Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE SIXTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE SANG TO HIS MANDOLIN AND WHAT CAME OF HIS SINGING
They walked back slowly in silence up the street down which they had ridden. Earth darkened, the moon grew brighter: and Rodriguez gazing at the pale golden disk began to wonder who dwelt in the lunar valleys; and what message, if folk were there, they had for our peoples; and in what language such message could ever be, and how it could fare across that limpid remoteness that wafted light on to the coasts of Earth and lapped in silence on the lunar shores. And as he wondered he thought of his mandolin.
"Morano," he said, "buy bacon." Morano's eyes brightened: they were forty-five miles from the hills on which he had last tasted bacon. He selected his house with a glance, and then he was gone. And Rodriguez reflected too late that he had forgotten to tell Morano where he should find him, and this with night coming on in a strange village. Scarcely, Rodriguez reflected, he knew where he was going himself. Yet if old tunes lurking in its hollows, echoing though imperceptibly from long-faded evenings, gave the mandolin any knowledge of human affairs that other inanimate things cannot possess, the mandolin knew.
Let us in fancy call up the shade of Morano from that far generation. Let us ask him where Rodriguez is going. Those blue eyes, dim with the distance over which our fancy has called them, look in our eyes with wonder.
"I do not know," he says, "where Don Rodriguez is going. My master did not tell me."
Did he notice nothing as they rode by that balcony?
"Nothing," Morano answers, "except my master riding."
We may let Morano's shade drift hence again, for we shall discover nothing: nor is this an age to which to call back spirits.
Rodriguez strolled slowly on the deep dust of that street as though wondering all the while where he should go; and soon he and his mandolin were below that very balcony whereon he had seen the white neck of Serafina gleam with the last of the daylight. And now the spells of the moon charmed Earth with their full power.
The balcony was empty. How should it have been otherwise? And yet Rodriguez grieved. For between the vision that had drawn his footsteps and that bare balcony below shuttered windows was the difference between a haven, sought over leagues of sea, and sheer, uncharted cliff. It brought a wistfulness into the music he played, and a melancholy that was all new to Rodriguez, yet often and often before had that mandolin sent up through evening against unheeding Space that cry that man cannot utter; for the spirit of man needs a mandolin as a comrade to face the verdict of the chilly stars as he needs a bulldog for more mundane things.
Soon out of the depth of that stout old mandolin, in which so many human sorrows had spun tunes out of themselves, as the spiders spin misty grey webs, till it was all haunted with music, soon the old cry went up to the stars again, a thread of supplication spun of the matter which else were distilled in tears, beseeching it knew not what. And, but that Fate is deaf, all that man asks in music had been granted then. What sorrows had Rodriguez known in his life that he made so sad a melody? I know not. It was the mandolin. When the mandolin was made it knew at once all the sorrows of man, and all the old unnamed longings that none defines. It knew them as the dog knows the alliance that its forefathers made with man. A mandolin weeps the tears that its master cannot shed, or utters the prayers that are deeper than its master's lips can draw, as a dog will fight for his master with teeth that are longer than man's. And if the moonlight streamed on untroubled, and though Fate was deaf, yet beauty of those fresh strains going starward from under his fingers touched at least the heart of Rodriguez and gilded his dreams and gave to his thoughts a mournful autumnal glory, until he sang all newly as he never had sung before, with limpid voice along the edge of tears, a love-song old as the woods of his father's valleys at whose edge he had heard it once drift through the evening. And as he played and sang with his young soul in the music he fancied (and why not, if they care aught for our souls in Heaven?) he fancied the angles putting their hands each one on a star and leaning out of Heaven through the constellations to listen.
"A vile song, senor, and a vile tune with it," said a voice quite close.
However much the words hurt his pride in his mandolin Rodriguez recognised in the voice the hidalgo's accent and knew that it was an equal that now approached him in the moonlight round a corner of the house with the balcony; and he knew that the request he courteously made would be as courteously granted.
"Senor," he said, "I pray you to permit me to lean my mandolin against the wall securely before we speak of my song."
"Most surely, senor," the stranger replied, "for there is no fault with the mandolin."
"Senor," Rodriguez said, "I thank you profoundly." And he bowed to the gallant, whom he now perceived to be young, a youth tall and lithe like himself, one whom we might have chosen for these chronicles had we not found Rodriguez.
