Part 4 out of 5
suspected, however, that there was a grave meaning at the bottom of this
For two months, everything went on smoothly: the Indians repaired daily to
the log-cabin palace of the governor, at Tallahassee, and appeared
perfectly contented. All at once they ceased their visits, and for three or
four days not one was to be seen. Governor Duval began to apprehend that
some mischief was brewing. On the evening of the fourth day a chief named
Yellow-Hair, a resolute, intelligent fellow, who had always evinced an
attachment for the governor, entered his cabin about twelve o'clock at
night, and informed him that between four and five hundred warriors,
painted and decorated, were assembled to hold a secret war-talk at
Neamathla's town. He had slipped off to give intelligence, at the risk of
his life, and hastened back lest his absence should be discovered.
Governor Duval passed an anxious night after this intelligence. He knew the
talent and the daring character of Neamathla; he recollected the threats he
had thrown out; he reflected that about eighty white families were
scattered widely apart, over a great extent of country, and might be swept
away at once, should the Indians, as he feared, determine to clear the
country. That he did not exaggerate the dangers of the case has been proved
by the horrid scenes of Indian warfare that have since desolated that
devoted region. After a night of sleepless cogitation, Duval determined on
a measure suited to his prompt and resolute character. Knowing the
admiration of the savages for personal courage, he determined, by a sudden
surprise, to endeavor to overawe and check them. It was hazarding much; but
where so many lives were in jeopardy, he felt bound to incur the hazard.
Accordingly, on the next morning, he set off on horseback, attended merely
by a white man who had been reared among the Seminoles, and understood
their language and manners, and who acted as interpreter. They struck into
an Indian "trail," leading to Neamathla's village. After proceeding about
half a mile, Governor Duval informed the interpreter of the object of his
expedition. The latter, though a bold man, paused and remonstrated. The
Indians among whom they were going were among the most desperate and
discontented of the nation. Many of them were veteran warriors,
impoverished and exasperated by defeat, and ready to set their lives at any
hazard. He said that if they were holding a war council, it must be with
desperate intent, and it would be certain death to intrude among them.
Duval made light of his apprehensions: he said he was perfectly well
acquainted with the Indian character, and should certainly proceed. So
saying, he rode on. When within half a mile of the village, the interpreter
addressed him again, in such a tremulous tone that Duval turned and looked
him in the face. He was deadly pale, and once more urged the governor to
return, as they would certainly be massacred if they proceeded.
Duval repeated his determination to go on, but advised the other to return,
lest his pale face should betray fear to the Indians, and they might take
advantage of it. The interpreter replied that he would rather die a
thousand deaths than have it said he had deserted his leader when in peril.
Duval then told him he must translate faithfully all he should say to the
Indians, without softening a word. The interpreter promised faithfully to
do so, adding that he well knew, when they were once in the town, nothing
but boldness could save them.
They now rode into the village, and advanced to the council house. This was
rather a group of four houses, forming a square, in the center of which was
a great council-fire. The houses were open in front, toward the fire, and
closed in the rear. At each corner of the square there was an interval
between the houses, for ingress and egress. In these houses sat the old men
and the chiefs; the young men were gathered round the fire. Neamathla
presided at the council, elevated on a higher seat than the rest.
Governor Duval entered by one of the corner intervals, and rode boldly into
the center of the square. The young men made way for him; an old man who
was speaking paused in the midst of his harangue. In an instant thirty or
forty rifles were cocked and leveled. Never had Duval heard so loud a click
of triggers; it seemed to strike on his heart. He gave one glance at the
Indians, and turned off with an air of contempt. He did not dare, he says,
to look again, lest it might affect his nerves; and on the firmness of his
nerves everything depended.
The chief threw up his arm. The rifles were lowered. Duval breathed more
freely: he felt disposed to leap from his horse, but restrained himself,
and dismounted leisurely. He then walked deliberately up to Neamathla, and
demanded, in an authoritative tone, what were his motives for holding that
council. The moment he made this demand the orator sat down. The chief made
no reply, but hung his head in apparent confusion. After a moment's pause,
"I am well aware of the meaning of this war-council; and deem it my duty to
warn you against prosecuting the schemes you have been devising. If a
single hair of a white man in this country falls to the ground, I will hang
you and your chiefs on the trees around your council house! You cannot
pretend to withstand the power of the white men. You are in the palm of the
hand of your Great Father at Washington, who can crush you like an
egg-shell. You may kill me: I am but one man; but recollect, white men are
numerous as the leaves on the trees. Remember the fate of your warriors
whose bones are whitening in battlefields. Remember your wives and children
who perished in swamps. Do you want to provoke more hostilities? Another
war with the white men, and there will not be a Seminole left to tell the
story of his race."
Seeing the effect of his words, he concluded by appointing a day for the
Indians to meet him at St. Marks, and give an account of their conduct. He
then rode off, without giving them time to recover from their surprise.
That night he rode forty miles to Apalachicola River, to the tribe of the
same name, who were in feud with the Seminoles. They promptly put two
hundred and fifty warriors at his disposal, whom he ordered to be at St.
Marks at the appointed day. He sent out runners, also, and mustered one
hundred of the militia to repair to the same place, together with a number
of regulars from the army. All his arrangements were successful.
Having taken these measures, he returned to Tallahassee, to the
neighborhood of the conspirators, to show them that he was not afraid. Here
he ascertained, through Yellow-Hair, that nine towns were disaffected, and
had been concerned in the conspiracy. He was careful to inform himself,
from the same source, of the names of the warriors in each of those towns
who were most popular, though poor, and destitute of rank and command.
