Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE EIGHTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE TRAVELLED FAR
One blackbird on a twig near Rodriguez' window sang, then there were fifty singing, and morning arose over Spain all golden and wonderful.
Rodriguez descended and found mine host rubbing his hands by his good table, with a look on his face that seemed to welcome the day and to find good auguries concerning it. But Morano looked as one that, having fallen from some far better place, is ill-content with earth and the mundane way.
He had scorned breakfast; but Rodriguez breakfasted. And soon the two were bidding mine host farewell. They found their horses saddled, they mounted at once, and rode off slowly in the early day. The horses were tired and, slowly trotting and walking, and sometimes dismounting and dragging the horses on, it was nearly two hours before they had done ten miles and come to the house of the smith in a rocky village: the street was cobbled and the houses were all of stone.
The early sparkle had gone from the dew, but it was still morning, and many a man but now sat down to his breakfast, as they arrived and beat on the door.
Gonzalez the smith opened it, a round and ruddy man past fifty, a citizen following a reputable trade, but once, ah once, a bowman.
"Senor," said Rodriguez, "our horses are weary. We have been told you will change them for us."
"Who told you that?" said Gonzalez.
"The green bowmen in Shadow Valley," the young man answered.
As a meteor at night lights up with its greenish glare flowers and blades of grass, twisting long shadows behind them, lights up lawns and bushes and the deep places of woods, scattering quiet night for a moment, so the unexpected answer of Rodriguez lit memories in the mind of the smith all down the long years; and a twinkle and a sparkle of those memories dancing in woods long forsaken flashed from his eyes.
"The green bowmen, senor," said Gonzalez. "Ah, Shadow Valley!"
"We left it yesterday," said Rodriguez.
When Gonzalez heard this he poured forth questions. "The forest, senor; how is it now with the forest? Do the boars still drink at Heather Pool? Do the geese go still to Greatmarsh? They should have come early this year. How is it with Larios, Raphael, Migada? Who shoots woodcock now?"
The questions flowed on past answering, past remembering: he had not spoken of the forest for years. And Rodriguez answered as such questions are always answered, saying that all was well, and giving Gonzalez some little detail of some trifling affair of the forest, which he treasured as small shells are treasured in inland places when travellers bring them from the sea; but all that he heard of the forest seemed to the smith like something gathered on a far shore of time. Yes, he had been a bowman once.
But he had no horses. One horse that drew a cart, but no horses for riding at all. And Rodriguez thought of the immense miles lying between him and the foreign land, keeping him back from his ambition; they all pressed on his mind at once. The smith was sorry, but he could not make horses.
"Show him your coin, master," said Morano.
"Ah, a small token," said Rodriguez, drawing it forth still on its green ribbon under his clothing. "The bowman's badge, is it not?"
Gonzalez looked at it, then looked at Rodriguez.
"Master," he said, "you shall have your horses. Give me time: you shall have them. Enter, master." And he bowed and widely opened the door. "If you will breakfast in my house while I go to the neighbours you shall have some horses, master."
So they entered the house, and the smith with many bows gave the travellers over to the care of his wife, who saw from her husband's manner that these were persons of importance and as such she treated them both, and as such entertained them to their second breakfast. And this meant they ate heartily, as travellers can, who can go without a breakfast or eat two; and those who dwell in cities can do neither.
And while the plump dame did them honour they spoke no word of the forest, for they knew not what place her husband's early years had in her imagination.
They had barely finished their meal when the sound of hooves on cobbles was heard and Gonzalez beat on the door. They all went to the door and found him there with two horses. The horses were saddled and bridled. They fixed the stirrups to please them, then the travellers mounted at once. Rodriguez made his grateful farewell to the wife of the smith: then, turning to Gonzalez, he pointed to the two tired horses which had waited all the while with their reins thrown over a hook on the wall.
"Let the owner of these have them till his own come back," he said, and added: "How far may I take these?"
"They are good horses," said the smith.
"Yes," said Rodriguez.
"They could do fifty miles to-day," Gonzalez continued, "and to- morrow, why, forty, or a little more."
"And where will that bring me?" said Rodriguez, pointing to the straight road which was going his way, north-eastward.
"That," said Gonzalez, "that should bring you some ten or twenty miles short of Saspe."
"And where shall I leave the horses?" Rodriguez asked.
"Master," Gonzalez said, "in any village where there be a smith, if you say 'these are the horses of the smith Gonzalez, who will come for them one day from here,' they will take them in for you, master."
