Stories by Foreign Authors (Spanish)/Bread Cast Upon the Waters
BREAD CAST UPON THE WATERS
Translated by Mary J. Serrano.
ALTHOUGH the villages of the sierras of Andalusia, owing to their elevation, enjoy in summer a milder temperature than those of the plains, during the middle hours of the day the sun, reflected from the rocks that abound in this mountainous region, produces a dry and ardent heat, which is more transitory, indeed, but also more irritating than that of the plains. The chief sufferers from its ardors are the wandering reapers, who, after finishing the labors of the harvest in their own province, go in search of work to the provinces where the harvest has not yet been gathered in. The greater number of the reapers of the province of Granada go to the sierra of Ronda, where they are welcomed, and where their toilsome labors are well rewarded, so that they are able to lay by some money, unless indeed sickness, that scourge of the poor, prostrates them and consumes their earnings or terminates their existence.
In a more pious age a small hospital for poor strangers was established in Bornos, which is one of the villages that, like a fringe, border the slope of the sierra; an hospital which remained closed in winter, but which in summer received many of the poor reapers who were prostrated by the intense heat, and who had no home or family in the village.
On a hot summer day, early in the thirties, a woman with a kind and gentle countenance was seated at the door of her cottage, in the village above mentioned, engaged in chopping the tomatoes and peppers and crumbling the bread for the wholesome, nutritious, and savory gazpacho which was to serve for the family supper; her two children, a boy of seven and a girl of five, were playing not far from her in the street.
As Bornos is almost entirely surrounded by orchards and orange groves, planted on the slopes of the tableland on which the village is seated, and which at this hour are irrigated by the clear and abundant waters of its springs, every breeze brought with it the perfume of the leaves and the melodious strains of the birds singing their evening hymn to the sun, filling the air with coolness, as if kind Mother Nature made of her trees a fan to cool the brow of her favorite child, man. The front of the house was already steeped in shadow, while the sun still gilded the irregular crests of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley that, like patient camels, supported the load of vines, olive groves, and cornfields confided to them by man.
The mother, occupied with her task, had not observed that a poorly clad little boy had joined her children and that they were talking together.
"Who are you?" said the Bornos boy to the stranger; "I have never seen you before. What is your name?"
"Michael; and yours?"
"And my name is Catherine," said the little girl, who desired also to make the strange boy's acquaintance.
"I know the story of St. Catherine," said the latter.
"Oh, do you? Tell it to us."
The boy recited the following verses:
"To-morrow will be St. Catherine's day,
When to heaven she will ascend and St. Peter will say,
'What woman is that who asks to be let in?'
'I am Catherine,' she will answer, 'and I want to come in.'
'Enter, little dove, in your dove-cote, then.'"
"What a lovely story!" exclaimed the girl. "Don't you know another?"
"Look, Catherine," cried her brother, who was eating roasted beans; "there is a little dead snail in this bean, a roasted snail."
"Will you give me some beans?" begged the strange child.
"Yes, here are some. Are you very, very fond of roasted beans?"
"Yes, very; but I asked you for them because I am very hungry."
"Why, have you had no dinner?"
"Nor any breakfast, either?"
"Mother, mother," cried both the children together, running to their mother; "this poor little boy has n't had any dinner or any breakfast, and he is very hungry; give us some bread for him."
"He has had no dinner, you say?" said the good woman, giving the child a piece of bread with that compassionate tenderness which seems innate in women toward children; "have you no parents, then, my child?"
"Yes, but they have no bread to give me."
"Poor little boy! And where are your parents?"
"Over there," answered the boy, pointing in the direction of a lane that ran between garden walls, at right angles with the street.
The good woman, followed by the children, went to the lane.
On the dry grass, with his face turned to the wall, lay a man, miserably clad and apparently lifeless; a handkerchief was tied round his head; near him lay a sickle that had fallen from his nerveless grasp; seated on the ground beside him was a woman, who, with her thin cheek resting on her emaciated hand, was gazing fixedly at him through the tears that rolled down her sad face, as on a rainy day the water trickles down the walls of a deserted ruin. The last rays of the setting sun, lingering in the lane, illumined the melancholy group with a light tender and sorrowful as a farewell glance.
Approaching the stranger, the good woman, whose name was Maria, said to her:
"Señora, what is the matter with your husband?"
"He has a fever that is killing him," answered the stranger, bursting into sobs.
"Holy Mary!" cried the mother of the children compassionately. "And why don't you let people know about it and ask them to help you? Are we living in a heathen land, then?"
"I don't know any one in the place."
"No matter; for a neighborly act, acquaintance is n't necessary. What! Is this poor man to be left alone to die, as if he were among the Moors? Not if I can prevent it."
At this moment a man with a strong, calm, and kind face approached the group.
"Father, father," cried the children, "this man is dying, and this little boy, who is his son, says he has no bread to give him."
"John Joseph," added the mother of the children, "this poor man is lying shelterless here; this is pitiful. If you are willing, let us carry him into the house and send for the doctor."
"Willing? Of course I am willing," answered her husband. "I have never yet refused my help to any one in need of it, God be praised! There has always been a corner in my kitchen for the poor, and especially for those who are looking for a shelter for the night, who are on a journey, or who are sick; and such food as I had, I have always shared with them! Don't you know that, wife?"
"Come, then," said the latter; "let us lift him up, John Joseph; I'll take hold of him by one arm and his wife can take him by the other."
They did as she said. One of the children took the sickle, another the hat, the third a small shabby bundle of clothes, and all went toward the house.
