The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 16

Departure for Cordova — Carmona — German Colonies — Language — The Sluggish Horse — Nocturnal Welcome — Carlist Landlord — Good Advice — Gomez — The Old Genoese — The Two Opinions.

After a sojourn of about fourteen days at Seville, I departed for Cordova. The diligence had for some time past ceased running, owing to the disturbed state of the province. I had therefore no resource but to proceed thither on horseback. I hired a couple of horses, and engaged the old Genoese, of whom I have already had occasion to speak, to attend me as far as Cordova, and to bring them back. Notwithstanding we were now in the depths of winter, the weather was beautiful, the days sunny and brilliant, though the nights were rather keen. We passed by the little town of Alcala, celebrated for the ruins of an immense Moorish castle, which stand on a rocky hill, overhanging a picturesque river. The first night we slept at Carmona, another Moorish town, distant about seven leagues from Seville. Early in the morning we again mounted and departed. Perhaps in the whole of Spain there is scarcely a finer Moorish monument of antiquity than the eastern side of this town of Carmona, which occupies the brow of a lofty hill, and frowns over an extensive vega or plain, which extends for leagues unplanted and uncultivated, producing nothing but brushwood and carasco. Here rise tall and dusky walls, with square towers at short distances, of so massive a structure that they would seem to bid defiance alike to the tooth of time and the hand of man. This town, in the time of the Moors, was considered the key to Seville, and did not submit to the Christian arms till after a long and desperate siege: the capture of Seville followed speedily after. The vega upon which we now entered forms a part of the grand despoblado or desert of Andalusia, once a smiling garden, but which became what it now is on the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, when it was drained almost entirely of its population. The towns and villages from hence to the Sierra Morena, which divides Andalusia from La Mancha, are few and far between, and even of these several date from the middle of the last century, when an attempt was made by a Spanish minister to people this wilderness with the children of a foreign land.

At about midday we arrived at a place called Moncloa, which consisted of a venta, and a desolate-looking edifice which had something of the appearance of a chateau: a solitary palm tree raised its head over the outer wall. We entered the venta, tied our horses to the manger, and having ordered barley for them, we sat down before a large fire, which burned in the middle of the venta. The host and hostess also came and sat down beside us. “They are evil people,” said the old Genoese to me in Italian, “and this is an evil house; it is a harbouring place for thieves, and murders have been committed here, if all tales be true.” I looked at these two people attentively; they were both young, the man apparently about twenty-five years of age. He was a short thick-made churl, evidently of prodigious strength; his features were rather handsome, but with a gloomy expression, and his eyes were full of sullen fire. His wife somewhat resembled him, but had a countenance more open and better tempered; but what struck me as most singular in connexion with these people, was the colour of their hair and complexion; the latter was fair and ruddy, and the former of a bright auburn, both in striking contrast to the black hair and swarthy visages which in general distinguish the natives of this province. “Are you an Andalusian?” said I to the hostess. “I should almost conclude you to be a German.”

Hostess. — And your worship would not be very wrong. It is true that I am a Spaniard, being born in Spain, but it is equally true that I am of German blood, for my grandparents came from Germany, even like those of this gentleman, my lord and husband.

Myself. — And what chance brought your grandparents into this country?

Hostess. — Did your worship never hear of the German colonies? There are many of them in these parts. In old times the land was nearly deserted, and it was very dangerous for travellers to journey along the waste, owing to the robbers. So along time ago, nearly a hundred years, as I am told, some potent lord sent messengers to Germany, to tell the people there what a goodly land there was in these parts uncultivated for want of hands, and to promise every labourer who would consent to come and till it, a house and a yoke of oxen, with food and provision for one year. And in consequence of this invitation a great many poor families left the German land and came hither, and settled down in certain towns and villages which had been prepared for them, which places were called German colonies, and this name they still retain.

Myself. — And how many of these colonies may there be?

Hostess. — There are several, both on this side of Cordova and the other. The nearest is Luisiana, about two leagues from hence, from which place both my husband and myself come; the next is Carlota, which is some ten leagues distant, and these are the only colonies of our people which I have seen; but there are others farther on, and some, as I have heard say, in the very heart of the Sierra Morena.

Myself. — And do the colonists still retain the language of their forefathers?

Hostess. — We speak Spanish, or rather Andalusian, and no other language. A few, indeed, amongst the very old people, retain a few words of German, which they acquired from their fathers, who were born in the other country: but the last person amongst the colonists who could understand a conversation in German, was the aunt of my mother, who came over when a girl. When I was a child I remember her conversing with a foreign traveller, a countryman of hers, in a language which I was told was German, and they understood each other, though the old woman confessed that she had lost many words: she has now been dead several years.

