The position of the mountain and its conical form invites the attention of geologists visiting these rugged places; and in effect it is curious to notice that while other mountains, branches of the Pyrenees, are joined to-ether by defiles which form undulations full of various accidents, in some, of soft, ever-green brows, while in other instances their heights are perfect plains, and in some again peaked Aquelarre is roughly different from. the general form of these mountains, so that it stands an exception in the midst of them.
It is said that "Ariel," the titular genius of the Biscayans, one day stretched out his powerful arm and wrenched from its base this singular mountain, placing it at a distance from its companion, so that they should not become contaminated by any contact with this accursed mountain. In fact Aquelarre is an accursed mountain. If you believe it not, remark the colour of the brambles which cover its enormous sides. It is not a green that pleases the sight, the colour in which the noble oak clothes its branches. Neither is it the silvery hue of the white poplar. Much less is it the brilliant green of the handsome beech-tree. Nor does it approach to the green which covers the cherry, the pear, and the nut-trees, full of white, fragrant flowers, in whose salyx shines the drop of dew, like a pure diamond.
The colour of the brushwood of Aquelarre, sombre, lugubrious, darksome, resembles the gigantic peak of
[paragraph continues] Lithuania, or of the cypress which grows in the fissures of the stony hills of Arabia Petrea--a funereal sinister hue which saddens the spirit and represses the expansion of soul of the poet, that in a rapture contemplates the sumptuous gifts and graces of nature in the woods, or the smiling and simple glory of the flower-strewn valleys.
Why this notable contrast? Why this dark phantom in the midst of such beautifully bedecked nature? Because all things that are in contact with the genius of evil carry with them the seal of reprobation, substituting for their ancient beauty forms at once repugnant and loathsome.
Aquelarre finds itself in this sad state. Its heights are frequented by the prince of darkness, and in the crevices of the mountains are repeated the echoes of the irreligious songs which are entoned in his praise.
Many in terror and fear have heard these songs resounding in the mountains, and breaking the majestic silence of the night.
There are some who have seen columns of black smoke rising, and have perceived a nauseous smell emanating from the confines of this accursed mountain, and have with reason conjectured, that the smoke was produced by the holocausts offered to the genius of evil by his wicked worshippers in some mysterious sacrifices.
Nevertheless, who were these spirits? From whence do they come to celebrate their nocturnal revels?
The simple dweller of the mountains shrugs his shoulders on being asked these questions, and contents himself with replying laconically--"Eztaquit" ("I do not know").
Suddenly a report was spread from mouth to mouth, and which gained ground and soon became general, to the effect, that the discovery had been made of what passed on the heights of the accursed mountain by a child.
Behold how tradition tells us this was effected.
Izar and Lañoa were two orphan children; the first was seven years of age and the latter nine. These poor children, true wandering bards, frequented the mountains, earning a livelihood by singing ballads and national airs in sweet infantile voices, in return for a bed of straw and a cupful of meal. Throughout the district these children were known and loved on account of their sad state, as well as for their graceful forms and winning ways.
There was, however, a difference between the two. Izar, the younger brother, was fair as jasper; his long hair fell in curls, pale as the stems of the maize, down his shoulders and back; his eyes were of the purest sky-blue, while from them shot glances at once sweet and suppliant of irresistible force; his lips were red as the flower of the wild pomegranate, around which hovered a smile as gentle as the light puff of an expiring breeze,
and, on contracting them, two dimples appeared in his rosy cheeks. Izar was the more patient of the brothers, the meeker, and the more beautiful; his voice had a purer tone, and for that reason was the favourite of the inhabitants of the mountains.
Lañoa was as handsome as his brother, but Nature had dowered him with a different style of beauty. His figure was more lithe, and his limbs of stronger make; the looks he cast out of his black eyes were haughty--at times even arrogant and full of daring. The way he curled his upper lip revealed a passionate, proud character, his hair was black with the bluish shade seen on the feathers of the raven; his long eye-lashes somewhat softened the fire of his eagle eye. Nevertheless, Lañoa was a good lad, and loved his younger brother, notwithstanding that at times he would treat him roughly.
It was on a sad, cloudy day in November that these two were walking towards Aranaz, crossing with difficulty the mountains enveloped in a fog, and covered with snow.