A sheepskin and a pair of sheets were spread over one of the thick reed mattings which serve the laborers in the farms and vineyards as beds, and the sick man, who remained sunk in a profound stupor, was placed on it, while Gasparito, who was told to fly, ran for the doctor. When the latter came, he pronounced the patient to be dangerously ill, and prescribed various medicines, which were administered to him with that zeal and intelligence in caring for the sick that is one of the many prerogatives of the sex called the fair, but which might with much more propriety be called the pious sex.
After the medicines had been administered and he had been bled freely, the patient seemed somewhat better, and sank into what seemed a natural and beneficent sleep; and then, and not until then, did the family think of their supper, the refreshing and nutritious gaspacho, and the fruits, so abundant in the country, and of which the people, frugal, refined, and elegant, even in their material appetites, are so fond.
It is needless to say that those first called to partake of the mess, as the master of the house, who had been a soldier, called it, were the strange woman and her son.
"And what part of the country are you from?" said John Joseph to his guest, as he offered her a slice of a magnificent watermelon, which sparkled like a garnet in the light.
"From Treveles, in the Alpujarras," she answered.
"I was there when I served the king," responded John Joseph. "Those are poor villages. Treveles is a village overhanging the ravine of Poqueira."
"That is true," replied the poor woman, whose sorrowful face brightened a little at the recollection, so dear to the heart, of the place where she was born and where her home was.
"And by the same token," continued John Joseph, "you can see from there the peaks of Mulhá Hasem and Veleta, that don't reach the sky because the Almighty wouldn't let them, and not because they did n't try."
"And why do they call that peak the Veleta, John Joseph? Is it because it has one on it?"
"If it has, I never saw it."
"It has none now," said the stranger, "but it had one in former times, when Moors and Christians went fighting one another through the mountains. It was guarded by an angel who kept it pointed toward Spain, and then the Christians conquered; but if he neglected his task, the devil came and made it point toward Barbary, and then the Moors conquered."
"But, in spite of all the devil could do, we drove them out; yes, and we would have done it if there had been ten times as many of them!" said the ex-soldier.
"And were you ever on those peaks?" said the mistress of the house to her guest.
"I was never there myself," answered the latter; "but my Manuel has been there a hundred times. Once he went there with an Englishman who wanted to see them. Between the two peaks there is a ravine that is full of water; and that is a cauldron that the demons made. From the middle of it come strange sounds that are caused by the hammering of the demons mending the cauldron. The whole place is a desert, full of naked rocks, and so awesome and solitary that the Englishman said it was like the Dead Sea—a sea that it seems there is in some of those far-off countries."
"Oh, mother! and why did it die?" asked the girl.
"How should I know?" answered the mother.
"Father," said the girl, repeating her question: "why did that sea die? Did the Moors kill it?"
"What a question!" returned the father, who did not wish to confess his ignorance of the matter, as his wife had done: "it died because everything in the world dies, even the seas."
"And is the whole mountain like that?" asked Maria.
"No, for lower down there are trees,—chestnuts, oaks and shrubs, and some fine apple trees planted by the Moors, whose fruit is sent to Granada to be sold."
"And I was told," continued John Joseph, "that there are wild goats there that run faster than water down a hill, that leap like grasshoppers, and that are so sagacious that they always station one of their number on a height to keep watch, and when danger is approaching he strikes the rock with his foot, and then the others scamper off and disappear like a flight of partridges."
"That is all true," responded the guest; "and there are owls there, too, a kind of birds with wings and a human face."
"What is that you are saying, Señora?" cried John Joseph, "who ever saw such birds as those?"
"My Manuel has seen them, and every one who has ever climbed up those heights; and you must know that the owls and the mountain-goats have been there ever since the time when Jesus was in the world. He came to those solitudes, that were then shady meadows in which tame and handsome goats browsed, watched by their shepherds. The Lord, who was tired, entered a goat-herd's hut, and asked the goat-herds to prepare a kid for supper for Himself and St. John and St. Peter, who were with Him. The goat-herds, who were wicked Moors, said that they had none; but the Lord insisted, and then what did those heartless wretches do? They killed a cat, cooked it, and set it on the table. But the Lord, as you may suppose, who sees into all hearts and knows everything that is going on, however secret it may be thought, knew perfectly well what the goat-herds had done, and sitting down at the table He said:
'If you are a kid,
But if you are a cat,
Jump from the plate.'
"Instantly the animal straightened itself up and ran off. The Lord, to punish the goat-herds, turned them into owls and their flocks into wild goats."
At this moment a moan was heard; they all hurried to the sick man's bedside. His improvement had been only momentary; the fever, caused by a cerebral attack, had reached its height, and in a few hours terminated his life, without his having returned to consciousness for a single instant.
It is an easy matter to describe a violent and noisy grief which rebels against misfortune; but it is not easy to describe a profound, silent, humble, and resigned grief. The poor widow who had lost everything, even the strength to work, raised her eyes to heaven, clasped her hands and bowed her head, while her life, which her chilled heart was unable to maintain, slowly ebbed away.
She was not sent away by the kind and charitable people who had sheltered her; but she knew that she would be a heavy burden upon them; and although she was submissive to the will of the Lord, she prayed to Him to grant her a speedy and contrite end, as a release from all her sufferings; and the Lord granted her prayer.
One night she saw with ineffable joy the bed on which she lay surrounded by kind, devout, and compassionate souls; the house was lighted up; an altar stood in front of her humble cot, on which she saw the image of our Lord, to whom she had prayed, with arms opened to those who call upon Him. Every one brought flowers, those universal interpreters of human feeling, which enhance the splendor of the most august solemnities and lend poetry and beauty to the gayest festival; and which, as if they were angels' gifts, are found, like these, in the hut and in the palace, in royal gardens and in the fields.
A bell sounded in the distance that with its silvery voice seemed to say: "Here cometh the Lord, who giveth a peaceful death."