Then Rodriguez stepped back a short way and placed his kerchief on the ground; and upon this he put his mandolin and leaned it against the wall. When the mandolin was safe from dust or accident he approached the stranger and drew his sword.
"Senor," he said, "we will now discuss music."
"Right gladly, senor," said the young man, who now drew his sword also. There were no clouds; the moon was full; the evening promised well.
Scarcely had the flash of thin rapiers crossing each other by moonlight begun to gleam in the street when Morano appeared beside them and stood there watching. He had bought his bacon and gone straight to the house with the balcony. For though he knew no Latin he had not missed the silent greeting that had welcomed his master to that village, or failed to interpret the gist of the words that Rodriguez' dumb glance would have said. He stood there watching while each combatant stood his ground.
And Rodriguez remembered all those passes and feints that he had had from his father, and which Sevastiani, a master of arms in Madrid, had taught in his father's youth: and some were famous and some were little known. And all these passes, as he tried them one by one, his unknown antagonist parried. And for a moment Rodriguez feared that Morano would see those passes in which he trusted foiled by that unknown sword, and then he reflected that Morano knew nothing of the craft of the rapier, and with more content at that thought he parried thrusts that were strange to him. But something told Morano that in this fight the stranger was master and that along that pale-blue, moonlit, unknown sword lurked a sure death for Rodriguez. He moved from his place of vantage and was soon lost in large shadows; while the rapiers played and blade rippled on blade with a sound as though Death were gently sharpening his scythe in the dark. And now Rodriguez was giving ground, now his antagonist pressed him; thrusts that he believed invincible had failed; now he parried wearily and had at once to parry again; the unknown pressed on, was upon him, was scattering his weakening parries; drew back his rapier for a deadlier pass, learned in a secret school, in a hut on mountains he knew, and practised surely; and fell in a heap upon Rodriguez' feet, struck full on the back of the head by Morano's frying-pan.
"Most vile knave," shouted Rodriguez as he saw Morano before him with his frying-pan in his hand, and with something of the stupid expression that you see on the face of a dog that has done some foolish thing which it thinks will delight its master.
"Master! I am your servant," said Morano.
"Vile, miserable knave," replied Rodriguez.
"Master," Morano said plaintively, "shall I see to your comforts, your food, and not to your life?"
"Silence," thundered Rodriguez as he stooped anxiously to his antagonist, who was not unconscious but only very giddy and who now rose to his feet with the help of Rodriguez.
"Alas, senor," said Rodriguez, "the foul knave is my servant. He shall be flogged. He shall be flayed. His vile flesh shall be cut off him. Does the hurt pain you, senor? Sit and rest while I beat the knave, and then we will continue our meeting."
And he ran to his kerchief on which rested his mandolin and laid it upon the dust for the stranger.
"No, no," said he. "My head clears again. It is nothing."
"But rest, senor, rest," said Rodriguez. "It is always well to rest before an encounter. Rest while I punish the knave."
And he led him to where the kerchief lay on the ground. "Let me see the hurt, senor," he continued. And the stranger removed his plumed hat as Rodriguez compelled him to sit down. He straightened out the hat as he sat, and the hurt was shown to be of no great consequence.
"The blessed Saints be praised," Rodriguez said. "It need not stop our encounter. But rest awhile, senor."
"Indeed, it is nothing," he answered.
"But the indignity is immeasurable," sighed Rodriguez. "Would you care, senor, when you are well rested to give the chastisement yourself?"
"As far as that goes," said the stranger, "I can chastise him now."
"If you are fully recovered, senor," Rodriguez said, "my own sword is at your disposal to beat him sore with the flat of it, or how you will. Thus no dishonour shall touch your sword from the skin of so vile a knave."
The stranger smiled: the idea appealed to him.
"You make a noble amend, senor," he said as he bowed over Rodriguez' proffered sword.
Morano had not moved far, but stood near, wondering. "What should a servant do if not work for his master?" he wondered. And how work for him when dead? And dead, as it seemed to Morano, through his own fault if he allowed any man to kill him when he perceived him about to do so. He stood there puzzled. And suddenly he saw the stranger coming angrily towards him in the clear moonlight with a sword. Morano was frightened.