Izar grew very tired climbing the heights, and the poor child had not the courage to ask his brother to help him up. Lañoa, on his part, was not disposed to offer any help, however much in his heart he desired Izar to ask assistance, which he could then give without to his pride.
"Poor fellow, he is tired," he would say to himself;
[paragraph continues] "but he does not wish to humble himself to ask me to help him up. If he expects me to offer it----."
Musing in this way, he increased his speed, thus lengthening the distance which separated him from Izar. The latter endeavoured to reach him by taking great strides to do so; but he could barely keep on his delicate feet, until by a great effort he sought to keep within hearing of his voice.
All at once a gust of wind brought down large masses of wet, heavy snow into the defile through which walked the brothers, and Lañoa was compelled to suspend the rapid speed he had sustained, and thus enabled Izar in a short time to come up to him.
"What shall we do?" he timidly asked.
"Do what you please, lazy boy," Lañoa replied, roughly; "for my part I shall continue my walk as soon as the fog clears away a little."
"Very well, my brother," replied Izar, gently but meanwhile sit down at my feet and I will cover you with my capusay, 1 for you are in such a heat with your efforts."
"Women and lazy children like yourself require to be sheltered from the wind; as for me, I am a man, and I am not frightened with the cold."
Saying this, he uncovered his head, and exposed his wavy hair to the freezing gusts of the north wind.
"What are you doing, my brother?" cried Izar, rising from the broken rock upon which he had sat, and covering with his cap the head of Lañoa. "Oh, please let me cover you from the cold," he continued. "I well know that you are stronger than I am, and for that very reason should you take care of yourself, so that you may help me that am so weak."
"Be off!" cried Lañoa, pushing his brother away, who slipped and fell to the ground. And with bare head he resolutely commenced anew his march across the deep, cold snow.
Izar did not reply a word, nor did he even utter a cry of pain as his head was wounded by falling upon a stone. He rose up to renew his good work of abnegation and charity; and then he noticed with deep sorrow that his brother had disappeared from view. He ran in all directions, calling him with loud cries; but the fog, was so dense that he was unable to find him. Then, half dead with fatigue, in despair, and shivering with the cold, the poor child looked around him, and perceived through the fog that at a short distance from him stood an immense tree, and that its trunk was hollow.
Night was rapidly closing in, covering with its dark mantle these solitary places. The fog grew more heavy and damp; and instead of dispersing, remained stationary, clinging to the branches of the trees, and descending like the waters of a stream into the marshes and valleys
From the hollow of the tree in which our young hero had taken shelter could be seen an extensive tract of land covered with a white mist; in places it remained still like the waters of a lake; in others it rose and fell like the sea waves that break on the rocky promontories.
In that veritable ocean of fog could be perceived here and there black points like so many dark islands, which no doubt were the peaked heights of that range of mountains.
The silence was deep and solemn. The night was fast increasing in darkness.
In the distance, and above the fog, could be seen a yellow line of light presaging the rising of the moon, which at that time of the year was of opaque brilliancy, and more so seen in that atmosphere full of fog and mist.
Izar understood, from what he could descry, that he was standing on the top of a mountain; so quitting his shelter he reconnoitred the surroundings.
The protecting tree stood in the centre of a small plain, surrounded on all sides by thick shrubs and brushwood, so tangled and close that he could discover no opening or path by which he could possibly descend from its height down to the base.
How did that lost child find his way into such a spot?
He could not tell.
Feeling hungry and thirsty, and, moreover, finding himself in a spot which was totally unknown to him, he
began to cry from anguish and fear; but at length, convinced that all this was unavailing, he returned to the worm-eaten hollow of that tree, fully determined to pass the night in its hospitable shelter. He fervently commended his soul to God; he thought in sadness of his. mother, who had loved him so tenderly, and he prayed to the All-powerful to deliver his elder brother of whatever danger he might find himself in. Having done this, he sat down, and wrapping himself as comfortably as he could in his poor coat, he huddled up in his hiding-place, and the sleep of innocence very soon closed his eyelids.
At the moment when he placed his soul and body trustingly in the safe keeping of a God full of goodness, the heavens were rent open and an angel beautiful as are all the angels, descended in a rapid flight and alighted on the branches of the tree. Then he extended his white wings, and with loving solicitude watched the sleep of the innocent child.
