I spent several days at Cordova. I had been told of a certain manuscript i_he library of the Dominican convent which was likely to furnish me with ver_nteresting details about the ancient Munda. The good fathers gave me the mos_indly welcome. I spent the daylight hours within their convent, and at nigh_ walked about the town. At Cordova a great many idlers collect, towar_unset, in the quay that runs along the right bank of the Guadalquivir.
Promenaders on the spot have to breathe the odour of a tan yard which stil_eeps up the ancient fame of the country in connection with the curing o_eather. But to atone for this, they enjoy a sight which has a charm of it_wn. A few minutes before the Angelus bell rings, a great company of wome_athers beside the river, just below the quay, which is rather a high one. No_ man would dare to join its ranks. The moment the Angelus rings, darkness i_upposed to have fallen. As the last stroke sounds, all the women disrobe an_tep into the water. Then there is laughing and screaming and a wonderfu_latter. The men on the upper quay watch the bathers, straining their eyes, and seeing very little. Yet the white uncertain outlines perceptible agains_he dark-blue waters of the stream stir the poetic mind, and the possessor o_ little fancy finds it not difficult to imagine that Diana and her nymphs ar_athing below, while he himself runs no risk of ending like Acteon.
I have been told that one day a party of good-for-nothing fellows bande_hemselves together, and bribed the bell-ringer at the cathedral to ring th_ngelus some twenty minutes before the proper hour. Though it was still broa_aylight, the nymphs of the Guadalquivir never hesitated, and putting far mor_rust in the Angelus bell than in the sun, they proceeded to their bathin_oilette—always of the simplest—with an easy conscience. I was not present o_hat occasion. In my day, the bell-ringer was incorruptible, the twilight wa_ery dim, and nobody but a cat could have distinguished the difference betwee_he oldest orange woman, and the prettiest shop-girl, in Cordova.
One evening, after it had grown quite dusk, I was leaning over the parapet o_he quay, smoking, when a woman came up the steps leading from the river, an_at down near me. In her hair she wore a great bunch of jasmine—a flowe_hich, at night, exhales a most intoxicating perfume. She was dressed simply, almost poorly, in black, as most work-girls are dressed in the evening. Wome_f the richer class only wear black in the daytime, at night they dress _a l_rancesa_. When she drew near me, the woman let the mantilla which had covere_er head drop on her shoulders, and "by the dim light falling from the stars"
I perceived her to be young, short in stature, well-proportioned, and wit_ery large eyes. I threw my cigar away at once. She appreciated this mark o_ourtesy, essentially French, and hastened to inform me that she was very fon_f the smell of tobacco, and that she even smoked herself, when she could ge_ery mild _papelitos_. I fortunately happened to have some such in my case, and at once offered them to her. She condescended to take one, and lighted i_t a burning string which a child brought us, receiving a copper for it_ains. We mingled our smoke, and talked so long, the fair lady and I, that w_nded by being almost alone on the quay. I thought I might venture, withou_mpropriety, to suggest our going to eat an ice at th_neveria_.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_3) After a moment of modest demur, sh_greed. But before finally accepting, she desired to know what o'clock it was.
I struck my repeater, and this seemed to astound her greatly.
"What clever inventions you foreigners do have! What country do you belong to, sir? You're an Englishman, no doubt!"[](footnotes.xml#footnote_4)
"I'm a Frenchman, and your devoted servant. And you, senora, or senorita, yo_robably belong to Cordova?"
"At all events, you are an Andalusian? Your soft way of speaking makes m_hink so."
"If you notice people's accent so closely, you must be able to guess what _m."
"I think you are from the country of Jesus, two paces out of Paradise."
I had learned the metaphor, which stands for Andalusia, from my frien_rancisco Sevilla, a well-known _picador_.
"Pshaw! The people here say there is no place in Paradise for us!"
"Then perhaps you are of Moorish blood—or——" I stopped, not venturing to add
"Oh come! You must see I'm a gipsy! Wouldn't you like me to tell you _l_aji_?[](footnotes.xml#footnote_5) Did you never hear tell of Carmencita?
That's who I am!"
I was such a miscreant in those days—now fifteen years ago—that the clos_roximity of a sorceress did not make me recoil in horror. "So be it!" _hought. "Last week I ate my supper with a highway robber. To-day I'll go an_at ices with a servant of the devil. A traveller should see everything." _ad yet another motive for prosecuting her acquaintance. When I left college—_cknowledge it with shame—I had wasted a certain amount of time in studyin_ccult science, and had even attempted, more than once, to exorcise the power_f darkness. Though I had been cured, long since, of my passion for suc_nvestigations, I still felt a certain attraction and curiosity with regard t_ll superstitions, and I was delighted to have this opportunity of discoverin_ow far the magic art had developed among the gipsies.
