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direct to the fire-threw his sombrero carelessly to the attendant, desired the landlord to hang up his cloak to dry-unbuckled a belt, to which a long toledo was suspended- deposited a carbine and brace of pistols on a bench—and then took a seat at the head of the table, with as much indifference as if he had been the host himself,
When disencumbered of hat and cloak, the very singular air and · figure of the stranger fastened my attention. His face would have puzzled Lavater-it was one that you could not look upon without a nameless feeling of suspicion and alarm, and yet, take each alone, and the features were positively handsome. Hair, eyes, moustache and beard, were black as the raven's wing; and the complexion, dark as a gypsy's. The face was well-proportioned -- the teeth white and regular-I never looked on an eye more lustrous, searching, and intelligent ; and the forehead was nobly expanded. But the ensemble was the worst. It bespoke a stern determination, close akin to ferocity; and betrayed à disposition, stern of purposemardent in regard-immitigable in vengeance.
The stranger's figure was athletic and commanding-sufficiently substantial for any feat of strength, and yet not too cumbrous in its proportions for light and active exercise. His under dress was plain. He wore a close green jacket and pantaloons, with tawny boots and a buff waist-belt, in which a weapon, like a highland dirk with a buck's-horn handle, was secured. Such was the exterior of our new companion.
While I examined the stranger with deep attention, a hurried look, on his part, round the table, appeared to satisfy his curiosity touching the company to whom he had introduced himself. His assumption of superiority was at once apparent; and, with the easiest manner imaginable, he usurped a regular dictatorship of the venta. Raising the drinking-vessel that stood beside his platter, he signalled the landlord to fill it from the goat-skin, and at one strong draught emptied it to the bottom, and indulged, afterwards, in observations more remarkable for candour than compliment, touching the cellars of the posada.
“ Bah!” he exclaimed, contemptuously, “call ye that thin liquid, true Carvallos? Hast thou no conscience left thee, man? 'Tis well enough wherewithal to wash a supper down; but see, honest friend, that you find us something better for the evening. Ha!-this podrida's passable ; and these partridges seem tolerably roasted. On with more viands. Two friends of mine will presently be here. They have good appetites; have ridden twenty leagues, and fasted as many hours. Need I
Whoever the stranger was, his orders were not disregarded. The maritornes of the venta renewed her culinary labours; and the host voluntarily departed to see that the horses of the late guests had been properly accommodated, and make researches in his wine-stores, afterwards, to try whether a flask more congenial to the taste of the dark stranger might not be procurable. The latter, towards myself and foster-brother,evinced from the first, decided symptoms of civility; and among us three there appeared to be a friendly rivalship as to which of us should hold out longest at the podrida. Were the hostleries in the Peninsula frequently obnoxious to such visitors as we proved,
say more ?"
I verily believe that half the innkeepers in Spain would have been insolvent in a twelvemonth.
“ Faith, gentlemen,” observed the stranger, “ to judge by the performances of each other, we seem all in excellent health. No sauce for supper after all, like a twelve hours' ride through the mountains. What, ho! Sir landlord! Wine-I say; and none of that valuable vintage you keep for muleteers and travelling friars, who pay
their scores in aves and credos. What news, gentlemen ?” he said, addressing us, “What is the English Lord about; and will be soon be on the move again ?”
I assured him that on these points I'was in blessed ignorance—told the simple tale of my journey to Valencia, and its causes—and, in
, return, asked his advice touching which route I should adopt, as the one most likely to be free from the French.
“ You could not have made that inquiry from a better person,” he replied. “I know the mountain country indifferently well ; and if you place yourself under my guidance, I shall ensure your safety to Cuenca. Thence, to Valencia, I shall be able to obtain a passport that the partidas will respect. Ha! I see my companions have scented supper in the stable. Sit down, José ; thou and Velasquez have seen more than a single cork-tree since you heard the matin-bell.”
Following the example of their chief, the strangers deposited their mantles and sombreros on a bench. Both were well armed; and each placed his weapons immediately contiguous to his seat, like men who dread and guard against surprise.
I thought nothing could have exceeded our late attack upon mine host's partridges and podrida. Pshaw !-as trenchermen, we could not hold a candle to the worthy twain, who now went to work as if they had been steadfastly resolved to clear out the posada of every edible it contained.