For a length of time did Izar sleep calmly and sweetly under the loving care of the angel. At length he was suddenly aroused by a singular and incessant uproar which seemed to fill space. He cautiously peeped out of the hollow trunk of the tree, and an incomprehensible spectacle presented itself to his view. The moon was shining on the plain, and, casting a pale reflection over space, imparted a weird appearance and fantastic form to all objects.
From the point in the heavens occupied by the planet of night, and extending along the vast line of the horizon, the tints were becoming more and more sombre, passing from light grey to the deepest black. Out of the four cardinal points of the horizon rose up four extremely long lines of fantastic shadows, from which issued terrible unearthly cries, and these shadows with astounding rapidity all travelled to meet in a concentric point. This point was actually the very plain which we have just described. To depict in words the strange cavalcade upon which these fantastic shadows were mounted, would be a work superior to human ability. The one would press between its fleshless knees the skeleton of a mammoth of huge proportions; the other rode a horrible monstrous owl; others, again, divided the air riding on broomsticks; while some were perched on the backs of serpents bearing enormous wings, long tails, and with brilliant eyes.
All these shadows joined one another until the four lines formed an immeasurable chain. And thus they whirled until they gathered together at a distance of about a hundred feet from the ground; then they greeted one another with frenzied cries, ringing shrieks of laughter, deafening shouts, and hideous yells. After this they began a circular flight in a confused disorder, and little by little they began to descend to the ground.
The astonishment and terror of Izar increased when
he perceived that all these shadows were so many forms of decrepit old women. Their faces, blackened and wrinkled, were repulsive, while their hideous bodies inspired disgust, their short matted hair and fleshless limbs were truly fearful to see. The terror which all this scene inspired in the heart of Izar who was an unwilling witness, increased to a terrible degree when he noticed that all these women were preparing to execute some unearthly dance, taking one another's hands, and forming a large circle around the hollow tree in which he had taken refuge. And, what was more strange still to him, was the fact that this immense crowd fitted perfectly in the plain without requiring to widen its circuit or to diminish the size of their figures. As Izar had feared, it was not long before the dance commenced. At first this dance was of slow movements, and all kept time stepping together, now on one foot now on the other.
Little by little the leaps became more violent, the turns more rapid, until at length this nameless dance turned into a sort of whirlwind, increasing in speed, until it caused dizziness to attempt to follow the movements.
Jumps, cries, terrible contortions, turns--all were supernatural, all horrible to the sight, all was a confused, incomprehensible jargon to the ear.
Poor Izar could no longer support that spectacle, and he fell fainting to the ground. When he recovered
consciousness the moon had disappeared. The night was pitch dark, a sepulchral silence reigned throughout the plain. He looked out again from his hiding-place, judging that these fiendish women who had so alarmed him must have disappeared; but he perceived in terror that they still occupied the same spot as before, but in more strange attitudes, if possible. They were all ranged in a circle, huddled up close together, around a throne of ebony, upon which was seen calmly sitting an enormous he-goat, From this throne gleamed a few rays of yellow light, the only light which illumined the scene. The old women were successively approaching the throne, and as they did so they each respectfully kissed the hairy cloven foot of the goat. Then, after this long ceremony was concluded, the goat shook his head, and one by one each of these creatures commenced to relate what she had done.
Izar, horrified at being compelled to listen to their hideous narratives of premeditated deaths, mutilation of babes, profanation of cemeteries, and other crimes, was once more about to faint away with horror, when he heard a sweet voice which seemed to come from among the branches of the tree, and which pronounced his name. Astonished at this, he arose, and raising his eyes to the direction from whence came the voice, he saw among the branches a young man of celestial beauty, who was gazing upon Izar with tender, loving looks.
"Listen, and do not fear," the young man said, "for I am here to guard and watch over you."
Then Izar bent his ear to listen to what was said by the women, and he heard the following conversation.
"All my sisters," one of the witches was saying in a hissing voice, "have obeyed your commands. There was not a single one of them who did not send you, oh sovereign master, some victims, but I challenge any of them to do what I can."
"Speak, my daughter," murmured the goat: "I well know that you are one of my most devoted worshippers."
"You know, my lord," continued the witch, "that the grand reigning Duke of F------ and his lady are both zealous Christians, faithful and true, and you are also aware that they have a daughter lovely as the sun, whom they idolize. What a joy to me to make this beautiful creature die by inches; to wither that flower in all its youth and freshness, and to sow despair in the hearts of her parents, and so deliver them up to your powerful temptations! Would it not be a masterly stroke to kill them also after two or three months of cruel sufferings? What would it cost you, my lord, to impel them to destroy their own life?"
