Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE FIFTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE RODE IN THE TWILIGHT AND SAW SERAFINA
Rodriguez, who loved philosophy, turned his mind at once to the journey that lay before him, deciding which was the north; for he knew that it was by the north that he must leave Spain, which he still desired to leave since there were no wars in that country.
Morano knew not clearly what philosophy was, yet he wasted no thoughts upon the night that was gone; and, fitting up his frying- pan immediately, he brought out what was left of his bacon and began to look for material to make a fire. The bacon lay waiting in the frying-pan for some while before this material was gathered, for nothing grew on the mountain but a heath; and of that there were few bushes, scattered here and there.
Rodriguez, far from ruminating upon the events of the previous night, realised as he watched these preparations that he was enormously hungry. And when Morano had kindled a fire and the smell of cooking arose, he who had held the chair of magic at Saragossa was banished from both their minds, although upon this very spot they had spent so strange a night; but where bacon is, and there be hungry men, the things of yesterday are often forgotten.
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "we must walk far to-day."
"Indeed, master," said Morano, "we must push on to these wars; for you have no castle, master, no lands, no fortune ..."
"Come," said Rodriguez.
Morano slung his frying-pan behind him: they had eaten up the last of his bacon: he stood up, and they were ready for the journey. The smoke from their meagre fire went thinly into the air, the small grey clouds of it went slowly up: nothing beside remained to bid them farewell, or for them to thank for their strange night's hospitality. They climbed till they reached the rugged crest of the mountain; thence they saw a wide plain and the morning: the day was waiting for them.
The northern slope of the mountain was wholly different from that black congregation of angry rocks through which they had climbed by night to the House of Wonder.
The slope that now lay before them was smooth and grassy, flowing before them far, a gentle slope that was soon to lend speed to Rodriguez' feet, adding nimbleness even to youth. Soon, too, it was to lift onward the dull weight of Morano as he followed his master towards unknown wars, youth going before him like a spirit and the good slope helping behind. But before they gave themselves to that waiting journey they stood a moment and looked at the shining plain that lay before them like an open page, on which was the whole chronicle of that day's wayfaring. There was the road they should travel by, there were the streams it crossed and narrow woods they might rest in, and dim on the farthest edge was the place they must spend that night. It was all, as it were written, upon the plain they watched, but in a writing not intended for them, and, clear although it be, never to be interpreted by one of our race. Thus they saw clear, from a height, the road they would go by, but not one of all the events to which it would lead them.
"Master," said Morano, "shall we have more adventures to-day?"
"I trust so," said Rodriguez. "We have far to go, and it will be dull journeying without them."
Morano turned his eyes from his master's face and looked back to the plain. "There, master," he said, "where our road runs through a wood, will our adventure be there, think you? Or there, perhaps," and he waved his hand widely farther.
"No," said Rodriguez, "we pass that in bright daylight."
"Is that not good for adventure?" said Morano.
"The romances teach," said Rodriguez, "that twilight or night are better. The shade of deep woods is favourable, but there are no such woods on this plain. When we come to evening we shall doubtless meet some adventure, far over there." And he pointed to the grey rim of the plain where it started climbing towards hills.
"These are good days," said Morano. He forgot how short a time ago he had said regretfully that these days were not as the old days. But our race, speaking generally, is rarely satisfied with the present, and Morano's cheerfulness had not come from his having risen suddenly superior to this everyday trouble of ours; it came from his having shifted his gaze to the future. Two things are highly tolerable to us, and even alluring, the past and the future. It was only with the present that Morano was ever dissatisfied.
When Morano said that the days were good Rodriguez set out to find them, or at least that one that for some while now lay waiting for them on the plain. He strode down the slope at once and, endowing nature with his own impatience, he felt that he heard the morning call to him wistfully. Morano followed.
