Stories by Foreign Authors (Spanish)/Moors and Christians
MOORS AND CHRISTIANS
PÉDRO ANTONIO DE ALARCÓN
From "Moors and Christians," by Pédro Antonio de Alarcón.
Translated by Mary J. Serrano.
Published by Cassell Publishing Co.
Copyright, 1891, by Cassell Publishing, Co.
THE once famous but now little known town of Aldeire is situated in the Marquisate of El Cenét, or, let us say, on the eastern slope of the Alpujarra, and partly hangs over a ledge, partly hides itself in a ravine of the giant central ridge of Sierra Nevada, five or six thousand feet above the level of the sea, and seven or eight thousand below the eternal snows of the Aulhacem.
Aldeire, be it said with all respect to its reverend pastor, is a Moorish town. That it was formerly Moorish is clearly proved by its name, its situation, and its architecture, and that it is not yet completely Christianized, although it figures among the towns of reconquered Spain, and has its little Catholic church and its confraternities of the Virgin, of Jesus, and of several of the saints, is proved by the character and the customs of its inhabitants; by the perpetual feuds, as terrible as they are causeless, which unite or separate them; and by the gloomy black eyes, pale complexions, laconic speech, and infrequent laughter of men, women, and children.
But it may be well to remind our readers, in order that neither the aforesaid pastor nor any one else may question the justice of this reasoning, that the Moors of the Marquisate of El Cenét were not expelled in a body, like those of the Alpujarra, but that many of them succeeded in remaining in the country, living in concealment, thanks to the prudence—or the cowardice—which made them turn a deaf ear to the rash and the heroic appeal of their unfortunate Prince, Aben Humcya; whence I infer that Uncle Juan Gomez, nicknamed Hormiga, in the year of grace 1821 Constitutional Alcalde of Aldeire, might very well be the descendant of some Mustapha, Mohammed, or the like.
It is related, then, that the aforesaid Juan Gomez—a man at the time of our story about fifty years of age, very shrewd, although he knew neither how to read nor write, and grasping and industrious to some purpose, as might be inferred not only from his sobriquet, but also from his wealth, acquired honestly or otherwise, and invested in the most fertile lands of the district—leased, at a nominal rent, by means of a present to the secretary of the corporation of some hens which had left off laying, a piece of arid town land, on which stood an old ruin, formerly a Moorish watch-tower or hermitage, and still called the Moor's Tower.
Needless to say that Uncle Hormiga did not stop to consider for an instant who this Moor might be, nor what might have been the original purpose of the ruined building; the one thing which he saw at once, clear as water, was, that with the stones which had already fallen from the ruin and those which he should remove from it, he might make a secure and commodious yard for his cattle; consequently, on the very day after it came into his possession, and as a suitable pas-time for a man of his thrifty habits, he began to devote his leisure hours to the task of pulling down what still remained standing of the ruin.
"You will kill yourself," said his wife, seeing him come home in the evening, covered with dust and sweat and carrying his crowbar hidden under his cloak.
"On the contrary," he answered, "this exercise is good for me; it will put my blood in motion and keep me from being like our sons, the students who, according to what the storekeeper tells me, were at the theatre in Granada the other night looking so yellow that it was enough to make one sick to see them."
"Poor boys! From studying so much! But you ought to be ashamed to work like a laborer, when you are the richest man in the town, and Alcalde into the bargain."
"That is why I take no one with me. Here, hand me that salad!"
"It would be well to have some one to help you, however. You will spend an age in pulling down the tower by yourself, and besides, you may not be able to manage it."
"Don't talk nonsense, Torcuata. When I begin to build the wall of the cattle yard, I shall hire workmen, and even employ a master-builder. But any one can pull down. And it is such fun to destroy! Come, clear away the table and let us go to bed."
"You speak that way because you are a man. As for me, it disturbs and saddens me to see things destroyed."
"Old women's notions. If you only knew how many things there are in the world that ought to be destroyed!"
"Hold your tongue, you free-mason! It was a misfortune they ever elected you Alcalde. You will see when the Royalists come into power again that the king will have you hanged!"
"Yes, we shall see! Bigot! Hypocrite! Owl! Come, I am sleepy; stop blessing yourself and put out that light. "
And thus they would argue until one or the other of the consorts fell asleep.
One evening Uncle Hormiga returned from his task very thoughtful and preoccupied, and earlier than usual.
His wife waited until after he had dismissed the laborers to ask him what was the matter, when he responded by showing her a leaden tube with a cover, somewhat like the tube in which a soldier on furlough keeps his leave, from which he drew a yellow parchment covered with crabbed handwriting, and carefully unrolling it said, with imposing gravity:
"I don't know how to read, even in Spanish, which is the easiest language in the world, but the devil take me if this was not written by a Moor."
"That is to say that you found it in the tower?"
"I don't say it on that account alone, but because these spider's legs don't look like anything I ever saw written by a Christian."
The wife of Juan Gomez looked at the parchment, smelled it, and exclaimed, with a confidence as amusing as it was ill-founded:
"By a Moor it was written!"
After a while she added, with a melancholy air:
"Although I am but a poor hand myself at reading writing, I would swear that we hold in our hands the discharge of some soldier of Mohammed who is now in the bottomless pit."
"You say that on account of the tube."
"On account of the tube I say it."
"Well, then, you are altogether wrong, my dear Torcuata, for such a thing as conscription was not known among the Moors, nor is this a discharge. This is a—a—"
Uncle Hormiga glanced around him cautiously, lowered his voice, and said with air of absolute certainty:
"This paper contains directions where to find a treasure!"
"You are right!" cried his wife, suddenly inspired with the same belief; "and have you already found it? Is it very big? Did you cover it up carefully again? Are the coins gold or silver? Do you think they will pass current now? What a happiness for our boys! How they will spend money and enjoy themselves in Granada and Madrid! I want to have a look at it. Let us go there. There is a moon tonight!"
"Silly woman! Be quiet! How do you suppose that I could find the treasure by these directions, when I don't know how to read, either in Moorish or in Christian?"
"That's true! Well, then, I'll tell you what to do. As soon as it is daylight, saddle a good mule, cross the Sierra through the Puerto de la Ragua, which they say is safe now, and go to Ugíjar, to the house of our gossip, Don Matías Quesada, who knows something of everything. He will explain what is in the paper and give you good advice, as he always does."
"And money enough his advice has cost me, notwithstanding our gossipred! But I was thinking of doing that myself. In the morning I will start for Ugíjar and be back by nightfall; I can do that easily by putting the mule to his speed."
"But be sure and explain everything to him clearly."