A horrible grimace, which no doubt was intended to be a smile of satisfaction, overspread the countenance of the goat, and his eyes darted gleams of fire impossible to describe.
"Should you do so," replied the author of evil, "you will become the best beloved of my daughters."
"Well, then, give me my reward, my lord. It is now a week since the princess began to suffer, and no one is able to discover the cause of her complaint, and still less can they find the remedies to effect her cure."
"Are you not afraid that some one will discover it?
"No, my lord, because the spell which binds her consists in the existence of an enormous toad which lies concealed under a broken statue, which has been abandoned and cast away in a corner of the garden of the ducal residence. So long as this toad is not destroyed, the sickness will follow its course and the princess will die."
"This that you tell me pleases me greatly, Bazzioti, and I desire to have frequent and exact accounts given me of what happens. I give you my thanks for what you do," continued the genius of evil, "and I summon you to come next Saturday."
Saying this, the evil one shook his head; a terrible thunder-clap was heard, and the throne disappeared along with he who sat upon it. All things became enveloped in a complete obscurity.
Soon after this Izar heard the noise of the witches rising up and taking to flight on the winds, and by the now dim light of the moon he descried the fantastic line of shadows that in silence were departing towards
the points of the horizon from whence they came, and slowly disappeared among the mass of black clouds.
Izar then looked up to the branches of the tree and saw there the young man who had bidden him have no fear. This angelic youth then said to him, "Fulfil your mission as I have fulfilled mine!" Then, spreading his wings, he rose to the sky, casting behind him sparks of brilliant light, and leaving a celestial fragrance which comforted the child's benumbed limbs and instilled warmth and courage into his heart.
A month had passed since Izar had been a witness to this strange conventicle. Full of faith in the words of the angel, he walked on to perform the charitable act which was so much in harmony with his good heart. Determined to overcome all the obstacles which might beset his path, he continued his march night and day towards Italy, for it was in one of its small States that the Grand Duke of F------ reigned.
How was he able to traverse great nations without means, and without even knowing the languages which were spoken in them? Tradition does not tell us anything concerning this particular. What is affirmed by the inhabitants of the Basque Provinces is, that he
reached his destination and to the gates of the palace of the reigning grand duke.
It would certainly have been a difficult feat for our young adventurer to succeed in approaching the person of so high a personage, had not the duchess, who was returning from a neighbouring church, whither she had resorted to pray for the restoration of the health of her daughter, at that moment entered into the palace, and, noticing that a poor child was at the gates, supposed it was to solicit alms that he had come; so she beckoned to him and gave him a silver coin, saying, "Take this alms, poor child, and ask our dear Lord to grant that my daughter may be restored to health. The prayers of an innocent child are very pleasing to God, and will assuredly obtain the boon from Him which he refuses to us."
"Is it your daughter that is sick?" sweetly asked Izar.
"Yes, my own darling daughter."
"Very well, then," Izar rejoined, "I will cure her."
"You?" cried the duchess, in astonishment. "Poor child! perhaps you do not know that the first physicians of the land and the cleverest have despaired of effecting a cure?"
"I certainly was not aware of this; but all I know is that I have come here expressly to cure the princess, and cure her I will!"
The duchess, mute with astonishment, looked fixedly at Izar, who stood there surrounded by her servitors, yet calm, erect, but with a modest bearing, and uncovered head, his golden hair falling over his; shoulders in curls.
The clear look in his eyes manifested truth and candour; the smile that hovered around his lips was so gentle and winning, that the noble lady, after consulting for a few moments with the ladies of honour who accompanied her, and who all tacitly assented to the duchess allowing the child to carry out the purport of his words, took Izar by the hand and led him up the sumptuous stairs of the palace.
While this singular scene was taking place at the palace gates the duke sat by the bedside of his dying child.
The invalid was about eight years of age. Her large, almond-shaped eyes had already lost the light and life which was the delight of her parents, and were sinking in their sockets. A dark circle could be seen around her eyelids, and the extreme pallor of her delicate face clearly indicated the approaching end of that sweet flower prematurely fading away. The parched lips had lost their rosy colour. It was distressing to gaze upon that painful scene.
