Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE SECOND CHRONICLE
HOW HE HIRED A MEMORABLE SERVANT
When Rodriguez woke, the birds were singing gloriously. The sun was up and the air was sparkling over Spain. The gloom had left his high chamber, and much of the menace had gone from it that overnight had seemed to bode in the corners. It had not become suddenly tidy; it was still more suitable for spiders than men, it still mourned and brooded over the great family that it had nursed and that evil days had so obviously overtaken; but it no longer had the air of finger to lips, no longer seemed to share a secret with you, and that secret Murder. The rats still ran round the wainscot, but the song of the birds and the jolly, dazzling sunshine were so much larger than the sombre room that the young man's thoughts escaped from it and ran free to the fields. It may have been only his fancy but the world seemed somehow brighter for the demise of mine host of the Dragon and Knight, whose body still lay hunched up on the foot of his bed. Rodriguez jumped up and went to the high, barred window and looked out of it at the morning: far below him a little town with red roofs lay; the smoke came up from the chimneys toward him slowly, and spread out flat and did not reach so high. Between him and the roofs swallows were sailing.
He found water for washing in a cracked pitcher of earthenware and as he dressed he looked up at the ceiling and admired mine host's device, for there was an open hole that had come noiselessly, without any sounds of bolts or lifting of trap-doors, but seemed to have opened out all round on perfectly oiled groves, to fit that well-to-do body, and down from the middle of it from some higher beam hung the rope down which mine host had made his last journey.
Before taking leave of his host Rodriguez looked at his poniard, which was a good two feet in length, not counting the hilt, and was surprised to find it an excellent blade. It bore a design on the steel representing a town, which Rodriguez recognised for the towers of Toledo; and had held moreover a jewel at the end of the hilt, but the little gold socket was empty. Rodriguez therefore perceived that the poniard was that of a gallant, and surmised that mine host had begun his trade with a butcher's knife, but having come by the poniard had found it to be handier for his business. Rodriguez being now fully dressed, girt his own blade about him, and putting the poniard under his cloak, for he thought to find a use for it at the wars, set his plumed hat upon him and jauntily stepped from the chamber. By the light of day he saw clearly at what point the passages of the inn had dared to make their intrusion on the corridors of the fortress, for he walked for four paces between walls of huge grey rocks which had never been plastered and were clearly a breach in the fortress, though whether the breach were made by one of the evil days that had come upon the family in their fastness, and whether men had poured through it with torches and swords, or whether the gap had been cut in later years for mine host of the Dragon and Knight, and he had gone quietly through it rubbing his hands, nothing remained to show Rodriguez now.
When he came to the dining-chamber he found Morano astir. Morano looked up from his overwhelming task of tidying the Inn of the Dragon and Knight and then went on with his pretended work, for he felt a little ashamed of the knowledge he had concerning the ways of that inn, which was more than an honest man should know about such a place.
"Good morning, Morano," said Rodriguez blithely.
"Good morning," answered the servant of the Dragon and Knight.
"I am looking for the wars. Would you like a new master, Morano?"
"Indeed," said Morano, "a good master is better to some men's minds than a bad one. Yet, you see senor, my bad master has me bound never to leave him, by oaths that I do not properly understand the meaning of, and that might blast me in any world were I to forswear them. He hath bound me by San Sathanas, with many others. I do not like the sound of that San Sathanas. And so you see, senor, my bad master suits me better than perhaps to be whithered in this world by a levin-stroke, and in the next world who knows?"
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "there is a dead spider on my bed."
"A dead spider, master?" said Morano, with as much concern in his voice as though no spider had ever sullied that chamber before.
"Yes," said Rodriguez, "I shall require you to keep my bed tidy on our way to the wars."
"Master," said Morano, "no spider shall come near it, living or dead."
And so our company of one going northward through Spain looking for romance became a company of two.
"Master," said Morano, "as I do not see him whom I serve, and his ways are early ways, I fear some evil has overtaken him, whereby we shall be suspect, for none other dwells here: and he is under special protection of the Garda Civil; it would be well therefore to start for the wars right early."