For an hour these refugees escaping from peace went down the slope; and in that hour they did five swift miles, miles that seemed to run by them as they walked, and so they came lightly to the level plain. And in the next hour they did four miles more. Words were few, either because Morano brooded mainly upon one thought, the theme of which was his lack of bacon, or because he kept his breath to follow his master who, with youth and the morning, was coming out of the hills at a pace not tuned to Morano's forty years or so. And at the end of these nine miles Morano perceived a house, a little way from the road, on the left, upon rising ground. A mile or so ahead they saw the narrow wood that they had viewed in the morning from the mountain running across the plain. They saw now by the lie of the ground that it probably followed a stream, a pleasant place in which to take the rest demanded by Spain at noon. It was just an hour to noon; so Rodriguez, keeping the road, told Morano to join him where it entered the wood when he had acquired his bacon. And then as they parted a thought occurred to Rodriguez, which was that bacon cost money. It was purely an afterthought, an accidental fancy, such as inspirations are, for he had never had to buy bacon. So he gave Morano a fifth part of his money, a large gold coin the size of one of our five-shilling pieces, engraved of course upon one side with the glories and honours of that golden period of Spain, and upon the other with the head of the lord the King. It was only by chance he had brought any at all; he was not what our newspapers will call, if they ever care to notice him, a level-headed business man. At the sight of the gold piece Morano bowed, for he felt this gift of gold to be an occasion; but he trusted more for the purchase of the bacon to some few small silver coins of his own that he kept among lumps of lard and pieces of string.
And so they parted for a while, Rodriguez looking for some great shadowy oak with moss under it near a stream, Morano in quest of bacon.
When Rodriguez entered the wood he found his oak, but it was not such an oak as he cared to rest beneath during the heat of the day, nor would you have done so, my reader, even though you have been to the wars and seen many a pretty mess; for four of la Garda were by it and were arranging to hang a man from the best of the branches.
"La Garda again," said Rodriguez nearly aloud.
His eye drooped, his look was listless, he gazed at other things; while a glance that you had not noticed, flashed slantingly at la Garda, satisfied Rodriguez that all four were strangers: then he walked straight towards them merrily. The man they proposed to hang was a stranger too. He appeared at first to be as stout as Morano, and he was nearly half a foot taller, but his stoutness turned out to be sheer muscle. The broad man was clothed in old brown leather and had blue eyes.
Now there was something about the poise of Rodriguez' young head which gave him an air not unlike that which the King himself sometimes wore when he went courting. It suited his noble sword and his merry plume. When la Garda saw him they were all politeness at once, and invited him to see the hanging, for which Rodriguez thanked them with amplest courtesy.
"It is not a bull-fight," said the chief of la Garda almost apologetically. But Rodriguez waved aside his deprecations and declared himself charmed at the prospect of a hanging.
Bear with me, reader, while I champion a bad cause and seek to palliate what is inexcusable. As we travel about the world on our way through life we meet and pass here and there, in peace or in war, other men, fellow-travellers: and sometimes there is no more than time for a glance, eye to eye. And in that glance you see the sort of man: and chiefly there are two sorts. The one sort always brooding, always planning; mean, silent men, collecting properties and money; keeping the law on their side, keeping everything on their side; except women and heaven, and the late, leisurely judgment of simple people: and the others merry folk, whose eyes twinkle, whose money flies, who will sooner laugh than plan, who seem to inherit rightfully the happiness that the others plot for, and fail to come by with all their schemes. In the man who was to provide the entertainment Rodriguez recognised the second kind.
Now even though the law had caught a saint that had strayed too far outside the boundary of Heaven, and desired to hang him, Rodriguez knew that it was his duty to help the law while help was needed, and to applaud after the thing was done. The law to Rodriguez was the most sacred thing man had made, if indeed it were not divine; but since the privilege that two days ago had afforded him of studying it more closely, it appeared to him the blindest, silliest thing with which he had had to do since the kittens were drowned that his cat Tabitharina had had at Arguento Harez.
It was in this deplorable state of mind that Rodriguez' glance fell on the merry eyes and the solemn predicament of the man in the leather coat, standing pinioned under a long branch of the oak-tree: and he determined from that moment to disappoint la Garda and, I fear also, my reader, perhaps to disappoint you, of the hanging that they at least had promised themselves.
"Think you," said Rodriguez, "that for so stout a knave this branch of yours suffices?"