Myself. — Of what religion are the colonists?

Hostess. — They are Christians, like the Spaniards, and so were their fathers before them. Indeed, I have heard that they came from a part of Germany where the Christian religion is as much practised as in Spain itself.

Myself. — The Germans are the most honest people in the world: being their legitimate descendants you have of course no thieves amongst you.

The hostess glanced at me for a moment, then looked at her husband and smiled: the latter, who had hitherto been smoking without uttering a word, though with a peculiarly surly and dissatisfied countenance, now flung the remainder of his cigar amongst the embers, then springing up he muttered “Disparate!” and “Conversacion!” and went abroad.

“You touched them in the sore place, Signor,” said the Genoese, after we had left Moncloa some way behind us. “Were they honest people they would not keep that venta; and as for the colonists, I know not what kind of people they might be when they first came over, but at present their ways are not a bit better than those of the Andalusians, but rather worse, if there is any difference at all.”

A short time before sunset of the third day after our departure from Seville, we found ourselves at the Cuesta del Espinal, or hill of the thorn tree, at about two leagues from Cordova; — we could just descry the walls of the city, upon which the last beams of the descending luminary were resting. As the neighbourhood in which we were was, according to the account of my guide, generally infested with robbers, we used our best endeavours to reach the town before the night should have entirely closed in. We did not succeed, however, and before we had proceeded half the distance, pitchy darkness overtook us. Throughout the journey we had been considerably delayed by the badness of our horses, especially that of my attendant, which appeared to pay no regard to whip or spur; his rider also was no horseman, it being thirty years, as he at length confessed to me, since he last mounted in a saddle. Horses soon become aware of the powers of their riders, and the brute in question was disposed to take great advantage of the fears and weakness of the old man. There is a remedy, however, for most things in this world. I became so wearied at last at the snail’s pace at which we were proceeding, that I fastened the bridle of the sluggish horse to the crupper of mine, then sparing neither spur nor cudgel, I soon forced my own horse into a kind of trot, which compelled the other to make some use of his legs. He twice attempted to fling himself down, to the great terror of his aged rider, who frequently entreated me to stop and permit him to dismount. I, however, took no notice of what he said, but continued spurring and cudgelling with unabated activity, and with such success, that in less than half an hour we saw lights close before us, and presently came to a river and a bridge, which crossing, we found ourselves at the gate of Cordova, without having broken either our horses’ knees or our own necks.

We passed through the entire length of the town ere we reached the posada; the streets were dark and almost entirely deserted. The posada was a large building, the windows of which were well fenced with rejas, or iron grating: no light gleamed from them, and the silence of death not only seemed to pervade the house, but the street in which it was situated. We knocked for a long time at the gate without receiving any answer; we then raised our voices and shouted. At last some one from within inquired what we wanted. “Open the door and you will see,” we replied. “I shall do no such thing,” answered the individual from within, “until I know who you are.” “We are travellers,” said I, “from Seville.” “Travellers, are you,” said the voice; “why did you not tell me so before? I am not porter at this house to keep out travellers. Jesus Maria knows we have not so many of them that we need repulse any. Enter, cavalier, and welcome, you and your company.”

He opened the gate and admitted us into a spacious courtyard, and then forthwith again secured the gate with various bolts and bars. “Are you afraid that the Carlists should pay you a visit,” I demanded, “that you take so much precaution?” “It is not the Carlists we are afraid of,” replied the porter; “they have been here already, and did us no damage whatever. It is certain scoundrels of this town that we are afraid of, who have a spite against the master of the house, and would murder both him and his family, could they but find an opportunity.”

I was about to inquire the cause of this enmity, when a thick bulky man, bearing a light in his hand, came running down a stone staircase, which led into the interior of the building. Two or three females, also bearing lights, followed him. He stopped on the lowest stair. “Whom have we here?” he exclaimed; then advancing the lamp which he bore, the light fell full upon my face. “Ola!” he exclaimed; “Is it you? Only think,” said he, turning to the female who stood next him, a dark-featured person, stout as himself, and about his own age, which might border upon fifty; “Only think, my dear, that at the very moment we were wishing for a guest an Englishman should be standing before our doors; for I should know an Englishman at a mile’s distance, even in the dark. Juanito,” cried he to the porter, “open not the gate any more to-night, whoever may ask for admission. Should the nationals come to make any disturbance, tell them that the son of Belington (Wellington) is in the house ready to attack them sword in hand unless they retire; and should other travellers arrive, which is not likely, inasmuch as we have seen none for a month past, say that we have no room, all our apartments being occupied by an English gentleman and his company.”