At last they, too, were forced to cry, enough ;” and we all united in a closer circle round the fire, while the wine-flask made a frequent circuit of the company. Dark and repulsive as the stranger's countenance might be, as “sweetest nut has sourest rind,” he seemed at heart an excellent camarado. Indeed, we were no longer strangers. I spoke unreservedly—told him my objects and intentions-and, in return, obtained counsel and information. It struck me as being remarkable how very intimately the stranger seemed acquainted with the cantonments occupied by the allies, and the facility with which he named the strength and formation of every corps that occupied them. Touching the positions of the French armies, he was equally well informed-and, with the Spanish dispositions, perfectly familiar.
“ Ho-ho!” he exclaimed, holding the empty flask between him and the lamp ; "the bottle's dry. More wine, there! Come, gentlemen," he said, “ I shall play host to-night. I felt it rather an uncertainty this morning, whether I should have found the posada tenanted by friends or enemies; but the doubt has been agreeably resolved.”
As he spoke, the landlord entered-placed a flask upon the tableand, having extracted the cork, was preparing to retire, when the
6 And for my
dark stranger motioned him to sit down ; an invitation, which it appeared to me “mine host” would rather have declined than accepted.
“ Fill thy horn,” said the master of the revels; “I would ask a few questions. There are none present but those to whom a true Spaniard need never be afraid to unbosom himself. In that jacket lie honour and good faith.” He pointed to my uniform. friends, I will be their security.”
I never, in my life, saw a host less flattered with a guest's civility. He took a seat-filled a cup-drank our good health—and appeared excessively uncomfortable.
“ Your name, my friend, is, I think, Gonsalvez--and I would ask some questions touching some of your acquaintances in Villa Moro. Speak out; and—” the stranger lowered his voice to a deep tone, that made me shudder—"what is more to the purpose, speak truth!”
The landlord winced—while my dark-visaged friend, in a careless voice, continued
“ You had occasional visits from the French cavalry during the winter. There was a squadron of the 5th chasseurs à cheval here for a month. Where did their commandant reside ?”
“ He quartered himself at the alcade’s,” returned the host.
Sixty-or more," returned the host.
“ Then Jose de Toro was a fool to marry as he did. Was Captain Hillaire particularly intimate with the lady ?”
They said—but, Lord ! in a village they say many things that are not true—they said that the poor postmaster was almost jealous. After a little time the scandal wore away; and José de Toro and Captain Hillaire were the best friends imaginable.”
“ Base villain!" muttered the dark stranger, between his clenched teeth. Well, my friend, if the alcade and postmaster found the society of the French so agreeable, how did the Cura feel ?"
“ He never could disguise his hatred ; and for some days he was kept in close arrest, until the pretty wife of Jose Toro pleaded to the handsome captain for her old confessor, and obtained his liberty."
Humph!" said the stranger.-“What is the nearest post that is at present occupied by the French cavalry?”
6. The nearest !-praise to the Virgin !—I have heard from a traveller is at Arcanza—some half score leagues from Toro.”
“ 'Tis well,” muttered the stranger.- L“ Get me a trusty messenger; and mind that he be trusty-or-” he looked the rest, the landlord perfectly understanding it. Egad! I never saw anything more expressive ; it was a look that conveyed more than any language could express. One of his companions rose, and looked from the casement.
“ How soon,” he said, “the storm has abated! The moon has risen ; and a finer night to take a hurried march and surprise a sleeping outpost could not be found.”
“I wish it were otherwise," returned he who seemed the leader. “ And yet ten leagues from a French picket, methinks, is tolerable security Go, Velasquez,—and see that this packet be sent forward,
. safely and swiftly. For his messenger's fidelity I hold the landlord accountable. Tell him that ;—and whisper in his ear, that the guest he entertains to-night is- His voice dropped, but a smile of sinister expression told the rest.
From a secret pocket the dark stranger drew out a splendid watch. “ Past midnight. Come, gentlemen, one round more, and then for bed: we must all be astir by cock-crow."
The bottle for the last time made its circuit. Velasquez returned after despatching the packet, accompanied by the host bearing a lamp. He conducted us to a long gallery, containing at least sleeping apartments for a dozen ; but the only occupants that night were the strangers, the fosterer, and myself. Where the muleteer bestowed himself I knew not; but subsequent events sufficiently explained the reason why we were not favoured with his company.