Now it was an excellent branch. But it was not so much Rodriguez' words as the anxious way in which he looked at the branch that aroused the anxieties of la Garda: and soon they were looking about to find a better tree; and when four men start doing this in a wood time quickly passes. Meanwhile Morano drew near, and Rodriguez went to meet him.
"Master," said Morano, all out of breath, "they had no bacon. But I got these two bottles of wine. It is strong wine, which is a rare deluder of the senses, which will need to be deluded if we are to go hungry."
Rodriguez was about to cut short Morano's chatter when he thought of a use for the wine, and was silent a moment. And as he pondered Morano looked up and saw la Garda and at the same time perceived the situation, for he had as quick an eye for a bad business as any man.
"No one with the horses," was his comment; for they were tethered a little apart. But Rodriguez' mind had already explored a surer method than the one that Morano seemed to be contemplating. This method he told Morano. And now, from little tugs that they were giving to the doubled rope that hung over the branch of the oak- tree, it was clear enough that the men of the law were returning to their confidence in that very sufficient branch.
They looked up with questions ripe to drop from their lips when they saw Rodriguez returning with Morano. But before one of them spoke Morano flung to them from far off a little piece of his wisdom: for cast a truth into an occasion and it will always trouble the waters, usually stirring up contradiction, but always bringing something to the surface.
"Senores," he said, "no man can enjoy a hanging with a dry throat."
Thus he turned their attention a while from the business in hand, changing their thoughts from the stout neck of the prisoner to their own throats, wondering were they dry; and you do not wonder long about this in the south without finding that what you feared is true. And then he let them see the two great bottles, all full of wine, for the invention of the false bottom that gives to our champagne-bottles the place they rightly hold among famous deceptions had not as yet been discovered.
"It is true," said la Garda. And Rodriguez made Morano put one of the bottles away in a piece of a sack that he carried: and when la Garda saw one of the two bottles disappear it somehow decided them to have the other, though how this came to be so there is no saying; and thus the hanging was postponed again.
Now the drink was a yellow wine, sweet and heavy and stronger than our port; only our whisky could out-triumph it, but there in the warm south it answered its purpose. Rodriguez beckoned Morano up and offered the bottle to one of la Garda; but scarcely had he put it to his lips when Rodriguez bade him stop, saying that he had had his share. And he did the same with the next man.
Now there be few things indeed which la Garda resent more than meagre hospitality in the matter of drink, and with all their wits striving to cope with this vicious defect in Rodriguez, as they rightly or wrongly regarded it, how should they have any to spare for obvious precautions? As the third man drank, Rodriguez turned to speak to Morano; and the representative of the law took such advantage of an opportunity that he feared to be fleeting, that when Rodriguez turned round again the bottle was just half empty. Rodriguez had timed it very nicely.
Next Rodriguez put the bottle to his lips and held it there a little time, while the fourth man of the law, who was guarding the prisoner, watched Rodriguez wistfully, and afterwards Morano, who took the bottle next. Yet neither Rodriguez nor Morano drank.
"You can finish the bottle," said Rodriguez to this anxious watcher, who came forward eagerly though full of doubts, which changed to warm feelings of exuberant gratitude when he found how much remained. Thus he obtained not much less than two tumblerfuls of wine that, as I have said, was stronger than port; and noon was nearing and it was spring in Spain. And then he returned to guard his prisoner under the oak-tree and lay down there on the moss, remembering that it was his duty to keep awake. And afterwards with one hand he took hold of a rope that bound the prisoner's ankles, so that he might still guard his prisoner even though he should fall asleep.
Now two of the men had had little more than the full of a sherry glass each. To these Morano made signs that there was another bottle, and, coming round behind his master, he covertly uncorked it and gave them their heart's desire; and a little was left over for the man who drank third on the first occasion. And presently the spirits of all four of la Garda grew haughty and forgot their humble bodies, and would fain have gone forth to dwell with the sons of light, while their bodies lay on the moss and the sun grew warmer and warmer, shining dappled in amongst the small green leaves. All seemed still but for the winged insects flashing through shafts of the sunlight out of the gloom of the trees and disappearing again like infinitesimal meteors. But our concern is with the thoughts of man, of which deeds are but the shadows: wherever these are active it is wrong to say all is still; for whether they cast their shadows, which are actions, or whether they remain a force not visibly stirring matter, they are the source of the tales we write and the lives we lead; it is they that gave History her material and they that bade her work it up into books.
