The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 29

Arrival at Padron — Projected Enterprise — The Alquilador — Breach of Promise — An Odd Companion — A Plain Story — Rugged Paths — The Desertion — The Pony — A Dialogue — Unpleasant Situation — The Estadea — Benighted — The Hut — The Traveller’s Pillow.

I arrived at Padron late in the evening, on my return from Pontevedra and Vigo. It was my intention at this place to send my servant and horses forward to Santiago, and to hire a guide to Cape Finisterra. It would be difficult to assign any plausible reason for the ardent desire which I entertained to visit this place; but I remembered that last year I had escaped almost by a miracle from shipwreck and death on the rocky sides of this extreme point of the Old World, and I thought that to convey the Gospel to a place so wild and remote, might perhaps be considered an acceptable pilgrimage in the eyes of my Maker. True it is that but one copy remained of those which I had brought with me on this last journey, but this reflection, far from discouraging me in my projected enterprise, produced the contrary effect, as I called to mind that ever since the Lord revealed himself to man, it has seemed good to him to accomplish the greatest ends by apparently the most insufficient means; and I reflected that this one copy might serve as an instrument of more good than the four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine copies of the edition of Madrid.

I was aware that my own horses were quite incompetent to reach Finisterra, as the roads or paths lie through stony ravines, and over rough and shaggy hills, and therefore determined to leave them behind with Antonio, whom I was unwilling to expose to the fatigues of such a journey. I lost no time in sending for an alquilador, or person who lets out horses, and informing him of my intention. He said he had an excellent mountain pony at my disposal, and that he himself would accompany me, but at the same time observed, that it was a terrible journey for man and horse, and that he expected to be paid accordingly. I consented to give him what he demanded, but on the express condition that he would perform his promise of attending me himself, as I was unwilling to trust myself four or five days amongst the hills with any low fellow of the town whom he might select, and who it was very possible might play me some evil turn. He replied by the term invariably used by the Spaniards when they see doubt or distrust exhibited. “No tenga usted cuidao,” I will go myself. Having thus arranged the matter perfectly satisfactorily, as I thought, I partook of a slight supper, and shortly afterwards retired to repose.

I had requested the alquilador to call me the next morning at three o’clock; he however did not make his appearance till five, having, I suppose, overslept himself, which was indeed my own case. I arose in a hurry, dressed, put a few things in a bag, not forgetting the Testament which I had resolved to present to the inhabitants of Finisterra. I then sallied forth and saw my friend the alquilador, who was holding by the bridle the pony or jaco which was destined to carry me in my expedition. It was a beautiful little animal, apparently strong and full of life, without one single white hair in its whole body, which was black as the plumage of the crow.

Behind it stood a strange-looking figure of the biped species, to whom, however, at the moment, I paid little attention, but of whom I shall have plenty to say in the sequel.

Having asked the horse-lender whether he was ready to proceed, and being answered in the affirmative, I bade adieu to Antonio, and putting the pony in motion, we hastened out of the town, taking at first the road which leads towards Santiago. Observing that the figure which I have previously alluded to was following close at our heels, I asked the alquilador who it was, and the reason of its following us; to which he replied that it was a servant of his, who would proceed a little way with us and then return. So on we went at a rapid rate, till we were within a quarter of a mile of the Convent of the Esclavitud, a little beyond which he had informed me that we should have to turn off from the high road; but here he suddenly stopped short, and in a moment we were all at a standstill. I questioned the guide as to the reason of this, but received no answer. The fellow’s eyes were directed to the ground, and he seemed to be counting with the most intense solicitude the prints of the hoofs of the oxen, mules, and horses in the dust of the road. I repeated my demand in a louder voice; when, after a considerable pause, he somewhat elevated his eyes, without however looking me in the face, and said that he believed that I entertained the idea that he himself was to guide me to Finisterra, which if I did, he was very sorry for, the thing being quite impossible, as he was perfectly ignorant of the way, and, moreover, incapable of performing such a journey over rough and difficult ground, as he was no longer the man he had been, and over and above all that, he was engaged that day to accompany a gentleman to Pontevedra, who was at that moment expecting him. “But,” continued he, “as I am always desirous of behaving like a caballero to everybody, I have taken measures to prevent your being disappointed. This person,” pointing to the figure, “I have engaged to accompany you. He is a most trustworthy person, and is well acquainted with the route to Finisterra, having been thither several times with this very jaco on which you are mounted. He will, besides, be an agreeable companion to you on the way, as he speaks French and English very well, and has been all over the world.” The fellow ceased speaking at last; and I was so struck with his craft, impudence, and villainy, that some time elapsed before I could find an answer. I then reproached him in the bitterest terms for his breach of promise, and said that I was much tempted to return to the town instantly, complain of him to the alcalde, and have him punished at any expense. To which he replied, “Sir Cavalier, by so doing you will be nothing nearer Finisterra, to which you seem so eager to get. Take my advice, spur on the jaco, for you see it is getting late, and it is twelve long leagues from hence to Corcuvion, where you must pass the night; and from thence to Finisterra is no trifle. As for the man, no tenga usted cuidao, he is the best guide in all Galicia, speaks English and French, and will bear you pleasant company.”