No stronger proof of caution and insecurity could be required than the care with which each individual arranged his clothes and arms. Every weapon was placed in a position to be ready for the owner's hand; while the business of the toilet was dispensed with altogether, as we all stretched ourselves on our woollen beds without undressing. The Spaniards crossed themselves devoutly; the fosterer repeated a short prayer ; I cried “God bless us !” and in ten minutes all within the spacious chamber slept profoundly.
Several hours must have elapsed, and still my slumbers continued unbroken. Suddenly an uneasy dream disturbed me, and I started upright on the mattress. The lamp was burning gloomily; and the sleepers round the chamber were fast as watchmen. I listenednoises low and indistinct without excited my attention. The sounds were such as men make when they attempt to move unheard. I glided out of bed, and peeped cautiously from the lattice. By Heaven ! the court-yard was filled with dismounted dragoons, and one glance told me that they were enemies.
The elder Spaniard lay on the bed next to mine, and I laid my hand softly on his arm. In a moment his dark eyes were turned suspiciously on mine, as I stooped my head and whispered that we were betrayed. He heard the intelligence without any apparent emotion, slipped quietly from his couch, and looked for a moment on the court-yard. I heard him muttering to himself, “Ten-fifteen-twenty-forty in all : the odds are great, and we, too, cut off from the stables. Ha!let me think—there's but one hope-the gate first—the river afterwards—ay, there lies the only chance of our deliverance.”
Flitting from couch to couch, he awakened his sleeping companions. They seemed to be men accustomed to similar visitations, for not an exclamation escaped their lips, nor even by a word did they betray the least alarm. A finger, pointed towards the casement told its silent tale; and each, as he arose, peeped from the window on the moon-lit court-yard, and immediately comprehended the extent of his danger. In a minute every man was armed and ready for the coming struggle;
and we looked to the dark guerilla for orders, as soldiers to their leader.
“ In a position like ours, safety consists in daring. No matter how great the disparity in numbers, we must not wait to be attacked ; but push, at the sword's point, for the gate-reach the river if possible —spring boldly in, and trust to the Sedana for our freedom. One word more-if you can- -escape ;- but if the hour is come, fall sword in hand, and let the dying effort be vengeance on the oppressor. 'Tis time for action. Strike bravely, my friends : in every blow lies death or freedom. And now for the attempt: in five minutes the Empecinado will be a lifeless corpse, or free as the mountain eagle !"
“ And are you that dreaded chief?” I inquired.
“ I am indeed Juan Martin Diez: he whose dreaded by-name has carried terror with it to the boldest enemy of Spain; who lived the scourge of the oppressor, and will die, inflicting injury while his hand can hold a sword, and venting his last breath in curses upon those who would have enslaved him!”
We drew up silently behind the entrance of the posada ; all the bolts save one were quietly withdrawn, and that one the Empecinado held. Presently a man approached, struck the door loudly, and in a haughty tone demanded instant admissiou. Never was order more promptly obeyed. The Spaniard removed the last fastening—the door was suddenly flung open ; a discharge from the carbine of the Empecinado laid the nearest Frenchman dead upon the threshold where he stood ; while bounding from his concealment like a tiger on his hunters, the guerilla chief sprang headlong among a group of the chasseurs, cutting down a trooper right and left, and shouting in a voice of thunder, " Guerra al Cuchillo!”
A sudden onslaught from desperate men is always formidable ; and the enemy, never imagining that those whom they expected to surprise, would resist, still less attack, a numerous and well appointed detachment, were quite unprepared to oppose this unexpected irruption from the posada. The guerillas fought with the recklessness of men who feel that they must succeed or perish ; while, as circumstances occasionally make heroes, the fosterer and I, considering that in a close and furious mêlée there is no respect for persons, imitated the example of our worthy confreres, and, as I was afterwards informed, inade a very promising débût. The affair was short and sanguinary. Before the French could recover from the surprise, nearly a dozen were killed, wounded, or beaten down ; the gate was gained, and for escape, the chances were decidedly in our favour.
But, as it unfortunately turned out, a part only of the French detachment had entered the court-yard of the posada, while an equal number remained mounted outside the gate. The sudden uproar from within put the outliers on the qui vive, and consequently they were ready to receive us. Surprised, but nothing daunted, the Empecinado and his companions fought with desperate ferocity; and the French cry of “Down with the brigands !” was fiercely answered by the Spanish slogan, “ War to the knife !”
The conflict now was hopeless ; each of us was engaged with three