And thoughts were very active about that oak-tree. For while the thoughts of la Garda arose like dawn, and disappeared into mists, their prisoner was silently living through the sunny days of his life, which are at no time quite lost to us, and which flash vivid and bright and near when memory touches them, herself awakened by the nearness of death. He lived again days far from the day that had brought him where he stood. He drew from those days (that is to say) that delight, that essence of hours, that something which we call life. The sun, the wind, the rough sand, the splash of the sea, on the star-fish, and all the things that it feels during its span, are stored in something like its memory, and are what we call its life: it is the same with all of us. Life is feeling. The prisoner from the store of his memory was taking all he had. His head was lifted, he was gazing northwards, far further than his eyes could see, to shining spaces in great woods; and there his threatened being walked in youth, with steps such as spirits take, over immortal flowers, which were dim and faint but unfading because they lived on in memory. In memory he walked with some who were now far from his footsteps. And, seen through the gloaming of that perilous day, how bright did those far days appear! Did they not seem sunnier than they really were? No, reader; for all the radiance that glittered so late in his mind was drawn from those very days; it was their own brightness that was shining now: we are not done with the days that were as soon as their sunsets have faded, but a light remains from them and grows fairer and fairer, like an afterglow lingering among tremendous peaks above immeasurable slopes of snow.
The prisoner had scarcely noticed Rodriguez or his servant, any more than he noticed his captors; for there come an intensity to those who walk near death that makes them a little alien from other men, life flaring up in them at the last into so grand a flame that the lives of the others seem a little cold and dim where they dwell remote from that sunset that we call mortality. So he looked silently at the days that were as they came dancing back again to him from where they had long lain lost in chasms of time, to which they had slipped over dark edges of years. Smiling they came, but all wistfully anxious, as though their errand were paramount and their span short: he saw them cluster about him, running now, bringing their tiny gifts, and scarcely heard the heavy sigh of his guard as Rodriguez gagged him and Morano tied him up.
Had Rodriguez now released the prisoner they could have been three to three, in the event of things going wrong with the sleep of la Garda; but, since in the same time they could gag and bind another, the odds would be the same at two to two, and Rodriguez preferred this to the slight uncertainties that would be connected with the entry of another partner. They accordingly gagged the next man and bound his wrists and ankles. And that Spanish wine held good with the other two and bound them far down among the deeps of dreams: and so it should, for it was of a vine that grew in the vales of Spain and had ripened in one of the years of the golden age.
They bound one as easily as they had bound the other two; and the last Rodriguez watched while Morano cut the ropes off the prisoner, for he had run out of bits of twine and all other improvisations. With these ropes he ran back to his master, and they tied up the last prisoner but did not gag him.
"Shall we gag him, master, like the rest?" said Morano.
"No," said Rodriguez. "He has nothing to say."
And though this remark turned out to be strictly untrue, it well enough answered its purpose.
And then they saw standing before them the man they had freed. And he bowed to Rodriguez like one that had never bowed before. I do not mean that he bowed with awkwardness, like imitative men unused to politeness, but he bowed as the oak bows to the woodman; he stood straight, looking Rodriguez in the eyes, then he bowed as though he had let his spirit break, which allowed him to bow to never a man before. Thus, if my pen has been able dimly to tell of it, thus bowed the man in the old leathern jacket. And Rodriguez bowed to him in answer with the elegance that they that had dwelt at Arguento Harez had slowly drawn from the ages.
"Senor, your name," said the stranger.
"Lord of Arguento Harez," said Rodriguez.
"Senor," he said, "being a busy man, I have seldom time to pray. And the blessed Saints, being more busy than I, I think seldom hear my prayers: yet your name shall go up to them. I will often tell it them quietly in the forest, and not on their holy days when bells are ringing and loud prayers fill Heaven. It may be ..."