When the appointed day was at hand for the meeting at St. Marks, Governor
Duval set off with Neamathla, who was at the head of eight or nine hundred
warriors, but who feared to venture into the fort without him. As they
entered the fort, and saw troops and militia drawn up there, and a force of
Apalachicola soldiers stationed on the opposite bank of the river, they
thought they were betrayed, and were about to fly; but Duval assured them
they were safe, and that when the talk was over they might go home
A grand talk was now held, in which the late conspiracy was discussed. As
he had foreseen, Neamathla and the other old chiefs threw all the blame
upon the young men, "Well," replied Duval, "with us white men, when we find
a man incompetent to govern those under him, we put him down, and appoint
another in his place. Now as you all acknowledge you cannot manage your
young men, we must put chiefs over them who can."
So saying, he deposed Neamathla first; appointing another in his place; and
so on with all the rest; taking care to substitute the warriors who had
been pointed out to him as poor and popular; putting medals round their
necks, and investing them with great ceremony. The Indians were surprised
and delighted at finding the appointments fall upon the very men they would
themselves have chosen, and hailed them with acclamations. The warriors
thus unexpectedly elevated to command, and clothed with dignity, were
secured to the interests of the governor, and sure to keep an eye on the
disaffected. As to the great chief Neamathla, he left the country in
disgust, and returned to the Creek nation, who elected him a chief of one
of their towns. Thus by the resolute spirit and prompt sagacity of one man,
a dangerous conspiracy was completely defeated. Governor Duval was
afterward enabled to remove the whole nation, through his own personal
influence, without the aid of the general government.
To the Editor of the Knickerbocker:
SIR--The following letter was scribbled to a friend during my sojourn in
the Alhambra, in 1828. As it presents scenes and impressions noted down at
the time, I venture to offer it for the consideration of your readers.
Should it prove acceptable, I may from tune to time give other letters,
written in the course of my various ramblings, and which have been kindly
restored to me by my friends.
Yours, G. C.
LETTER FROM GRANADA
My Dear--: Religious festivals furnish, in all Catholic countries,
occasions of popular pageant and recreation; but in none more so than in
Spain, where the great end of religion seems to be to create holidays and
ceremonials. For two days past, Granada has been in a gay turmoil with the
great annual fete of Corpus Christi. This most eventful and romantic city,
as you well know, has ever been the rallying point of a mountainous region,
studded with small towns and villages. Hither, during the time that Granada
was the splendid capital of a Moorish kingdom, the Moslem youth repaired
from all points, to participate in chivalrous festivities; and hither the
Spanish populace at the present day throng from all parts of the
surrounding country to attend the festivals of the church.
As the populace like to enjoy things from the very commencement, the stir
of Corpus Christ! began in Granada on the preceding evening. Before dark
the gates of the city were thronged with the picturesque peasantry from the
mountain villages, and the brown laborers from the Vega, or vast fertile
plain. As the evening advanced, the Vivarambla thickened and swarmed with a
motley multitude. This is the great square in the center of the city,
famous for tilts and tourneys during the times of Moorish domination, and
incessantly mentioned in all the old Moorish ballads of love and chivalry.
For several days the hammer had resounded throughout this square. A gallery
of wood had been erected all round it, forming a covered way for the grand
procession of Corpus Christi. On this eve of the ceremonial this gallery
was a fashionable promenade. It was brilliantly illuminated, bands of music
were stationed in balconies on the four sides of the square, and all the
fashion and beauty of Granada, and all its population that could boast a
little finery of apparel, together with the majos and majas, the beaux and
belles of the villages, in their gay Andalusian costumes, thronged this
covered walk, anxious to see and to be seen. As to the sturdy peasantry of
the Vega, and such of the mountaineers as did not pretend to display, but
were content with hearty enjoyment, they swarmed in the center of the
square; some in groups listening to the guitar and the traditional ballad;
some dancing their favorite bolero; some seated on the ground making a
merry though frugal supper; and some stretched out for their night's
The gay crowd of the gallery dispersed gradually toward midnight; but the
center of the square resembled the bivouac of an army; for hundreds of the
peasantry, men, women, and children, passed the night there, sleeping
soundly on the bare earth, under the open canopy of heaven. A summer's
night requires no shelter in this genial climate; and with a great part of
the hardy peasantry of Spain a bed is a superfluity which many of them
never enjoy, and which they affect to despise. The common Spaniard spreads
out his manta, or mule-cloth, or wraps himself in his cloak, and lies on
the ground, with his saddle for a pillow.
The next morning I revisited the square at sunrise. It was still strewed
with groups of sleepers; some were reposing from the dance and revel of the
evening; others had left their villages after work, on the preceding day,
and having trudged on foot the greater part of the night, were taking a
sound sleep to freshen them for the festivities of the day. Numbers from
the mountains, and the remote villages of the plain, who had set out in the
night, continued to arrive, with their wives and children. All were in high
spirits; greeting each other, and exchanging jokes and pleasantries. The
gay tumult thickened as the day advanced. Now came pouring in at the city
gates, and parading through the streets, the deputations from the various
villages, destined to swell the grand procession. These village deputations
were headed by their priests, bearing their respective crosses and banners,
and images of the Blessed Virgin and of patron saints; all which were
matters of great rivalship and jealousy among the peasantry. It was like
the chivalrous gatherings of ancient days, when each town and village sent
its chiefs, and warriors, and standards, to defend the capital or grace its
At length, all these various detachments congregated into one grand
pageant, which slowly paraded round the Vivarambla, and through the
principal streets, where every window and balcony was hung with tapestry.
In this procession were all the religious orders, the civil and military
authorities, and the chief people of the parishes and villages; every
church and convent had contributed its banners, its images, its relics, and
poured forth its wealth for the occasion. In the center of the procession
walked the archbishop, under a damask canopy, and surrounded by inferior
dignitaries and their dependents. The whole moved to the swell and cadence
of numerous bands of music, and, passing through the midst of a countless
yet silent multitude, proceeded onward to the cathedral.