And thus it was; for when the solemn act of receiving the Last Sacrament was ended, the sick woman raised her eyes, in which a gleam of her lost happiness shone.
"I am leaving this valley of tears," she said, in a faint voice, "and through the mercy of God I am going to His presence to ask Him to watch over this poor boy, this poor orphan—"
"Orphan, did you say?" cried John Joseph. "Don't you know, then, that he is our son?"
The dying woman leaned her pale face against her son's forehead, on which a tear fell, and said to him, "Child of my heart, pay to our benefactors your own debt and that of your parents; as for me, I can only pray to God that He will bless them as I bless them."
"John Joseph," said the priest, "the blessing of the dying is the most precious legacy they can leave to those who survive them."
In 1853, Gaspar and Michael, who had grown up together like two brothers, had arrived at the age of manhood; and they were as honest and industrious as the father who had guided them. Catherine was a beautiful girl, as modest and as diligent as the mother at whose side she had grown up. Michael, who had a noble and affectionate, and consequently a grateful heart, loved the family who had adopted him with ardent affection; but especially did he love Catherine, for whom he felt all the affection of a brother, joined to all the tenderness of a lover toward her whom he desired to make the companion of his life.
Many days of tranquil happiness were enjoyed by these united and worthy people; but as happiness, like the blue of the sky, cannot be lasting, for the earth, to yield its fruits, requires the rain, and man, to estimate at their true value this life and the next, has need of tears, a time came in which many were shed in this house, to prove to its inmates that God bestows this blessing, almost preferably, on the poor and the righteous.
The draft was proclaimed and both sons were enrolled for the drawing.
Those who know how passionate is the affection which the mothers of the people have for their children can understand Maria's inconsolable grief. She believed that she loved both sons equally; she feared for both with the same anguish; with the same fervor she prayed to God and to the Virgin that both might escape the draft; but when they returned from the drawing and she learned that the soldier's lot had fallen on her own son, the cry which this intelligence drew from her mother's heart—"Child of my soul, I knew that it must fall upon you!"—showed that a mother's love can be equalled by no other.
Michael saw Maria's grief with a breaking heart, a grief which not all his own efforts nor those of her husband could diminish or soothe.
On the following day John Joseph took his son to the barrack, but what was the astonishment of both when the commandant told Gaspar that he was free and that he might return home.
"Free!" cried Gaspar in amazement. "And why?"
"Because you have a substitute," answered the officer.
"I!" said Gaspar, with ever-increasing astonishment; "why, that can't be so!"
"Why do you say it can't be so? If the substitute is already accepted and enrolled it is so."
"But who is he?" asked Gaspar, amazed.
"That young man, there," answered the officer, pointing to the man whom his parents, in their beneficence, had brought up as a son.
"Michael, what have you done?" exclaimed Gaspar, strongly moved.
"What my mother charged me on her death-bed to do," answered Michael; "I have paid a debt.'
"You owed me nothing," answered Gaspar; "but I now owe you a debt; and God grant me the opportunity to pay it, brother; if the occasion presents itself, you may be sure I will not let it pass; that I will not."
Two years after the events just recorded, a still greater sorrow befell this worthy family, so united and so affectionate, as the families of the peasantry usually are. Michael drew the lot in a second conscription, as Gaspar had done before; and as he was thus obliged to serve on his own account, the son of his adopted parents, whom he could not now serve as a substitute, was once more called to the ranks. Four years more passed; and just when they were expecting Michael home, his time of service having expired, and while Catherine was preparing her wedding garments, a cry, uttered by the Queen of Spain, resounded through the country, electrifying the people and producing a universal outburst of patriotic enthusiasm—Long live Spain! Death to the Moor who has insulted her! This cry was re-echoed throughout the length and breadth of the Peninsula, accompanied by the clash of the warrior's sword and the chink of the rich man's gold, offered on the altar of the country's honor; it was repeated by the people, who gave their blood; by the sacred episcopate, who blessed the cause of the country and of Christianity, and whose words powerfully influenced not only timid and pious consciences, but all by their wisdom, prudence, and judgment. The Sisters of Charity offered their devoted services; the nuns made lint and sacred scapulars of the Virgin; the ladies also made lint and bandages which they moistened with their tears; and even schoolboys, fired with enthusiasm, asked to be allowed to go to the popular war against the Moors.
Michael, who shared in the general enthusiasm for the war, on receiving his discharge, enlisted again, refusing to accept the premium for re-enlisting, for such time as the war in Africa should last.
John Joseph, who in winter followed the occupation of a muleteer, brought home this news on his return from one of his trips, in which he had seen his sons, who were both serving in the King's regiment, in Africa. Maria, on hearing it, burst into tears.
"They were right in saying last year, when the saddle-shaped comet appeared, that it came to foretell a war with the Moors!" she exclaimed disconsolately.
"The comet had no resemblance to a saddle," answered her husband, with martial ardor; "you know very well that what they said was that it was the same star that had guided the kings who went to Bethlehem to declare that Christ was the true Messiah; very well, our people will go to the Moorish country now to tell them that Spanish Christians are tired of putting up with the atrocities and the insults of the accursed Moors."
"But a great many people will be killed in this war, John Joseph, and that is heartbreaking to think of; yes heartbreaking, although you with your warlike notions say it is not."
"Oh, yes, you would like this war to be like a war between women; a war to the knife, but without any one killed; well, war with those who use a beard, and especially if they wear the King's uniform and have the flag of Spain, under which they are fighting, to defend, is another matter; with them, the question is to conquer or die."
"For that very reason, "replied Maria disconsolately, "could n't he have come back and stayed quietly at home, after he had fulfilled his duty?"
"Yes, like you, at the spinning-wheel; but you must know that no new sailing vessel ever yet wanted to be a pontoon. Don't you know that?"