"The guard protect mine host then." Rodriguez said with as much surprise in his tones as he ever permitted himself.
"Master," Morano said, "it could not be otherwise. For so many gallants have entered the door of this inn and supped in this chamber and never been seen again, and so many suspicious things have been found here, such as blood, that it became necessary for him to pay the guard well, and so they protect him." And Morano hastily slung over his shoulder by leather straps an iron pot and a frying-pan and took his broad felt hat from a peg on the wall.
Rodriguez' eyes looked so curiously at the great cooking utensils dangling there from the straps that Morano perceived his young master did not fully understand these preparations: he therefore instructed him thus: "Master, there be two things necessary in the wars, strategy and cooking. Now the first of these comes in use when the captains speak of their achievements and the historians write of the wars. Strategy is a learned thing, master, and the wars may not be told of without it, but while the war rageth and men be camped upon the foughten field then is the time for cooking; for many a man that fights the wars, if he hath not his food, were well content to let the enemy live, but feed him and at once he becometh proud at heart and cannot a-bear the sight of the enemy walking among his tents but must needs slay him outright. Aye, master, the cooking for the wars; and when the wars are over you who are learned shall study strategy."
And Rodriguez perceived that there was wisdom in the world that was not taught in the College of San Josephus, near to his father's valleys, where he had learned in his youth the ways of books.
"Morano," he said, "let us now leave mine host to entertain la Garda."
And at the mention of the guard hurry came on Morano, he closed his lips upon his store of wisdom, and together they left the Inn of the Dragon and Knight. And when Rodriguez saw shut behind him that dark door of oak that he had so persistently entered, and through which he had come again to the light of the sun by many precautions and some luck, he felt gratitude to Morano. For had it not been for Morano's sinister hints, and above all his remark that mine host would have driven him thence because he liked him, the evil look of the sombre chamber alone might not have been enough to persuade him to the precautions that cut short the dreadful business of that inn. And with his gratitude was a feeling not unlike remorse, for he felt that he had deprived this poor man of a part of his regular wages, which would have been his own gold ring and the setting that held the sapphire, had all gone well with the business. So he slipped the ring from his finger and gave it to Morano, sapphire and all.
Morano's expressions of gratitude were in keeping with that flowery period in Spain, and might appear ridiculous were I to expose them to the eyes of an age in which one in Morano's place on such an occasion would have merely said, "Damned good of you old nut, not half," and let the matter drop.
I merely record therefore that Morano was grateful and so expressed himself; while Rodriguez, in addition to the pleasant glow in the mind that comes from a generous action, had another feeling that gives all of us pleasure, or comfort at least (until it grows monotonous), a feeling of increased safety; for while he had the ring upon his finger and Morano went unpaid the thought could not help occurring, even to a generous mind, that one of these windy nights Morano might come for his wages.
"Master," said Morano looking at the sapphire now on his own little finger near the top joint, the only stone amongst his row of rings, "you must surely have great wealth."
"Yes," said Rodriguez slapping the scabbard that held his Castilian blade. And when he saw that Morano's eyes were staring at the little emeralds that were dotted along the velvet of the scabbard he explained that it was the sword that was his wealth:
"For in the wars," he said, "are all things to be won, and nothing is unobtainable to the sword. For parchment and custom govern all the possessions of man, as they taught me in the College of San Josephus. Yet the sword is at first the founder and discoverer of all possessions; and this my father told me before he gave me this sword, which hath already acquired in the old time fair castles with many a tower."
"And those that dwelt in the castles, master, before the sword came?" said Morano.
"They died and went dismally to Hell," said Rodriguez, "as the old songs say."
They walked on then in silence. Morano, with his low forehead and greater girth of body than of brain to the superficial observer, was not incapable of thought. However slow his thoughts may have come, Morano was pondering surely. Suddenly the puckers on his little forehead cleared and he brightly looked at Rodriguez as they went on side by side.