I could not but be struck with the changes of times and customs, as I saw
this monkish pageant passing through the Vivarambla, the ancient seat of
Moslem pomp and chivalry. The contrast was indeed forced upon the mind by
the decorations of the square. The whole front of the wooden gallery
erected for the procession, extending several hundred feet, was faced with
canvas, on which some humble though patriotic artist had painted, by
contract, a series of the principal scenes and exploits of the conquest, as
recorded in chronicle and romance. It is thus the romantic legends of
Granada mingle themselves with everything, and are kept fresh in the public
mind. Another great festival at Granada, answering in its popular character
to our Fourth of July, is _El Dia de la Toma_; "The day of the
Capture"; that is to say, the anniversary of the capture of the city by
Ferdinand and Isabella. On this day all Granada is abandoned to revelry.
The alarm-bell on the Terre de la Campana, or watch-tower of the Alhambra,
keeps up a clangor from morn till night; and happy is the damsel that can
ring that bell; it is a charm to secure a husband in the course of the
The sound, which can be heard over the whole Vega, and to the top of the
mountains, summons the peasantry to the festivities. Throughout the day the
Alhambra is thrown open to the public. The halls and courts of the Moorish
monarchs resound with the guitar and castanet, and gay groups, in the
fanciful dresses of Andalusia, perform those popular dances which they have
inherited from the Moors.
In the meantime a grand procession moves through the city. The banner of
Ferdinand and Isabella, that precious relic of the conquest, is brought
forth from its depository, and borne by the Alferez Mayor, or grand
standard-bearer, through the principal streets. The portable camp-altar,
which was carried about with them in all their campaigns, is transported
into the chapel royal, and placed before their sepulcher, where their
effigies lie in monumental marble. The procession fills the chapel. High
mass is performed in memory of the conquest; and at a certain part of the
ceremony the Alferez Mayor puts on his hat, and waves the standard above
the tomb of the conquerors.
A more whimsical memorial of the conquest is exhibited on the same evening
at the theater, where a popular drama is performed, entitled "Ave Maria."
This turns on the oft-sung achievement of Hernando del Pulgar, surnamed El
de las Hazanas, "He of the Exploits," the favorite hero of the populace of
During the time that Ferdinand and Isabella besieged the city, the young
Moorish and Spanish knights vied with each other in extravagant bravadoes.
On one occasion Hernando del Pulgar, at the head of a handful of youthful
followers, made a dash into Granada at the dead of night, nailed the
inscription of Ave Maria, with his dagger, to the gate of the principal
mosque, as a token of having consecrated it to the Virgin, and effected his
retreat in safety.
While the Moorish cavaliers admired this daring exploit, they felt bound to
revenge it. On the following day, therefore, Tarfe, one of the stoutest of
the infidel warriors, paraded in front of the Christian army, dragging the
sacred inscription of Ave Maria at his horse's tail. The cause of the
Virgin was eagerly vindicated by Garcilaso de la Vega, who slew the Moor in
single combat, and elevated the inscription of Ave Maria, in devotion and
triumph, at the end of his lance.
The drama founded on this exploit is prodigiously popular with the common
people. Although it has been acted time out of mind, and the people have
seen it repeatedly, it never fails to draw crowds, and so completely to
engross the feelings of the audience, as to have almost the effect on them
of reality. When their favorite Pulgar strides about with many a mouthy
speech, in the very midst of the Moorish capital, he is cheered with
enthusiastic bravoes; and when he nails the tablet of Ave Maria to the door
of the mosque, the theater absolutely shakes with shouts and thunders of
applause. On the other hand, the actors who play the part of the Moors have
to bear the brunt of the temporary indignation of their auditors; and when
the infidel Tarfe plucks down the tablet to tie it to his horse's tail,
many of the people absolutely rise in fury, and are ready to jump upon the
stage to revenge this insult to the Virgin.
Besides this annual festival at the capital, almost every village of the
Vega and the mountains has its own anniversary, wherein its own deliverance
from the Moorish yoke is celebrated with uncouth ceremony and rustic pomp.
On these occasions a kind of resurrection takes place of ancient Spanish
dresses and armor; great two-handed swords, ponderous arquebuses, with
matchlocks, and other weapons and accouterments, once the equipments of the
village chivalry, and treasured up from generation to generation, since the
time of the conquest. In these hereditary and historical garbs some of the
most sturdy of the villagers array themselves as champions of the faith,
while its ancient opponents are represented by another band of villagers,
dressed up as Moorish warriors. A tent is pitched in the public square of
the village, within which is an altar and an image of the Virgin. The
Spanish warriors approach to perform their devotions at this shrine, but
are opposed by the infidel Moslems, who surround the tent. A mock fight
succeeds, in the course of which the combatants sometimes forget that they
are merely playing a part, and exchange dry blows of grievous weight; the
fictious Moors especially are apt to bear away pretty evident marks of the
pious zeal of their antagonists. The contest, however, invariably
terminates in favor of the good cause. The Moors are defeated and taken
prisoners. The image of the Virgin, rescued from thralldom, is elevated in
triumph; and a grand procession succeeds, in which the Spanish conquerors
figure with great vainglory and applause, and their captives are led in
chains, to the infinite delight and edification of the populace. These
annual festivals are the delight of the villagers, who expend considerable
sums in their celebration. In some villages they are occasionally obliged
to suspend them for want of funds; but when times grow better, or they have
been enabled to save money for the purpose, they are revived with all their
grotesque pomp and extravagance.
To recur to the exploit of Hernando del Pulgar. However extravagant and
fabulous it may seem, it is authenticated by certain traditional usages,
and shows the vainglorious daring that prevailed between the youthful
warriors of both nations, in that romantic war. The mosque thus consecrated
to the Virgin was made the cathedral of the city after the conquest; and
there is a painting of the Virgin beside the royal chapel, which was put
there by Hernando del Pulgar. The lineal representative of the hare-brained
cavalier has the right to this day to enter the church, on certain
occasions, on horseback, to sit within the choir, and to put on his hat at
the elevation of the host, though these privileges have often been
obstinately contested by the clergy.