"But," and Gonzalez walked a little away from his wife, and the horses walked and he went beside them, "north of here none knows the bowmen. You will get no fresh horses, master. What will you do?"
"Walk," said Rodriguez.
Then they said farewell, and there was a look on the face of the smith almost such as the sons of men might have worn in Genesis when angels visited them briefly.
They settled down into a steady trot and trotted thus for three hours. Noon came, and still there was no rest for Morano, but only dust and the monotonous sight of the road, on which his eyes were fixed: nearly an hour more passed, and at last he saw his master halt and turn round in his saddle.
"Dinner," Rodriguez said.
All Morano's weariness vanished: it was the hour of the frying-pan once more.
They had done more than twenty-one miles from the house of Gonzalez. Nimbly enough, in his joy at feeling the ground again, Morano ran and gathered sticks from the bushes. And soon he had a fire, and a thin column of grey smoke going up from it that to him was always home.
When the frying-pan warmed and lard sizzled, when the smell of bacon mingled with the smoke, then Morano was where all wise men and all unwise try to be, and where some of one or the other some times come for awhile, by unthought paths and are gone again; for that smoky, mixed odour was happiness.
Not for long men and horses rested, for soon Rodriguez' ambition was drawing him down the road again, of which he knew that there remained to be travelled over two hundred miles in Spain, and how much beyond that he knew not, nor greatly cared, for beyond the frontier of Spain he believed there lay the dim, desired country of romance where roads were long no more and no rain fell. They mounted again and pushed on for this country. Not a village they saw but that Morano hoped that here his affliction would end and that he would dismount and rest; and always Rodriguez rode on and Morano followed, and with a barking of dogs they were gone and the village rested behind them. For many an hour their slow trot carried them on; and Morano, clutching the saddle with worn arms, already was close to despair, when Rodriguez halted in a little village at evening before an inn. They had done their fifty miles from the house of Gonzalez, and even a little more.
Morano rolled from his horse and beat on the small green door. Mine host came out and eyed them, preening the point of his beard; and Rodriguez sat his horse and looked at him. They had not the welcome here that Gonzalez gave them; but there was a room to spare for Rodriguez, and Morano was promised what he asked for, straw; and there was shelter to be had for the horses. It was all the travellers needed.
Children peered at the strangers, gossips peeped out of doors to gather material concerning them, dogs noted their coming, the eyes of the little village watched them curiously, but Rodriguez and Morano passed into the house unheeding; and past those two tired men the mellow evening glided by like a dream. Tired though Rodriguez was he noticed a certain politeness in mine host while he waited at supper, which had not been noticeable when he had first received him, and rightly put this down to some talk of Morano's; but he did not guess that Morano had opened wide blue eyes and, babbling to his host, had guilelessly told him that his master a week ago had killed an uncivil inn-keeper.
Scarcely were late birds home before Rodriguez sought his bed, and not all of them were sleeping before he slept.
Another morning shone, and appeared to Spain, and all at once Rodriguez was wide awake. It was the eighth day of his wanderings.
When he had breakfasted and paid his due in silver he and Morano departed, leaving mine host upon his doorstep bowing with an almost perplexed look on his shrewd face as he took the points of moustachios and beard lightly in turn between finger and thumb: for we of our day enter vague details about ourselves in the book downstairs when we stay at inns, but it was mine host's custom to gather all that with his sharp eyes. Whatever he gathered, Rodriguez and Morano were gone.
But soon their pace dwindled, the trot slackening and falling to a walk; soon Rodriguez learned what it is to travel with tired horses. To Morano riding was merely riding, and the discomforts of that were so great that he noticed no difference. But to Rodriguez, his continual hitting and kicking his horse's sides, his dislike of doing it, the uselessness of it when done, his ambition before and the tired beast underneath, the body always some yards behind the beckoning spirit, were as great vexation as a traveller knows. It came to dismounting and walking miles on foot; even then the horses hung back. They halted an hour over dinner while the horses grazed and rested, and they returned to their road refreshed by the magic that was in the frying-pan, but the horses were no fresher.
