"CALAYNOS THE MOOR" "GAYFEROS" AND "COUNT ALARCOS"
I BRACKET these three romances together in this chapter not only because they appear to have been held in the highest favour by the people of Old Spain, but for the equally good reason that they seem to me to manifest the national taste and genius more markedly than others of the same class, if; indeed, they did not belong to a class by themselves, as I have always suspected they did, for in all Castilian accounts of romantic fiction they are frequently mentioned together, and this traditional treatment of them may arise from the consciousness of their similarity of genre. But above and beyond this they possess and enshrine that grave and austere spirit so typical of all true Spanish literature, and at least one of them is deeply tinged with the atmosphere of fatal and remorseless tragedy which only the Latin or the Hellene knows how to evoke, for not the greatest masters of the Northern races, neither Marlowe nor Massinger, Goethe nor Shakespeare, can drape such sombre curtains around their stage as Calderon or Lope.
Calaynos, one of the most renowned of the Moorish knights, is the hero of more than one romance in verse. But that which is best known, and most regular in its sequence of events, is the Coplas de Calainos, which has been translated so successfully by Lockhart in his Spanish Ballads. The Moorish champion, it tells us, was enamoured of a maiden of his own nation, and in
order to win her favour offered her broad estates and abundant wealth. But in her petulance she refused this comfortable homage, and demanded the heads of three of the most valiant champions of ChristendomRinaldo, Roland, and Oliver! Bestowing on his lady a farewell kiss, Calaynos immediately set out for Paris, and when he had arrived there displayed the crescent banner of his faith before the Church of St John. He caused a blast to be blown upon his trumpet, the sound of which was well known to Charlemagne and his twelve peers, and was heard by them as they hunted in the greenwood, some miles from the city. Shortly afterward the royal train encountered a Moor, and the Emperor haughtily demanded of him how he dared to show his green turban within his dominions. He replied that he served Calaynos, who sent his defiance to Charlemagne and all his peers, whose onset he awaited at Paris.
As they rode back to encounter the bold infidel Charlemagne suggested to Roland that he should take the chastisement of Calaynos upon himself; but that haughty paladin proposed that the task should be delegated to some carpet-knight, as he considered it beneath his prowess to do battle with a single Moor. Sir Baldwin, Roland's nephew, boasted that he would bring Calaynos' green turban to the dust, and, spurring ahead, soon came face to face with the stern Moorish lord, who, with a sneer, offered to take him into the service of his lady as a page.
Right angry was Baldwin when he heard these words, and, hurling his defiance at Calaynos, bade him prepare for battle. The Moor vaulted upon his barb, and, levelling his lance, rode fiercely at Baldwin and bore him to
earth, where he made him sue for mercy. But Roland, the youth's uncle, was at hand, and, winding his terrible horn shouted to Calaynos to prepare for combat.
"Who art thou?" asked Calaynos. "Thou wearest a coronet in thy helm, but I know thee not.,, "No words, base Moor!" replied Roland. "This hour shall be thy last," and, so saying, he charged his enemy at full speed. Down crashed the haughty infidel, and Roland, leaping from the saddle, stood over him, drawn sword in hand.
"Thy name, paynim," he demanded; "speak or die."
"Sir," replied Calaynos, " I serve a haughty maiden of Spain, who would have no gift of me but the heads of certain peers of Charlemagne."
"So!" laughed Roland. "Fool that thou art, she could not have loved thee when she bade thee beard our fellowship. Thou hast come here to thy death," and with these words he smote off Calaynos' head, and spurned his crescent crest in twain. "No more shall this moon rise above the meads of Seine," he cried, as he sheathed his falchion.
Thus was Calaynos fooled by a maiden's pride and by his own. The story is, of course, wildly improbable, and that a Moorish knight could have reached Paris on such a quest is unthinkable. But the tale has a very human accent, and is not without its moral.
Gayferos was a figure dear to Spanish romance. His story was connected with the Charlemagne cycle, and was included in the pseudo-chronicle of Archbishop Turpin, but, though a knight of France, he appears to have possessed a special attraction for the Castilian
mind, owing, probably, to the circumstance of his seven years' search for his wife in Spanish territory.