The present lineal representative of Hernando del Pulgar is the Marquis de
Salar, whom I have met occasionally in society. He is a young man of
agreeable appearance and manners, and his bright black eyes would give
indication of his inheriting the fire of his ancestor. When the paintings
were put up in the Vivarambla, illustrating the scenes of the conquest, an
old gray-headed family servant of the Pulgars was so delighted with those
which related to the family hero, that he absolutely shed tears, and
hurrying home to the marquis, urged him to hasten and behold the family
trophies. The sudden zeal of the old man provoked the mirth of his young
master; upon which, turning to the brother of the marquis, with that
freedom allowed to family servants in Spain, "Come, senor," cried he, "you
are more grave and considerate than your brother; come and see your
ancestor in all his glory!"
* * * * *
Within two or three years after the above letter was written, the Marquis
de Salar was married to the beautiful daughter of the Count -----,
mentioned by the author in his anecdotes of the Alhambra. The match was
very agreeable to all parties, and the nuptials were celebrated with great
FOUNDER OF THE DYNASTY OF THE OMMIADES OF SPAIN
_To the Editor of the Knickerbocker:_
SIR--In the following memoir I have conformed to the facts furnished by the
Arabian chroniclers, as cited by the learned Conde. The story of Abderahman
has almost the charm of romance; but it derives a higher interest from the
heroic yet gentle virtues which it illustrates, and from recording the
fortunes of the founder of that splendid dynasty, which shed such a luster
upon Spain during the domination of the Arabs. Abderahman may, in some
respects, be compared to our own Washington. He achieved the independence
of Moslem Spain, freeing it from subjection to the caliphs; he united its
jarring parts under one government; he ruled over it with justice,
clemency, and moderation; his whole course of conduct was distinguished by
wonderful forbearance and magnanimity; and when he died he left a legacy of
good example and good counsel to his successors.
* * * * *
"Blessed be God!" exclaims an Arabian historian; "in His hands alone is the
destiny of princes. He overthrows the mighty, and humbles the haughty to
the dust; and he raises up the persecuted and afflicted from the very
depths of despair!"
The illustrious house of Omeya had swayed the scepter at Damascus for
nearly a century, when a rebellion broke out, headed by Aboul Abbas Safah,
who aspired to the throne of the caliphs, as being descended from Abbas,
the uncle of the prophet. The rebellion was successful. Marvau, the last
caliph of the house of Omeya, was defeated and slain. A general
proscription of the Ommiades took place. Many of them fell in battle; many
were treacherously slain, in places where they had taken refuge; above
seventy most noble and distinguished were murdered at a banquet to which
they had been invited, and their dead bodies covered with cloths, and made
to serve as tables for the horrible festivity. Others were driven forth,
forlorn and desolate wanderers in various parts of the earth, and pursued
with relentless hatred; for it was the determination of the usurper that
not one of the persecuted family should escape. Aboul Abbas took possession
of three stately palaces and delicious gardens, and founded the powerful
dynasty of the Abbassides, which, for several centuries, maintained
dominion in the east.
"Blessed be God!" again exclaims the Arabian historian; "it was written in
His eternal decrees that, notwithstanding the fury of the Abbassides, the
noble stock of Omeya should not be destroyed. One fruitful branch remained
to nourish with glory and greatness in another land."
When the sanguinary proscription of the Ommiades took place, two young
princes of that line, brothers, by the names of Solyman and Abderahman were
spared for a time. Their personal graces, noble demeanor, and winning
affability, had made them many friends, while their extreme youth rendered
them objects of but little dread to the usurper. Their safety, however, was
but transient. In a little while the suspicions of Aboul Abbas were
aroused. The unfortunate Solyman fell beneath the scimiter of the
executioner. His brother Abderahman was warned of his danger in time.
Several of his friends hastened to him, bringing him jewels, a disguise,
and a fleet horse. "The emissaries of the caliph," said they, "are in
search of thee; thy brother lies weltering in his blood; fly to the desert!
There is no safety for thee in the habitations of man!"
Abderahman took the jewels, clad himself in the disguise, and mounting his
steed, fled for his life. As he passed, a lonely fugitive, by the palaces
of his ancestors, in which his family had long held sway, their very walls
seemed disposed to betray him, as they echoed the swift clattering of his
Abandoning his native country, Syria, where he was liable at each moment to
be recognized and taken, he took refuge among the Bedouin Arabs, a
half-savage race of shepherds. His youth, his inborn majesty and grace, and
the sweetness and affability that shone forth in his azure eyes, won the
hearts of these wandering men. He was but twenty years of age, and had been
reared in the soft luxury of a palace; but he was tall and vigorous, and in
a little while hardened himself so completely to the rustic life of the
fields that it seemed as though he had passed all his days in the rude
simplicity of a shepherd's cabin.
His enemies, however, were upon his traces, and gave him but little rest.
By day he scoured the plain with the Bedouins, hearing in every blast the
sound of pursuit, and fancying in every distant cloud of dust a troop of
the caliph's horsemen. That night was passed in broken sleep and frequent
watchings, and at the earliest dawn he was the first to put the bridle to
Wearied by these perpetual alarms, he bade farewell to his friendly
Bedouins, and leaving Egypt behind, sought a safer refuge in Western
Africa. The province of Barea was at that time governed by Aben Habib, who
had risen to rank and fortune under the fostering favor of the Ommiades.
"Surely," thought the unhappy prince, "I shall receive kindness and
protection from this man; he will rejoice to show his gratitude for the
benefits showered upon him by my kindred."