When our bodies are slothful and lie heavy, never responding to the spirit's bright promptings, then we know dullness: and the burden of it is the graver for hearing our spirits call faintly, as the chains of a buccaneer in some deep prison, who hears a snatch of his comrades' singing as they ride free by the coast, would grow more unbearable than ever before. But the weight of his tired horse seemed to hang heavier on the fanciful hopes that Rodriguez' dreams had made. Farther than ever seemed the Pyrenees, huger than ever their barrier, dimmer and dimmer grew the lands of romance.
If the hopes of Rodriguez were low, if his fancies were faint, what material have I left with which to make a story with glitter enough to hold my readers' eyes to the page: for know that mere dreams and idle fancies, and all amorous, lyrical, unsubstantial things, are all that we writers have of which to make a tale, as they are all that the Dim Ones have to make the story of man.
Sometimes riding, sometimes going on foot, with the thought of the long, long miles always crowding upon Rodriguez, overwhelming his hopes; till even the castle he was to win in the wars grew too pale for his fancy to see, tired and without illusions, they came at last by starlight to the glow of a smith's forge. He must have done forty-five miles and he knew they were near Caspe.
The smith was working late, and looked up when Rodriguez halted. Yes, he knew Gonzalez, a master in the trade: there was a welcome for his horses.
But for the two human travellers there were excuses, even apologies, but no spare beds. It was the same in the next three or four houses that stood together by the road. And the fever of Rodriguez' ambition drove him on, though Morano would have lain down and slept where they stood, though he himself was weary. The smith had received his horses; after that he cared not whether they gave him shelter or not, the alternative being the road, and that bringing nearer his wars and the castle he was to win. And that fancy that led his master Morano allowed always to lead him too, though a few more miles and he would have fallen asleep as he walked and dropped by the roadside and slept on. Luckily they had gone barely two miles from the forge where the horses rested, when they saw a high, dark house by the road and knocked on the door and found shelter. It was an old woman who let them in, a farmer's wife, and she had room for them and one mattress, but no bed. They were too tired to eat and did not ask for food, but at once followed her up the booming stairs of her house, which were all dark but for her candle, and so came among huge minuetting shadows to the long loft at the top. There was a mattress there which the old woman laid out for Rodriguez, and a heap of hay for Morano. Just for a moment, as Rodriguez climbed the last step of the stair and entered the loft where the huge shadows twirled between the one candle's light and the unbeaten darkness in corners, just for a moment romance seemed to beckon to him; for a moment, in spite of his fatigue and dejection, in spite of the possibility of his quest being crazy, for a moment he felt that great shadows and echoing boards, the very cobwebs even that hung from the black rafters, were all romantic things; he felt that his was a glorious adventure and that all these things that filled the loft in the night were such as should fitly attend on youth and glory. In a moment that feeling was gone he knew not why it had come. And though he remembered it till grey old age, when he came to know the causes of many things, he never knew what romance might have to do with shadows or echoes at night in an empty room, and only knew of such fancies that they came from beyond his understanding, whether from wisdom or folly.
Morano was first asleep, as enormous snores testified, almost before the echoes had died away of the footsteps of the old woman descending the stairs; but soon Rodriguez followed him into the region of dreams, where fantastic ambitions can live with less of a struggle than in the broad light of day: he dreamed he walked at night down a street of castles strangely colossal in an awful starlight, with doors too vast for any human need, whose battlements were far in the heights of night; and chose, it being in time of war, the one that should be his; but the gargoyles on it were angry and spoiled the dream.
Dream followed dream with furious rapidity, as the dreams of tired men do, racing each other, jostling and mingling and dancing, an ill-assorted company: myriads went by, a wild, grey, cloudy multitude; and with the last walked dawn.
Rodriguez rose more relieved to quit so tumultuous a rest than refreshed by having had it.
He descended, leaving Morano to sleep on, and not till the old dame had made a breakfast ready did he return to interrupt his snores.
Even as he awoke upon his heap of hay Morano remained as true to his master's fantastic quest as the camel is true to the pilgrimage to Mecca. He awoke grumbling, as the camel grumbles at dawn when the packs are put on him where he lies, but never did he doubt that they went to victorious wars where his master would win a castle splendid with towers.
Breakfast cheered both the travellers. And then the old lady told Rodriguez that Caspe was but a three hours' walk, and that cheered them even more, for Caspe is on the Ebro, which seemed to mark for Rodriguez a stage in his journey, being carried easily in his imagination, like the Pyrenees. What road he would take when he reached Caspe he had not planned. And soon Rodriguez expressed his gratitude, full of fervour, with many a flowery phrase which lived long in the old dame's mind; and the visit of those two travellers became one of the strange events of that house and was chief of the memories that faintly haunted the rafters of the loft for years.