Maria and Catherine kept on crying.
"If you had even told me that you were going to see them," said the former, "I would have given you some scapulars to take them."
"They have them already, they have them already, and blessed by the bishop of Malaga. I told you before, wife, that this war is a holy war, which will rejoice St. Ferdinand in heaven. But you are in a crying humor, it seems," he added impatiently, seeing that his wife and daughter were still shedding tears. "Why, what would you have? That they should remain here like women, instead of going to throttle those accursed Moors who don't believe in Christ, who deny His Holy Mother, and who call the Spaniards 'hens' and 'Christian dogs'? But let them wait a bit, and I'll warrant they won't want a second taste of the broth those hens will make them! They never catch a Spaniard, even in time of peace, that they don't quarter or impale him; you see that makes every Spaniard's blood boil! I don't know how I can contain myself that I don't go too; for I tell you that the soles of my feet are itching to go; and the day you least expect it, I'll take my gun and my blanket and join the camp."
"John Joseph! In the Virgin's name! Is n't it enough to have your sons there? Would you leave us entirely alone?"
"It would n't be for long."
"Hush, hush! God only knows how long it might be; for those people are in their own country, defending their homes; and you know that they are ferocious, savage, fearless, and valiant."
"That they are, but as far as being fearless and valiant is concerned, we Spaniards are more so."
"And God knows what hunger and privation they are going to suffer!"
"Don't imagine it; but even if it should be so, give the Spanish soldier plenty of water to drink and he has all he needs. Why, the joy of that regiment as they went on board was plain to be seen! And to think that I could n't have gone with them!"
"John Joseph, in the Virgin's name, don't indulge in those boyish explosions; remember, you are sixty-five years old."
"To-day I am twenty, wife, I am twenty; do you hear?"
"Your fiery spirit deceives you; and I won't hear you talk about going to the war, when you have two sons in it already."
"And if I had more sons they should be in it, too. Do you think that I should be behind the father of the first soldier killed at the taking of the Serrallo, who when he heard of his son's death called another son, took him to the alcalde of his village, and said: 'My son has been killed in the war in Africa; here is another to take his place'?"
"From what you say, I should n't wonder if you had urged Michael to go to the war?"
"Michael did n't need any urging, Michael has done well, and so I told him. 'Go without fear,' I cried to him, as I came away, 'the weather-vane in your village points for Spain; and don't lose heart, if there should be some reverse, for reverses there must be in war, unless it be by a miracle of God; but many there won't be; and the devil will have little chance to get at the weather-vane of the peak of the Alpujarras, for the one who has charge of it now is an archangel, your patron saint, Michael, and the patron saint of Spain, and he won't neglect his business, and he knows how to keep the devil at a respectful distance!"
Not long afterward, John Joseph went with his mule for a load of pears to Ronda. He found that from there he could go without much difficulty to the Christian camp in Africa. "Why, then," he said to himself, "I can sell my pears there as well as in Jerez or Malaga; there I will go, then; in that way I shall see my boys and the fighting that is going on, which will be something worth seeing." And so he went.
Catherine and Maria were far from suspecting anything of this when, six or eight days later, John Joseph returned home. After he had taken the mule to the stable and put away his things with much deliberation, he sat down and said to his wife and daughter:
"The boys send many remembrances, and hope that when you receive them you will be enjoying as good health as they are enjoying at present."
"Why, what are you saying, John Joseph?"
"I am saying that the boys have sent you many remembrances."
"Have you had a letter from them?"
"No, I am the letter myself."
"You! Why, what do you mean by that?"
"That I went to Morocco and have come back again without losing my way, with my mule Orejero, who showed little surprise when, on arriving in that strange country, we found ourselves in the midst of noise and confusion—Moors everywhere, bands playing, guns firing."
"Holy Mary! And what did you go there for, rash man?"
"To sell some pears that I got an excellent price for; to see the boys, whom I found in good health and as gay as larks; and to kill three Moors who will never again call any Spaniard 'Christian dog.' So you see, wife, that I have not lost my journey."
"And you did that? God help us! God help us!" cried the good woman, crossing herself. "You killed three Moors, did you say? You would not have been able to do that unless they had been unarmed, or had been taken prisoners, or had surrendered; and you did that?"
"Maria, what are you saying?" responded her husband. "Don't you know that to kill an unarmed man would be contrary to the laws of honor and the work of an executioner? Don't you know that to kill a man who had surrendered would be a vile deed and would be to make one's self a butcher of men? Don't you know that to kill a man who asks quarter would be the deed of a miscreant and a coward, and would disgrace the name of Christian and dishonor the name of Spaniard? In honorable combat I killed them, Maria, when with arms in their hands they tried to kill me and my companions. I know well that the glory is not in killing but in conquering the enemy, and I would n't want at the hour of my death to have to remember killing any man by treachery. I tell you, so help me God, that I killed them honorably, like a brave man, and may they all die thus, for they won't surrender, not even with the bayonet at their breasts."
"Mercy!" cried Maria, "and why not?"
"Because their holy men have made them believe that the Spaniards are as ferocious as themselves, and that we burn alive the wounded and the prisoners we take. You thought that only young chaps were good for the war, and that I, with my sixty-five years, would be of no use in it; well, you were mistaken, you see, you were mistaken, for I am of good quality, and although the steel is worn off, the iron remains. Do you understand? And I am a brave soldier, but not an assassin, do you understand?"
"Forgive me, John Joseph, I did n't stop to think—"
"It is plain you did n't stop to think; and you didn't remember, either, that your husband is a Christian of the old stock, and a well-born Spaniard, and that he knows how to fight the enemies of his faith, of his country, and of his queen; but that he will never dishonor himself by killing a defenceless man, nor debase himself by putting to death a man who has surrendered, nor make a tiger of himself by refusing his life to a man who asks it, not even if he were Barabbas himself."