"I have very little to explain. The tube was hidden in a hollow, or niche, in the wall, and covered with tiles, like those at Valencia. I tore down the whole of the wall, but I found nothing else. At the surface of the ground begin the foundation walls, built of immense stones, more than a yard square, any one of which it would take two or three men as strong as I am to move. Consequently, it is necessary to know exactly where the treasure is hidden, unless we want to tear up all the foundation walls of the tower, which could not be done without outside help."
"No, no; set out for Ugíjar as soon as it is daybreak Offer our gossip a part—not a large one—of what we may find, and as soon as we know where we must dig, I will help you myself to tear up the foundation stones. My darling boys! It is all for them! For my part, the only thing that troubles me is lest there be some sin in this business that we are whispering about."
"What sin can there be in it, you great fool?"
"I can't explain what I mean, but treasures have always seemed to me to have something to do with the devil, or the fairies. And then, you got that ground for so low a rent! The whole town says there was some trickery in the business!"
"That concerns the secretary and councillors. They drew up the documents."
"Besides, as I understand, when a treasure is discovered, a part of it must be given to the king."
"That is when it is found on ground that is not one's own, like mine!"
"One's own! One's own! Who knows to whom that tower the Council sold you belonged!"
"Why, to the Moor, of course!"
"And who knows who that Moor may have been? It seems to me, Juan, whatever money the Moor may have hidden in his house should belong to him, or to his heirs, not to you or to me."
"You are talking nonsense. According to that, it is not I who ought to be the Alcalde of Aldeire, but the man who was Alcalde a year ago, at the time of the proclamation of Riego. According to that, we should have to send the rents of the lands of Granada and Guadix, and hundreds of other towns, every year to the descendants of the Moors in Africa."
"It may be that you are right. At any rate, go to Ugíjar, and our gossip will tell you what is best to be done in the matter."
Ugíjar is distant from Aldeire some four leagues, and the road between the two towns is a very bad one. Before nine o'clock on the following morning, however, Uncle Juan Gomez, wearing his blue stockinet knee-breeches and his embroidered white Sunday boots, was in the office of Don Matías de Quesada, a vigorous old man, a doctor in civil and criminal jurisprudence, and the most noted criminal lawyer in that part of the country. He had always been a promoter of lawsuits, and was very wealthy, and had a large circle of influential acquaintances in Granada and Madrid.
When he had heard his worthy gossip's story and had carefully examined the paper, he gave it as his that the document had nothing whatever to do with the treasure; that the hole in which the tube had been found was a sort of closet, and the writing one of the prayers which the Moors read every Friday morning. But notwithstanding this, as he was not thoroughly versed in the Arabic language, he added that he would send the document to a college companion of his who was employed in the Commission of the Holy Places, in Madrid, in order that he might send it to Jerusalem, where it could be translated into Spanish, for which purpose it would be well to inclose to his friend in Madrid a draft for a couple of ounces in gold, for a cup of chocolate.
Uncle Juan Gomez considered seriously before he made up his mind to pay so high a price for a cup of chocolate (which would be paying for the article at the rate of 10,240 reals a pound), but he was so certain in regard to the treasure (and in truth he was not mistaken, as we shall see later on), that he took from his belt eight gold pieces of four dollars each and delivered them to Don Matías, who weighed them one by one before putting them into his purse, after which Hormiga took the road back to Aldeire, resolving in his own mind to continue his excavations under the Moor's tower while the document went to the Holy Land and came back translated; proceedings which, according to the lawyer, would occupy something like a year and a half.
Uncle Juan had no sooner turned his back upon his gossip and counsellor than the latter took his pen and wrote the following letter:
"Don Bonifacio Tudela y Gonzalez, Chapel-master of the Cathedral of Ceuta.
"My Dear Nephew-in-Law,—To no one but a man of your piety would I confide the important secret contained in the accompanying document. I say important, because without a doubt in it are directions for finding the hiding-place of a treasure, of which I will give you a part if I should succeed in discovering it with your help. To this end you must get a Moor to translate the document for you and send me the translation in a certified letter, mentioning the matter to no one, unless it be your wife, whom I know to be a person of discretion.
"Forgive my not having written to you in all these years, but you know how busy a life I lead. Your aunt continues to remember you in her prayers every night. I hope you are better of the affection of the stomach from which you were suffering in 1806, and remain your affectionate uncle-in-law,
"Matías De Quesada.
"Ugíjar, January 15, 1821.
"P.S.—Regards to Pepa, and tell me when you write if you have any children."
Having written this letter, the distinguished jurisconsult bent his steps toward the kitchen, where his wife was engaged in knitting and minding the olla, and throwing into her lap the four golden coins he had received from Juan Gomez, he said to her, in a harsh, cross voice:
"There, Encarnacion, buy more wheat; it is going to rise in price during the dear months; and see to it that you get good measure. Get my breakfast ready while I go post this letter for Seville, inquiring the price of barley. Let the egg be well done and don't let the chocolate be muddy, as it usually is."
The lawyer's wife answered not a word, but went on with her knitting, like an automaton.
Two weeks later, on a beautiful day in January, a day such as is to be seen only in the north of Africa and the south of Europe, the Chapel-master of the cathedral of Ceuta was enjoying the sunshine on the roof of his twostory house, with the tranquillity of mind proper to one who had played the organ at high mass and had afterward eaten a pound of anchovies, another of meat, and another of bread, and drank the corresponding quantity of Tarifa wine.
The worthy musician, who was as fat as a hog and as red as a beet, was slowly digesting his breakfast, while his lethargic gaze slowly wandered over the magnificent panorama of the Mediterranean,—the Straits of Gibraltar, the accursed rock from which they take their name, the neighboring peaks of Anghera and Benzú, and the distant snows of the Lesser Atlas—when he heard hasty steps on the stairs and his wife's silvery voice crying joyfully:
"Bonifacio! Bonifacio! A letter from your uncle! And a heavy letter, too!"
"Well," answered the Chapel-master, turning around like a geographical sphere or globe on the point on which his rotund personality rested on the seat, "what saint can have put it into my uncle's head to remember me? I have been living for fifteen years in this country usurped from Mohammed, and this is the first time that Abencerrage has written to me, although I have written to him a hundred times. Doubtless he wants me to render him some service."
So saying, he opened the epistle, contriving so that the Pepa of the postscript should not be able to read its contents, and the yellow parchment, noisily unfolding itself, greeted their eyes.
"What has he sent us?" asked his wife, a native of Cadiz, and a blonde, attractive and fresh-looking, notwithstanding her forty summers.
"Don't be inquisitive, Pepita. I will tell you what is in the letter, if I think you ought to know, as soon as I have read it. I have warned you a thousand times to respect my letters."