They did not reach Caspe in three hours, but went lazily, being weary; for however long a man defies fatigue the hour comes when it claims him. The knowledge that Caspe lay near with sure lodging for the night, soothed Rodriguez' impatience. And as they loitered they talked, and they decided that la Garda must now be too far behind to pursue any longer. They came in four hours to the bank of the Ebro and there saw Caspe near them; but they dined once more on the grass, sitting beside the river, rather than enter the town at once, for there had grown in both travellers a liking for the wanderers' green table of earth.
It was a time to make plans. The country of romance was far away and they were without horses.
"Will you buy horses, master?" said Morano.
"We might not get them over the Pyrenees," said Rodriguez, though he had a better reason, which was that three gold pieces did not buy two saddled horses. There were no more friends to hire from. Morano grew thoughtful. He sat with his feet dangling over the bank of the Ebro.
"Master," he said after a while, "this river goes our way. Let us come by boat, master, and drift down to France at our ease."
To get a river over a range of mountains is harder than to get horses. Some such difficulty Rodriguez implied to him; but Morano, having come slowly by an idea, parted not so easily with it.
"It goes our way, master," he repeated, and pointed a finger at the Ebro.
At this moment a certain song that boatmen sing on that river, when the current is with them and they have nothing to do but be idle and their lazy thoughts run to lascivious things, came to the ears of Rodriguez and Morano; and a man with a bright blue sash steered down the Ebro. He had been fishing and was returning home.
"Master," Morano said, "that knave shall row us there."
Rodriguez seeing that the idea was fixed in Morano's mind determined that events would move it sooner than argument, and so made no reply.
"Shall I tell him, master?" asked Morano.
"Yes," said Rodriguez, "if he can row us over the Pyrenees."
This was the permission that Morano sought, and a hideous yell broke from his throat hailing the boatman. The boatman looked up lazily, a young man with strong brown arms, turning black moustaches towards Morano. Again Morano hailed him and ran along the bank, while the boat drifted down and the boatman steered in towards Morano. Somehow Morano persuaded him to come in to see what he wanted; and in a creek he ran his boat aground, and there he and Morano argued and bargained. But Rodriguez remained where he was, wondering why it took so long to turn his servant's mind from that curious fancy. At last Morano returned.
"Well?" said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "he will row us to the Pyrenees."
"The Pyrenees!" said Rodriguez. "The Ebro runs into the sea." For they had taught him this at the college of San Josephus.
"He will row us there," said Morano, "for a gold piece a day, rowing five hours each day."
Now between them they had but four gold pieces; but that did not make the Ebro run northward. It seemed that the Ebro, after going their way, as Morano had said, for twenty or thirty miles, was joined by the river Segre, and that where the Ebro left them, turning eastwards, the course of the Segre took them on their way: but it would be rowing against the current.
"How far is it?" said Rodriguez.
"A hundred miles, he says," answered Morano. "He knows it well."
Rodriguez calculated swiftly. First he added thirty miles; for he knew that his countrymen took a cheerful view of distance, seldom allowing any distance to oppress them under its true name at the out set of a journey; then he guessed that the boatman might row five miles an hour for the first thirty miles with the stream of the Ebro, and he hoped that he might row three against the Segre until they came near the mountains, where the current might grow too strong.
"Morano," he said, "we shall have to row too."
"Row, master?" said Morano.
"We can pay him for four days," said Rodriguez. "If we all row we may go far on our way."
"It is better than riding," replied Morano with entire resignation.
And so they walked to the creek and Rodriguez greeted the boatman, whose name was Perez; and they entered the boat and he rowed them down to Caspe. And, in the house of Perez, Rodriguez slept that night in a large dim room, untidy with diverse wares: they slept on heaps of things that pertained to the river and fishing. Yet it was late before Rodriguez slept, for in sight of his mind came glimpses at last of the end of his journey; and, when he slept at last, he saw the Pyrenees. Through the long night their mighty heads rejected him, staring immeasurably beyond him in silence, and then in happier dreams they beckoned him for a moment. Till at last a bird that had entered the city of Caspe sang clear and it was dawn. With that first light Rodriguez arose and awoke Morano. Together they left that long haven of lumber and found Perez already stirring. They ate hastily and all went down to the boat, the unknown that waits at the end of all strange journeys quickening their steps as they went through the early light.