"Were ours winning, John Joseph?"
"To be sure they were. Winning all the time, past, present, and future."
"But I have heard them say that a great many more Moors are coming, with a brother of their king, whom they call Muley Abbas."
"Let them come! That is just what we want; but don't imagine that those Moors that are with the king are like the Riff Moors, who are the most savage and the fiercest of all the Moors. But all of them together could do nothing against the division of Echagüe, which has covered itself with glory in the war. Queen Isabel may well be proud of her soldiers. But as I was telling you, when I arrived at Algeciras I embarked with my mule and my pears; and you know that I have no fancy for travelling by sea; for the mule that falls on that road does n't get up again. I landed at Ceuta and from there I went with my mule and my pears to the camp; and when I saw the flag of Spain floating over the Serrallo, my heart swelled so that my breast could hardly contain it. I reached the camp and sold my pears like lightning, for there is no want of money there, nor of the will to spend it. What a hub-bub, Maria! It seemed like the gayest kind of a fair; nothing was to be heard but the twang of guitars, singing, and hurrahs for the queen. I need only tell you that the commander-in-chief has had to forbid so much singing and guitar playing at night, because it served as a guide to the accursed Moors. I was just inquiring for the King's regiment, when the bugle sounded, our soldiers seized their guns, crying, 'Long live Spain!' and advanced to the attack. I left my mule there and followed them; and you may believe me that the sight was worth seeing, and one that would have set the blood coursing in a dead man's veins. Each of our soldiers was a Bernardo, every officer a Pizarro, every general a Cid. One might have thought that Santiago himself, on his white horse, was at the head of the army, so completely did they rout the Moors, who are all warriors, and who were three times as many as we. I could not tell you all I saw, not if I had a hundred tongues. I saw General Quesada seize a gun and lead the bayonet charge himself. 'Ah, brave son of a brave father!' I said to myself; for I had served under his father, and he was another of the right kind. But why do I say another, when they are all of the right kind! I saw the bullets flying over the head of the commander-in-chief, as thick as comfits in Carnival. I saw the regiment of Granada, with its valiant commander, Colonel Trillo, at its head, make a bayonet charge crying, 'Long live the Queen!' that made the Moors fly in terror from the field; and I heard the commander-in-chief say to the colonel, that that exploit deserved a decoration; to which the generous colonel replied: 'Nothing for me, General, the credit belongs to my battalion.' I heard the commander-in-chief say to a group of soldiers of the Granada regiment, 'How goes it, boys? Have you received your baptism yet?' 'Yes, General,' answered the soldiers, 'and the Moors have paid dear for the christening.' In short, Maria, if I was to tell you of all I saw there, I should keep on talking till the Day of Judgment. But the ones I never lost sight of, Maria, were our two boys; and you may imagine how well they must have fought when the commander-in-chief, who was near by, observed them, and going up to Michael, he said, 'You have fought well. Now tell me, what do you wish?' 'To keep on fighting, General,' answered Michael; and on the instant the general gave him the cross of St. Ferdinand. I cannot tell you how I felt; but I thought I should go out of my wits with joy; I could not contain myself, and I was running to embrace him, when I saw one of those crazy howlers stab one of our soldiers, who fell down beside me. 'So?' I said, seizing the wounded man's gun; 'you won't have a chance to kill another brave Christian;' and with that I despatched him; and as I had joined the dance, I despatched two others, and I made a bayonet charge with the boys that put wings to the feet of the Moors, for if they have a heavy hand for the fight they have a light foot for flight. Then, night coming on, I gave up the gun and went to look for my mule, who evidently had not found that dance of Moors and Christians to his liking, and who, I learned on inquiry, had gone, like a mule of peace, to the shelter of the walls of Ceuta.
"That night a storm arose that I don't believe had its equal since the world began. I thought the sea, the wind, and the rain together would bring the world to an end. But the next morning we were all as if nothing had happened, and if the devil had sent that, and others like it, at the instance of his friend, Mahoma, to terrify his enemies, they might both have been convinced that Spaniards are not to be terrified either by the roaring of the elements or the howling of their ferocious Moors.
"Well, as I was saying, next morning I got up and walked to the camp to have a chat with the boys; for, as I have told you, the Moors had prevented me from doing so the day before. When I arrived I found the King's regiment drawn up in line, with its band and all! 'What may this be for?' I said to myself. The sentry on guard was as mute and as motionless as a statue, so that it is n't because there are Moors in sight. And why is this regiment drawn up and not the others? This was beginning to excite my curiosity. I drew near. The band was playing away when the colonel, taking his place in front of the regiment, commanded silence, and said in a loud voice, so that all might hear him:
"'The commander-in-chief has learned with great satisfaction that on the afternoon of the 24th of November, a soldier of the King's regiment, which I have the honor to command, seeing his companion and friend wounded and in the hands of the Moors, and animated by the noblest sentiments, fixed his bayonet, and throwing himself heroically upon the Moors, and striking down those who attempted to stop him, seized his wounded friend, threw him over his shoulder, more regardful of his friend's life than of his own, and, snatching him from certain death, carried him back to the ranks; and desiring to recompense, in view of the whole regiment, the soldier who, in so admirable a manner, unites in himself the gallantry of the soldier and the piety of the Christian, transmits to him this gold medal, which the Cadiz Athenæum has provided and caused to be engraved, with the object of making it an honorable reward for an act of surpassing merit, to be given to him before his regiment drawn up in line, so that it may serve as a stimulus to the brave and generous soldier referred to—'"
The old man's voice, up to this time so animated, here failed him, and he was unable to proceed.