Nothing could be more terrible than the sorrow of the father as he witnessed the slow agony of his beloved daughter. A sorrow mute, it is true, but deep; a grief
which, finding no vent in tears, was all the more fearful in its results. Because a father, besides endeavouring to stifle the grief which anguishes him, has at the same time to alleviate another pain--the sorrow of the mother.
At this moment the door of the sick chamber is opened, and the duchess was just entering, leading Izar by the hand, and followed by her ladies and pages, who, attracted by the novelty of the affair, had come to see the end of all this singular episode.
Izar did not manifest the least astonishment while treading the soft carpets of that regal house, or when crossing the chambers covered with damasks and velvets, gold and marbles.
On seeing him thus calmly following the duchess, without manifesting the least surprise or curiosity, and without opening his rosy lips, except to smile whenever she looked at him, none would have suspected for a moment that this lovely golden-haired boy had passed days and nights walking through woods covered with briars, or that he had slept under no better shelter or bed than the blackened thatch of rough cabins and huts of the Basque mountains and upon the hard ground. But this circumstance did not escape the observation of the duchess, and this very fact lit up a ray of hope in her heart.
Scarcely had the duchess entered the chamber than she was met by the duke, who, going to meet her, said
in a sad tone: "My lady, we must lose all hope now; our beloved daughter will assuredly die!"
"Oh, my friend, be comforted," she replied; "who knows but she will yet be spared?"
"Alas! no, I have no hope whatever," said the duke "she is dying, my lady, she is fast dying."
The duchess then turned towards Izar, who stood behind her, and as she did so noticed that he was casting a look full of smiles towards the duke.
"Whoever you are," the duchess exclaimed, as she took Izar by the hand and drew him close to her, "is it true that you will cure our daughter?"
"I have come to do so," quietly replied Izar.
"You perceive," said the duchess to her husband, "that there is still some hope left."
"Who is this boy?" asked the duke, greatly astonished.
"I do not know," replied the duchess; "I met him on my return from the church, and on asking him to pray to God for our child, he replied that he had come to cure her!"
"Can this be so?" exclaimed the duke.
"It is," replied Izar.
"Who are you?" rejoined the duke. "Perchance are you an angel sent by God to comfort us?
"I am a poor orphan, my lord." Where do you come from? "I have come from distant lands."
To cure my daughter?" demanded the sorrow-stricken father.
"Yes, that has been the only object of my journey, and I have walked the whole way, and day and night for a month."
All the persons present at this singular interview gave a cry of surprise. The duke passed his hand across his brow like a man who is mentally agitated; then, after a few moments of thought, he took his resolve, and led the way towards where the sick child lay unconscious and fast dying away, and made a sign for Izar to approach.
The extraordinary replies of the boy, coupled with his self-possession, greatly excited the curiosity of all who, witnessed the scene, and the ladies and servitors were gathered together in a group at the door of the bedchamber.
Izar approached the bed, and in silence gazed for some time upon the unconscious form of the princess, who scarcely gave signs of life.
"Here is the invalid--can you cure her? " said the duke to Izar.
Izar did not reply. He stood contemplating her. At length he murmured, in a scarcely audible voice--
"So this is the flower that is to wither away!"
The general anxiety was great.
Suddenly all the bystanders uttered a cry of joy. The princess was smiling sadly: certainly that smile was
the first sign of life she had shown for days. The duchess, in obedience to a sudden impulse, fell on her knees before the boy, and, with a look on her face which it is impossible to describe, cried, in a tone of voice that made them all tremble--
"In the name of God, save our Sophia!"
"Rise up, poor sorrowing mother," replied Izar, in a solemn voice; "I have come to save your daughter, and save her I will!"
"Do you hear, my daughter?" said the duchess, pressing to her lips the icy hand of the dying child. "This lad has come to cure you."
The sick girl opened her eyes, from which the light had almost departed, smiled faintly, and put out her hand to the orphan boy.
The excitement of those present reached its climax. The duke then placed both his hands on the curly head of that orphan boy, and in a solemn voice said, "I swear by my ducal crown that if you save my daughter you shall be her brother!"
Izar thanked him by an inclination of the head and swiftly left the chamber, requesting that none should follow him. All present respectfully made way for him to pass.