Perez rowed first and the others took their turns and so they went all the morning down the broad flood of the Ebro, and came in the afternoon to its meeting place with the Segre. And there they landed and stretched their limbs on shore and lit a fire and feasted, before they faced the current that would be henceforth against them. Then they rowed on.
When they landed by starlight and unrolled a sheet of canvas that Perez had put in the boat, and found what a bad time starlight is for pitching a tent, Rodriguez and Morano had rowed for four hours each and Perez had rowed for five. They carried no timber in the boat but used the oars for tent-poles and cut tent-pegs with a small hatchet that Perez had brought.
They stumbled on rocks, tore the canvas on bushes, lost the same thing over and over again; in fact they were learning the craft of wandering. Yet at last their tent was up and a good fire comforting them outside, and Morano had cooked the food and they had supped and talked, and after that they slept. And over them sleeping the starlight faded away, and in the greyness that none of them dreamed was dawn five clear notes were heard so shrill in the night that Rodriguez half waking wondered what bird of the darkness called, and learned from the answering chorus that it was day.
He woke Morano who rose in that chilly hour and, striking sparks among last night's embers, soon had a fire: they hastily made a meal and wrapped up their tent and soon they were going onward against the tide of the Segre. And that day Morano rowed more skilfully; and Rodriguez unwrapped his mandolin and played, reclining in the boat while he rested from rowing. And the mandolin told them all, what the words of none could say, that they fared to adventure in the land of Romance, to the overthrow of dullness and the sameness of all drear schemes and the conquest of discontent in the spirit of man; and perhaps it sang of a time that has not yet come, or the mandolin lied.
That evening three wiser men made their camp before starlight. They were now far up the Segre.
For thirteen hours next day they toiled at the oars or lay languid. And while Rodriguez rested he played on his mandolin. The Segre slipped by them.
They seemed like no men on their way to war, but seemed to loiter as the bright river loitered, which slid seaward in careless ease and was wholly freed from time.
On this day they heard men speak of the Pyrenees, two men and a woman walking by the river; their voices came to the boat across the water, and they spoke of the Pyrenees. And on the next day they heard men speak of war. War that some farmers had fled from on the other side of the mountain. When Rodriguez heard these chance words his dreams came nearer till they almost touched the edges of reality.
It was the last day of Perez' rowing. He rowed well although they neared the cradle of the Segre and he struggled against them in his youth. Grey peaks began to peer that had nursed that river. Grey faces of stone began to look over green hills. They were the Pyrenees.
When Rodriguez saw at last the Pyrenees he drew a breath and was unable to speak. Soon they were gone again below the hills: they had but peered for a moment to see who troubled the Segre.
And the sun set and still they did not camp, but Perez rowed on into the starlight. That day he rowed six hours.
They pitched their tent as well as they could in the darkness; and, breathing a clear new air all crisp from the Pyrenees, they slept outside the threshold of adventure.
Rodriguez awoke cold. Once more he heard the first blackbird who sings clear at the edge of night all alone in the greyness, the nightingale's only rival; a rival like some unknown in the midst of a crowd who for a moment leads some well-loved song, in notes more liquid than a master-singer's; and all the crowd joins in and his voice is lost, and no one learns his name. At once a host of birds answered him out of dim bushes, whose shapes had barely as yet emerged from night. And in this chorus Perez awoke, and even Morano.
They all three breakfasted together, and then the wanderers said good-bye to Perez. And soon he was gone with his bright blue sash, drifting homewards with the Segre, well paid yet singing a little sadly as he drifted; for he had been one of a quest, and now he left it at the edge of adventure, near solemn mountains and, beyond them, romantic, near-unknown lands. So Perez left and Rodriguez and Morano turned again to the road, all the more lightly because they had not done a full day's march for so long, and now a great one unrolled its leagues before them.
The heads of the mountains showed themselves again. They tramped as in the early days of their quest. And as they went the mountains, unveiling themselves slowly, dropping film after film of distance that hid their mighty forms, gradually revealed to the wanderers the magnificence of their beauty. Till at evening Rodriguez and Morano stood on a low hill, looking at that tremendous range, which lifted far above the fields of Earth, as though its mountains were no earthly things but sat with Fate and watched us and did not care.