Talking as we went, we had reached the _neveria_ , and seated ourselves at _ittle table, lighted by a taper protected by a glass globe. I then had tim_o take a leisurely view of my _gitana_ , while several worthy individuals, who were eating their ices, stared open-mouthed at beholding me in such ga_ompany.
I very much doubt whether Senorita Carmen was a pure-blooded gipsy. At al_vents, she was infinitely prettier than any other woman of her race I hav_ver seen. For a women to be beautiful, they say in Spain, she must fulfi_hirty _ifs_ , or, if it please you better, you must be able to define he_ppearance by ten adjectives, applicable to three portions of her person.
For instance, three things about her must be black, her eyes, her eyelashes, and her eyebrows. Three must be dainty, her fingers, her lips, her hair, an_o forth. For the rest of this inventory, see Brantome. My gipsy girl coul_ay no claim to so many perfections. Her skin, though perfectly smooth, wa_lmost of a copper hue. Her eyes were set obliquely in her head, but they wer_agnificent and large. Her lips, a little full, but beautifully shaped, revealed a set of teeth as white as newly skinned almonds. Her hair—a trifl_oarse, perhaps—was black, with blue lights on it like a raven's wing, lon_nd glossy. Not to weary my readers with too prolix a description, I wil_erely add, that to every blemish she united some advantage, which was perhap_ll the more evident by contrast. There was something strange and wild abou_er beauty. Her face astonished you, at first sight, but nobody could forge_t. Her eyes, especially, had an expression of mingled sensuality an_ierceness which I had never seen in any other human glance. "Gipsy's eye, wolf's eye!" is a Spanish saying which denotes close observation. If m_eaders have no time to go to the "Jardin des Plantes" to study the wolf'_xpression, they will do well to watch the ordinary cat when it is lying i_ait for a sparrow.
It will be understood that I should have looked ridiculous if I had propose_o have my fortune told in a _café_. I therefore begged the pretty witch'_eave to go home with her. She made no difficulties about consenting, but sh_anted to know what o'clock it was again, and requested me to make my repeate_trike once more.
"Is it really gold?" she said, gazing at it with rapt attention.
When we started off again, it was quite dark. Most of the shops were shut, an_he streets were almost empty. We crossed the bridge over the Guadalquivir, and at the far end of the suburb we stopped in front of a house of anythin_ut palatial appearance. The door was opened by a child, to whom the gips_poke a few words in a language unknown to me, which I afterward understood t_e _Romany_ , or _chipe calli_ —the gipsy idiom. The child instantl_isappeared, leaving us in sole possession of a tolerably spacious room, furnished with a small table, two stools, and a chest. I must not forget t_ention a jar of water, a pile of oranges, and a bunch of onions.
As soon as we were left alone, the gipsy produced, out of her chest, a pack o_ards, bearing signs of constant usage, a magnet, a dried chameleon, and a fe_ther indispensable adjuncts of her art. Then she bade me cross my left han_ith a silver coin, and the magic ceremonies duly began. It is unnecessary t_hronicle her predictions, and as for the style of her performance, it prove_er to be no mean sorceress.
Unluckily we were soon disturbed. The door was suddenly burst open, and a man, shrouded to the eyes in a brown cloak, entered the room, apostrophizing th_ipsy in anything but gentle terms. What he said I could not catch, but th_one of his voice revealed the fact that he was in a very evil temper. Th_ipsy betrayed neither surprise nor anger at his advent, but she ran to mee_im, and with a most striking volubility, she poured out several sentences i_he mysterious language she had already used in my presence. The wor_payllo_ , frequently reiterated, was the only one I understood. I knew tha_he gipsies use it to describe all men not of their own race. Concludin_yself to be the subject of this discourse, I was prepared for a somewha_elicate explanation. I had already laid my hand on the leg of one of th_tools, and was studying within myself to discover the exact moment at which _ad better throw it at his head, when, roughly pushing the gipsy to one side, the man advanced toward me. Then with a step backward he cried:
"What, sir! Is it you?"
I looked at him in my turn and recognised my friend Don Jose. At that moment _id feel rather sorry I had saved him from the gallows.
"What, is it you, my good fellow?" I exclaimed, with as easy a smile as _ould muster. "You have interrupted this young lady just when she wa_oretelling me most interesting things!"
"The same as ever. There shall be an end to it!" he hissed between his teeth, with a savage glance at her.
Meanwhile the _gitana_ was still talking to him in her own tongue. Sh_ecame more and more excited. Her eyes grew fierce and bloodshot, her feature_ontracted, she stamped her foot. She seemed to me to be earnestly pressin_im to do something he was unwilling to do. What this was I fancied _nderstood only too well, by the fashion in which she kept drawing her littl_and backward and forward under her chin. I was inclined to think she wante_o have somebody's throat cut, and I had a fair suspicion the throat i_uestion was my own. To all her torrent of eloquence Don Jose's only reply wa_wo or three shortly spoken words. At this the gipsy cast a glance of the mos_tter scorn at him, then, seating herself Turkish-fashion in a corner of th_oom, she picked out an orange, tore off the skin, and began to eat it.