"Master," Morano said, "when you choose a castle in the wars, let it above all things be one of those that is easy to be defended; for castles are easily got, as the old songs tell, and in the heat of combat positions are quickly stormed, and no more ado; but, when wars are over, then is the time for ease and languorous days and the imperilling of the soul, though not beyond the point where our good fathers may save it."
"Nay, Morano," Rodriguez said, "no man, as they taught me well in the College of San Josephus, should ever imperil his soul."
"But, master," Morano said, "a man imperils his body in the wars yet hopes by dexterity and his sword to draw it safely thence: so a man of courage and high heart may surely imperil his soul and still hope to bring it at the last to salvation."
"Not so," said Rodriguez, and gave his mind to pondering upon the exact teaching he had received on this very point, but could not clearly remember.
So they walked in silence, Rodriguez thinking still of this spiritual problem, Morano turning, though with infinite slowness, to another thought upon a lower plane.
And after a while Rodriguez' eyes turned again to the flowers, and he felt his meditation, as youth will, and looking abroad he saw the wonder of Spring calling forth the beauty of Spain, and he lifted up his head and his heart rejoiced with the anemones, as hearts at his age do: but Morano clung to his thought.
It was long before Rodriguez' fanciful thoughts came back from among the flowers, for among those delicate earliest blooms of Spring his youthful visions felt they were with familiars; so they tarried, neglecting the dusty road and poor gross Morano. But when his fancies left the flowers at last and looked again at Morano, Rodriguez perceived that his servant was all troubled with thought: so he left Morano in silence for his thought to come to maturity, for he had formed a liking already for the judgments of Morano's simple mind.
They walked in silence for the space of an hour, and at last Morano spoke. It was then noon. "Master," he said, "at this hour it is the custom of la Garda to enter the Inn of the Dragon and to dine at the expense of mine host."
"A merry custom," said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "if they find him in less than his usual health they will get their dinners for themselves in the larder and dine and afterwards sleep. But after that; master, after that, should anything inauspicious have befallen mine host, they will seek out and ask many questions concerning all travellers, too many for our liking."
"We are many good miles from the Inn of the Dragon and Knight," said Rodriguez.
"Master, when they have eaten and slept and asked questions they will follow on horses," said Morano.
"We can hide," said Rodriguez, and he looked round over the plain, very full of flowers, but empty and bare under the blue sky of any place in which a man might hide to escape from pursuers on horse back. He perceived then that he had no plan.
"Master," said Morano, "there is no hiding like disguises."
Once more Rodriguez looked round him over the plain, seeing no houses, no men; and his opinion of Morano's judgment sank when he said disguises. But then Morano unfolded to him that plan which up to that day had never been tried before, so far as records tell, in all the straits in which fugitive men have been; and which seems from my researches in verse and prose never to have been attempted since.
The plan was this, astute as Morano, and simple as his naive mind. The clothing for which Rodriguez searched the plain vainly was ready to hand. No disguise was effective against la Garda, they had too many suspicions, their skill was to discover disguises. But in the moment of la Garda's triumph, when they had found out the disguise, when success had lulled the suspicions for which they were infamous, then was the time to trick la Garda. Rodriguez wondered; but the slow mind of Morano was sure, and now he came to the point, the fruit of his hour's thinking. Rodriguez should disguise himself as Morano. When la Garda discovered that he was not the man he appeared to be, a study to which they devoted their lives, their suspicions would rest and there would be an end of it. And Morano should disguise himself as Rodriguez.
It was a new idea. Had Rodriguez been twice his age he would have discarded it at once; for age is guided by precedent which, when pursued, is a dangerous guide indeed. Even as it was he was critical, for the novelty of the thing coming thus from his gross servant surprised him as much as though Morano had uttered poetry of his own when he sang, as he sometimes did, certain merry lascivious songs of Spain that any one of the last few centuries knew as well as any of the others.