"Senor," Rodriguez said, "I profoundly thank you."
Even in these days, when bullets are often thicker than prayers, we are not quite thankless for the prayers of others: in those days they were what "closing quotations" are on the Stock Exchange, ink in Fleet Street, machinery in the Midlands; common but valued; and Rodriguez' thanks were sincere.
And now that the curses of the ungagged one of la Garda were growing monotonous, Rodriguez turned to Morano.
"Ungag the rest," he said, "and let them talk to each other."
"Master," Morano muttered, feeling that there was enough noise already for a small wood, but he went and did as he was ordered. And Rodriguez was justified of his humane decision, for the pent thoughts of all three found expression together and, all four now talking at once, mitigated any bitterness there may have been in those solitary curses. And now Rodriguez could talk undisturbed.
"Whither?" said the stranger.
"To the wars," said Rodriguez, "if wars there be."
"Aye," said the stranger, "there be always wars somewhere. By which road go you?"
"North," said Rodriguez, and he pointed. The stranger turned his eyes to the way Rodriguez pointed.
"That brings you to the forest," he said, "unless you go far around, as many do."
"What forest?" said Rodriguez.
"The great forest named Shadow Valley," said the stranger.
"How far?" said Rodriguez.
"Forty miles," said the stranger.
Rodriguez looked at la Garda and then at their horses, and thought. He must be far from la Garda by nightfall.
"It is not easy to pass through Shadow Valley," said the stranger.
"Is it not?" said Rodriguez.
"Have you a gold great piece?" the stranger said.
Rodriguez held out one of his remaining four: the stranger took it. And then he began to rub it on a stone, and continued to rub while Rodriguez watched in silence, until the image of the lord the King was gone and the face of the coin was scratchy and shiny and flat. And then he produced from a pocket or pouch in his jacket a graving tool with a round wooden handle, which he took in the palm of his hand, and the edge of the steel came out between his forefinger and thumb: and with this he cut at the coin. And Morano rejoined them from his merciful mission and stood and wondered at the cutting. And while he cut they talked.
They did not ask him how he came to be chosen for hanging, because in every country there are about a hundred individualists, varying to perhaps half a hundred in poor ages. They go their hundred ways, or their half-dozen ways; and there is a hundred and first way, or a seventh way, which is the way that is cut for the rest: and if some of the rest catch one of the hundred, or one of the six, they naturally hang him, if they have a rope, and if hanging is the custom of the country, for different countries use different methods. And you saw by this man's eyes that he was one of the hundred. Rodriguez therefore only sought to know how he came to be caught.
"La Garda found you, senor?" he said.
"As you see," said the stranger. "I came too far from my home."
"You were travelling?" said Rodriguez.
"Shopping," he said.
At this word Morano's interest awakened wide. "Senor," he said, "what is the right price for a bottle of this wine that la Garda drink?"
"I know not," said the man in the brown jacket; "they give me these things."
"Where is your home, senor?" Rodriguez asked.
"It is Shadow Valley," he said.
One never saw Rodriguez fail to understand anything: if he could not clear a situation up he did not struggle with it. Morano rubbed his chin: he had heard of Shadow Valley only dimly, for all the travellers he had known out of the north had gone round it. Rodriguez and Morano bent their heads and watched a design that was growing out of the gold. And as the design grew under the hand of the strange worker he began to talk of the horses. He spoke as though his plans had been clearly established by edict, and as though no others could be.
"When I have gone with two horses," he said, "ride hard with the other two till you reach the village named Lowlight, and take them to the forge of Fernandez the smith, where one will shoe them who is not Fernandez."
And he waved his hand northwards. There was only one road. Then all his attention fell back again to his work on the gold coin; and when those blue eyes were turned away there seemed nothing left to question. And now Rodriguez saw the design was a crown, a plain gold circlet with oak leaves rising up from it. And this woodland emblem stood up out of the gold, for the worker had hollowed the coin away all around it, and was sloping it up to the edge. Little was said by the watchers in the wonder of seeing the work, for no craft is very far from the line beyond which is magic, and the man in the leather coat was clearly a craftsman: and he said nothing for he worked at a craft. And when the arboreal crown was finished, and its edges were straight and sharp, an hour had passed since he began near noon. Then he drilled a hole near the rim and, drawing a thin green ribbon from his pocket, he passed it through the hole and, rising, he suddenly hung it round Rodriguez' neck.