By this time I had reflected that by returning to Padron I should indeed be only wasting time, and that by endeavouring to have the fellow punished, no benefit would accrue to me; moreover, as he seemed to be a scoundrel in every sense of the word, I might as well proceed in the company of any person as in his. I therefore signified my intention of proceeding, and told him to go back in the Lord’s name, and repent of his sins. But having gained one point, he thought he had best attempt another; so placing himself about a yard before the jaco, he said that the price which I had agreed to pay him for the loan of his horse (which by the by was the full sum he had demanded) was by no means sufficient, and that before I proceeded I must promise him two dollars more, adding that he was either drunk or mad when he had made such a bargain. I was now thoroughly incensed, and without a moment’s reflection, spurred the jaco, which flung him down in the dust, and passed over him. Looking back at the distance of a hundred yards, I saw him standing in the same place, his hat on the ground, gazing after us, and crossing himself most devoutly. His servant, or whatever he was, far from offering any assistance to his principal, no sooner saw the jaco in motion than he ran on by its side, without word or comment, farther than striking himself lustily on the thigh with his right palm. We soon passed the Esclavitud, and presently afterwards turned to the left into a stony broken path leading to fields of maze. We passed by several farm-houses, and at last arrived at a dingle, the sides of which were plentifully overgrown with dwarf oaks, and which slanted down to a small dark river shaded with trees, which we crossed by a rude bridge. By this time I had had sufficient time to scan my odd companion from head to foot. His utmost height, had he made the most of himself, might perhaps have amounted to five feet one inch; but he seemed somewhat inclined to stoop. Nature had gifted him with an immense head and placed it clean upon his shoulders, for amongst the items of his composition it did not appear that a neck had been included. Arms long and brawny swung at his sides, and the whole of his frame was as strong built and powerful as a wrestler’s; his body was supported by a pair of short but very nimble legs. His face was very long, and would have borne some slight resemblance to a human countenance, had the nose been more visible, for its place seemed to have been entirely occupied by a wry mouth and large staring eyes. His dress consisted of three articles: an old and tattered hat of the Portuguese kind, broad at the crown and narrow at the eaves, something which appeared to be a shirt, and dirty canvas trousers. Willing to enter into conversation with him, and remembering that the alquilador had informed me that he spoke languages, I asked him, in English, if he had always acted in the capacity of guide? Whereupon he turned his eyes with a singular expression upon my face, gave a loud laugh, a long leap, and clapped his hands thrice above his head. Perceiving that he did not understand me, I repeated my demand in French, and was again answered by the laugh, leap, and clapping. At last he said in broken Spanish, “Master mine, speak Spanish in God’s name, and I can understand you, and still better if you speak Gallegan, but I can promise no more. I heard what the alquilador told you, but he is the greatest embustero in the whole land, and deceived you then as he did when he promised to accompany you. I serve him for my sins; but it was an evil hour when I left the deep sea and turned guide.” He then informed me that he was a native of Padron, and a mariner by profession, having spent the greater part of his life in the Spanish navy, in which service he had visited Cuba and many parts of the Spanish Americas, adding, “when my master told you that I should bear you pleasant company by the way, it was the only word of truth that has come from his mouth for a month; and long before you reach Finisterra you will have rejoiced that the servant, and not the master, went with you: he is dull and heavy, but I am what you see.” He then gave two or three first-rate summersets, again laughed loudly, and clapped his hands. “You would scarcely think,” he continued, “that I drove that little pony yesterday heavily laden all the way from Coruna. We arrived at Padron at two o’clock this morning; but we are nevertheless both willing and able to undertake a fresh journey. No tenga usted cuidao, as my master said, no one ever complains of that pony or of me.” In this kind of discourse we proceeded a considerable way through a very picturesque country, until we reached a beautiful village at the skirt of a mountain. “This village,” said my guide, “is called Los Angeles, because its church was built long since by the angels; they placed a beam of gold beneath it, which they brought down from heaven, and which was once a rafter of God’s own house. It runs all the way under the ground from hence to the cathedral of Compostella.”