Abderahman was young, and as yet knew little of mankind. None are so
hostile to the victim of power as those whom he has befriended. They fear
being suspected of gratitude by his persecutors, and involved in his
The unfortunate Abderahman had halted for a few days to repose himself
among a horde of Bedouins, who had received him with their characteristic
hospitality. They would gather round him in the evenings, to listen to his
conversation, regarding with wonder this gently-spoken stranger from the
more refined country of Egypt. The old men marveled to find so much
knowledge and wisdom in such early youth, and the young men, won by his
frank and manly carriage, entreated him to remain among them.
One night, when all were buried in sleep, they were roused by the tramp of
horsemen. The Wali Aben Habib, who, like all the governors of distant
ports, had received orders from the caliph to be on the watch for the
fugitive prince, had heard that a young man, answering the description, had
entered the province alone, from the frontiers of Egypt, on a steed worn
down by travel. He had immediately sent forth horsemen in his pursuit, with
orders to bring him to him dead or alive. The emissaries of the Wali had
traced him to his resting-place, and demanded of the Arabs whether a young
man, a stranger from Syria, did not sojourn among their tribe. The Bedouins
knew by the description that the stranger must be their guest, and feared
some evil was intended him. "Such a youth," said they, "has indeed
sojourned among us; but he has gone, with some of our young men, to a
distant valley, to hunt the lion." The emissaries inquired the way to the
place, and hastened on to surprise their expected prey.
The Bedouins repaired to Abderahman, who was still sleeping. "If thou hast
aught to fear from man in power," said they, "arise and fly; for the
horsemen of the Wali are in quest of thee! We have sent them off for a time
on a wrong errand, but they will soon return."
"Alas! whither shall I fly!" cried the unhappy prince; "my enemies hunt me
like the ostrich of the desert. They follow me like the wind, and allow me
neither safety nor repose!"
Six of the bravest youth of the tribe stepped forward. "We have steeds,"
said they, "that can outstrip the wind, and hands that can hurl the
javelin. We will accompany thee in thy flight, and will fight by thy side
while life lasts, and we have weapons to wield."
Abderahman embraced them with tears of gratitude. They mounted their
steeds, and made for the most lonely parts of the desert. By the faint
light of the stars, they passed through dreary wastes and over hills of
sand. The lion roared, and the hyena howled unheeded, for they fled from
man, more cruel and relentless, when in pursuit of blood, than the savage
beasts of the desert.
At sunrise they paused to refresh themselves beside a scanty well,
surrounded by a few palm-trees. One of the young Arabs climbed a tree, and
looked in every direction, but not a horseman was to be seen.
"We have outstripped pursuit," said the Bedouins; "whither shall we conduct
thee? Where is thy home and the land of thy people?"
"Home have I none!" replied Abderahman, mournfully, "nor family, nor
kindred! My native land is to me a land of destruction, and my people seek
The hearts of the youthful Bedouins were touched with compassion at these
words, and they marveled that one so young and gentle should have suffered
such great sorrow and persecution.
Abderahman sat by the well and mused for a time. At length, breaking
silence, "In the midst of Mauritania," said he, "dwells the tribe of
Zeneta. My mother was of that tribe; and perhaps when her son presents
himself, a persecuted wanderer, at their door, they will not turn him from
"The Zenetes," replied the Bedouins, "are among the bravest and most
hospitable of the people of Africa. Never did the unfortunate seek refuge
among them in vain, nor was the stranger repulsed from their door." So they
mounted their steeds with renewed spirits, and journeyed with all speed to
Tahart, the capital of the Zenetes.
When Abderahman entered the place, followed by his six rustic Arabs, all
wayworn and travel-stained, his noble and majestic demeanor shone through
the simple garb of a Bedouin. A crowd gathered around him, as he alighted
from his weary steed. Confiding in the well known character of the tribe,
he no longer attempted concealment.
"You behold before you," said he, "one of the proscribed house of Omeya. I
am that Abderahman upon whose head a price has been set, and who has been
driven from land to land. I come to you as my kindred. My mother was of
your tribe, and she told me with her dying breath that in all time of need
I would find a home and friends among the Zenetes."
The words of Abderahman went straight to the hearts of his hearers. They
pitied his youth and his great misfortunes, while they were charmed by his
frankness, and by the manly graces of his person. The tribe was of a bold
and generous spirit, and not to be awed by the frown of power. "Evil be
upon us and upon our children," said they, "if we deceive the trust thou
hast placed in us!"
Then one of the noblest Xeques took Abderahman to his house, and treated
him as his own child; and the principal people of the tribe strove who most
should cherish him, and do him honor; endeavoring to obliterate by their
kindness the recollection of his past misfortunes.
Abderahman had resided some time among the hospitable Zenetes, when one day
two strangers, of venerable appearance, attended by a small retinue,
arrived at Tahart. They gave themselves out as merchants, and from the
simple style in which they traveled, excited no attention. In a little
while they sought out Abderahman, and, taking him apart: "Hearken," said
they, "Abderahman, of the royal line of Omeya; we are embassadors sent on
the part of the principal Moslems of Spain, to offer thee, not merely an
asylum, for that thou hast already among these brave Zenetes, but an
empire! Spain is a prey to distracting factions, and can no longer exist as
a dependency upon a throne too remote to watch over its welfare. It needs
to be independent of Asia and Africa, and to be under the government of a
good prince, who shall reside within it, and devote himself entirely to its
prosperity; a prince with sufficient title to silence all rival claims, and
bring the warring parties into unity and peace; and at the same time with
sufficient ability and virtue to insure the welfare of his dominions. For
this purpose the eyes of all the honorable leaders in Spain have been
turned to thee, as a descendant of the royal line of Omeya, and an offset
from the same stock as our holy prophet. They have heard of thy virtues,
and of thy admirable constancy under misfortunes; and invite thee to accept
the sovereignty of one of the noblest countries in the world. Thou wilt
have some difficulties to encounter from hostile men; but thou wilt have on
thy side the bravest captains that have signalized themselves in the
conquest of the unbelievers."