"A proper precaution for a libertine like you! At any rate be quick, and let us see if I may know what that large paper is that your uncle has sent you. It looks like a bank-note from the other world."
While his wife was making these and other observations, the musician finished reading the letter, whose contents surprised him so greatly that he rose to his feet without the slightest effort.
Dissimulation was so habitual with him, however, that he was able to say, in a natural tone of voice:
"What nonsense! The wretched man is no doubt already in his dotage! Would you believe that he sends me this leaf from a Hebrew Bible, in order that I may look for some Jew who will buy it, the foolish creature supposing that he will get a fortune for it. At the same time," he added, to change the conversation, putting the letter and the parchment into his pocket,—"at the same time, he asks me with much interest if we have any children."
"He has none himself," cried Pepita quickly. "No doubt he intends to leave us something."
"It is more likely the miserly fellow thinks of our leaving him something. But hark, it is striking eleven. It is time for me to go tune the organ for vespers. I must go now. Listen, my treasure; let dinner be ready by one, and don't forget to put a couple of good potatoes into the pot. Have we any children! I am ashamed to tell him we have none. See, Pepa," said the musician, after a moment, having in mind, no doubt, the Arabic document, "if my uncle should make me his heir, or if I should ever grow rich by any other means, I swear that I will take you to the Plaza of San Antonio in Cadiz to live, and I will buy you more jewels than Our Lady of Sorrows of Granada has. So good-bye for a while, my pigeon."
And, pinching his wife's dimpled chin, he took his hat and turned his steps not in the direction of the cathedral, but in that of the poor quarter of the town in which the Moorish citizens of Ceuta for the most part live.
In one of the narrowest streets of this quarter, seated on the floor or rather on his heels, at the door of a very modest but very neat whitewashed house, smoking a clay pipe, was a Moor of some thirty-five or forty years of age, a dealer in eggs and chickens, which the free peasants of Sierra Bullones and Sierra Bermeja brought to him to the gates of Ceuta, and which he sold either in his own house or at the market, with a profit of a hundred per cent. He wore a white woollen chivala and a black woollen, hooded Arab cloak, and was called by the Spaniards, Manos-gordas, and by the Moors, Admet-Ben-Carime-el-Abdoun.
When the Moor saw the Chapel-master approaching, he rose and advanced to meet him, making deep salaams at every step, and when they were close together, he said cautiously:
"You want a little Moorish girl? I bring tomorrow little dark girl of twelve—"
"My wife wants no more Moorish servants," answered the musician stiffly.
Manos-gordas began to laugh.
"Besides," continued Don Bonifacio, "your infernal little Moorish girls are very dirty."
"Wash!" responded the Moor, extending his arms crosswise and inclining his head to one side.
"I tell you I want no Moorish girls," said Don Bonifacio. "What I want to-day is that you, who know so much that you are Interpreter of the Fortress, should translate this document into Spanish for me."
Manos-gordas took the document, and at the first glance murmured:
"It is Moor—"
"Of course, it is in Arabic. But I want to know what it says, and if you do not deceive me I will give you a handsome present—when the business which I am about to entrust you with is concluded."
Meantime Admet-Ben-Carime glanced his eye over the document, turning very pale as he did so.
"You see that it concerns a great treasure?" the Chapel-master half-affirmed, half-asked.
"Me think so," stammered the Mohammedan.
"What do you mean by saying you think so? Your very confusion tells plainly that it is so."
"Pardon," replied Manos-gordas, a cold sweat breaking out over his body. "Here words modern Arabic—I understand. Here words ancient, or classic Arabic—I no understand."
"What do the words that you understand signify?"
"They signify gold, they signify pearls, they signify curse of Alà. But I no understand meaning, explanations, or signs. Must see the Dervish of Anghera—wise man and translate all. I take parchment to-day and bring parchment tomorrow, and deceive not nor rob Señor Tudela. Moor swear."
Saying which he clasped his hands together, and, raising them to his lips, kissed them fervently.
Don Bonifacio reflected; he knew that in order to decipher the meaning of this document he should be obliged to take some Moor into his confidence, and there was none with whom he was so well acquainted and who was so well disposed to him as Manos-gordas; he consented, therefore, to confide the manuscript to him, making him swear repeatedly that he would return on the following day from Anghera with the translation, and swearing to the Moor on his side that he would give him at least a hundred dollars when the treasure should be discovered.
The Mussulman and the Christian then separated, and the latter directed his steps, not to his own house, nor to the cathedral, but to the office of a friend of his, where he wrote the following letter:
"Senor Don Matías de Quesada y Sanchez, Alpujarra, Ugíjar.
"My Dearest Uncle,—Thanks be to God that we have at last received news of you and of Aunt Encarnacion, and as good news as Josefa and I could desire. We, my dear uncle, although younger than you and my aunt, are full of ailments and burdened with children, who will soon be left orphans and compelled to beg for their bread.
"Whoever told you that the document you sent me bore any reference to a treasure deceived you. I have had it translated by a competent person, and it turns out to be a string of blasphemies against our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin, and the Saints, written in Arabic verses, by a Moorish dog of the Marquisate of El Cenct, during the rebellion of Aben-Humeya. In view of its sacrilegious nature, and by the advice of the Señor Penitentiary, I have just burned this impious testimony to Mohammedan perversity.
"Remembrances to my aunt; Josefa desires to be remembered to you both; she is now for the tenth time in an interesting condition, and your nephew, who is reduced to skin and bone by the wretched affection of the stomach, which you will remember, begs that you will send him some assistance.
"Ceuta, January 29, 1821."
While the Chapel-master was writing and posting this letter, Admet-el-Abdoun was gathering together in a bundle all his wearing apparel and household belongings, consisting of three old hooded mantles, two cloaks of goat's wool, a mortar for grinding alcazuz, an iron lamp, and a copper skillet full of pesetas, which he dug up from a corner of the little yard of his house. He loaded with all this his one wife, slave, odalisque, or whatever she might be, a woman uglier than an unexpected piece of bad news, and filthier than her husband's conscience, and issued forth from Ceuta, telling the soldier on guard at the gate opening on the Moorish country that they were going to Fez for change of air, by the advice of a veterinary; and as from that day—now more than sixty years ago—to this no one in Ceuta or its neighborhood has ever again seen Manos-gordas, it is obvious that Don Bonifacio Tudela y Gonzalez had not the satisfaction of receiving from his hands the translation of the document, either on the following, or on any other day during the remainder of his existence; which, indeed, cannot have been very long, since, according to reliable information, it appears that his adored Pepita took to herself, after his death, another husband, an Asturian drum-major residing in Marbella, whom she presented with four children, beautiful as the sun, and that she was again a widow at the time of the death of the king, at which epoch she gained, by competition in Malaga, the title of gossip and the position of matron in the custom-house.