The boy descended the stairs and went into the garden. He searched every nook and corner, and the most retired spots under trees, until, after a diligent
search, he discovered, hidden away, a broken statue, covered with overgrown masses of tangled thorns and briars. He cleared away, as well as he could, all these weeds, and by a great effort was able to raise the broken statue, when, to his great delight, he found the loathsome toad, which, on being discovered, glared at Izar with fierce, wild looks.
Izar jumped on the toad and crushed it dead. Then he quickly returned to the sick-room, where all were awaiting the return of the lad, anxious at his long absence.
When they heard the door opened, and saw that Izar had returned, every face beamed with joy. They awaited the mysterious child, and there he stood before them, calm and as self-possessed as ever. He approached the bed. of the sick girl, and said--
"Sophia, my sister, do you hear me?"
"Yes," replied the princess; "I no longer feel that heavy weight here--here, on my chest."
"Oh, my God! may you be praised cried the duchess, shedding a torrent of tears my Sophia is saved!"
"Do you hear what your mother says, my sister? Rise up, for now you are cured."
The princess rose up slowly and sat on her bed, then looked around her as one awaking from a heavy sleep, rubbed her eyes, and said, smiling, " Yes, I am well."
Then the duke clasped Izar in his arms and said--
"In the name of the all-powerful God of heaven, I adopt as my own son this orphan, who has shed so much happiness on our house. Do you consent to this, duchess?"
The only reply of the grateful lady was to kneel before the orphan lad, and to say--
"My son, bless your mother."
* * * * * *
The fame of this marvellous event soon spread throughout Italy, traversed the Alps, and became the theme for the improvisatores of the provinces, who narrated it in tender strophes. From thence it passed on to the Basque bards, and these again so distributed the legend and tale in the neighbourhood of the mountains, that the dwellers and inhabitants of the surrounding districts of Aquelarre, where this story had its first beginning, within a few months were well acquainted with all its details.
We said in the first part of this narrative that Lañoa, after pushing back his young brother, started off in spite of the dense fog. He very soon became aware that Izar was not following him, and he stopped in his walk, hoping that in a short time he should be able to rejoin him. But after some considerable time had passed, and
there were no signs of his brother returning, he began to feel uneasy, and commenced to call him, in hopes that he should hear his voice. He called his name many times, but all was in vain--there was no response. The silence of the mountains remained unbroken by any reply, and seeing that it was useless to call him, as the fog prevented his voice from piercing space, he felt very anxious, and returned to the spot where he had left him. But the child was no longer there, and then a violent fit of despair and remorse took possession of Lañoa.
He wept bitterly for his brother whom he had forsaken: the excited imagination of the youth conjured him dying of cold and hunger on those bleak mountains, imploring his help and accusing him of unfeeling, harsh conduct.
Poor Lañoa became desperate: he ran all about the place, calling Izar in frenzied cries; then he threw himself on the ground, tearing his hair. Yet all was in vain. He spent the long night on that rock, a prey to fever and remorse.
On the following day he searched throughout the neighbouring mountains, but he could discover no vestige or track of footsteps to indicate to him that a human being had passed that way. Then a deep melancholy settled on his spirit, and from that day no one ever heard him sing his favourite ballads. He became a. misanthrope and a savage; he fled from every one, and
hapless he who would have the hardihood to ask him tidings of Izar!
Five months passed away in this wandering, solitary manner, ever searching the woods and lonely places; and the shepherds who knew him began to suspect that he had committed the crime of Cain.
When these suspicions began to gain ground, the ballad and tale about the life of Izar, and the beautiful mysterious Sophia, were already sung in good Basque verses. This ballad was an exact narrative of all that had occurred from the separation of the brothers to the adoption of the orphan boy by the grand reigning duke.
It was not long before this song reached the ears of Lañoa, to whom it afforded an immense joy, and relieved his heart of its heavy weight of sorrow. He would follow those who sang this ballad, and, when it was ended, used to ask humbly that it be repeated.
His character suddenly altered: he became gentle and tractable. Meantime the beauty of spring had succeeded the bleakness of winter, the sweet perfumed breeze of April to the violent snowstorms of December. The mountains were clothed in freshness and verdure, and the birds were saluting with joyful songs the return of their season of love. "Aquelarre" alone remained sad and bleak as ever in the midst of that joyous nature. It was said that Aquelarre, jealous of the universal joy
of nature, took delight in saddening the smiling scene by showing a sinister face, dark, and bleak in opposition, and as a striking contrast to the merry, laughing aspect of its neighbouring mountain companions. No bird sang on its trees; no playful roe ever climbed the rugged sides of the accursed mountain. All was solitude; all things were silent.