Passing through the village, which he likewise informed me possessed baths, and was much visited by the people of Santiago, we shaped our course to the north-west, and by so doing doubled a mountain which rose majestically over our heads, its top crowned with bare and broken rocks, whilst on our right, on the other side of a spacious valley, was a high range, connected with the mountains to the northward of Saint James. On the summit of this range rose high embattled towers, which my guide informed me were those of Altamira, an ancient and ruined castle, formerly the principal residence in this province of the counts of that name. Turning now due west, we were soon at the bottom of a steep and rugged pass, which led to more elevated regions. The ascent cost us nearly half an hour, and the difficulties of the ground were such, that I more than once congratulated myself on having left my own horses behind, and being mounted on the gallant little pony which, accustomed to such paths, scrambled bravely forward, and eventually brought us in safety to the top of the ascent.

Here we entered a Gallegan cabin, or choza, for the purpose of refreshing the animal and ourselves. The quadruped ate some maize, whilst we two bipeds regaled ourselves on some broa and aguardiente, which a woman whom we found in the hut placed before us. I walked out for a few minutes to observe the aspect of the country, and on my return found my guide fast asleep on the bench where I had left him. He sat bolt upright, his back supported against the wall, and his legs pendulous, within three inches of the ground, being too short to reach it. I remained gazing upon him for at least five minutes, whilst he enjoyed slumbers seemingly as quiet and profound as those of death itself. His face brought powerfully to my mind some of those uncouth visages of saints and abbots which are occasionally seen in the niches of the walls of ruined convents. There was not the slightest gleam of vitality in his countenance, which for colour and rigidity might have been of stone, and which was as rude and battered as one of the stone heads at Icolmkill, which have braved the winds of twelve hundred years. I continued gazing on his face till I became almost alarmed, concluding that life might have departed from its harassed and fatigued tenement. On my shaking him rather roughly by the shoulder he slowly awoke, opening his eyes with a stare and then closing them again. For a few moments he was evidently unconscious of where he was. On my shouting to him, however, and inquiring whether he intended to sleep all day instead of conducting me to Finisterra, he dropped upon his legs, snatched up his hat, which lay on the table, and instantly ran out of the door, exclaiming, “Yes, yes, I remember — follow me, captain, and I will lead you to Finisterra in no time.” I looked after him, and perceived that he was hurrying at a considerable pace in the direction in which we had hitherto been proceeding. “Stop,” said I, “stop! will you leave me here with the pony? Stop, we have not paid the reckoning. Stop!” He, however, never turned his head for a moment, and in less than a minute was out of sight. The pony, which was tied to a crib at one end of the cabin, began now to neigh terrifically, to plunge, and to erect its tail and mane in a most singular manner. It tore and strained at the halter till I was apprehensive that strangulation would ensue. “Woman,” I exclaimed, “where are you, and what is the meaning of all this?” But the hostess had likewise disappeared, and though I ran about the choza, shouting myself hoarse, no answer was returned. The pony still continued to scream and to strain at the halter more violently than ever. “Am I beset with lunatics?” I cried, and flinging down a peseta on the table, unloosed the halter, and attempted to introduce the bit into the mouth of the animal. This, however, I found impossible to effect. Released from the halter, the pony made at once for the door, in spite of all the efforts which I could make to detain it. “If you abandon me,” said I, “I am in a pretty situation; but there is a remedy for everything!” with which words I sprang into the saddle, and in a moment more the creature was bearing me at a rapid gallop in the direction, as I supposed, of Finisterra. My position, however diverting to the reader, was rather critical to myself. I was on the back of a spirited animal, over which I had no control, dashing along a dangerous and unknown path. I could not discover the slightest vestige of my guide, nor did I pass anyone from whom I could derive any information. Indeed, the speed of the animal was so great, that even in the event of my meeting or overtaking a passenger, I could scarcely have hoped to exchange a word with him. “Is the pony trained to this work?” said I mentally. “Is he carrying me to some den of banditti, where my throat will be cut, or does he follow his master by instinct?” Both of these suspicions I however soon abandoned; the pony’s speed relaxed, he appeared to have lost the road. He looked about uneasily: at last, coming to a sandy spot, he put his nostrils to the ground, and then suddenly flung himself down, and wallowed in true pony fashion. I was not hurt, and instantly made use of this opportunity to slip the bit into his mouth, which previously had been dangling beneath his neck; I then remounted in quest of the road.