And now let us follow Manos-gordas and learn what became of him and of the mysterious document.
Admet-ben-Carime-el-Abdoun breathed freely, and even danced a few steps for joy, without dancing off his ill-fastened slippers, however, as soon as he found himself outside the massive walls of the Spanish fortress and with all Africa before him.
For Africa, for a true African like Manos-gordas, is the land of absolute liberty; of a liberty anterior and superior to all human constitutions and institutions; of a liberty resembling that enjoyed by the wild rabbits and other wild animals of the mountain, the valley, or the desert.
By this I mean to say that Africa is the paradise of evil-doers, the safe asylum, the neutral ground of both men and beasts, protected here by the intense heat and the vast extent of the deserts. As for the sultans, kings, and beys who fancy they rule here, and the authorities and soldiers who represent them, it may be said that they are for such subjects what the hunter is for the hare or for the stag—a misadventure which one in a hundred may chance to meet with, and which may or may not result fatally; if he who meets it dies, he is remembered on the anniversary of his death; and if he does not die, he takes himself off to a sufficient distance from the scene of his mishap—and no more is thought about the matter. With this digression we will now resume the thread of our story.
"This way, Zama!" cried the Moor to his weary consort, as if he were calling to a beast of burden.
And instead of turning eastward, that is to say toward the gap of Anghera, in quest of the holy sage, in accordance with his promise to Don Bonifacio, he proceeded southward along a ravine overgrown with wild brambles and forest trees which soon brought him to the Tetuan road; that is to say, to the indistinct footpath which, following the indentations of the coast, leads to Cape Negro by the valley of the Tarajar, the valley of the Castillejos, Mount Negro, and the lakes of Azmir River, names which are now heard by every true Spaniard with love and veneration, but which at the time of our story had not yet been pronounced either in Spain or in any other part of the civilized world.
When Ben-Carime and Zama had reached the little valley of the Tarajar, they sat down to rest for a while at the edge of the rivulet which, rising in the heights of Sierra Bullones, runs through it, and in this wild and secluded spot, that seemed as if it had come fresh from the Creator's hand and had never yet been trod by the foot of man, looking out on the solitary ocean, whose waters were untracked save, on an occasional moonlight night, by some pirate caravel or government vessel sent from Europe in pursuit of it, the Moorish woman proceeded to make her toilet, performing her ablutions in the stream, and the Moor unfolded the manuscript and read it again, manifesting no less emotion than he had shown on the previous occasion.
The contents of the Arabian manuscript were as follows:
"May the benediction of Allah rest on all good men who read these lines!
"There is no glory but the glory of Allah, whose prophet and messenger Mohammed was and is, in the hearts of the faithful.
"May those who rob the house of him who is at the wars, or in exile, be accursed of Allah and of Mohammed, and die eaten up by beetles and cockroaches!
"Blessed be Allah, who created these and other vermin to devour the wicked!
"I am the caid Hassan-ben-Jussef, the servant of Allah, although I am miscalled Don Rodrigo de Acuña by the successors of the Christian dogs who, by force and in violation of solemn compact, baptized, with a broom of hyssop, my ill-fated ancestors, together with many other Islamites of these kingdoms.
"I am a captain, serving under the banner of him whose lawful title, since the death of AbenHumaya, is King of Andalusia, Muley-AbdallahMahamud-Aben-Aboó, who does not now sit on the throne of Granada because of the treachery and cowardice with which the Moors of Valencia broke their oaths and compacts, failing to rise with the Moors of Granada against the common enemy; but they will receive their reward from Allah, and if we are conquered, they, too, will be conquered and in the end expelled from Spain, without the merit of having fought to the last on the field of honor in defence of their rights; and if we are the conquerors we will cut off their heads and throw them to the swine.
"I am, in conclusion, the lord of this tower and of all the land surrounding it, westward to the ravine of the Fox and eastward to the ravine of the Asparagus, so called from the luxuriant growth and exquisite flavor of the asparagus cultivated there by my grandfather, Sidi-Jussef-ben-Jussuf.
"Things are going badly with us. Since the coming of the base-born Don Juan of Austria (whom may Allah confound!) to fight against the faithful, we have foreseen that, for the present, we shall be defeated, although in the course of years or of centuries another Prince of the blood of the Prophet may recover the throne of Granada which for seven hundred years was in the possession of the Moors, and which will be theirs again when Allah wills it, by the same right by which it was formerly possessed by the Goths and Vandals, and before that by the Romans, and before that by those other Africans, the Carthaginians by the right of conquest. But I know, as I have said, that, for the present, things are going badly with us, and that I must very soon depart for Morocco, taking with me my forty-three sons; that is to say, unless the Austrians capture me in the coming battle and hang me on a tree, as I would hang all of them, if it were in my power to do so.
"Well, then, when I depart from this tower to engage in the last and the decisive campaign, I leave hidden here, in a place which no one can discover without coming across this manuscript, all my gold, all my silver, all my pearls, my family treasures, the possessions of my fathers, of myself, and of my heirs; the fortune of which I am lord and master by human and divine right, as the bird is of its feathers, or the child of the teeth he cuts with suffering, or as every mortal is of the bad humors, cancerous or leprous, which he may inherit from his ancestors.
"Stay thy hand, then, oh thou, Moor, Christian, or Jew, who, in tearing down this, my dwelling, mayest discover and read these lines which I am now writing! Stay thy hand and respect the treasure-house of thy fellow-mortal! Touch not his estate! Take not possession of that which belongs to another! Here there is none of the public wealth, nothing belonging to the exchequer, nothing belonging to the state. The gold in the mine may belong of right to him who discovers it, and a part of it to the king of the country; but gold melted down and stamped—money, coin—belongs to its owner and to no one but its owner. Rob me not, therefore, evil man! Rob not my descendants who will come, on the day appointed, to take possession of their inheritance. And if thou shouldst, without evil intent, and by chance discover my treasure, I counsel thee to make public proclamation, calling on and notifying the circumstance to the heirs of Hassan-ben-Jussef; for it is not just to keep that which has been found when it has a lawful owner.
"If thou doest not this, be accursed, with the curse of Allah, and with my curse! And mayest thou be struck dead by lightning! And may each coin of my money and each pearl of my treasure become a scorpion in thy hands! And may thy children die of leprosy, may their fingers rot and drop off, so that they may not have even the pleasure of scratching themselves! And may the woman thou lovest love thy slave and betray thee for him. And may thy eldest daughter leave thy house secretly with a Jew! And mayest thou be impaled upon a stake, and suspended on high, exposed to the public gaze, until by the weight of thy body the stake pierce thy crown and thou fall parted asunder on the ground like a loathsome toad cut in twain by the hoe!