"Well," said his wife, deeply moved by the story she had been listening to, "why do you stop, John Joseph? Go on."
"I can't get the words out, there's a lump in my throat; for the soldier whose name was called and who stepped from the ranks to receive the gold medal was—"
"Was who? Why do you stop?"
"He was—my son. He was Gaspar!"
"Child of my heart! And the Virgin has kept him safe for me!" cried Maria.
"My darling brother! And he saved Michael's life!" murmured Catherine.
"And he killed three Moors! Ah, good son, honor of my gray hairs!" added John Joseph, with enthusiastic tenderness.
There was a moment's silence during which tears choked the utterance of these simple people, and they could only clasp their hands and raise their eyes to heaven.
When he had somewhat recovered from his emotion, John Joseph continued his recital in these words:
"When the ceremony was over I went in search of my boys. I cannot describe, Maria, what I felt when I saw them, the one with his gold medal and the other with his cross of St. Ferdinand. But what I can say is that the queen herself can't feel prouder, with her crown and sceptre, than I felt with my Gaspar and my Michael! If Gaspar was happy, Michael was happier still; his eyes danced with joy; the other seemed dazed. 'Good, my son, good,' I said to him, 'that's the way Spaniards behave when they are fighting for their country, their queen, and their faith, remembering that the soldier who is brave and not humane is brave only as the brutes are. You have deserved the medal, son, and your father's blessing with it.'"
"'Why, what did I do?' said Gaspar, who like all really brave men is neither proud nor boastful, and holds himself for less, not more than he is really worth.
"'You saved your brother's life,' I replied.
"'And by so heroic an act that it will be written in letters of gold,' added Michael.
"'Why, nonsense,' answered Gaspar, putting his arm around his brother's neck; 'I have done nothing but pay a debt I owed.'
"'And Spain has paid the debt she owed to the Moors, and with interest,' I said; and I fancy they won't be likely to try their tricks again. So you see, wife, all the advantages the war has brought us. Hurrah for the war!"
"John Joseph," returned his wife, "we must n't forget, because it has been favorable to us and that, perhaps, owing to that poor mother's dying blessing the many evils to which war gives rise: the unhappy people who suffer, those who are left disabled, those who die, and all the families who are at this moment weeping and in mourning; for war is a calamity, and therefore we ought to pray to God with all our hearts and souls for peace, for the song of the angels is: 'Glory to God in the highest; and peace on earth, to men of goodwill!'"
Two months later, that is to say, toward the middle of January, John Joseph, his wife, and his daughter were seated one evening around the brazier. The sky had been covered for several days with heavy clouds that sent down their rain with a steadiness not usual in storms. The wind that came from the Levant roared as if it brought with it, to terrify Spain, the menacing howls of the savage children of Africa and the growling of its lions.
"Who knows what they may be going through now!" said Catherine, in a voice choked with emotion.
"Ah, merciful God," answered her mother, "with swamps for a floor, tents that let the water through for shelter, and the cholera killing them by hundreds, and the Moors lying in ambush for them or treacherously following them, and those eternal nights that swallow up the days! There is no strength nor courage that could bear up against so many ills."
"And that is not the worst," said John Joseph, with the thoughtless frankness of the peasant, bringing his foot heavily down on the floor and raising his eyes to heaven.
"What! There are worse things yet?" said Maria, anxious and surprised. "Why, what else is there, John Joseph? What else? Speak out."
"Hunger!" answered her husband in a funereal voice.
"Holy Mary!" cried the poor mother in terror. "What is that you say, man? And the provisions, then?"
"Provisions they cannot get there; they must be sent by sea from Spain; and although they took plenty with them, when they get used up more must be sent, and with these storms, to which there is neither stop nor stay, not even the birds could cross the Strait. Those are the chances of war, Maria; and if it has pleased God to send His storms precisely in these days it must be to put our courage and our constancy to the proof, Maria, so that we may go to Him and ask His help, and so that the victory, being more dearly bought, may be the more brilliant and the more prized."
"Or the sufferings and the death of our soldiers the more deeply felt and bitterly lamented," returned his wife. "Merciful God! Tempestuous weather, an epidemic, fierce and treacherous enemies around them, and hunger! Who would not lose heart with all this?"
"The Spanish soldier, Maria."
"And will the generals and the great people come back?"
"Neither the one nor the other, Maria. And if any of them should be obliged to come back because they are sick or wounded, it will be in grief and rage, and only because they can't help themselves; I know them, Maria, I know them."
"What, are they all going to perish, then?"
"Don't imagine it, for God and the Holy Virgin will bring them safely through; hold that for an article of faith."
"Let us ask them to do it, then," groaned the unhappy mother. "Mother of the forsaken! where are my sons? What has become of them? Are they alive? If they are, what will they not be suffering, and what will they not suffer in the future, if thou dost not protect them? How their hearts will be filled with anguish and their minds with despair! Holy Mother! if I only had news of them, even. Let us pray to the Virgin to intercede for them."
The family began to recite the rosary with that fervor which changes anguish to hope, and sorrow to resignation; and scarcely had they ended when a little boy called out from the door:
"Uncle John Joseph, my father says there is a letter in the post-office for you, and that it is from the Christian's camp over yonder."
John Joseph, with the activity of twenty years, hurried out of the house, while Maria and her daughter, falling on their knees before an image of the Virgin, raised their clasped hands in prayer.
John Joseph soon returned, bringing with him one of his cronies who knew how to read and who proceeded to read aloud the letter which the former had carried in his trembling hand.