This I soon found, and continued my way for a considerable time. The path lay over a moor, patched heath and furze, and here and there strewn with large stones, or rather rocks. The sun had risen high in the firmament, and burned fiercely. I passed several people, men and women, who gazed at me with surprise, wondering, probably, what a person of my appearance could be about without a guide in so strange a place. I inquired of two females whom I met whether they had seen my guide; but they either did not or would not understand me, and exchanging a few words with each other, in one of the hundred dialects of the Gallegan, passed on. Having crossed the moor, I came rather abruptly upon a convent, overhanging a deep ravine, at the bottom of which brawled a rapid stream.

It was a beautiful and picturesque spot: the sides of the ravine were thickly clothed with wood, and on the other side a tall, black hill uplifted itself. The edifice was large, and apparently deserted. Passing by it, I presently reached a small village, as deserted, to all appearance, as the convent, for I saw not a single individual, nor so much as a dog to welcome me with his bark. I proceeded, however, until I reached a fountain, the waters of which gushed from a stone pillar into a trough. Seated upon this last, his arms folded, and his eyes fixed upon the neighbouring mountain, I beheld a figure which still frequently recurs to my thoughts, especially when asleep and oppressed by the nightmare. This figure was my runaway guide.

Myself. — Good day to you, my gentleman. The weather is hot, and yonder water appears delicious. I am almost tempted to dismount and regale myself with a slight draught.

Guide. — Your worship can do no better. The day is, as you say, hot; you can do no better than drink a little of this water. I have myself just drunk. I would not, however, advise you to give that pony any, it appears heated and blown.

Myself. — It may well be so. I have been galloping at least two leagues in pursuit of a fellow who engaged to guide me to Finisterra, but who deserted me in a most singular manner, so much so, that I almost believe him to be a thief, and no true man. You do not happen to have seen him?

Guide. — What kind of a man might he be?

Myself. — A short, thick fellow, very much like yourself, with a hump upon his back, and, excuse me, of a very ill-favoured countenance.

Guide. — Ha, ha! I know him. He ran with me to this fountain, where he has just left me. That man, Sir Cavalier, is no thief. If he is any thing at all, he is a Nuveiro, — a fellow who rides upon the clouds, and is occasionally whisked away by a gust of wind. Should you ever travel with that man again, never allow him more than one glass of anise at a time, or he will infallibly mount into the clouds and leave you, and then he will ride and run till he comes to a water brook, or knocks his head against a fountain — then one draught, and he is himself again. So you are going to Finisterra, Sir Cavalier. Now it is singular enough, that a cavalier much of your appearance engaged me to conduct him there this morning. I however lost him on the way. So it appears to me our best plan to travel together until you find your own guide and I find my own master.