Gayferos of Bordeaux was a kinsman of Roland, the invincible hero of the chansons de gestes, and husband of Charlemagne's daughter Melisenda. Shortly after their marriage the lady was kidnapped by the Saracens and confined in a strong tower at Saragossa. Determined to rescue her from pagan custody, Gayferos set out in search of his wife, but after spending seven long years in diligent inquiry failed to locate the place where she was imprisoned. From province to province, from castle to castle of sunny Spain he journeyed, until at length, disconsolate and dejected, he returned to Paris. In the hope of drowning the remembrance of his loss, Gayferos plunged into the recreations of the Court. One day as he played dice with the Emperor's admiral, Charlemagne, seeing him thus employed, said to him:
"How is it, Gayferos, that you waste your time on a paltry game, while your wife, my daughter, languishes in a Moorish prison? Were you as ready to handle arms as to throw dice, you would hasten to the rescue of your lady." The Emperor's speech was unmerited, for he had only just learned of the place in which Melisenda was held in durance, whereas the faithful Gayferos was not yet aware of it. But gathering from Charlemagne the name of the castle in which she was confined, he made speed to his uncle Roland, and begged him for armour and a horse.
Roland, seeing the dismay in which his nephew was plunged, pressed upon him his own famous arms and his favourite charger, and, thus equipped, Gayferos once more turned his face to the land of Spain. In due time he arrived at Saragossa, and, meeting with no
Opposition at its gates, he entered and rode straight to the house where his captive wife lay. Beholding him from the window, she begged him as he was a Christian knight to send the tidings of her to her husband Gayferos.
Seven summers, seven winters have I waited in this tower;
While my lord Gayferos holdeth dalliance in hall and bower;
Hath forgotten Melisenda, hopes that she hath wed the Moor;
Vet the kindness of his memory shall I cherish evermore."
Stands the champion in his stirrups. "Lady, dry the useless tear,
For thy husband and thy lover, thy devoted knight is here.
Spring to saddle from the casement, leap into my fond embrace
That shall hold thee and enfold thee from the Moor and all his race."
Leaping from the casement into the arms of her faithful knight, Melisenda placed herself on the saddle before him, and setting spurs to his horse Gayferos made all speed to reach the gates. But a Moor who had witnessed the rescue gave the alarm, and soon the fugitives found themselves pursued by seven columns of horsemen.
The pursuers pressed hard upon them, but at the critical juncture Melisenda recognized the horse on which they rode to be Roland's, and remembered that by loosening the girth, opening the breastplate, and driving the spurs into its sides it could be made to leap across any barrier with complete safety to those it carried. She hastily informed her husband of this, and, acting as she directed, he drove the steed toward the city wall, which it cleared with ease. On seeing this the Moors very naturally gave up the chase. In due time Gayferos and his wife returned to Paris, and their future was as bright as their past had been clouded.
Gloomy with the hangings of tragedy is the grim story of The Count Alarcos, an anonymous romance, distinguished by great richness of composition. It has been translated into English by both Lockhart and Bowring, with but little distinction in either case, having consideration to the moving character of the original. The story opens with the simplicity which marks high tragedy. The Infanta Soliza, daughter of the King of Spain, had been secretly betrothed to Count Alarcos, but was abandoned by him for another lady, by whom he had several children. In the agony of her grief and shame at her seduction and desertion, the miserable princess shut herself off from the world, and consumed the summer of her days in sorrow and bitter disappointment. Her royal father, not conscious of the manner in which she had been betrayed, questioned her as to the meaning of her grief, and she answered him that she mourned because she was not a wife, like other ladies of her station.
Daughter," replied the King, "this fault is none of mine. Did not the noble Prince of Hungary offer you his hand? I know of no suitable husband for you in this land of Spain, saving the Count Alarcos, and he is already wed."
"Alas!" said the Infanta, "it is the Count Alarcos who has broken my heart, for he vowed to wed me, and plighted his troth to me long ere he wedded. He is true to his new vows, but has left his earlier oaths unfulfilled. In word and deed he is my husband.'