"Now thou knowest what I would have thee know, and let all men know it, and blessed be Allah who is Allah!
"Tower of Zoraya, in Aldeire, in El Cenét,
On the fifteenth day of the month of Saphar,
Of the year of the Hegira 968.
Manos-gordas was profoundly impressed by a second reading of this document; not because of the moral maxims or the terrible curses it contained, for the rascal had lost his faith both in Allah and in Mohammed, through his frequent intercourse with the Christians and the Jews of Tetuan and Ceuta, who naturally scoffed at the Koran, but because he believed that his face, his accent, and some other personal peculiarities of his forbade his going to Spain, where he would find himself exposed to certain death should any Christian man or woman discover him to be an enemy to the Virgin Mary.
"Besides, what aid" (in the opinion of Manos-gordas) "could a foreigner, a Mohammedan, a semi-barbarian, expect from the laws or the authorities of Spain, in acquiring possession of the Tower of Zoraya for the purpose of making excavations there, or what protection in retaining possession of the treasure when he should have discovered it, or even of his life? There is no help for it," was the conclusion to which he came, after much reflection. "I must trust the secret to the renegade Ben-Munuza. He is a Spaniard, and his companionship will protect me from danger in that country. But as there does not exist under the canopy of heaven a wickeder man than this same renegade, it will not be amiss to take some precautions."
And, as a result of his reflections, he took from his pocket writing materials, wrote a letter, and inclosed it in an envelope, which he sealed with a bit of moistened bread, and this done, he burst into a sardonic laugh.
He then looked at his wife, who was still engaged in removing the filth of an entire year from her person, at the expense of the material and moral cleanliness of the poor rivulet, and having attracted her attention by a whistle, he deigned to address her in these terms:
"Sit down here beside me, fig-face, and listen to what I am going to say. You can afterward finish washing yourself—and well you need it—and perhaps I may then think you worthy of something better than the daily drubbing by which I show my affection for you. But for the present, brazenface, leave off your grimaces, and listen well to what I am going to tell you."
The Moorish woman, who after her toilet looked younger and more artistic, though no less ugly than before, licked her lips like a cat, fixed the two carbuncles that served her for eyes on Manos-gordas, and said, showing her broad white teeth, that bore no resemblance to those of a human being:
"Speak, my lord, your slave desires only to serve you."
"If, in the future, any misfortune should happen to me, or if I should suddenly disappear without taking leave of you, or if, after taking leave of you, you should hear nothing from me within six weeks' time, make your way back to Ceuta and put this letter in the post. Do you understand fully what I have said, monkey-face?"
Zama burst into tears and exclaimed:
"Admet, do you intend to abandon me?"
"Don't be an ass, woman!" answered the Moor. "Who is talking of such a thing now? You know very well that you please me and that you are useful to me. The question now is whether you have understood my charge perfectly."
"Give it here!" said the Moorish woman, taking the letter and placing it in her dark-skinned bosom, next her heart. "If any evil should happen to you, this letter shall be placed in the post at Ceuta, though I should drop dead the moment after."
Aben-Carime smiled with a human smile when he heard these words, and deigned to let his eyes rest upon his wife as if she were a human being.
The Moorish couple must have slept soundly and sweetly among the thickets on the roadside that night, for it was fully nine o'clock on the following morning when they reached the foot of Cape Negro.
At that place there is a village of Arab shepherds and husbandmen, called Medick, consisting of a few huts, a morabito or Mohammedan hermitage, and a well of fresh water, with its curbstone and its copper bucket, like the wells we see represented in certain biblical scenes.
At this hour the village was completely deserted, its inhabitants having betaken themselves, with their cattle and their implements of labor, to the neighboring hills and glens.
"Wait for me here," said Manos-gordas to his wife. "I am going in quest of Ben-Munuza, who at this hour is probably ploughing his fields on the other side of yonder hill."
"Ben-Munuza!" exclaimed Zama, with a look of terror; "the renegade of whom you spoke to me?"
"Make your mind easy," returned Manos-gordas. "I have the upper hand now. In a few hours I shall be back and you will see him following me like a dog. This is his cabin. Wait for us inside, and make us a good mess of alcazus, with the maize and the butter you will find at hand. You know I like it well cooked. Ah, I forgot. If I should not be back before nightfall, ascend the hill, crossover to the other side, and if you do not find me there, or if you should find my dead body, return to Ceuta and post this letter.—Another thing: if you should find me dead, search my clothing for this parchment; if you do not find it upon me, you will know that Ben-Munuza has robbed me of it; in which case proceed from Ceuta to Tetuan and denounce him as a thief and an assassin to the authorities. That is all I have to tell you. Farewell!"
The Moorish woman wept bitterly as Manos-gordas took the path that led to the summit of the neighboring hill.
On reaching the other side of the hill Manos-gordas descried in a glen, a short distance off, a corpulent Moor dressed in white, ploughing the black earth with the help of a fine yoke of oxen, in patriarchal fashion. This man, who seemed a statue of Peace carved in marble, was the morose and dreaded renegade, Ben-Munuza, the details of whose story would make the reader shudder with horror, if he were to hear them.
Suffice it for the present to say that he was some forty years old, that he was active, vigorous, and robust, and that he was of a gloomy cast of countenance, although his eyes were blue as the sky, and his beard yellow as the African sunlight, which had bronzed his originally fair complexion.
"Good-morning, Manos-gordas!" cried the renegade, as soon as he perceived the Moor.
And his voice expressed the melancholy pleasure the exile feels in a foreign land when he meets some one with whom he can converse in his native tongue.
"Good-morning, Juan Falgueira!" responded Ben-Carime, in ironical accents.
As he heard this name the renegade trembled from head to foot, and seizing the iron bar of the plough prepared to defend himself.
"What name is that you have just pronounced?" he said, advancing threateningly toward Manos-gordas.
The latter awaited his approach, laughing, and answered in Arabic, with a courage which no one would have supposed him to possess:
"I have pronounced your real name; the name you bore in Spain when you were a Christian, and which I learned when I was in Orán three years ago."
"Yes, in Orán. What is there extraordinary in that? You had come from Orán to Morocco; I went to Orán to buy hens. I inquired there concerning your history, describing your appearance, and some Spaniards living there related it to me. I learned that you were a Galician, that your name was Juan Falgueira, and that you had escaped from the prison of Granada, on the eve of the day appointed for your execution, for having robbed and murdered, fifteen years ago, a party of gentlemen, whom you were serving in the capacity of muleteer. Do you still doubt that I know who you are?"