It might be about two o’clock in the afternoon, that we reached a long and ruinous bridge, seemingly of great antiquity, and which, as I was informed by my guide, was called the bridge of Don Alonzo. It crossed a species of creek, or rather frith, for the sea was at no considerable distance, and the small town of Noyo lay at our right. “When we have crossed that bridge, captain,” said my guide, “we shall be in an unknown country, for I have never been farther than Noyo, and as for Finisterra, so far from having been there, I never heard of such a place; and though I have inquired of two or three people since we have been upon this expedition, they know as little about it as I do. Taking all things, however, into consideration, it appears to me that the best thing we can do is to push forward to Corcuvion, which is five mad leagues from hence, and which we may perhaps reach ere nightfall, if we can find the way or get any one to direct us; for, as I told you before, I know nothing about it.” “To fine hands have I confided myself,” said I: “however, we had best, as you say, push forward to Corcuvion, where, peradventure, we may hear something of Finisterra, and find a guide to conduct us.” Whereupon, with a hop, skip, and a jump, he again set forward at a rapid pace, stopping occasionally at a choza, for the purpose, I suppose, of making inquiries, though I understood scarcely anything of the jargon in which he addressed the people, and in which they answered him.

We were soon in an extremely wild and hilly country, scrambling up and down ravines, wading brooks, and scratching our hands and faces with brambles, on which grew a plentiful crop of wild mulberries, to gather some of which we occasionally made a stop. Owing to the roughness of the way we made no great progress. The pony followed close at the back of the guide, so near, indeed, that its nose almost touched his shoulder. The country grew wilder and wilder, and since we had passed a water mill, we had lost all trace of human habitation. The mill stood at the bottom of a valley shaded by large trees, and its wheels were turning with a dismal and monotonous noise. “Do you think we shall reach Corcuvion to-night?” said I to the guide, as we emerged from this valley to a savage moor, which appeared of almost boundless extent.

Guide. — I do not, I do not. We shall in no manner reach Corcuvion to-night, and I by no means like the appearance of this moor. The sun is rapidly sinking, and then, if there come on a haze, we shall meet the Estadea.

Myself. — What do you mean by the Estadea?

Guide. — What do I mean by the Estadea? My master asks me what I mean by the Estadinha. 18 I have met the Estadinha but once, and it was upon a moor something like this. I was in company with several women, and a thick haze came on, and suddenly a thousand lights shone above our heads in the haze, and there was a wild cry, and the women fell to the ground screaming Estadea! Estadea! and I myself fell to the ground crying out Estadinha! The Estadea are the spirits of the dead which ride upon the haze, bearing candles in their hands. I tell you frankly, my master, that if we meet the assembly of the souls, I shall leave you at once, and then I shall run and run till I drown myself in the sea, somewhere about Muros. We shall not reach Corcuvion this night; my only hope is that we may find some choza upon these moors, where we may hide our heads from the Estadinha.

The night overtook us ere we had traversed the moor; there was, however, no haze, to the great joy of my guide, and a corner of the moon partially illumined our steps. Our situation, however, was dreary enough: we were upon the wildest heath of the wildest province of Spain, ignorant of our way, and directing our course we scarcely knew whither, for my guide repeatedly declared to me, that he did not believe that such a place as Finisterra existed, or if it did exist, it was some bleak mountain pointed out in a map. When I reflected on the character of this guide, I derived but little comfort or encouragement: he was at best evidently half witted, and was by his own confession occasionally seized with paroxysms which differed from madness in no essential respect; his wild escapade in the morning of nearly three leagues, without any apparent cause, and lastly his superstitious and frantic fears of meeting the souls of the dead upon this heath, in which event he intended, as he himself said, to desert me and make for the sea, operated rather powerfully upon my nerves. I likewise considered that it was quite possible that we might be in the route neither of Finisterra nor Corcuvion, and I therefore determined to enter the first cabin at which we should arrive, in preference to running the risk of breaking our necks by tumbling down some pit or precipice. No cabin, however, appeared in sight: the moor seemed interminable, and we wandered on until the moon disappeared, and we were left in almost total darkness.