Don Jose took hold of my arm, opened the door, and led me into the street. W_alked some two hundred paces in the deepest silence. Then he stretched ou_is hand.
"Go straight on," he said, "and you'll come to the bridge."
That instant he turned his back on me and departed at a great pace. I took m_ay back to my inn, rather crestfallen, and considerably out of temper. Th_orst of all was that, when I undressed, I discovered my watch was missing.
Various considerations prevented me from going to claim it next day, o_equesting the _Corregidor_ to be good enough to have a search made for it.
I finished my work on the Dominican manuscript, and went on to Seville. Afte_everal months spent wandering hither and thither in Andalusia, I wanted t_et back to Madrid, and with that object I had to pass through Cordova. I ha_o intention of making any stay there, for I had taken a dislike to that fai_ity, and to the ladies who bathed in the Guadalquivir. Nevertheless, I ha_ome visits to pay, and certain errands to do, which must detain me severa_ays in the old capital of the Mussulman princes.
The moment I made my appearance in the Dominican convent, one of the monks, who had always shown the most lively interest in my inquiries as to the sit_f the battlefield of Munda, welcomed me with open arms, exclaiming:
"Praised be God! You are welcome! My dear friend. We all thought you wer_ead, and I myself have said many a _pater_ and _ave_ (not that I regre_hem!) for your soul. Then you weren't murdered, after all? That you wer_obbed, we know!"
"What do you mean?" I asked, rather astonished.
"Oh, you know! That splendid repeater you used to strike in the librar_henever we said it was time for us to go into church. Well, it has bee_ound, and you'll get it back."
"Why," I broke in, rather put out of countenance, "I lost it—"
"The rascal's under lock and key, and as he was known to be a man who woul_hoot any Christian for the sake of a _peseta_ , we were most dreadfull_fraid he had killed you. I'll go with you to the _Corregidor_ , and he'l_ive you back your fine watch. And after that, you won't dare to say the la_oesn't do its work properly in Spain."
"I assure you," said I, "I'd far rather lose my watch than have to giv_vidence in court to hang a poor unlucky devil, and especiall_ecause—because——"
"Oh, you needn't be alarmed! He's thoroughly done for; they might hang hi_wice over. But when I say hang, I say wrong. Your thief is an _Hidalgo_. S_e's to be garrotted the day after to-morrow, withou_ail.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_6) So you see one theft more or less won'_ffect his position. Would to God he had done nothing but steal! But he ha_ommitted several murders, one more hideous than the other."
"What's his name?"
"In this country he is only known as Jose Navarro, but he has another Basqu_ame, which neither your nor I will ever be able to pronounce. By the way, th_an is worth seeing, and you, who like to study the peculiar features of eac_ountry, shouldn't lose this chance of noting how a rascal bids farewell t_his world in Spain. He is in jail, and Father Martinez will take you to him."
So bent was my Dominican friend on my seeing the preparations for this "nea_ittle hanging job" that I was fain to agree. I went to see the prisoner, having provided myself with a bundle of cigars, which I hoped might induce hi_o forgive my intrusion.
I was ushered into Don Jose's presence just as he was sitting at table. H_reeted me with a rather distant nod, and thanked me civilly for the present _ad brought him. Having counted the cigars in the bundle I had placed in hi_and, he took out a certain number and returned me the rest, remarking that h_ould not need any more of them.
I inquired whether by laying out a little money, or by applying to my friends, I might not be able to do something to soften his lot. He shrugged hi_houlders, to begin with, smiling sadly. Soon, as by an after-thought, h_sked me to have a mass said for the repose of his soul.
Then he added nervously: "Would you—would you have another said for a perso_ho did you a wrong?"
"Assuredly I will, my dear fellow," I answered. "But no one in this countr_as wronged me so far as I know."
He took my hand and squeezed it, looking very grave. After a moment's silence, he spoke again.
"Might I dare to ask another service of you? When you go back to your ow_ountry perhaps you will pass through Navarre. At all events you'll go b_ittoria, which isn't very far off."
"Yes," said I, "I shall certainly pass through Vittoria. But I may ver_ossibly go round by Pampeluna, and for your sake, I believe I should be ver_lad to do it."
"Well, if you do go to Pampeluna, you'll see more than one thing that wil_nterest you. It's a fine town. I'll give you this medal," he showed me _ittle silver medal that he wore hung around his neck. "You'll wrap it up i_aper"—he paused a moment to master his emotion—"and you'll take it, or sen_t, to an old lady whose address I'll give you. Tell her I am dead—but don'_ell her how I died."
I promised to perform his commission. I saw him the next day, and spent par_f it in his company. From his lips I learned the sad incidents that follow.