"Tell me, my soul," responded the renegade, in a hollow voice, looking cautiously around, "have you related this story to any of the Moors? Does any one but yourself in this accursed land know it? Because the fact is, I want to live in peace, without having any one or anything to remind me of that fatal deed which I have well expiated. I am a poor man. I have neither family, nor country, nor language, nor even the God who made me left to me. I live among enemies, with no other wealth than these oxen and these fields, bought by the fruit of ten years' sweat and toil. Consequently, you do very wrong to come and tell me—"
"Hold!" cried Manos-gordas, greatly alarmed. "Don't cast those wolfish glances at me, for I come to do you a great service, and not to vex you needlessly. I have told your unfortunate story to no one. What for? Any secret may be a treasure, which he who tells gives away. There are, however, occasions in which an exchange of secrets may be made with profit. For instance, I am going to tell you an important secret of mine, which will serve as security for yours, and which will oblige us to be friends for the rest of our lives."
"I am listening; go on," responded the renegade quietly.
Aben-Carime then read aloud the Arabic document, which Juan Falgueira listened to without moving a muscle of his still angry countenance. The Moor seeing this, in order to dispel his distrust, disclosed to him the fact that he had stolen the paper he had just read from a Christian in Ceuta.
The Spaniard smiled slightly to think how great must be the huckster's fear of him to cause him voluntarily to reveal to him his theft, and poor Manos-gordas, encouraged by Ben-Munuza's smile, proceeded to disclose his plans, in the following terms:
"I take it for granted that you understand perfectly well the importance of this document and the reason of my reading it to you. I know not where the Tower of Zoraya, nor Aldeire, nor El Cenct is, nor do I know how to go to Spain, nor should I be able to find my way through that country if I were there; besides which, the people would kill me for not being a Christian, or at least they would despoil me of the treasure after I had found it, if not before. For all these reasons, I require that a trusty and loyal Spaniard should accompany me, a man whose life shall be in my power, and whom I can send to the gallows with half a word; a man, in short like you, Juan Falgueira, who, after all, have gained nothing by robbing and murdering, since you are now toiling here like a donkey, when with the millions I am going to procure you, you can go to America, to France, or to India, and enjoy yourself, and live in luxury, and rise in time perhaps to be king. What do you think of my plan?"
"That it is well put together, like the work of a Moor," responded Ben-Munuza, in whose nervous hands, clasped behind his back, the iron bar swung back and forth like a tiger's tail.
Manos-gordas smiled with satisfaction, thinking that his proposition was already accepted.
"But," added the sombre Galician, "there is one thing you have not considered."
"And what is that?" asked Ben-Carime, throwing back his head with a comical expression, and fixing his eyes on vacancy, like one who is prepared to hear some trivial and easily answered objection.
"You have not considered that I should be an unmitigated fool if I were to accompany you to Spain to put you in possession of half a treasure, relying upon your putting me in possession of the other half. I say this because you would only have to say half a word the day we arrived at Aldeire, and you thought yourself free from danger, to rid yourself of my company and avoid giving me my half of the treasure, after it was found. In truth, you are not the clever man you imagine yourself to be, but only a simpleton deserving of pity, who have deliberately walked into a trap from which there is no escape, in telling me where this great treasure is to be found, and telling me at the same time that you know my history, and that if I were to accompany you to Spain you would there be absolute master of my life. And what need, then, have I of you? What need have I of your help to go and take possession of the entire treasure myself? What need have I of you in the world at all? Who are you, now that you have read me that document, now that I can take it from you?"
"What are you saying?" cried Manos-gordas, who all at once felt a chill, like that of death, strike to the marrow of his bones.
"I am saying—nothing. Take that!" replied Juan Falgueira, dealing Ben-Carime a tremendous blow on the head with the iron bar. The Moor rolled over on the ground, the blood gushing from his eyes, nose, and mouth, without uttering a single sound.
The unfortunate man was dead.
Three or four weeks after the death of Manos-gordas, somewhere about the 20th of February, 1821, it was snowing, if it ever were to snow, in the town of Aldeire, and throughout the beautiful Andalusian sierra to which the snow gives existence, as it were, and a name.
It was Carnival Sunday, and the church bell was for the fourth time summoning to mass with its thin, clear tones, like those of a child, the shivering Christians of this parish (too near to heaven for their comfort), who found it difficult, on so raw and inclement a day, to bring themselves to leave their beds or to move away from the fire, saying, perhaps, in excuse for their not doing so, that on the three days before Ash-Wednesday worship should be rendered not to God, but to the devil.
Some such excuse as this, at least, was given by Uncle Juan Gomez in answer to the arguments with which his pious wife, our friend, Dame Torcuata, tried to persuade him to give up drinking brandy and eating biscuits, and accompany her, instead, to mass, like a good Christian, regardless of the criticisms of the schoolmaster or the other electors of the liberal party. And the dispute was beginning to grow warm, when suddenly Genaro, his honor's head shepherd, entered the kitchen, and taking off his hat, and scratching his head with the same movement, said:
"God give us good-day, Señor Juan and Señora Torcuata! You must have guessed already that something has happened up above to bring me down here on a day like this, it not being my Sunday for going to hear mass. I hope you are both well!"
"There! there! I'll wait no longer!" cried the Alcalde's wife, impatiently, folding her mantilla over her breast. "It was decreed that you were not to hear mass to-day. You have drink enough there, and conversation enough for the whole day, discussing the question as to whether the goats are with kid or whether the young rams are beginning to get their horns. You will go to perdition, Juan, you will go to perdition, if you don't soon make your peace with the church and give up the accursed alcalde-ship!"
When Dame Torcuata had departed, the Alcalde handed a biscuit and a glass of brandy to the head shepherd, saying:
"Women's nonsense, Uncle Genaro! Draw your chair up to the fire and tell me what you have to say. What is going on up above there?"
"Oh, a mere nothing! Yesterday, Francisco, the goat-keeper, saw a man dressed like a native of Malaga, with long trousers and a linen jacket, and wrapped in a blanket, go into the cattle-yard you are making, from the open side, and walk around the Moor's Tower, examining it and measuring it, as if he were a master-builder. Francisco asked him what he was doing, to which the stranger answered by asking in his turn who was the owner of the tower, and Francisco saying that he was no less a person than the Alcalde of the town, the stranger replied that he would speak with his honor and explain his plans to him. Night soon fell, and as the man pretended to be going away, the goat-herd went to his hut, which, as you know, is but a short distance from the tower. Some two hours later the same Francisco noticed that strange noises proceeded from the tower, in which he also observed a light burning, all which terrified him so greatly, that he did not even venture to go to my hut to tell me of what he had seen and heard. This he did as soon as it was daylight, saying in addition that the noises he had heard in the tower were kept up all night. As I am an old man and have served my king and am not easily frightened, I went at once to the Moor's Tower, accompanied by Francisco, who trembled at every step he took, and we discovered the stranger, wrapped up in his blanket, asleep in a little room on the ground floor where the plaster still remains on the ceiling. I wakened the mysterious stranger and reproved him for spending the night in a strange house without its owner's permission, to which he answered that the building was not a house, but a heap of ruins, where a poor wayfarer might very well take shelter on a snowy night, and that he was ready to present himself before you and tell you who he was and what his business and his plans were. I have brought him with me, therefore, and he is now out in the yard with the goat-herd, waiting for your permission to enter."