"My Dear Parents: I hope that when you receive this you will be enjoying as good health as I desire for myself. Michael and I are well, and at your service. The cholera is raging again, but we laugh at it. Every day of action is a day of pleasure and enjoyment for us; for it is happiness enough for us to win glory for our country and to see the enthusiasm of everybody; for this increases every day, as well among us of the ranks as among the officers and generals, and which shows most it would be hard to say. The mess has been a little scanty in these last days, because the sea was fiercer than the Moors themselves, and the boats were unable to reach us with the supplies; but what matter? The worst of it was that we had no tobacco. And so it happened that the commander-in-chief, who came among us encouraging us, like a greatly respected but very careful father, came up to me and said: 'Well, my boy, are you very hungry?' And I answered him: 'The hunger is nothing, General; if I only had—if I only had a cigarette.'—And what do you think he did? He went to his tent and brought from it an enormous box of cigars that the Queen had presented to him for the campaign; and saying that Her Majesty would be glad that they should serve to lighten the labors of her faithful soldiers, he distributed them among us. We have received provisions, thanks to the navy, that on this occasion did not seem the sister but the mother of the army; and as for that brave General Bustillo, a hundred lives, if we had them, would n't be enough to pay him for all he has done for us. Hurrah for the navy, father, notwithstanding that your worship does n't like the sea.
"You must know, father, that a prince of the royal house of France has arrived here. Although tall and of handsome presence, he is but a boy—only seventeen. If your worship had seen him, you would have said that he was only a stripling, and not fit for such hard service, but you would have changed your mind if you had seen how he attacked the Moors. On my faith I had always believed that, from Santiago down, only the Spaniards attacked the Moors in that way. We believe here that what he wanted to do was to perform another exploit like the one related by Michael's mother of Hernando del Pulgar in her native Granada, and to fasten the Ave-Maria on the tent of Don Manuel Habas, and that he would have done it, too, if he had n't been held back. And mind you, father, it is a very noble thing, and one worthy of admiration, to come, without anything obliging him to it, to this war, which is no child's play, just for the sake of proving himself brave. True it is that to have that name is worth more than all the gold in the world, and lifts one a foot above the ground.
"We have made more than half a dozen charges with the bayonet, father, like the one in which your worship took part. These charges are not, as one might say, greatly to the taste of the Moors, who, when they hear the call to the charge, to which we have given the name of General Prim's Polka, tremble and turn pale and fall back.
"Michael gives me many remembrances for you, and bids me tell Catherine that he does not forget her, and he bids me tell you, father, that you were right when you said that his saint would not neglect the weather-vane that has always pointed for Spain, for we have never once been defeated, and mind you that the Moors are valiant men, and that they fight with desperate courage. With this I say good-bye, asking your blessing for your son,
"Mother: I never enter action without commending myself to the Virgin, as you told me to do."
It will be easy to understand the delight of the parents on reading this cheering and animated letter, which was read many times over, for as soon as it was known in the village that a letter had arrived from Africa, the house was besieged with people eager to hear the news of the most national and popular war which Spain has had since the Independence.
Several days passed, and the loving mother's heart was once more a prey to anxiety.
"John Joseph," she said to her husband, "we have heard nothing, and that means that they can't take Tetuan."
"Hold your tongue, you foolish woman," answered her husband; "wherever the sun enters the Spaniards can enter. And don't you know that Zamora was n't taken in an hour, and that the artillery can't cross over swamps, and that a causeway has to be built? Women, who know nothing about war, think that to take a fortress in an enemy's country is as easy as to toss a pan-cake."
But on the 5th of February a muleteer, who came from Xerez, brought the news to Bornos, which had been transmitted to Xerez by telegraph, that a hard-fought battle had taken place the preceding day before Tetuan, in which, as in all the previous ones, the Spaniards had come off victorious, having made themselves masters of five encampments of the enemy, although at the cost of many lives.
His patriotic ardor, added to a feeling of deep anxiety, made it impossible for John Joseph to remain in the village, and he set out for Xerez. There he learned that the wounded of that memorable day were to be taken to Seville, and as a train of materials for the railroad was just leaving for that city, he begged to be taken on board.
The 7th of February dawned—a day memorable for ever in the annals of Spain. Day had scarcely broken when the sonorous and soul-stirring bells of the Cathedral of Seville, diffusing, authorizing, and solemnizing joy, announced to the sleeping people the great and auspicious event of the taking of Tetuan. It would be impossible to give an idea of the impression caused by those sounds, for who can describe the apogee of the most unanimous, ardent, and national enthusiasm? But let a few facts speak for themselves.
The priests who repaired to the churches to say mass recited it solemnly in chorus, and afterward chanted the Te Deum, that august hymn of thanks to the Lord.
The venerable Generals Guajardo and Hernandez, military authorities of the district, and both veterans, in whose laurels there is not a leaf that time can wither, when they met fell into each other's arms, unable to utter a word; the sight of this noble spectacle drawing tears from the eyes of the officers who were present. When the alcalde presented himself before the archbishop to ask his consent to take in procession the image of the Immaculate Virgin, the patroness of Spain, and the standard and sword of St. Ferdinand, the venerable Prince of the Church burst into tears, causing the alcalde to shed tears also; seeing which, a man of the people rushed to the latter, saying: "Señor Alcalde, let me embrace your worship!" The people called for their venerable pastor, and the latter, showing himself on the balcony, blessed his flock, who cheered him enthusiastically. The various sodalities of women entered their magnificent chapel in procession, giving thanks aloud to the Virgin. Musicians paraded the streets, followed by a multitude intoxicated with joy, who cheered the Queen, Spain, the army, and the generals who had led it to victory, and who stopped before the houses where the commanders and officers wounded in this glorious war were lodged, to cheer them also.