The embassadors ceased, and Abderahman remained for a time lost in wonder
and admiration. "God is great!" exclaimed he, at length; "there is but one
God, who is God, and Mahomet is his prophet! Illustrious embassadors, you
have put new life into my soul, for you have shown me something to live
for. In the few years that I have lived, troubles and sorrows have been
heaped upon my head, and I have become inured to hardships and alarms.
Since it is the wish of the valiant Moslems of Spain, I am willing to
become their leader and defender, and devote myself to their cause, be it
happy or disastrous."
The embassadors now cautioned him to be silent as to their errand, and to
depart secretly for Spain. "The seaboard of Africa," said they, "swarms
with your enemies, and a powerful faction in Spain would intercept you on
landing, did they know your name and rank, and the object of your coming."
But Abderahman replied: "I have been cherished in adversity by these brave
Zenetes; I have been protected and honored by them, when a price was set
upon my head, and to harbor me was great peril. How can I keep my good
fortune from my benefactors, and desert their hospitable roofs in silence?
He is unworthy of friendship, who withholds confidence from his friend."
Charmed with the generosity of his feelings, the embassadors made no
opposition to his wishes. The Zenetes proved themselves worthy of his
confidence. They hailed with joy the great change in his fortunes. The
warriors and the young men pressed forward to follow, and aid them with
horse and weapon; "for the honor of a noble house and family," said they,
"can be maintained only by lances and horsemen." In a few days he set
forth, with the embassadors, at the head of nearly a thousand horsemen
skilled in war, and exercised in the desert, and a large body of infantry,
armed with lances. The venerable Xeque, with whom he had resided, blessed
him and shed tears over him at parting, as though he had been his own
child; and when the youth passed over the threshold, the house was filled
Abderahman reached Spain in safely, and landed at Almanecar, with his
little band of warlike Zenetes. Spain was at that time in a state of great
confusion. Upward of forty years had elapsed since the conquest. The civil
wars in Syria and Egypt had prevented the main government at Damascus from
exercising control over this distant and recently acquired territory. Every
Moslem commander considered the town or province committed to his charge an
absolute property; and accordingly exercised the most arbitrary extortions.
These excesses at length became insupportable, and, at a convocation of
many of the principal leaders, it was determined, as a means to end these
dissensions, to unite all the Moslem provinces of Spain under one emir, or
general governor. Yusuf el Fehri, an ancient man, of honorable lineage, was
chosen for this station. He began his reign with policy, and endeavored to
conciliate all parties; but the distribution of offices soon created
powerful enemies among the disappointed leaders. A civil war was the
consequence, and Spain was deluged with blood. The troops of both parties
burned and ravaged and laid every thing waste, to distress their
antagonists; the villages were abandoned by their inhabitants, who fled to
the cities for refuge; and flourishing towns disappeared from the face of
the earth, or remained mere heaps of rubbish and ashes. At the time of the
landing of Abderahman in Spain, the old Emir Yusuf had obtained a signal
victory. He had captured Saragossa, in which was Ameer ben Amru, his
principal enemy, together with his son and secretary. Loading his prisoners
with chains, and putting them on camels, he set out in triumph for Cordova,
considering himself secure in the absolute domination of Spain.
He had halted one day in a valley called Wadarambla, and was reposing with
his family in his pavilion, while his people and the prisoners made a
repast in the open air. In the midst of his repose, his confidential
adherent and general, the Wali Samael, galloped into the camp covered with
dust and exhausted with fatigue. He brought tidings of the arrival of
Abderahman and that the whole seaboard was flocking to his standard.
Messenger after messenger came hurrying into the camp, confirming the
fearful tidings, and adding that this descendant of the Omeyas had secretly
been invited to Spain by Amru and his followers. Yusuf waited not to
ascertain the truth of this accusation. Giving way to a transport of fury,
he ordered that Amru, his son and secretary, should be cut to pieces. His
commands were instantly executed. "And this cruelty," says the Arabian
chronicler, "lost him the favor of Allah; for from that time success
deserted his standard."
Abderahman had indeed been hailed with joy on his landing in Spain. The old
people hoped to find tranquillity under the sway of one supreme chieftain,
descended from their ancient caliphs; the young men were rejoiced to have a
youthful warrior to lead them on to victories; and the populace, charmed
with his freshness and manly beauty, his majestic yet gracious and affable
demeanor, shouted: "Long live Abderahman ben Moavia Meramamolin of Spain!"
In a few days the youthful sovereign saw himself at the head of more than
twenty thousand men, from the neighborhood of Elvira, Almeria, Malaga,
Xeres, and Sidonia. Fair Seville threw open its gates at his approach, and
celebrated his arrival with public rejoicings. He continued his march into
the country, vanquished one of the eons of Yusuf before the gates of
Cordova, and obliged him to take refuge within its walls, where he held him
in close siege. Hearing, however, of the approach of Yusuf, the father,
with a powerful army, he divided his forces, and leaving ten thousand men
to press the siege, he hastened with the other ten to meet the coming foe.
Yusuf had indeed mustered a formidable force, from the east and south of
Spain, and accompanied by his veteran general, Samael, came with confident
boasting to drive this intruder from the land. His confidence increased on
beholding the small army of Abderahman. Turning to Samael, he repeated,
with a scornful sneer, a verse from an Arabian poetess, which says:
"How hard is our lot! We come, a thirsty multitude, and lo! but this cup of
water to share among us!"
There was indeed a fearful odds. On the one side were two veteran generals,
grown gray in victory, with a mighty host of warriors, seasoned in the wars
of Spain. On the other side was a mere youth, scarce attained to manhood,
with a hasty levy of half-disciplined troops; but the youth was a prince,
flushed with hope, and aspiring after fame and empire; and surrounded by a
devoted band of warriors from Africa, whose example infused desperate zeal
into the little army.