As the hidalgo came up to him he stretched out his left hand to seize Morano by the shoulder. Up went the frying-pan, the stranger parried, but against a stroke that no school taught or knew, and for the second time he went down in the dust with a reeling head. Rodriguez turned toward Morano and said to him ... No, realism is all very well, and I know that my duty as author is to tell all that happened, and I could win mighty praise as a bold, unconventional writer; at the same time, some young lady will be reading all this next year in some far country, or in twenty years in England, and I would sooner she should not read what Rodriguez said. I do not, I trust, disappoint her. But the gist of it was that he should leave that place now and depart from his service for ever. And hearing those words Morano turned mournfully away and was at once lost in the darkness. While Rodriguez ran once more to help his fallen antagonist. "Senor, senor," he said with an emotion that some wearing centuries and a cold climate have taught us not to show, and beyond those words he could find no more to say.
"Giddy, only giddy," said the stranger.
A tear fell on his forehead as Rodriguez helped him to his feet.
"Senor," Rodriguez said fervently, "we will finish our encounter come what may. The knave is gone and ..."
"But I am somewhat giddy," said the other.
"I will take off one of my shoes," said Rodriguez, "leaving the other on. It will equalise our unsteadiness, and you shall not be disappointed in our encounter. Come," he added kindly.
"I cannot see so clearly as before," the young hidalgo murmured.
"I will bandage my right eye also," said Rodriguez, "and if this cannot equalise it ..."
"It is a most fair offer," said the young man.
"I could not bear that you should be disappointed of your encounter," Rodriguez said, "by this spirit of Hell that has got itself clothed in fat and dares to usurp the dignity of man."
"It is a right fair offer," the young man said again.
"Rest yourself, senor," said Rodriguez, "while I take off my shoe," and he indicated his kerchief which was still on the ground.
The stranger sat down a little wearily, and Rodriguez sitting upon the dust took off his left shoe. And now he began to think a little wistfully of the face that had shone from that balcony, where all was dark now in black shadow unlit by the moon. The emptiness of the balcony and its darkness oppressed him; for he could scarcely hope to survive an encounter with that swordsman, whose skill he now recognised as being of a different class from his own, a class of which he knew nothing. All his own feints and passes were known, while those of his antagonist had been strange and new, and he might well have even others. The stranger's giddiness did not alter the situation, for Rodriguez knew that his handicap was fair and even generous. He believed he was near his grave, and could see no spark of light to banish that dark belief; yet more chances than we can see often guard us on such occasions. The absence of Serafina saddened him like a sorrowful sunset.
Rodriguez rose and limped with his one shoe off to the stranger, who was sitting upon his kerchief.
"I will bandage my right eye now, senor," he said.
The young man rose and shook the dust from the kerchief and gave it to Rodriguez with a renewed expression of his gratitude at the fairness of the strange handicap. When Rodriguez had bandaged his eye the stranger returned his sword to him, which he had held in his hand since his effort to beat Morano, and drawing his own stepped back a few paces from him. Rodriguez took one hopeless look at the balcony, saw it as empty and as black as ever, then he faced his antagonist, waiting.
"Bandage one eye, indeed!" muttered Morano as he stepped up behind the stranger and knocked him down for the third time with a blow over the head from his frying-pan.
The young hidalgo dropped silently.
Rodriguez uttered one scream of anger and rushed at Morano with his sword. Morano had already started to run; and, knowing well that he was running for his life, he kept for awhile the start that he had of the rapier. Rodriguez knew that no plump man of over forty could last against his lithe speed long. He saw Morano clearly before him, then lost sight of him for a moment and ran confidently on pursuing. He ran on and on. And at last he recognised that Morano had slipped into the darkness, which lies always so near to the moonlight, and was not in front of him at all. So he returned to his fallen antagonist and found him breathing heavily where he fell, scarcely conscious. The third stroke of the frying-pan had done its work surely. Rodriguez' fury died down, only because it is difficult to feel two emotions at once: it died down as pity took its place, though every now and then it would suddenly flare and fall again. He returned his sword and lifted the young hidalgo and carried him to the door of the house under which they had fought.
With one fist he beat on the door without putting the hurt man down, and continued to hit it until steps were heard, and bolts began to grumble, as though disturbed too early from their rusty sleep in stone sockets.