"Wear it thus," he said, "while you go through Shadow Valley."
As he said this he stepped back among the trees, and Rodriguez followed to thank him. Not finding him behind the tree where he thought to find him, he walked round several others, and Morano joined his search; but the stranger had vanished. When they returned again to the little clearing they heard sounds of movement in the wood, and a little way off where the four horses had grazed there were now only two, which were standing there with their heads up.
"We must ride, Morano," said Rodriguez.
"Ride, master?" said Morano dolefully.
"If we walk away," said Rodriguez, "they will walk after us."
"They" meant la Garda. It was unnecessary for him to tell Morano what I thus tell the reader, for in the wood it was hard to hear anyone else, while to think of anyone else was out of the question.
"What shall I do to them, master?" said Morano.
They were now standing close to their captives and this simple question calmed the four men's curses, all of a sudden, like shutting the door on a storm.
"Leave them," Rodriguez said. And la Garda's spirits rose and they cursed again.
"Ah. To die in the wood," said Morano. "No," said Rodriguez; and he walked towards the horses. And something in that "No" sounding almost contemptuous, Morano's feelings were hurt, and he blurted out to his master "But how can they get away to get their food?? It is good knots that I tie, master."
"Morano," Rodriguez said, "I remember ten ways in the books of romance whereby bound men untie themselves; and doubtless one or two more I have read and forgot; and there may be other ways in the books that I have not read, besides any way that there be of which no books tell. And in addition to these ways, one of them may draw a comrade's sword with his teeth and thus ..."
"Shall I pull out their teeth?" said Morano.
"Ride," said Rodriguez, for they were now come to the horses. And sorrowfully Morano looked at the horse that was to be his, as a man might look at a small, uncomfortable boat that is to carry him far upon a stormy day. And then Rodriguez helped him into the saddle.
"Can you stay there?" Rodriguez said. "We have far to go."
"Master," Morano answered, "these hands can hold till evening."
And then Rodriguez mounted, leaving Morano gripping the high front of the saddle with his large brown hands. But as soon as the horses started he got a grip with his heels as well, and later on with his knees. Rodriguez led the way on to the straggling road and was soon galloping northwards, while Morano's heels kept his horse up close to his master's. Morano rode as though trained in the same school that some while later taught Macaulay's equestrian, who rode with "loose rein and bloody spur." Yet the miles went swiftly by as they galloped on soft white dust, which lifted and settled, some of it, back on the lazy road, while some of it was breathed by Morano. The gold coin on the green silk ribbon flapped up and down as Rodriguez rode, till he stuffed it inside his clothing and remembered no more about it. Once they saw before them the man they had snatched from the noose: he was going hard and leading a loose horse. And then where the road bent round a low hill he galloped out of sight and they saw him no more. He had the loose horse to change on to as soon as the other was tired: they had no prospect of overtaking him. And so he passed out of their minds as their host had done who went away with his household to Saragossa.