The encounter took place at daybreak. The impetuous valor of the Zenetes
carried everything before it. The cavalry of Yusuf was broken, and driven
back upon the infantry, and before noon the whole host was put to headlong
flight. Yusuf and Samael were borne along in the torrent of the fugitives,
raging and storming, and making ineffectual efforts to rally them. They
were separated widely in the confusion of the flight, one taking refuge in
the Algarves, the other in the kingdom of Murcia. They afterward rallied,
reunited their forces, and made another desperate stand near Almunecar. The
battle was obstinate and bloody, but they were again defeated, and driven,
with a handful of followers, to take refuge in the rugged mountains
adjacent to Elvira.
The spirit of the veteran Samael gave way before these fearful reverses.
"In vain, oh Yusuf!" said he, "do we contend with the prosperous star of
this youthful conqueror: the will of Allah be done! Let us submit to our
fate, and sue for favorable terms, while we have yet the means of
It was a hard trial for the proud spirit of Yusuf, that had once aspired to
uncontrolled sway; but he was compelled to capitulate. Abderahman was as
generous as brave. He granted the two gray-headed generals the most
honorable conditions, and even took the veteran Samael into favor,
employing him, as a mark of confidence, to visit the eastern provinces of
Spain, and restore them to tranquillity. Yusuf, having delivered up Elvira
and Granada, and complied with other articles of his capitulation, was
permitted to retire to Murcia, and rejoin his son Muhamad. A general
amnesty to all chiefs and soldiers who should yield up their strongholds,
and lay down their arms, completed the triumph of Abderahman, and brought
all hearts into obedience.
Thus terminated this severe struggle for the domination of Spain; and thus
the illustrious family of Omeya, after having been cast down and almost
exterminated in the East, took new root, and sprang forth prosperously in
Wherever Abderahman appeared, he was received with rapturous acclamations.
As he rode through the cities, the populace rent the air with shouts of
joy; the stately palaces were crowded with spectators, eager to gain a
sight of his graceful form and beaming countenance; and when they beheld
the mingled majesty and benignity of their new monarch, and the sweetness
and gentleness of his whole conduct, they extolled him as something more
than mortal; as a beneficent genius, sent for the happiness of Spain.
In the interval of peace which now succeeded, Abderahman occupied himself
in promoting the useful and elegant arts, and in introducing into Spain the
refinements of the East. Considering the building and ornamenting of cities
as among the noblest employments of the tranquil hours of princes, he
bestowed great pains upon beautifying the city of Cordova and its environs.
He reconstructed banks and dikes, to keep the Guadalquivir from overflowing
its borders, and on the vast terraces thus formed he planted delightful
gardens. In the midst of these, he erected a lofty tower, commanding a view
of the vast and fruitful valley, enlivened by the windings of the river. In
this tower he would pass hours of meditation, gazing on the soft and varied
landscape, and inhaling the bland and balmy airs of that delightful region.
At such times, his thoughts would recur to the past, and the misfortunes of
his youth; the massacre of his family would rise to view, mingled with
tender recollections of his native country, from which he was exiled. In
these melancholy musings he would sit with his eyes fixed upon a palm-tree
which he had planted in the midst of his garden. It is said to have been
the first ever planted in Spain, and to have been the parent stock of all
the palm-trees which grace the southern provinces of the peninsula. The
heart of Abderahman yearned toward this tree; it was the offspring of his
native country, and, like him, an exile. In one of his moods of tenderness,
he composed verses upon it, which have since become famous throughout the
world. The following is a rude but literal translation:
"Beauteous Palm! thou also wert hither brought a stranger; but thy roots
have found a kindly soil, thy head is lifted to the skies, and the sweet
airs of Algarve fondle and kiss thy branches.
"Thou hast known, like me, the storms of adverse fortune. Bitter tears
wouldst thou shed, couldst thou feel my woes. Repeated griefs have
overwhelmed me. With early tears I bedewed the palms on the banks of the
Euphrates; but neither tree nor river heeded my sorrows, when driven by
cruel fate, and the ferocious Aboul Abbas, from the scenes of my childhood
and the sweet objects of my affection.
"To thee no remembrance remains of my beloved country; I, unhappy! can
never recall it without tears."
The generosity of Abderahman to his vanquished foes was destined to be
abused. The veteran Yusuf, in visiting certain of the cities which he had
surrendered, found himself surrounded by zealous partisans, ready to peril
life in his service. The love of command revived in his bosom, and he
repented the facility with which he had suffered himself to be persuaded to
submission. Flushed with new hopes of success, he caused arms to be
secretly collected, and deposited in various villages, most zealous in
their professions of devotion, and raising a considerable body of troops,
seized upon the castle of Almodovar. The rash rebellion was short-lived. At
the first appearance of an army sent by Abderahman, and commanded by
Abdelmelee, governor of Seville, the villages which had so recently
professed loyalty to Yusuf hastened to declare their attachment to the
monarch, and to give up the concealed arms. Almodovar was soon retaken, and
Yusuf, driven to the environs of Lorea, was surrounded by the cavalry of
Abdelmelee. The veteran endeavored to cut a passage through the enemy, but
after fighting with desperate fury, and with a force of arm incredible in
one of his age, he fell beneath blows from weapons of all kinds, so that
after the battle his body could scarcely be recognized, so numerous were
the wounds. His head was cut off and sent to Cordova, where it was placed
in an iron cage, over the gate of the city.
The old lion was dead, but his whelps survived. Yusuf had left three sons,
who inherited his warlike spirit, and were eager to revenge his death.