For a space the King sat silent. "Great wrong has been done, my daughter," he said at last, "for now is the royal line of Spain shamed in all men's eyes."
Then dark and murderous jealousy seized upon the soul of the Infanta. "Certes," she cried, "this Countess can die. Must I be shamed that she should live? Let it be bruited abroad that sickness cut short her life. Thus may Count Alarcos yet wed me."
Exasperated by the thought of his daughter's dishonour, the King summoned Alarcos to a banquet, and when they were alone broached the subject of his perfidy to the Infanta.
"Is it true, Don Alarcos," he asked, "that you plighted your troth to my daughter and deceived her? Now hearken: your Countess usurps my daughter's rightful place. She must die. Nay, start not! It must be reported that sickness has carried her off Then must you wed the Infanta. You have brought your King to dishonour, and he now demands the only reparation that it is within your power to make."
"I cannot deny that I deceived the Infanta," replied Alarcos. "But I pray you, in mercy spare my innocent lady. Visit my sin upon me as heavily as you will, but not upon her."
"It may not be," replied the stern old King. "She dies, I say, and that to-night. When the escutcheon of a king is stained, it matters not whether the blood that washes the blot away be guilty or innocent. Away, and do my behest, or your life shall pay the forfeit."
Terrified at the thought of a traitor's death, for such an end was more dreaded than any other by the haughty Castilian nobles, Alarcos agreed to abide by the King's decision, and rode homeward in an agony of remorse and despair. The thought that he must be the executioner of the wife whom he dearly loved, the mother of his three beautiful children, drove him to madness,
and when at last he met her at the gate of his castle, accompanied by her infants, and displaying every sign of joy at his return, he shrank from her caresses, and could only mutter that he had bad news, which he would divulge to her in her bower.
Taking her youngest babe, she led him to her apartment, where supper was laid. But the Count Alarcos neither ate nor drank, but laid his head upon the board and wept bitterly Out of a breaking heart. Then, recalling his dreadful purpose, he barred the doors, and, standing with folded arms before his lady, confessed his sin.
"Long since I loved a lady," he said. "I plighted my troth to her, and vowed to love her like a husband. Her father is the King. She claims me for her own, and he demands that I make good the promise. Furthermore, alas that I should say it! the King has spoken your death, and has decreed that you die this very night."
"What!" cried the Countess, amazed. " Are these then the wages of my loyal love for you, Alarcos? Wherefore must I die? Oh, send me back to my father's house, where I can live in peace and forgetfulness, and rear my children as those of thy blood should be reared."
"It may not be," answered the wretched Count. "I have pledged mine oath."
"Friendless am I in the land," cried the miserable lady. "But at least let me kiss my children ere I die."
"Thou mayst kiss the babe upon thy breast," groaned Alarcos. "The others thou mayst not see again. Prepare thee."
The doomed Countess kissed her babe, muttered an Ave, and, rising from her knees, begged her merciless lord to be kind to their children. She pardoned her husband, but
laid upon the King and his daughter the awful curse known to the people of the Middle Ages as "the Assize of the Dying," so often taken advantage of by those who were falsely accused and condemned to die, and by virtue of which the victim summoned his murderers to meet him before the throne of God ere thirty days were past and answer for their crime to their Creator.
The Count strangled his wife with a silken kerchief; and when the horrid deed had been done, and she lay cold and dead, he summoned his esquires, and gave himself up to a passion of woe.
Within twelve days the revengeful Infanta perished in agony. The merciless King died on the twentieth day, and ere the moon had completed her round Alarcos too drooped and died. Cruel and inevitable as Greek tragedy is the tale of Alarcos. But while perusing it and under the spell of its tragic pathos we can scarcely regard it as of the nature of legend, and we know not whom to abhor the most-the revengeful Princess, the cruel King, or the coward husband who sacrificed his innocent and devoted wife to the shadow of that aristocratic 'honour' which has to its discredit almost as great a holocaust of victims as either superstition or fanaticism.