Rodriguez and Morano stood and gazed in silence. They had come twenty miles since morning, they were tired and hungry, but the mountains held them: they stood there looking neither for rest nor food. Beyond them, sheltering under the low hills, they saw a little village. Smoke straggled up from it high into the evening: beyond the village woods sloped away upwards. But far above smoke or woods the bare peaks brooded. Rodriguez gazed on their austere solemnity, wondering what secret they guarded there for so long, guessing what message they held and hid from man; until he learned that the mystery they guarded among them was of things that he knew not and could never know.
Tinkle-ting said the bells of a church, invisible among the houses of that far village. Tinkle-ting said the crescent of hills that sheltered it. And after a while, speaking out of their grim and enormous silences with all the gravity of their hundred ages, Tinkle-ting said the mountains. With this trivial message Echo returned from among the homes of the mighty, where she had run with the small bell's tiny cry to trouble their crowned aloofness.
Rodriguez and Morano pressed on, and the mountains cloaked themselves as they went, in air of many colours; till the stars came out and the lights of the village gleamed. In darkness, with surprise in the tones of the barking dogs, the two wanderers came to the village where so few ever came, for it lay at the end of Spain, cut off by those mighty rocks, and they knew not much of what lands lay beyond.
They beat on a door below a hanging board, on which was written "The Inn of the World's End": a wandering scholar had written it and had been well paid for his work, for in those days writing was rare. The door was opened for them by the host of the inn, and they entered a room in which men who had supped were sitting at a table. They were all of them men from the Spanish side of the mountains, farmers come into the village on the affairs of Mother Earth; next day they would be back at their farms again; and of the land the other side of the mountains that was so near now they knew nothing, so that it still remained for the wanderers a thing of mystery wherein romance could dwell: and because they knew nothing of that land the men at the inn treasured all the more the rumours that sometimes came from it, and of these they talked, and mine host listened eagerly, to whom all tales were brought soon or late; and most he loved to hear tales from beyond the mountains.
Rodriguez and Morano sat still and listened, and the talk was all of war. It was faint and vague like fable, but rumour clearly said War, and the other side of the mountains. It may be that no man has a crazy ambition without at moments suspecting it; but prove it by the touchstone of fact and he becomes at once as a woman whose invalid son, after years of seclusion indoors, wins unexpectedly some athletic prize. When Rodriguez heard all this talk of wars quite near he thought of his castle as already won; his thoughts went further even, floating through Lowlight in the glowing evening, and drifting up and down past Serafina's house below the balcony where she sat for ever.
Some said the Duke would never attack the Prince because the Duke's aunt was a princess from the Troubadour's country. Another said that there would surely be war. Others said that there was war already, and too late for man to stop it. All said it would soon be over.
And one man said that it was the last war that would come, because gunpowder made fighting impossible. It could smite a man down, he said, at two hundred paces, and a man be slain not knowing whom he fought. Some loved fighting and some loved peace, he said, but gunpowder suited none.
"I like not the sound of that gunpowder, master," said Morano to Rodriguez.
"Nobody likes it," said the man at the table. "It is the end of war." And some sighed and some were glad. But Rodriguez determined to push on before the last war was over.
Next morning Rodriguez paid the last of his silver pieces and set off with Morano before any but mine host were astir. There was nothing but the mountains in front of them.
They climbed all the morning and they came to the fir woods. There they lit a good fire and Morano brought out his frying-pan. Over the meal they took stock of their provisions and found that, for all the store Morano had brought from the forest, they had now only food for three days; and they were quite without money. Money in those uplifted wastes seemed trivial, but the dwindling food told Rodriguez that he must press on; for man came among those rocky monsters supplied with all his needs, or perished unnoticed before their stony faces. All the afternoon they passed through the fir woods, and as shadows began to grow long they passed the last tree. The village and all the fields about it and the road by which they had come were all spread out below them like little trivial things dimly remembered from very long ago by one whose memory weakens. Distance had dwarfed them, and the cold regard of those mighty peaks ignored them. And then a shadow fell on the village, then tiny lights shone out. It was night down there. Still the two wanderers climbed on in the daylight. With their faces to the rocks they scarce saw night climb up behind them. But when Rodriguez looked up at the sky to see how much light was left, and met the calm gaze of the evening star, he saw that Night and the peaks were met together, and understood all at once how puny an intruder is man.
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "we must rest here for the night."