I soon found that my friend the posadero was a most egregious Carlist. Before I had finished supper — during which both himself and all his family were present, surrounding the little table at which I sat, and observing my every motion, particularly the manner in which I handled my knife and fork and conveyed the food to my mouth — he commenced talking politics: “I am of no particular opinion, Don Jorge,” said he, for he had inquired my name in order that he might address me in a suitable manner; “I am of no particular opinion, and I hold neither for King Carlos nor for the Chica Isabel: nevertheless, I lead the life of a dog in this accursed Christino town, which I would have left long ago, had it not been the place of my birth, and did I but know whither to betake myself. Ever since the troubles have commenced, I have been afraid to stir into the street, for no sooner do the canaille of the town see me turning round a corner, than they forthwith exclaim, ‘Halloo, the Carlist!’ and then there is a run and a rush, and stones and cudgels are in great requisition: so that unless I can escape home, which is no easy matter, seeing that I weigh eighteen stone, my life is poured out in the street, which is neither decent nor convenient, as I think you will acknowledge, Don Jorge! You see that young man,” he continued, pointing to a tall swarthy youth who stood behind my chair, officiating as waiter; “he is my fourth son, is married, and does not live in the house, but about a hundred yards down the street. He was summoned in a hurry to wait upon your worship, as is his duty: know, however, that he has come at the peril of his life: before he leaves this house he must peep into the street to see if the coast is clear, and then he must run like a partridge to his own door. Carlists! why should they call my family and myself Carlists? It is true that my eldest son was a friar, and when the convents were suppressed betook himself to the royal ranks, in which he has been fighting upwards of three years; could I help that? Nor was it my fault, I trow, that my second son enlisted the other day with Gomez and the royalists when they entered Cordova. God prosper him, I say; but I did not bid him go! So far from being a Carlist, it was I who persuaded this very lad who is present to remain here, though he would fain have gone with his brother, for he is a brave lad and a true Christian. Stay at home, said I, for what can I do without you? Who is to wait upon the guests when it pleases God to send them. Stay at home, at least till your brother, my third son, comes back, for, to my shame be it spoken, Don Jorge, I have a son a soldier and a sergeant in the Christino armies, sorely against his own inclination, poor fellow, for he likes not the military life, and I have been soliciting his discharge for years; indeed, I have counselled him to maim himself, in order that he might procure his liberty forthwith; so I said to this lad, Stay at home, my child, till your brother comes to take your place and prevent our bread being eaten by strangers, who would perhaps sell me and betray me; so my son staid at home as you see, Don Jorge, at my request, and yet they call me a Carlist?”

“Gomez and his bands have lately been in Cordova,” said I; “of course you were present at all that occurred: how did they comport themselves?”

“Bravely well,” replied the innkeeper, “bravely well, and I wish they were here still. I hold with neither side, as I told you before, Don Jorge, but I confess I never felt greater pleasure in my life than when they entered the gate; and then to see the dogs of nationals flying through the streets to save their lives — that was a sight, Don Jorge — those who met me then at the corner forgot to shout ‘Halloo, Carlista!’ and I heard not a word about cudgelling; some jumped from the wall and ran no one knows where, whilst the rest retired to the house of the Inquisition, which they had fortified, and there they shut themselves up. Now you must know, Don Jorge, that all the Carlist chiefs lodged at my house, Gomez, Cabrera, and the Sawyer; and it chanced that I was talking to my Lord Gomez in this very room in which we are now, when in came Cabrera in a mighty fury — he is a small man, Don Jorge, but he is as active as a wild cat and as fierce. ‘The canaille,’ said he, ‘in the Casa of the Inquisition refuse to surrender; give but the order, General, and I will scale the walls with my men and put them all to the sword’; but Gomez said, ‘No, we must not spill blood if we can avoid it; order a few muskets to be fired at them, that will be sufficient!’ And so it proved, Don Jorge, for after a few discharges their hearts failed them, and they surrendered at discretion: whereupon their arms were taken from them and they were permitted to return to their own houses; but as soon as ever the Carlists departed, these fellows became as bold as ever, and it is now once more, ‘Halloo, Carlista!’ when they see me turning the corner, and it is for fear of them that my son must run like a partridge to his own home, now that he has done waiting on your worship, lest they meet him in the street and kill him with their knives!”