"Let him come in," answered Uncle Hormiga, rising to his feet, greatly disturbed, for the thought had presented itself to his mind at the head shepherd's first words, that all this was closely connected with the celebrated treasure, the hope of discovering which, by his own unaided exertions, he had abandoned, a week before, after he had removed, without result, several of the heaviest of the foundation stones.
Here, then, we have, face to face and alone, Uncle Juan Gomez and the stranger.
"What is your name?" the former asked the latter, with all the imperiousness warranted by his exalted office, and without inviting him to be seated.
"My name is Jaime Olot," responded the mysterious stranger.
"You do not speak like a native of this country. Are you English?"
"I am a Catalan."
"Ah, a Catalan! That may be. And what brings you to these parts? And, above all? what the devil were you doing yesterday measuring my tower?"
"I will tell you. I am a miner by profession, and I have come to this country, which is famous for its copper and silver mines, in search of work. Yesterday afternoon, passing by the Moor's Tower, I saw that a wall was being built with the stones that had been taken from it, and that it would be necessary to tear down a great deal more of the building in order to finish the wall. There is no one who can equal me in pulling down buildings, whether by the use of tools or with hands only, for I have the strength of an ox, and the idea occurred to me that I might be able to make a contract with the owner of the tower to pull it down and dig up the foundation stones."
Uncle Hormiga, with a wink of his little gray eyes, responded, dwelling upon every word:
"Well, that arrangement does not suit me."
"I would do the work for very little—almost nothing."
"Now it would suit me less than before."
The so-called Jaime Olot was puzzled not a little by the mysterious answers of Uncle Juan Gomez, and he tried to get some clue to their meaning from the expression of his face; but as he was unsuccessful in his efforts to read the fox-like countenance of his honor, he added, with feigned naturalness:
"It would not displease me, either, to repair a part of the old building and to live there, cultivating the ground that you had intended for a cattle-yard. I will buy from you, then, the Moor's Tower with the ground around it."
"I do not wish to sell it," responded Uncle Hormiga.
"But I will pay you double what it is worth!" said the self-styled Catalan emphatically.
"It would suit me now less than ever to sell it," replied the Andalusian, with so crafty and insulting a look that his interlocutor took a step backward, suddenly becoming conscious that he was treading on false ground.
He reflected for a moment, therefore, and then raising his head with a determined air, and clasping his hands behind his back, he said, with a cynical laugh:
"So, then, you know that there is a treasure on that ground!"
Uncle Juan Gomez leaned over in his seat, and scanning the Catalan from head to foot, exclaimed with a comical air:
"What vexes me is that you, too, should know it!"
"And it would vex you much more if I should tell you that I am the only person who knows it with certainty."
"That is to say, that you know the precise spot in which the treasure is buried?"
"I know the precise spot, and it would not take me twenty-four hours to disinter all the wealth that lies hidden there."
"According to that you have in your possession a certain document—"
"Yes; I have a document of the time of the Moors, half a yard square, in which all the necessary directions to find the treasure are given."
"And tell me—this document—"
"I do not carry it about with me, nor is there any reason why I should do so, since I know it word for word by heart, both in Spanish and in Arabic. Oh, I am not such a fool as ever to deliver myself up, bag and baggage, to the enemy! So that before coming to this country I concealed the document—where no one but myself will ever be able to find it."
"In that case there is no more to be said. Señor Jaime Olot, let us come to an understanding, like two good friends," exclaimed the Alcalde, at the same time pouring out a glass of brandy for the stranger.
"Let us come to an understanding!" repeated the stranger, taking a seat without waiting for further permission, and drinking his brandy with gusto.
"Tell me," continued Uncle Hormiga, "and tell me without lying, so that I may learn to put faith in you—"
"Ask what you wish; when it does not suit me to speak I shall be silent."
"Do you come from Madrid?"
"No. It is twenty-five years since I was in the capital, for the first and last time."
"Do you come from the Holy Land?"
"No; that is not in my line."
"Are you acquainted with a lawyer of Ugíjar, called Don Matías de Quesada?"
"No; I hate lawyers and all people who live by the pen."
"Well, then, how did this document fall into your possession?"
Jaime Olcot was silent.
"I like that! I see you don't want to lie!" exclaimed the Alcalde. "But there cannot be a doubt that Don Matías de Quesada cheated me as if I were a Chinese, stealing from me two ounces in gold, and then selling that document to some one in Melilla or Ceuta. And the fact is, although you are not a Moor, you look as if you had lived in those countries."
"Don't fatigue yourself, or lose your time guessing further. I will set your doubts at rest. This lawyer you speak of must have sent the manuscript to a Spaniard in Ceuta, from whom it was stolen three weeks ago by the Moor from whose possession it passed into mine."
"Ah! now I see. He must have sent it to a nephew of his who is a musician in the cathedral of that city—one Bonafacio de Tudela."
"It is very likely."
"What a wretch that Don Matías is! To cheat his gossip in this way! But see how chance has brought the document back to my hands again!"
"To mine, you would say," observed the stranger.
"To ours!" returned the Alcalde, again filling the glasses. "Why, then, we are millionaires. We will divide the treasure equally between us, since you cannot dig in that ground without my permission, nor can I find the treasure without the help of the document which has fallen into your possession. That is to say, that chance has made us brothers. From this day forth you shall live in my house—another glass—and the instant we have finished breakfast, we will begin to dig."
The conference had reached this point when Dame Torcuata returned from mass. Her husband told her all that had passed, and presented to her Don Jaime Olot. The good woman heard with as much fear as joy the news that the treasure was on the eve of discovery, crossing herself repeatedly on learning of the treachery and baseness of her gossip, Don Matías de Quesada, and she looked with terror at the stranger, whose countenance filled her with a presentiment of coming misfortune.
