would say: "This writer is affected. I do not like all this flowery mush." I think it safer, my reader, not to tell you any of it. Let us suppose that he merely said, "Quite all right," and that when Rodriguez thanked him on one knee he answered, "Not at all;" and that so Rodriguez and Morano left. If here it miss some flash of the fair form of Truth it is the fault of the age I write for.
The road again, dust again, birds and the blaze of leaves, these were the background of my wanderers, until the eye had gone as far as the eye can roam, and there were the tips of some far pale-blue mountains that now came into view.
They were still in each other's clothes; but the village was not behind them very far when Morano explained, for he knew the ways of la Garda, that having arrested two men upon this road, they would now arrest two men each on all the other roads, in order to show the impartiality of the Law, which constantly needs to be exhibited; and that therefore all men were safe on the road they were on for a long while to come.
Now there seemed to Rodriguez to be much good sense in what Morano had said; and so indeed there was for they had good laws in Spain, and they differed little, though so long ago, from our own excellent system. Therefore they changed once more, giving back to each other everything but, alas, those delicate black moustachios; and these to Rodriguez seemed gone for ever, for the growth of new ones seemed so far ahead to the long days of youth that his hopes could scarce reach to them.
When Morano found himself once more in those clothes that had been with him night and day for so many years he seemed to expand; I mean no metaphor here; he grew visibly fatter.
"Ah," said Morano after a huge breath, "last night I dreamed, in your illustrious clothes, that I was in lofty station. And now, master, I am comfortable."
"Which were best, think you," said Rodriguez, "if you could have but one, a lofty place or comfort?" Even in those days such a question was trite, but Rodriguez uttered it only thinking to dip in the store of Morano's simple wisdom, as one may throw a mere worm to catch a worthy fish. But in this he was disappointed; for Morano made no neat comparison nor even gave an opinion, saying only, "Master, while I have comfort how shall I judge the case of any who have not?" And no more would he say. His new found comfort, lost for a day and night, seemed so to have soothed his body that it closed the gates of the mind, as too much luxury may, even with poets.
And now Rodriguez thought of his quest again, and the two of them pushed on briskly to find the wars.
For an hour they walked in silence an empty road. And then they came upon a row of donkeys; piled high with the bark of the cork-tree, that men were bringing slowly from far woods. Some of the men were singing as they went. They passed slow in the sunshine.
"Oh, master," said Morano when they were gone, "I like not that lascivious loitering."
"Why, Morano?" said Rodriguez. "It was not God that made hurry."
"Master," answered Morano, "I know well who made hurry. And may he not overtake my soul at the last. Yet it is bad for our fortunes that these men should loiter thus. You want your castle, master; and I, I want not always to wander roads, with la Garda perhaps behind and no certain place to curl up and sleep in front. I look for a heap of straw in the cellar of your great castle."
"Yes, yes, you shall have it," his master said, "but how do these folks hinder you?" For Morano was scowling at them over his shoulder in a way that was somehow spoiling the gladness of Spring.
"The air is full of their singing," Morano said. "It is as though their souls were already flying to Hell, and cawing hoarse with sin all the way as they go. And they loiter, and they linger..." Oh, but Morano was angry.
"But," said Rodriguez, "how does their lingering harm you?"
"Where are the wars, master? Where are the wars?" blurted Morano, his round face turning redder. "The donkeys would be dead, the men would be running, there would be shouts, cries, and confusion, if the wars were anywhere near. There would be all things but this."
The men strolled on singing and so passed slow into distance. Morano was right, though I know not how he knew.
And now the men and the donkeys were nearly out of sight, but had not yet at all emerged from the wrath of Morano. "Lascivious knaves," muttered that disappointed man. And whenever he faintly heard dim snatches of their far song that a breeze here, and another there, brought over the plain as it ran on the errands of Spring, he cursed their sins under his breath. Though it seemed not so much their sins that moved his wrath as the leisure they had for committing them.
"Peace, peace, Morano," said Rodriguez.
"It is that," said Morano, "that is troubling me."
"This same peace."
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "I had when young to study the affairs of men; and this is put into books, and so they make history. Now I learned that there is no thing in which men have taken delight, that is ever put away from them; for it seems that time, which altereth every custom, hath altered none of our likings: and in every chapter they taught me there were these wars to be found."
"Master, the times are altered," said Morano sadly. "It is not now as in old days."
And this was not the wisdom of Morano, for anger had clouded his judgment. And a faint song came yet from the donkey-drivers, wavering over the flowers.
"Master," Morano said, "there are men like those vile sin-mongers, who have taken delight in peace. It may be that peace has been brought upon the world by one of these lousy likings."
"The delight of peace," said Rodriguez, "is in its contrast to war. If war were banished this delight were gone. And man lost none of his delights in any chapter I read."
The word and the meaning of CONTRAST were such as is understood by reflective minds, the product of education. Morano felt rather than reflected; and the word CONTRAST meant nothing to him. This ended their conversation. And the songs of the donkey-drivers, light though they were, being too heavy to be carried farther by the idle air of Spring, Morano ceased cursing their sins.
And now the mountains rose up taller, seeming to stretch themselves and raise their heads. In a while they seemed to be peering over the plain. They that were as pale ghosts, far off, dim like Fate, in the early part of the morning, now appeared darker, more furrowed, more sinister, more careworn; more immediately concerned with the affairs of Earth, and so more menacing to earthly things.
Still they went on and still the mountains grew. And noon came, when Spain sleeps.
And now the plain was altering, as though cool winds from the mountains brought other growths to birth, so that they met with bushes straggling wild; free, careless and mysterious, as they do, where there is none to teach great Nature how to be tidy.