And would not la Garda find out that he was himself, Rodriguez asked, as quickly as they found out he was not Morano.
"That," said Morano, "is not the way of la Garda. For once let la Garda come by a suspicion, such as that you, master, are but Morano, and they will cling to it even to the last, and not abandon it until they needs must, and then throw it away as it were in disgust and ride hence at once, for they like not tarrying long near one who has seen them mistaken."
"They will soon then come by another suspicion," said Rodriguez.
"Not so, master," answered Morano, "for those that are as suspicious as la Garda change their suspicions but slowly. A suspicion is an old song to them."
"Then," said Rodriguez, "I shall be hard set ever to show that I am not you if they ever suspect I am."
"It will be hard, master," Morano answered; "but we shall do it, for we shall have truth upon our side."
"How shall we disguise ourselves?" said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "when you came to our town none knew you and all marked your clothes. As for me my fat body is better known than my clothes, yet am I not too well known by la Garda, for, being an honest man, whenever la Garda came I used to hide."
"You did well," said Rodriguez.
"Certainly I did well," said Morano, "for had they seen me they might, on account of certain matters, have taken me to prison, and prison is no place for an honest man."
"Let us disguise ourselves," said Rodriguez.
"Master," answered Morano, "the brain is greater than the stomach, and now more than at any time we need the counsel of the brain; let us therefore appease the clamours of the stomach that it be silent."
And he drew out from amongst his clothing a piece of sacking in which was a mass of bacon and some lard, and unslung his huge frying-pan. Rodriguez had entirely forgotten the need of food, but now the memory of it had rushed upon him like a flood over a barrier, as soon as he saw the bacon. And when they had collected enough of tiny inflammable things, for it was a treeless plain, and Morano had made a fire, and the odour of the bacon became perceptible, this memory was hugely intensified.
"Let us eat while they eat, master," said Morano, "and plan while they sleep, and disguise ourselves while they pursue."
And this they did: for after they had eaten they dug up earth and gathered leaves with which to fill the gaps in Morano's garments when they should hang on Rodriguez, they plucked a geranium with whose dye they deepened Rodriguez' complexion, and with the sap from the stalk of a weed Morano toned to a pallor the ruddy brown of his tough cheeks. Then they changed clothes altogether, which made Morano gasp: and after that nothing remained but to cut off the delicate black moustachios of Rodriguez and to stick them to the face of Morano with the juice of another flower that he knew where to find. Rodriguez sighed when he saw them go. He had pictured ecstatic glances cast some day at those moustachios, glances from under long eyelashes twinkling at evening from balconies; and looking at them where they were now, he felt that this was impossible.
For one moment Morano raised his head with an air, as it were preening himself, when the new moustachios had stuck; but as soon as he saw, or felt, his master's sorrow at their loss he immediately hung his head, showing nothing but shame for the loss he had caused his master, or for the impropriety of those delicate growths that so ill become his jowl. And now they took the road again, Rodriguez with the great frying-pan and cooking-pot; no longer together, but not too far apart for la Garda to take them both at once, and to make the doubly false charge that should so confound their errand. And Morano wore that old triumphant sword, and carried the mandolin that was ever young.
They had not gone far when it was as Morano had said; for, looking back, as they often did, to the spot where their road touched the sky-line, they saw la Garda spurring, seven of them in their unmistakable looped hats, very clear against the sky which a moment ago seemed so fair.
When the seven saw the two they did not spare the dust; and first they came to Morano.
"You," they said, "are Rodriguez Trinidad Fernandez, Concepcion Henrique Maria, a Lord of the Valleys of Arguento Harez."
"No, masters," said Morano.
Oh but denials were lost upon la Garda.
Denials inflamed their suspicions as no other evidence could. Many a man had they seen with his throat in the hands of the public garrotter; and all had begun with denials who ended thus. They looked at the mandolin, at the gay cloak, at the emeralds in the scabbard, for wherever emeralds go there is evidence to identify them, until the nature of man changes or the price of emeralds. They spoke hastily among themselves.