One day, at the twilight hour of evening, the shepherds of the valleys perceived in fear and astonishment that on the solitary heights of Aquelarre wandered a human form. Struck by the oblique rays of the setting sun, this form acquired gigantic proportions. Side by side with this figure was seen another of similar form and size, which faithfully followed all its movements. This was simply, the effect of an optical illusion, a phenomenon sufficiently common to those elevated regions where objects acquire colossal dimensions that become duplicated by the refraction of the solar rays crossing subtle masses of vapours.
Nevertheless, the simple shepherds ignore all this, and only see in that phenomena a warning for them to be on their guard against some coming evil. Moreover, fearful lest the night should surprise them in the immediate neighbourhood of the accursed mountain, in which, so they said, some sinister event of ill omen was being prepared, they hastened to collect together all their cattle, and shut themselves up in their huts and cabins.
The solitary figure that wandered on the top of Aquelarre was Lañoa. From the moment that he heard the ballad which narrated the history of his brother, he was assailed by a yearning wish to see Izar, but his pride resisted this desire, and deceived him in respect to the passion which domineered over him, by saying, "No, no; I cruelly abandoned him when he was poor and weak. I should not, now that he is rich and in position, go and seek him. When, like Izar, I shall have performed some generous noble act, then will I go to him, ask his pardon, and I know that he will pardon me, he is so good. I shall go up to the accursed mountain and listen for some secret spoken in the conventicle and then I will set to work."
It were necessary for any one who fostered such a thought as this, and moreover decided to carry it out, be dowered. with supernatural courage, and a strength of character above all proof; and Lañoa the bold most certainly possessed these qualities in a high degree. Another motive existed besides the above to impel him to attempt such an undertaking. It was vanity.
"What!" he used to say to himself, "shall I be less than my brother? He so weak--I so strong? He so gentle and meek--I so brave and hardy? No, no; I will ascend the rugged mountain, and challenge all the dangers which may beset me, until I attain to my end at any cost!"
The night was approaching, and Lañoa, following the route described in the ballad, found the tree, and concealed himself in its hollow trunk. It chanced that it was Saturday, and therefore the night set aside for assembling a conventicle. And so it happened. Towards midnight Lañoa began to hear a strange incessant noise that each moment approached nearer. He began to tremble when he descried the long lines of fantastic shadows which were directing their course towards the spot where he lay concealed. A cold perspiration ran down his forehead when the shadows saluted each other and formed the confused whirling dance that had so greatly surprised Izar. The cries and fiendish laughter of the witches increased his terror, and when at length he saw them descend on to the plain, and was able to distinguish their repugnant forms, the poor lad knew not what to do. The witches commenced their unearthly dances, and Lañoa was bitterly repenting that he had lent a willing ear to the counsels of pride. However, the evil was done, and now there was no help for it but to bear the consequences of his dire mistake, and he resolved to await as calmly as he could the unravelling of this fearful drama.
He had not long to wait. A fearful detonation shook the mountain to its base, and was quickly followed by the appearance of an ebony throne, and seated upon this throne was a figure, the most horrible that human eyes
had ever beheld. The head of the prince of darkness was of an enormous size; his eyes, which were glaring and wide open, resembled the burning crater of a volcano; immense ears fell down on his shoulders; while out of the mouth, bereft of lips, issued volumes of dense smoke, across which could be descried now and again rows of long yellow pointed teeth. His hands and feet were covered with sharp nails, curved and long. The rest of his body corresponded to the hideousness of his countenance.
He cast a ferocious glance at the numerous retinue which tremblingly awaited the commands of their sovereign, and in a deep, cavernous voice cried out:
One of the witches that were huddled together then rose and placed herself opposite the throne of ebony.
"Ha! ha!" exclaimed the genius of evil. "What became of all your fine promises, you deceitful one?"
"They could not be carried out," tremblingly replied the witch.
"Listen," rejoined the one who sat on the throne: "the princess was cured, and her parents, far from thinking of destroying themselves through despair, each day are happier, and idolize more and more their child and my direst enemy!"