At length we arrived at the foot of a steep ascent, up which a rough and broken pathway appeared to lead.

“Can this be our way?” said I to the guide.

“There appears to be no other for us, captain,” replied the man; “let us ascend it by all means, and when we are it the top, if the sea be in the neighbourhood we shall see it.”

I then dismounted, for to ride up such a pass in such darkness would have been madness. We clambered up in a line, first the guide, next the pony, with his nose as usual on his master’s shoulder, of whom he seemed passionately fond, and I bringing up the rear, with my left hand grasping the animal’s tail. We had many a stumble, and more than one fall: once, indeed, we were all rolling down the side of the hill together. In about twenty minutes we reached the summit, and looked around us, but no sea was visible: a black moor, indistinctly seen, seemed to spread on every side.

“We shall have to take up our quarters here till morning,” said I.

Suddenly my guide seized me by the hand: “There is lume, Senhor,” said he, “there is lume.” I looked in the direction in which he pointed, and, after straining my eyes for some time, imagined that I perceived, far below and at some distance, a faint glow. “That is lume,” shouted the guide, “and it proceeds from the chimney of a choza.”

On descending the eminence, we roamed about for a considerable time, until we at last found ourselves in the midst of about six or eight black huts. “Knock at the door of one of these,” said I to the guide, “and inquire of the people whether they can shelter us for the night.” He did so, and a man presently made his appearance, bearing in his hand a lighted firebrand.

“Can you shelter a Cavalheiro from the night and the Estadea?” said my guide.

“From both, I thank God,” said the man, who was an athletic figure, without shoes and stockings, and who, upon the whole, put me much in mind of a Munster peasant from the bogs. “Pray enter, gentlemen, we can accommodate you both and your cavalgadura besides.”

We entered the choza, which consisted of three compartments; in the first we found straw, in the second cattle and ponies, and in the third the family, consisting of the father and mother of the man who admitted us, and his wife and children.

“You are a Catalan, sir Cavalier, and are going to your countryman at Corcuvion,” said the man in tolerable Spanish. “Ah, you are brave people, you Catalans, and fine establishments you have on the Gallegan shores; pity that you take all the money out of the country.”

Now, under all circumstances, I had not the slightest objection to pass for a Catalan; and I rather rejoiced that these wild people should suppose that I had powerful friends and countrymen in the neighbourhood who were, perhaps, expecting me. I therefore favoured their mistake, and began with a harsh Catalan accent to talk of the fish of Galicia, and the high duties on salt. The eye of my guide was upon me for an instant, with a singular expression, half serious, half droll; he however said nothing, but slapped his thigh as usual, and with a spring nearly touched the roof of the cabin with his grotesque head. Upon inquiry, I discovered that we were still two long leagues distant from Corcuvion, and that the road lay over moor and hill, and was hard to find. Our host now demanded whether we were hungry, and upon being answered in the affirmative, produced about a dozen eggs and some bacon. Whilst our supper was cooking, a long conversation ensued between my guide and the family, but as it was carried on in Gallegan, I tried in vain to understand it. I believe, however, that it principally related to witches and witchcraft, as the Estadea was frequently mentioned. After supper I demanded where I could rest: whereupon the host pointed to a trap-door in the roof, saying that above there was a loft where I could sleep by myself, and have clean straw. For curiosity’s sake, I asked whether there was such a thing as a bed in the cabin.

“No,” replied the man; “nor nearer than Corcuvion. I never entered one in my life, nor any one of my family: we sleep around the hearth, or among the straw with the cattle.”

I was too old a traveller to complain, but forthwith ascended by a ladder into a species of loft, tolerably large and nearly empty, where I placed my cloak beneath my head, and lay down on the boards, which I preferred to the straw, for more reasons than one. I heard the people below talking in Gallegan for a considerable time, and could see the gleams of the fire through the interstices of the floor. The voices, however, gradually died away, the fire sank low and could no longer be distinguished. I dozed, started, dozed again, and dropped finally into a profound sleep, from which I was only roused by the crowing of the second cock.

18 Inha, when affixed to words, serves as a diminutive. It is much in use amongst the Gallegans.

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