"Without doubt," said one of them, "you are whom we said." And they arrested Morano.
Then they spurred on to Rodriguez. "You are, they said, "as no man doubts, one Morano, servant at the Inn of the Dragon and Knight, whose good master is, as we allege, dead."
"Masters," answered Rodriguez, "I am but a poor traveller, and no servant at any inn."
Now la Garda, as I have indicated, will hear all things except denials; and thus to receive two within the space of two moments infuriated them so fiercely that they were incapable of forming any other theory that day except the one they held.
There are many men like this; they can form a plausible theory and grasp its logical points, but take it away from them and destroy it utterly before their eyes, and they will not so easily lash their tired brains at once to build another theory in place of the one that is ruined.
"As the saints live," they said, "you are Morano." And they arrested Rodriguez too.
Now when they began to turn back by the way they had come Rodriguez began to fear overmuch identification, so he assured la Garda that in the next village ahead of them were those who would answer all questions concerning him, as well as being the possessors of the finest vintage of wine in the kingdom of Spain.
Now it may be that the mention of this wine soothed the anger caused in the men of la Garda by two denials, or it may be that curiosity guided them, at any rate they took the road that led away from last night's sinister shelter, Rodriguez and five of la Garda. Two of them stayed behind with Morano, undecided as yet which way to take, though looking wistfully the way that that wine was said to be; and Rodriguez left Morano to his own devices, in which he trusted profoundly.
Now Rodriguez knew not the name of the next village that they would come to nor the names of any of the dwellers in it.
Yet he had a plan. As he went by the side of one of the horses he questioned the rider.
"Can Morano write?" he said. La Garda laughed.
"Can Morano talk Latin?" he said. La Garda crossed themselves, all five men. And after some while of riding, and hard walking for Rodriguez, to whom they allowed a hand on a stirrup leather, there came in sight the tops of the brown roofs of a village over a fold of the plain. "Is this your village?" said one of his captors.
"Surely," answered Rodriguez.
"What is its name?" said one.
"It has many names," said Rodriguez.
And then another one of them recognised it from the shape of its roofs. "It is Saint Judas-not-Iscariot," he said.
"Aye, so strangers call it," said Rodriguez.
And where the road turned round that fold of the plain, lolling a little to its left in the idle Spanish air, they came upon the village all in view. I do not know how to describe this village to you, my reader, for the words that mean to you what it was are all the wrong words to use. "Antique," "old-world," "quaint," seem words with which to tell of it. Yet it had no antiquity denied to the other villages; it had been brought to birth like them by the passing of time, and was nursed like them in the lap of plains or valleys of Spain. Nor was it quainter than any of its neighbours, though it was like itself alone, as they had their characters also; and, though no village in the world was like it, it differed only from the next as sister differs from sister. To those that dwelt in it, it was wholly apart from all the world of man.
Most of its tall white houses with green doors were gathered about the market-place, in which were pigeons and smells and declining sunlight, as Rodriguez and his escort came towards it, and from round a corner at the back of it the short, repeated song of one who would sell a commodity went up piercingly.
This was all very long ago. Time has wrecked that village now. Centuries have flowed over it, some stormily, some smoothly, but so many that, of the village Rodriguez saw, there can be now no more than wreckage. For all I know a village of that name may stand on that same plain, but the Saint Judas-not-Iscariot that Rodriguez knew is gone like youth.
Queerly tiled, sheltered by small dense trees, and standing a little apart, Rodriguez recognised the house of the Priest. He recognised it by a certain air it had. Thither he pointed and la Garda rode. Again he spoke to them. "Can Morano speak Latin?" he said.
"God forbid!" said la Garda.
They dismounted and opened a gate that was gilded all over, in a low wall of round boulders. They went up a narrow path between thick ilices and came to the green door. They pulled a bell whose handle was a symbol carved in copper, one of the Priest's mysteries. The bell boomed through the house, a tiny musical boom, and the Priest opened the door; and Rodriguez addressed him in Latin. And the Priest answered him.