"Lord!" murmured the witch, half dead with fear.
"Silence!" replied the devil. "As I see that you are
of no use to me in this world, go, and await me in the next."
Saying this, he struck the ground with his foot, and the witch disappeared down a deep pit which opened at his feet.
The other witches lowered their heads to the very ground, and remained silent.
"Now," he added, "I shall proceed to examine the tree."
Lañoa trembled from head to foot on hearing those words, and judged that he was lost. And indeed very quickly did he feel that he was being grasped by a number of these witches, who commenced to torture him in every way, and with Satanic mirth carried him bodily to the foot of the throne of the prince of darkness,
"Ha! so here we have another inquisitive mortal, it appears!" he cried, making a horrible grimace. "Approach, you profane one, approach!"
Lañoa in that terrible situation made a supreme effort, and assumed an expression on his countenance of satirical jesting,
"It appears that you do not fear us?" continued Lusbel, grinding his teeth.
Lañoa as his only reply contemptuously shrugged his shoulders.
It was a terrible wrestling that which was imminent
between the lad, who had as his only weapon of defence his character of iron, and Lusbel armed with all the powers of hell.
"What were you doing in that tree?" he asked, after looking fixedly at Lañoa for a considerable time.
"I was deriding you," replied Lañoa, laughing.
"Profanation!" roared the witches.
"Silence! silence!" cried Satan; and the witches were hushed. "So you were deriding me?" he asked, after a moment of silence.
"Yes, I was, by my faith!"
"Do you perchance think that any one has ever been able to boast that he has derided me with impunity?" rejoined Lusbel.
"Yes, I do, seeing that my brother has done so with a good result," replied Lañoa.
"Oh! oh! so you are brother to the one who saved the life of the Italian princess?"
Lañoa did not reply.
"Answer quickly, cursed one!" said the witch nearest to him.
Lañoa turned quick as thought, grasped the witch by the hair of her head, threw her down on the ground, and placed his foot across her throat, then folded his arms in a defiant manner, and looked fixedly at Satan.
The latter remained perfectly stupefied on witnessing
this rapid action, and to behold the imperturbable calm of the lad.
"By my kingship, lad, but you interest me," he at length said.
"Well, if I interest you, I on my part thoroughly despise you!" replied Lañoa.
"You dare to despise me?"
"Yes, I do!"
"You say this because you are not aware who I am!"
The lad curled his lip in sign of supreme contempt.
"Approach, if you dare, and touch my hand," he added, as he extended a hand armed with sharp nails.
Lañoa pushed aside with his foot the loathsome form of the witch, and fearlessly took the hand of Satan.
"Does it burn you?" he asked.
"I do not feel any heat," replied Lañoa, with the most perfect indifference; but nevertheless the lad's hair had stood on end when it felt the contact of that scorching hand.
"It is passing strange!" murmured Lusbel.
"You can well perceive," rejoined Lañoa, "that I do not fear you!"
"I own to that, certainly," he replied, releasing the hand of the youth, "but nevertheless that is no proof that you despise me."
"Do you wish for a proof?" arrogantly demanded L ah o a.
"Let us have one, certainly."
"There you have one!" cried the youth, and he spat at the face of Lusbel.
To describe the expression of fiendish rage which appeared on the monstrous countenance of Satan is not given to any pen to do. He uttered a roar, in comparison of which the violent eruption of a volcano would be no more than a soft melody. He wrathfully rose from his throne, grasped the boy in his clutches, and cast him headlong, like to a catapult, down the precipice which stands more than a league from that spot. The body of Lañoa rebounded and fell down the fearful descent a lifeless form, but his soul, purified in that trial rose up to heaven.
* * * * * *
Since then the above-mentioned precipice is known under the appellation of Infernu erreca, and the shepherds of the mountains affirm that at the hour of midnight on all Saturdays, with the exception of Easter Eve, there is heard rising up from that depth a tender wailing, and a noise resounds similar to that which is produced by the falling of a body.
19:1 Aquelarre. A word composed of larre, pasture land, and Aquerra, buck goat; hence the word Aquelarre signifies the pasture land of the goat. It is well known that this animal figures in all the conventicles of witches as representing the Evil One.
24:1 Capusay. A sort of dalmatic of very thick cloth furnished with a hood.