“You tell me that you were acquainted with Gomez: what kind of man might he be?”

“A middle-sized man,” replied the innkeeper; “grave and dark. But the most remarkable personage in appearance of them all was the Sawyer: he is a kind of giant, so tall, that when he entered the doorway he invariably struck his head against the lintel. The one I liked least of all was one Palillos, who is a gloomy savage ruffian whom I knew when he was a postillion. Many is the time that he has been at my house of old; he is now captain of the Manchegan thieves, for though he calls himself a royalist, he is neither more nor less than a thief: it is a disgrace to the cause that such as he should be permitted to mix with honourable and brave men; I hate that fellow, Don Jorge: it is owing to him that I have so few customers. Travellers are, at present, afraid to pass through La Mancha, lest they fall into his hands. I wish he were hanged, Don Jorge, and whether by Christinos or Royalists, I care not.”

“You recognized me at once for an Englishman,” said I, “do many of my countrymen visit Cordova?”

“Toma!” said the landlord, “they are my best customers; I have had Englishmen in this house of all grades, from the son of Belington to a young medico, who cured my daughter, the chica here, of the ear-ache. How should I not know an Englishman? There were two with Gomez, serving as volunteers. Vaya que gente; what noble horses they rode, and how they scattered their gold about; they brought with them a Portuguese, who was much of a gentleman but very poor; it was said that he was one of Don Miguel’s people, and that these Englishmen supported him for the love they bore to royalty; he was continually singing

‘El Rey chegou — El Rey chegou, E en Belem desembarcou!’ 12

Those were merry days, Don Jorge. By the by, I forgot to ask your worship of what opinion you are?”

The next morning, whilst I was dressing, the old Genoese entered my room: “Signore,” said he, “I am come to bid you farewell. I am about to return to Seville forthwith with the horses.”

“Wherefore in such a hurry,” I replied; “assuredly you had better tarry till tomorrow; both the animals and yourself require rest; repose yourselves today and I will defray the expense.”

“Thank you, Signore, but we will depart forthwith, for there is no tarrying in this house.”

“What is the matter with the house?” I inquired.

“I find no fault with the house,” replied the Genoese, “it is the people who keep it of whom I complain. About an hour since, I went down to get my breakfast, and there, in the kitchen, I found the master and all his family: well, I sat down and called for chocolate, which they brought me, but ere I could dispatch it, the master fell to talking politics. He commenced by telling me that he held with neither side, but he is as rank a Carlist as Carlos Quinto: for no sooner did he find that I was of the other opinion, than he glared at me like a wild beast. You must know, Signore, that in the time of the old constitution I kept a coffee-house at Seville, which was frequented by all the principal liberals, and was, indeed, the cause of my ruin: for as I admired their opinions, I gave my customers whatever credit they required, both with regard to coffee and liqueurs, so that by the time the constitution was put down and despotism re-established, I had trusted them with all I had. It is possible that many of them would have paid me, for I believe they harboured no evil intention; but the persecution came, the liberals took to flight, and, as was natural enough, thought more of providing for their own safety than of paying me for my coffee and liqueurs; nevertheless, I am a friend to their system, and never hesitate to say so. So the landlord, as I told your worship before, when he found that I was of this opinion, glared at me like a wild beast: ‘Get out of my house,’ said he, ‘for I will have no spies here,’ and thereupon he spoke disrespectfully of the young Queen Isabel and of Christina, who, notwithstanding she is a Neapolitan, I consider as my countrywoman. Hearing this, your worship, I confess that I lost my temper and returned the compliment, by saying that Carlos was a knave and the Princess of Beira no better than she should be. I then prepared to swallow the chocolate, but ere I could bring it to my lips, the woman of the house, who is a still ranker Carlist than her husband, if that be possible, coming up to me struck the cup into the air as high as the ceiling, exclaiming, ‘Begone, dog of a negro, you shall taste nothing more in my house; may you be hanged even as a swine is hanged.’ So your worship sees that it is impossible for me to remain here any longer. I forgot to say that the knave of a landlord told me that you had confessed yourself to be of the same politics as himself, or he would not have harboured you.”

“My good man,” said I, “I am invariably of the politics of the people at whose table I sit, or beneath whose roof I sleep, at least I never say anything which can lead them to suspect the contrary; by pursuing which system I have more than once escaped a bloody pillow, and having the wine I drank spiced with sublimate.”

12 “The king arrived, the king arrived, and disembarked at Belem.” — Miguelite song.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32