In the public square, a vender of oranges abandoned his stall and his merchandise, leaving behind him a notice which said: "The owner of this stall has turned crazy with joy, and here he leaves this trash." Others broke the jars of a water-seller (the value of which they gave him promptly), saying, "What is this? Water? Today nothing but wine is to be drunk in Seville." Further on, another group shouted, "No one sleeps to-night; whoever sleeps to-night is an Englishman!" Flags on the towers, hangings on the houses, the pleasing noise of joy everywhere.
"A telegraphic despatch," shouted the blind men, beside themselves with joy, "announcing the entrance of our valiant troops into the great city of Tetuan, and the utter annihilation of the Moors. Long live Spain! Long live the Queen! Long live the army! Long live the Moors!" "What is that you are saying, man? Long live the Moors?" "Yes, so that we may kill them again!"
Such is the enthusiasm of the Spanish people when it is unanimous, legitimate, and genuine; they go to their churches, take out in procession the Immaculate Virgin, cheer their queen, their prelates, their authorities, their country, applaud their army, which gives them power and greatness, its commander and the generals who lead it, and those who bring back from the war glorious wounds; and not even for its most ferocious enemies does it find the odious "Death!"
And that you, brave soldiers who remain in Africa, who have bestowed so great a joy upon your country, should be unable to witness the gratitude with which it repays you!
Perhaps the universal and frantic enthusiasm inspired by the taking of a Moorish city, however heroic the exploit which had put it in the power of the Spaniards, may seem disproportioned to the occasion; but this is not the case, for in the first place, the people, with their admirable instinct, know that the result is, in everything, what gives it its value; they feel, besides, that it is not only a Moorish city and the advantages its capture may bring, which its army has gained for Spain, but also that from the Moorish fire the Spanish phoenix has arisen, directing its flight to a glorious future; and in the second place, because in these public demonstrations, in this ardent expansion, the country gives expression to three months of admiration, of interest, and of sympathy. This was owed to the army for its constancy, for its unequalled valor, for its boundless humanity. This debt the country owed, and it paid it in love, in admiration, and enthusiasm.
On the 8th, the same rejoicings were continued; processions, salvos, and so much firing of guns everywhere, that it was said as much powder was expended in it as in the taking of Tetuan. On the 9th, one of the principal streets of the city was named the street of Tetuan; the ceremony taking place at eight o'clock in the evening, when the municipal council went in procession to the street, carrying the Queen's likeness.
But meantime Maria had had no news of John Joseph. Exaggerated reports of the losses by which the victory had been gained were spread. Maria was unable to control her anxiety, and she set out, as many other mothers of the peasantry did, for the capital, where the wounded, who might perhaps be able to give her some news of her sons, were to be brought.
Mother and daughter reached Seville on the evening of the 9th, and after resting for a few moments at an inn, went out to inquire where the wounded, who had been recently brought to the city, had been taken.
A vast crowd of people and enthusiastic cheering announced to them the approach of the procession. They stood on a bench in a porch to watch it as it passed. Five mounted pioneers and a numerous band headed the procession; the municipal guard followed on foot; then came four men carrying flags, followed by a number of men bearing torches; and then the soldiers who had been wounded in Africa, wearing laurel wreaths and carrying ensigns with the names, in silver letters, of the principal victories gained by the army. After these came the municipal council headed by the civil governor and two councillors carrying the likeness of the Queen, and the procession was closed by a detachment of infantry with another band of music at its head.
"Here come the wounded soldiers!" cried the crowd, and the cheering became more enthusiastic, and tears ran down the cheeks of the women as they stopped to look admiringly at the wounded heroes, and then joined the procession. "Look at that one! Look at that poor fellow; he isn't able to walk alone; they are supporting him," some one said close beside Maria, pointing to a young man, who with his arm in a sling, his pale forehead crowned with laurel, and carrying in his hand an ensign bearing on it the word "Tetuan," walked with a modest expression on his thin but pleasing face, leaning on the arm of a robust old man whose proud and enraptured expression seemed to say to every one, "This brave man is my son!" Maria, whose heart had for many days past been agitated alternately by fear, hope, enthusiasm, and anguish, uttered a cry drawn from her by all these mingled feelings, as she recognized in the emaciated and glory-covered wounded soldier her son, and fell into Catherine's arms.
A Few months later a happy wedding, the wedding of Catherine and Michael, was celebrated in Bornos. Gaspar, whose health was entirely re-established, but who had lost his right arm, was present. But if he had lost an arm he had in return received a gold medal, a cross with a pension attached to it, and an annuity; the last, as having been disabled in the war in Africa; the cross for bravery; and the medal for humane and gallant conduct.
"Every day is a day of thanksgiving! There is not a happier father in the world than I!" exclaimed John Joseph gayly. "My only grief is to see you crippled, my boy. But that can't be helped. You have paid your debt to the country like an honest man, Gaspar."
"And the country, father," answered Gaspar, pointing proudly to his cross and medal, "has acquitted herself fully of hers to me."
"You are right, my son: and so, sirs, a toast. Long live the Queen, and long live all the generous and patriotic Spaniards who, like Her Majesty and the Royal Family, have aided in taking care of the wounded and disabled soldiers of the African war!"
- A weather-vane.
- This assertion might be proved by many examples; but it will suffice to transcribe here a letter written by a nephew of mine, the son of Marquis C——.
"Senor Governor: Although I am only a boy of eight I am moved to say to you that I would like to die for the country, and that, being fond of military things, I wish you would permit me to go fight the Moors. Written by P—— P——."
It is to be observed that this boy is docile, and gentle and modest in disposition, rather than daring or arrogant.—[Note of the Author.]
- It may properly be related here that this same division, with its leader, General Prim, reconnoitring at a few leagues distance from Tetuan, came upona poor old Moorish woman, sick and abandoned by her people; and that putting her on a stretcher, they carried her on their shoulders to Tetuan with all the gentleness of sisters of charity.—[Note of the Author.]