At first Rodriguez' mandolin, that was always slung on his back, bumped up and down uncomfortably; but he eased it by altering the strap: small things like this bring contentment. And then he settled down to ride. But no contentment came near Morano nor did he look for it. On the first day of his wanderings he had worn his master's clothes, which has been an experience standing somewhat where toothache does, which is somewhere about half-way between discomfort and agony. On the second day he had climbed at the end of a weary journey over those sharp rocks whose shape was adapted so ill to his body. On the third day he was riding. He did not look for comfort. But he met discomfort with an easy resignation that almost defeated the intention of Satan who sends it, unless— as is very likely—it be from Heaven. And in spite of all discomforts he gaily followed Rodriguez. In a thousand days at the Inn of the Dragon and Knight no two were so different to Morano that one stood out from the other, or any from the rest. It was all as though one day were repeated again and again; and at some point in this monotonous repetition, like a milestone shaped as the rest on a perfectly featureless road, life would end and the meaningless repetition stop: and looking back on it there would only be one day to see, or, if he could not look back, it would be all gone for nothing. And then, into that one day that he was living on in the gloaming of that grim inn, Rodriguez had appeared, and Morano had known him for one of those wandering lights that sometimes make sudden day among the stars. He knew— no, he felt—that by following him, yesterday today and tomorrow would be three separate possessions in memory. Morano gladly gave up that one dull day he was living for the new strange days through which Rodriguez was sure to lead him. Gladly he left it: if this be not true how then has a man with a dream led thousands to follow his fancy, from the Crusades to whatever gay madness be the fashion when this is read? As they galloped the scent of the flowers rushed into Rodriguez' nostrils, while Morano mainly breathed the dust from the hooves of his master's horse. But the quest was favoured the more by the scent of the flowers inspiring its leader's fancies. So Morano gained even from this.
In the first hour they shortened by fifteen miles the length of their rambling quest. In the next hour they did five miles; and in the third hour ten. After this they rode slowly. The sun was setting. Morano regarded the sunset with delight, for it seemed to promise jovially the end of his sufferings, which except for brief periods when they went on foot, to rest—as Rodriguez said—the horses, had been continuous and even increasing since they started. Rodriguez, perhaps a little weary too, drew from the sunset a more sombre feeling, as sensitive minds do: he responded to its farewell, he felt its beauty, and as little winds turned cool and the shine of blades of grass faded, making all the plain dimmer, he heard, or believed he heard, further off than he could see, sounds on the plain beyond ridges, in hollows, behind clumps of bushes; as though small creatures all unknown to his learning played instruments cut from reeds upon unmapped streams. In this hour, among these fancies, Rodriguez saw clear on a hill the white walls of the village of Lowlight. And now they began to notice that a great round moon was shining. The sunset grew dimmer and the moonlight stole in softly, as a cat might walk through great doors on her silent feet into a throne-room just as the king had gone: and they entered the village slowly in the perfect moment of twilight.
The round horizon was brimming with a pale but magical colour, welling up to the tips of trees and the battlements of white towers. Earth seemed a mysterious cup overfull of this pigment of wonder. Clouds wandering low, straying far from their azure fields, were dipped in it. The towers of Lowlight turned slowly rose in that light, and glowed together with the infinite gloaming, so that for this brief hour the things of man were wed with the things of eternity. It was into this wide, pale flame of aetherial rose that the moon came stealing like a magician on tip- toe, to enchant the tips of the trees, low clouds and the towers of Lowlight. A blue light from beyond our world touched the pink that is Earth's at evening: and what was strange and a matter for hushed voices, marvellous but yet of our earth, became at that touch unearthly. All in a moment it was, and Rodriguez gasped to see it. Even Morano's eyes grew round with the coming of wonder, or with some dim feeling that an unnoticed moment had made all things strange and new.
For some moments the spell of moonlight on sunlight hovered: the air was brimming and quivering with it: magic touched earth. For some moments, some thirty beats of a heron's wing, had the angels sung to men, had their songs gone earthward into that rosy glow, gliding past layers of faintly tinted cloud, like moths at dusk towards a briar-rose; in those few moments men would have known their language. Rodriguez reined in his horse in the heavy silence and waited. For what he waited he knew not: some unearthly answer perhaps to his questioning thoughts that had wandered far from earth, though no words came to him with which to ask their question and he did not know what question they would ask. He was all vibrating with the human longing: I know not what it is, but perhaps philosophers know. He sat there waiting while a late bird sailed homeward, sat while Morano wondered. And nothing spake from anywhere.
And now a dog began to notice the moon: now a child cried suddenly that had been dragged back from the street, where it had wandered at bedtime: an old dog rose from where it had lain in the sun and feebly yet confidently scratched at a door: a cat peered round a corner: a man spoke: Rodriguez knew there would be no answer now.
Rodriguez hit his horse, the tired animal went forward, and he and Morano rode slowly up the street.