Knowing, however, that she must give this man his breakfast, she went into the pantry to take from it the choicest articles it contained—that is to say, a tenderloin with pickle sauce, and a sausage of the last killing, saying to herself, however, as she uncovered the jars:
"Time it is that the treasure should be discovered, for whether it is to be found or not, it has already cost us the thirty-two dollars for the famous cup of chocolate, the long-standing friendship of our gossip, Don Matías, these fine slices of meat, that would have made so rich a dish, dressed with peppers and tomatoes, in the month of August, and the having so forbidding-looking a stranger as a guest. Accursed be treasures, and mines, and the devils, and everything that is underground, excepting only water and the faithful departed!"
While Dame Torcuata was making these reflections to herself, as she went, with a pan in either hand, toward the fire, cries and hisses of women and children resounded in the street, mingled with other voices in a lower key, saying:
"Señor Alcalde! Open the door! The city authorities are entering the town with a troop of soldiers!"
Jaime Olot became yellower than wax when he heard these words, and clasping his hands together, he said:
"Hide me, Señor Alcalde! Otherwise we shall not find the treasure! The authorities have come in search of me!"
"In search of you? And why so? Are you a criminal?"
"I knew it!" cried Aunt Torcuata. "From that gloomy face no good could come. All this is the doing of Lucifer!"
"Quick! quick!" resumed the stranger. "Take me out by the back door!"
"Very good, but first give me directions where to find the treasure," said Uncle Hormiga.
"Señor Alcalde!" the cry was repeated outside the door, "open! The town is surrounded! It seems it is that man who has been shut up with you for the last hour they are in search of!"
"Open to the authorities!" an imperious voice now cried, accompanied by a loud knocking at the door.
"There is no help for it!" said the Alcalde, going to open the door, while the stranger tried to escape into the yard by the other door.
But the head shepherd and the goat-herd, who were on the alert, cut off his egress, and they and the soldiers, who had now also entered the room, seized and bound him securely, although the renegade displayed in the struggle the strength and agility of a tiger.
The constable of the court, who had under his command a clerk and twenty foot-soldiers, meantime told the Alcalde the causes of and reasons for this noisy arrest.
"This man," he said, "with whom you have been shut up I don't know why—talking of I don't know what—is the famous Galician, Juan Falgueira, who, fifteen years ago, robbed and murdered a party of gentlemen, whose muleteer he was, in a certain hamlet of Granada, and who escaped from the chapel on the eve of the day appointed for his execution, dressed in the habit of the friar who was administering to him the consolations of religion, and whom he left there half-strangled. The king himself—whom Heaven preserve—received, a fortnight ago, a letter from Ceuta, signed by a Moor named Manos-gordas, saying that Juan Falgueira, after long residence in Orán and other points in Africa, was about to embark for Spain, and that it would be an easy matter to seize him in Aldeire in El Cenét, where it was his intention to purchase a Moorish tower and to devote himself to mining. At the same time a communication was received by the government from the Spanish Consul in Tetuan, stating that a Moorish woman called Zama had presented herself before him to make complaint against the Spanish renegade, Ben-Manuza, formerly called Juan Falgueira, who had just sailed for Spain, after having assassinated the Moor, Manos-gordas, the complainant's husband, and robbed him of a certain precious document. For all which reasons, and chiefly on account of the attempt against the life of the friar in the chapel, His Majesty the King strongly urged upon the authorities of Granada the arrest of the criminal and his immediate execution in that city."
Let the reader picture to himself the terror and astonishment with which this narration was listened to by all present, as well as the despair of Uncle Hormiga, who could not now doubt that the document was in the possession of this man condemned to death.
The avaricious Alcalde, then, at the risk of compromising himself still further, called aside Juan Falgueira and held a whispered conversation with him, having previously informed the assemblage that he was going to try to prevail upon the renegade to confess his crime before God and men. What passed between the two partners, however, was really what follows:
"Gossip!" said Uncle Hormiga, "not Heaven itself could now save you! But you must feel that it would be a pity that that document should be lost. Tell me where you have hidden it."
"Gossip!" responded the Galician, "with that document, or, in other words, with the treasure it represents, I intend to purchase my pardon. Procure for me the royal favor, and I will deliver the document to you; but for the present I shall offer it to the judges to bribe them to declare my sentence null and void by prescription."
"Gossip!" replied Uncle Hormiga, "you are a wise man, and I shall be glad if you succeed in your purpose. But if you fail, for God's sake do not carry to the tomb a secret which will profit no one!"
"Be certain, I shall take it with me!" answered Juan Falgueira. "I must have my revenge upon the world in some way."
"Let us proceed!" here cried the constable, putting an end to this strange conference.
And the condemned man, being chained and handcuffed, the officers of justice and the soldiers proceeded with him in the direction of the city of Guadix, whence they were to conduct him to Granada.
"The devil! the devil!" the wife of Uncle Hormiga Juan Gomez kept repeating to herself for an hour afterward, as she returned the tenderloin and the sausage to their respective jars. "My curse upon all treasures—past, present, and to come!"
Needless to say that Uncle Hormiga found no means of procuring Juan Falgueira's pardon, nor did the judges condescend to listen seriously to the offers which the latter made them of delivering to them a treasure on condition that they should relinquish the prosecution against him; nor did the terrible Galician consent to disclose the hiding-place of the document nor the whereabouts of the treasure to the bold Alcalde of Aldeire—who, with this hope, had the face to visit him in the chapel in the prison of Granada.
Juan Falgueira, then, was hanged on the Friday preceding Good Friday, in the Paseo del Triumfo, and Uncle Hormiga, on his return to Aldeire, on Palm Sunday, fell ill with typhoid fever, the disease running its course so quickly that on Wednesday of Holy Week he confessed himself and made his will and expired on the morning of Easter Saturday.
But before his death he wrote a letter to Don Matías de Quesada, reproaching him with his treachery and dishonesty (which had caused the deaths of three persons), and forgiving him like a Christian, on condition that he should return to Dame Torcuata the thirty-two dollars for the cup of chocolate.
This dreadful letter reached Ugíjar simultaneously with the news of the death of Uncle Juan Gomez, both which events, coming together, affected the old lawyer to such a degree that he never recovered his spirits again, and he died shortly afterward, having written in his last hour a terrible letter, full of reproaches and maledictions, to his nephew, the Chapel-master of Ceuta, accusing him of having deceived and robbed him, and of being the cause of his death.
To the reading of this just and tremendous accusation was due, it is said, the stroke of apoplexy that sent Don Bonifacio to the tomb.
So that the suspicion, merely, of the existence of a hidden treasure was the cause of five deaths, and of many other misfortunes, matters remaining in the end as hidden and mysterious as they were in the beginning, since Dame Torcuata, who was the only person in the world who knew the history of the fatal document, took good care never to mention it thereafter in the whole course of her life, thinking, as she did, that it had all been the work of the devil, and the necessary consequence of her husband's dealings with the enemies of the Church and the Throne.
- The Ant.