At first la Garda had not realised what had happened. And then the Priest beckoned and they all entered his house, for Rodriguez had asked him for ink. Into a room they came where a silver ink-pot was, and the grey plume of the goose. Picture no such ink-pot, my reader, as they sell to-day in shops, the silver no thicker than paper, and perhaps a pattern all over it guaranteed artistic. It was molten silver well wrought, and hollowed for ink. And in the hollow there was the magical fluid, the stuff that rules the world and hinders time; that in which flows the will of a king, to establish his laws for ever; that which gives valleys unto new possessors; that whereby towers are held by their lawful owners; that which, used grimly by the King's judge, is death; that which, when poets play, is mirth for ever and ever.
No wonder la Garda looked at it in awe, no wonder they crossed themselves again: and then Rodriguez wrote. In the silence that followed the jaws of la Garda dropped, while the old Priest slightly smiled, for he somewhat divined the situation already; and, being the people's friend, he loved not la Garda more than he was bound by the rules of his duty to man.
Then one of la Garda spoke, bringing back his confidence with a bluster. "Morano has sold his soul to Satan," he said, "in exchange for Satan's aid, and Satan has taught his tongue Latin and guides his fingers in the affairs of the pen." And so said all la Garda, rejoicing at finding an explanation where a moment ago there was none, as all men at such times do: little it matters what the explanation be: does a man in Sahara, who finds water suddenly, in quire with precision what its qualities are?
And then the Priest said a word and made a sign, against which Satan himself can only prevail with difficulty, and in presence of which his spells can never endure. And after this Rodriguez wrote again. Then were la Garda silent.
And at length the leader said, and he called on them all to testify, that he had made no charge whatever against this traveller; moreover, they had escorted him on his way out of respect for him, because the roads were dangerous, and must now depart because they had higher duties. So la Garda departed, looking before them with stern, preoccupied faces and urging their horses on, as men who go on an errand of great urgency. And Rodriguez, having thanked them for their protection upon the road, turned back into the house and the two sat down together, and Rodriguez told his rescuer the story of the hospitality of the Inn of the Dragon and Knight.
Not as confession he told it, but as a pleasant tale, for he looked on the swift demise of la Garda's friend, in the night, in the spidery room, as a fair blessing for Spain, a thing most suited to the sweet days of Spring. The spiritual man rejoiced to hear such a tale, as do all men of peace to hear talk of violent deeds in which they may not share. And when the tale was ended he reproved Rodriguez exceedingly, explaining to him the nature of the sin of blood, and telling him that absolution could be come by now, though hardly, but how on some future occasion there might be none to be had. And Rodriguez listened with all the gravity of expression that youth knows well how to wear while its thoughts are nimbly dancing far away in fair fields of adventure or love.
And darkness came down and lamps were carried in: and the reverend father asked Rodriguez in what other affairs of violence his sword had unhappily been. And Rodriguez knew well the history of that sword, having gathered all that concerned it out of spoken legend or song. And although the reverend man frowned minatorily whenever he heard of its passings through the ribs of the faithful, and nodded as though his head gave benediction when he heard of the destruction of God's most vile enemy the infidel, and though he gasped a little through his lips when he heard of certain tarryings of that sword, in scented gardens, while Christian knights should sleep and their swords hang on the wall, though sometimes even a little he raised his hands, yet he leaned forward always, listening well, and picturing clearly as though his gleaming eyes could see them, each doleful tale of violence or sin. And so night came, and began to wear away, and neither knew how late the hour was. And then as Rodriguez spoke of an evening in a garden, of which some old song told well, a night in early summer under the evening star, and that sword there as always; as he told of his grandfather as poets had loved to tell, going among the scents of the huge flowers, familiar with the dark garden as the moths that drifted by him; as he spoke of a sigh heard faintly, as he spoke of danger near, whether to body or soul; as the reverend father was about to raise both his hands; there came a thunder of knockings upon the locked green door.