The door of the house with the balcony was opened by a servant who, when he saw who it was that Rodriguez carried, fled into the house in alarm, as one who runs with bad news. He carried one candle and, when he had disappeared with the steaming flame, Rodriguez found himself in a long hall lit by the moonlight only, which was looking in through the small contorted panes of the upper part of a high window. Alone with echoes and shadows Rodriguez carried the hurt man through the hall, who was muttering now as he came back to consciousness. And, as he went, there came to Rodriguez thoughts between wonder and hope, for he had had no thought at all when he beat on the door except to get shelter and help for the hurt man. At the end of the hall they came to an open door that led into a chamber partly shining with moonlight.
"In there," said the man that he carried.
Rodriguez carried him in and laid him on a long couch at the end of the room. Large pictures of men in the blackness, out of the moon's rays, frowned at Rodriguez mysteriously. He could not see their faces in the darkness, but he somehow knew they frowned. Two portraits that were clear in the moonlight eyed him with absolute apathy. So cold a welcome from that house's past generations boded no good to him from those that dwelt there today. Rodriguez knew that in carrying the hurt man there he helped at a Christian deed; and yet there was no putting the merits of the case against the omens that crowded the chamber, lurking along the edge of moonlight and darkness, disappearing and reappearing till the gloom was heavy with portent. The omens knew. In a weak voice and few words the hurt man thanked him, but the apathetic faces seemed to say What of that? And the frowning faces that he could not see still filled the darkness with anger.
And then from the end of the chamber, dressed in white, and all shining with moonlight, came Serafina.
Rodriguez in awed silence watched her come. He saw her pass through the moonlight and grow dimmer, and glide to the moonlight again that streamed through another window. A great dim golden circle appeared at the far end of the chamber whence she had come, as the servent returned with his candle and held it high to give light for Dona Serafina. But that one flame seemed to make the darkness only blacker; and for any cheerfulness it brought to the gloom it had better never have challenged those masses of darkness at all in that high chamber among the brooding portraits it seemed trivial, ephemeral, modern, ill able to cope with the power of ancient things, dead days and forgotten voices, which make their home in the darkness because the days that have usurped them have stolen the light of the sun.
And there the man stood holding his candle high, and the rays of the moon became more magical still beside that little mundane, flickering thing. And Serafina was moving through the moonlight as though its rays were her sisters, which she met noiselessly and brightly upon some island, as it seemed to Rodriguez, beyond the costs of Earth, so quietly and so brightly did her slender figure move and so aloof from him appeared her eyes. And there came on Rodriguez that feeling that some deride and that others explain away, the feeling of which romance is mainly made and which is the aim and goal of all the earth. And his love for Serafina seemed to him not only to be an event in his life but to have some part in veiled and shadowy destinies and to have the blessing of most distant days: grey beards seemed to look out of graves in forgotten places to wag approval: hands seemed to beckon to him out of far-future times, where faces were smiling quietly: and, dreaming on further still, this vast approval that gave benediction to his heart's youthful fancy seemed to widen and widen like the gold of a summer's evening or, the humming of bees in summer in endless rows of limes, until it became a part of the story of man. Spring days of his earliest memory seemed to have their part in it, as well as wonderful evenings of days that were yet to be, till his love for Serafina was one with the fate of earth; and, wandering far on their courses, he knew that the stars blessed it. But Serafina went up to the man on the couch with no look for Rodriguez.
With no look for Rodriguez she bent over the stricken hidalgo. He raised himself a little on one elbow. "It is nothing," he said, "Serafina."
Still she bent over him. He laid his head down again, but now with open and undimmed eyes. She put her hand to his forehead, she spoke in a low voice to him; she lavished upon him sympathy for which Rodriguez would have offered his head to swords; and all, thought Rodriguez for three blows from a knave's frying-pan: and his anger against Morano flared up again fiercely. Then there came another thought to him out of the shadows, where Serafina was standing all white, a figure of solace. Who was this man who so mysteriously blended with the other unknown things that haunted the gloom of that chamber? Why had he fought him at night? What was he to Serafina? Thoughts crowded up to him from the interior of the darkness, sombre and foreboding as the shadows that nursed them. He stood there never daring to speak to Serafina; looking for permission to speak, such as a glance might give. And no glance came.