Dona Serafina of the Valley of Dawnlight had left the heat of the room that looked on the fields, and into which the sun had all day been streaming, and had gone at sunset to sit in the balcony that looked along the street. Often she would do this at sunset; but she rather dreamed as she sat there than watched the street, for all that it had to show she knew without glancing. Evening after evening as soon as winter was over the neighbour would come from next door and stretch himself and yawn and sit on a chair by his doorway, and the neighbour from opposite would saunter across the way to him, and they would talk with eagerness of the sale of cattle, and sometimes, but more coldly, of the affairs of kings. She knew, but cared not to know, just when the two old men would begin their talk. She knew who owned every dog that stretched itself in the dust until chilly winds blew in the dusk and they rose up dissatisfied. She knew the affairs of that street like an old, old lesson taught drearily, and her thoughts went far away to vales of an imagination where they met with many another maiden fancy, and they all danced there together through the long twilight in Spring. And then her mother would come and warn her that the evening grew cold, and Serafina would turn from the mystery of evening into the house and the candle-light. This was so evening after evening all through spring and summer for two long years of her youth. And then, this evening, just as the two old neighbours began to discuss whether or not the subjugation of the entire world by Spain would be for its benefit, just as one of the dogs in the road was rising slowly to shake itself, neighbours and dogs all raised their heads to look, and there was Rodriguez riding down the street and Morano coming behind him. When Serafina saw this she brought her eyes back from dreams, for she dreamed not so deeply but that the cloak and plume of Rodriguez found some place upon the boundaries of her day-dream. When she saw the way he sat his horse and how he carried his head she let her eyes flash for a little moment along the street from her balcony. And if some critical reader ask how she did it I answer, "My good sir, I can't tell you, because I don't know," or "My dear lady, what a question to ask!" And where she learned to do it I cannot think, but nothing was easier. And then she smiled to think that she had done the very thing that her mother had warned her there was danger in doing.
"Serafina," her mother said in that moment at the large window, "the evening grows cold. It might be dangerous to stay there longer." And Serafina entered the house, as she had done at the coming of dusk on many an evening.
Rodriguez missed as much of that flash of her eyes, shot from below the darkness of her hair, as youth in its first glory and freedom misses. For at the point on the road called life at which Rodriguez was then, one is high on a crag above the promontories of watchmen, lower only than the peaks of the prophets, from which to see such things. Yet it did not need youth to notice Serafina. Beggars had blessed her for the poise of her head.
She turned that head a little as she went between the windows, till Rodriguez gazing up to her saw the fair shape of her neck: and almost in that moment the last of the daylight died. The windows shut; and Rodriguez rode on with Morano to find the forge that was kept by Fernandez the smith. And presently they came to the village forge, a cottage with huge, high roof whose beams were safe from sparks; and its fire was glowing redly into the moonlight through the wide door made for horses, although there seemed no work to be done, and a man with a swart moustache was piling more logs on. Over the door was burned on oak in ungainly great letters—
"For whom do you seek, senor?" he said to Rodriguez, who had halted before him with his horse's nose inside the doorway sniffing.
"I look," he said, "for him who is not Fernandez."
"I am he," said the man by the fire.
Rodriguez questioned no further but dismounted, and bade Morano lead the horses in. And then he saw in the dark at the back of the forge the other two horses that he had seen in the wood. And they were shod as he had never seen horses shod before. For the front pair of shoes were joined by a chain riveted stoutly to each, and the hind pair also; and both horses were shod alike. The method was equally new to Morano. And now the man with the swart moustache picked up another bunch of horseshoes hanging in pairs on chains. And Rodriguez was not far out when he guessed that whenever la Garda overtook their horses they would find that Fernandez was far away making holiday, while he who shod them now would be gone upon other business. And all this work seemed to Rodriguez not to be his affair.
"Farewell," he said to the smith that was not Fernandez; and with a pat for his horse he left it, having obtained a promise of oats. And so Rodriguez and Morano went on foot again, Morano elated in spite of fatigue and pain, rejoicing to feel the earth once more, flat under the soles of his feet; Rodriguez a little humbled. THE