Morano looked round him with an air of discontent, not with his master's words but with the rocks' angular hardness. There was scarce a plant of any kind near them now. They were near the snow, which had flushed like a wild rose at sunset but was now all grey. Grey cliffs seemed to be gazing sheer at eternity; and here was man, the creature of a moment, who had strayed in the cold all homeless among his betters. There was no welcome for them there: whatever feeling great mountains evoke, THAT feeling was clear in Rodriguez and Morano. They were all amongst those that have other aims, other ends, and know naught of man. A bitter chill from the snow and from starry space drove this thought home.
They walked on looking for a better place, as men will, but found none. And at last they lay down on the cold earth under a rock that seemed to give shelter from the wind, and there sought sleep; but cold came instead, and sleep kept far from the tremendous presences of the peaks of the Pyrenees that gazed on things far from here.
An ageing moon arose, and Rodriguez touched Morano and rose up; and the two went slowly on, tired though they were. Picture the two tiny figures, bent, shivering and weary, walking with clumsy sticks cut in the wood, amongst the scorn of those tremendous peaks, which the moon showed all too clearly.
They got little warmth from walking, they were too weary to run; and after a while they halted and burned their sticks, and got a little warmth for some moments from their fire, which burned feebly and strangely in those inhuman solitudes.
Then they went on again and their track grew steeper. They rested again for fatigue, and rose and climbed again because of the cold; and all the while the peaks stared over them to spaces far beyond the thought of man.
Long before Spain knew anything of dawn a monster high in heaven smiled at the sun, a peak out-towering all its aged children. It greeted the sun as though this lonely thing, that scorned the race of man since ever it came, had met a mighty equal out in Space. The vast peak glowed, and the rest of its grey race took up the greeting leisurely one by one. Still it was night in all Spanish houses.
Rodriguez and Morano were warmed by that cold peak's glow, though no warmth came from it at all; but the sight of it cheered them and their pulses rallied, and so they grew warmer in that bitter hour.
And then dawn came, and showed them that they were near the top of the pass. They had come to the snow that gleams there everlastingly.
There was no material for a fire but they ate cold meats, and went wearily on. They passed through that awful assemblage of peaks. By noon they were walking upon level ground.
In the afternoon Rodriguez, tired with the journey and with the heat of the sun, decided that it was possible to sleep, and, wrapping his cloak around him, he lay down, doing what Morano would have done, by instinct. Morano was asleep at once and Rodriguez soon after. They awoke with the cold at sunset.
Refreshed amazingly they ate some food and started their walk again to keep themselves warm for the night. They were still on level ground and set out with a good stride in their relief at being done with climbing. Later they slowed down and wandered just to keep warm. And some time in the starlight they felt their path dip, and knew that they were going downward now to the land of Rodriguez' dreams.
When the peaks glowed again, first meeting day in her earliest dancing-grounds of filmy air, they stood now behind the wanderers. Below them still in darkness lay the land of their dream, but hitherto it had always faded at dawn. Now hills put up their heads one by one through films of mist; woods showed, then hedges, and afterwards fields, greyly at first and then, in the cold hard light of morning, becoming more and more real. The sight of the land so long sought, at moments believed by Morano not to exist on earth, perhaps to have faded away when fables died, swept their fatigue from the wanderers, and they stepped out helped by the slope of the Pyrenees and cheered by the rising sun. They came at last to things that welcome man, little shrubs flowering, and—at noon—to the edge of a fir wood. They entered the wood and lit a merry fire, and heard birds singing, at which they both rejoiced, for the great peaks had said nothing.
They ate the food that Morano cooked, and drew warmth and cheer from the fire, and then they slept a little: and, rising from sleep, they pushed on through the wood, downward and downward toward the land of their dreams, to see if it was true.
They passed the wood and came to curious paths, and little hills, and heath, and rocky places, and wandering vales that twisted all awry. They passed through them all with the slope of the mountain behind them. When level rays from the sunset mellowed the fields of France the wanderers were walking still, but the peaks were far behind them, austerely gazing on the remotest things, forgetting the footsteps of man. And walking on past soft fields in the evening, all tilted a little about the mountain's feet, they had scarcely welcomed the sight of the evening star, when they saw before them the mild glow of a window and knew they were come again to the earth that is mother to man. In their cold savagery the inhuman mountains decked themselves out like gods with colours they took from the sunset; then darkened, all those peaks, in brooding conclave and disappeared in the night. And the hushed night heard the tiny rap of Morano's hands on the door of the house that had the glowing window.