And now, as though soothed by her beauty, the hurt man closed his eyes. Serafina stood beside him anxious and silent, gleaming in that dim place. The servant at the far end of the chamber still held his one candle high, as though some light of earth were needed against the fantastic moon, which if unopposed would give everything over to magic. Rodriguez stood there, scarcely breathing. All was silent. And then through the door by which Serafina had come, past that lonely, golden, moon-defying candle, all down the long room across moonlight and blackness, came the lady of the house, Serafina's mother. She came, as Serafina came, straight toward the man on the couch, giving no look to Rodriguez, walking something as Serafina walked, with the same poise, the same dignity, though the years had carried away from her the grace Serafina had: so that, though you saw that they were mother and daughter, the elder lady called to mind the lovely things of earth, large gardens at evening, statues dim in the dusk, summer and whatsoever binds us to earthly things; but Serafina turned Rodriguez' thoughts to the twilight in which he first saw her, and he pictured her native place as far from here, in mellow fields near the moon, wherein she had walked on twilight outlasting any we know, with all delicate things of our fancy, too fair for the rugged earth.
As the lady approached the couch upon which the young man was lying, and still no look was turned towards Rodriguez, his young dreams fled as butterflies sailing high in the heat of June that are suddenly plunged in night by a total eclipse of the sun. He had never spoken to Serafina, or seen before her mother, and they did not know his name; he knew that he, Rodriguez, had no claim to a welcome. But his dreams had flocked so much about Serafina's face, basking so much in her beauty, that they now fell back dying; and when a man's dreams die what remains, if he lingers awhile behind them?
Rodriguez suddenly felt that his left shoe was off and his right eye still bandaged, things that he had not noticed while his only thought was for the man he carried to shelter, but torturing his consciousness now that he thought of himself. He opened his lips to explain; but before words came to him, looking at the face of Serafina's mother, standing now by the couch, he felt that, not knowing how, he had somehow wronged the Penates of this house, or whatever was hid in the dimness of that long chamber, by carrying in this young man there to rest from his hurt.
Rodriguez' depression arose from these causes, but having arisen, it grew of its own might: he had had nothing to eat since morning, and in the favouring atmosphere of hunger his depression grew gigantic. He opened his lips once more to say farewell, was oppressed by all manner of thoughts that held him dumb, and turned away in silence and left the house. Outside he recovered his mandolin and his shoe. He was tired with the weariness of defeated dreams that slept in his spirit exhausted, rather than with any fatigue his young muscles had from the journey. He needed sleep; he looked at the shuttered houses; then at the soft dust of the road in which dogs lay during the daylight. But the dust was near to his mood, so he lay down where he had fought the unknown hidalgo. A light wind wandered the street like a visitor come to the village out of a friendly valley, but Rodriguez' four days on the roads had made him familiar with all wandering things, and the breeze on his forehead troubled him not at all: before it had wearied of wandering in the night Rodriguez had fallen asleep. Just by the edge of sleep, upon which side he knew not, he heard the window of the balcony creak, and looked up wide awake all in a moment. But nothing stirred in the darkness of the balcony and the window was fast shut. So whatever sound came from the window came not from its opening but shutting: for a while he wondered; and then his tired thoughts rested, and that was sleep.
A light rain woke Rodriguez, drizzling upon his face; the first light rain that had fallen in a romantic tale. Storms there had been, lashing oaks to terrific shapes seen at night by flashes of lightning, through which villains rode abroad or heroes sought shelter at midnight; hurricanes there had been, flapping huge cloaks, fierce hail and copious snow; but until now no drizzle. It was morning; dawn was old; and pale and grey and unhappy.
The balcony above him, still empty, scarcely even held romance now. Rain dripped from it sadly. Its cheerless bareness seemed worse than the most sinister shadows of night.
And then Rodriguez saw a rose lying on the ground beside him. And for all the dreams, fancies, and hopes that leaped up in Rodriguez' mind, rising and falling and fading, one thing alone he knew and all the rest was mystery: the rose had lain there before the rain had fallen. Beneath the rose was white dust, while all around it the dust was turning grey with rain.
Rodriguez tried to guess how long the rain had fallen. The rose may have lain beside him all night long. But the shadows of mystery receded no farther than this one fact that the rose was there before the rain began. No sign of any kind came from the house.
Rodriguez put the rose safe under his coat, wrapped in the kerchief that had guarded the mandolin, to carry it far from Lowlight, through places familiar with roses and places strange to them; but it remained for him a thing of mystery until a day far from then.
Sadly he left the house in the sad rain, marching away alone to look for his wars.