The wanderers chose a clump of these that were gathered near the way, like gypsies camped awhile midway on a wonderful journey, who at dawn will rise and go, leaving but a bare trace of their resting and no guess of their destiny; so fairy-like, so free, so phantasmal those dark shrubs seemed.
Morano lay down on the very edge of the shade of one, and Rodriguez lay fair in the midst of the shade of another, whereby anyone passing that way would have known which was the older traveller. Morano, according to his custom, was asleep almost immediately; but Rodriguez, with wonder and speculation each toying with novelty and pulling it different ways between them, stayed awhile wakeful. Then he too slept, and a bird thought it safe to return to an azalea of its own; which it lately fled from troubled by the arrival of these two.
And Rodriguez the last to sleep was the first awake, for the shade of the shrub left him, and he awoke in the blaze of the sun to see Morano still sheltered, well in the middle now of the shadow he chose. The gross sleep of Morano I will not describe to you, reader. I have chosen a pleasant tale for you in a happy land, in the fairest time of year, in a golden age: I have youth to show you and an ancient sword, birds, flowers and sunlight, in a plain unharmed by any dream of commerce: why should I show you the sleep of that inelegant man whose bulk lay cumbering the earth like a low, unseemly mountain?
Rodriguez overtook the shade he had lost and lay there resting until Morano awoke, driven all at once from sleep by a dream or by mere choking. Then from the intricacies of his clothing, which to him after those two days was what home is to some far wanderer, Morano drew out once more a lump of bacon. Then came the fry-pan and then a fire: it was the Wanderers' Mess. That mess-room has stood in many lands and has only one roof. We are proud of that roof, all we who belong to that Mess. We boast of it when we show it to our friends when it is all set out at night. It has Aldebaran in it, the Bear and Orion, and at the other end the Southern Cross. Yes we are proud of our roof when it is at its best.
What am I saying? I should be talking of bacon. Yes, but there is a way of cooking it in our Mess that I want to tell you and cannot. I've tasted bacon there that isn't the same as what you get at the Ritz. And I want to tell you how that bacon tastes; and I can't so I talk about stars. But perhaps you are one of us, reader, and then you will understand. Only why the hell don't we get back there again where the Evening Star swings low on the wall of the Mess?
When they rose from table, when they got up from the earth, and the frying-pan was slung on Morano's back, adding grease to the mere surface of his coat whose texture could hold no more, they pushed on briskly for they saw no sign of houses, unless what Rodriguez saw now dimly above a ravine were indeed a house in the mountains.
They had walked from eight till noon without any loitering. They must have done fifteen miles since the mountains were pale blue. And now, every mile they went, on the most awful of the dark ridges the object Rodriguez saw seemed more and more like a house. Yet neither then, nor as they drew still nearer, nor when they saw it close, nor looking back on it after years, did it somehow seem quite right. And Morano sometimes crossed himself as he looked at it, and said nothing.
Rodriguez, as they walked ceaselessly through the afternoon, seeing his servant show some sign of weariness, which comes not to youth, pointed out the house looking nearer than it really was on the mountain, and told him that he should find there straw, and they would sup and stay the night. Afterwards, when the strange appearance of the house, varying with different angles, filled him with curious forebodings, Rodriguez would make no admission to his servant, but held to the plan he had announced, and so approached the queer roofs, neglecting the friendly stars.
Through the afternoon the two travellers pushed on mostly in silence, for the glances that house seemed to give him from the edge of its perilous ridge, had driven the mirth from Rodriguez and had even checked the garrulity on the lips of the tougher Morano, if garrulity can be ascribed to him whose words seldom welled up unless some simple philosophy troubled his deeps. The house seemed indeed to glance at him, for as their road wound on, the house showed different aspects, different walls and edges of walls, and different curious roofs; all these walls seemed to peer at him. One after another they peered, new ones glided imperceptibly into sight as though to say, We see too.
The mountains were not before them but a little to the right of their path, until new ones appeared ahead of them like giants arising from sleep, and then their path seemed blocked as though by a mighty wall against which its feeble wanderings went in vain. In the end it turned a bit to its right and went straight for a dark mountain, where a wild track seemed to come down out of the rocks to meet it, and upon this track looked down that sinister house. Had you been there, my reader, you would have said, any of us had said, Why not choose some other house? There were no other houses. He who dwelt on the edge of the ravine that ran into that dark mountain was wholly without neighbours.
And evening came, and still they were far from the mountain.
The sun set on their left. But it was in the eastern sky that the greater splendour was; for the low rays streaming across lit up some stormy clouds that were brooding behind the mountain and turned their gloomy forms to an astounding purple.
And after this their road began to rise toward the ridges. The mountains darkened and the sinister house was about to merge with their shadows, when he who dwelt there lit candles.
The act astonished the wayfarers. All through half the day they had seen the house, until it seemed part of the mountains; evil it seemed like their ridges, that were black and bleak and forbidding, and strange it seemed with a strangeness that moved no fears they could name, yet it seemed inactive as night.
Now lights appeared showing that someone moved. Window after window showed to the bare dark mountain its gleaming yellow glare; there in the night the house forsook the dark rocks that seemed kin to it, by glowing as they could never glow, by doing what the beasts that haunted them could not do: this was the lair of man. Here was the light of flame but the rocks remained dark and cold as the wind of night that went over them, he who dwelt now with the lights had forsaken the rocks, his neighbours.
And, when all were lit, one light high in a tower shone green. These lights appearing out of the mountain thus seemed to speak to Rodriguez and to tell him nothing. And Morano wondered, as he seldom troubled to do.
They pushed on up the steepening path.
"Like you the looks of it?" said Rodriguez once.
"Aye, master," answered Morano, "so there be straw."
"You see nothing strange there, then?" Rodriguez said.