Collecting a number of the scattered adherents of their house, they
surprised and seized upon Toledo, during the absence of Temam, its Wali or
commander. In this old warrior city, built upon a rock, and almost
surrounded by the Tagus, they set up a kind of robber hold, scouring the
surrounding country, levying tribute, seizing upon horses, and compelling
the peasantry to join their standard. Every day cavalcades of horses and
mules, laden with spoil, with flocks of sheep and droves of cattle, came
pouring over the bridges on either side of the city, and thronging in at
the gates, the plunder of the surrounding country. Those of the inhabitants
who were still loyal to Abderahman dared not lift up their voices, for men
of the sword bore sway. At length one day, when the sons of Yusuf, with
their choicest troops, were out on a maraud, the watchmen on the towers
gave the alarm. A troop of scattered horsemen were spurring wildly toward
the gates. The banners of the sons of Yusuf were descried. Two of them
spurred into the city, followed by a handful of warriors, covered with
confusion, and dismay. They had been encountered and defeated by the Wali
Temam, and one of the brothers had been slain.
The gates were secured in all haste, and the walls were scarcely manned,
when Temam appeared before them with his troops, and summoned the city to
surrender. A great internal commotion ensued between the loyalists and the
insurgents; the latter, however, had weapons in their hands, and prevailed;
and for several days, trusting to the strength of their rock-built
fortress, they set the Wali at defiance. At length some of the loyal
inhabitants of Toledo, who knew all its secret and subterraneous passages,
some of which, if chroniclers may be believed, have existed since the days
of Hercules, if not of Tubal Cain, introduced Temam and a chosen band of
his warriors into the very center of the city, where they suddenly appeared
as if by magic. A panic seized upon the insurgents. Some sought safety in
submission, some in concealment, some in flight. Casim, one of the sons of
Yusuf, escaped in disguise; the youngest, unarmed, was taken, and was sent
captive to the king, accompanied by the head of his brother, who had been
slain in battle.
When Abderahman beheld the youth laden with chains, he remembered his own
sufferings in his early days, and had compassion on him; but, to prevent
him from doing further mischief, he imprisoned him in a tower of the wall
In the meantime Casim, who had escaped, managed to raise another band of
warriors. Spain, in all ages a guerrilla country, prone to partisan warfare
and petty maraud, was at that time infested by bands of licentious troops,
who had sprung up in the civil contests; their only object pillage, their
only dependence the sword, and ready to flock to any new and desperate
standard, that promised the greatest license. With a ruffian force thus
levied, Casim scoured the country, took Sidonia by storm, and surprised
Seville while in a state of unsuspecting security.
Abderahman put himself at the head of his faithful Zenetes, and took the
field in person. By the rapidity of his movements, the rebels were
defeated, Sidonia and Seville speedily retaken, and Casim was made
prisoner. The generosity of Abderahman was again exhibited toward this
unfortunate son of Yusuf. He spared his life, and sent him to be confined
in a tower at Toledo.
The veteran Samael had taken no part in these insurrections, but had
attended faithfully to the affairs intrusted to him by Abderahman. The
death of his old friend and colleague, Yusuf, however, and the subsequent
disasters of his family, filled him with despondency. Fearing the
inconstancy of fortune, and the dangers incident to public employ, he
entreated the king to be permitted to retire to his house in Seguenza, and
indulge a privacy and repose suited to his advanced age. His prayer was
granted. The veteran laid by his arms, battered in a thousand conflicts;
hung his sword and lance against the wall, and, surrounded by a few
friends, gave himself up apparently to the sweets of quiet and unambitious
Who can count, however, upon the tranquil content of a heart nurtured amid
the storms of war and ambition! Under the ashes of this outward humility
were glowing the coals of faction. In his seemingly philosophical
retirement, Samael was concerting with his friends new treason against
Abderahman. His plot was discovered; his house was suddenly surrounded by
troops; and he was conveyed to a tower at Toledo, where, in the course of a
few months, he died in captivity.
The magnanimity of Abderahman was again put to the proof, by a new
insurrection at Toledo. Hixem ben Adra, a relation of Yusuf, seized upon
the Alcazar, or citadel, slew several of the royal adherents of the king,
liberated Casim from his tower, and, summoning all the banditti of the
country, soon mustered a force of ten thousand men. Abderahman was quickly
before the walls of Toledo, with the troops of Cordova and his devoted
Zenetes. The rebels were brought to terms, and surrendered the city on
promise of general pardon, which was extended even to Hixem and Casim. When
the chieftains saw Hixem and his principal confederates in the power of
Abderahman, they advised him to put them all to death. "A promise given to
traitors and rebels," said they, "is not binding, when it is to the
interest of the state that it should be broken."
"No!" replied Abderahman, "if the safety of my throne were at stake, I
would not break my word." So saying, he confirmed the amnesty, and granted
Hixem ben Adra a worthless life, to be employed in further treason.
Scarcely had Abderahman returned from this expedition, when a powerful
army, sent by the caliph, landed from Africa on the coast of the Algarves.
The commander, Aly ben Mogueth, Emir of Cairvan, elevated a rich banner
which he had received from the hands of the caliph. Wherever he went, he
ordered the caliph of the East to be proclaimed by sound of trumpet,
denouncing Abderahman as a usurper, the vagrant member of a family
proscribed and execrated in all the mosques of the East.
One of the first to join his standard was Hixem ben Adra, so recently
pardoned by Abderahman. He seized upon the citadel of Toledo, and repairing
to the camp of Aly, offered to deliver the city into his hands.
Abderahman, as bold in war as he was gentle in peace, took the field with
his wonted promptness; overthrew his enemies, with great slaughter, drove
some to the seacoast to regain their ships, and others to the mountains.
The body of Aly was found on the field of battle. Abderahman caused the
head to be struck off, and conveyed to Cairvan, where it was affixed at
night to a column in the public square, with this inscription: "Thus
Abderahman, the descendant of the Omeyas, punishes the rash and arrogant."
Hixem ben Adra escaped from the field of battle, and excited further
troubles, but was eventually captured by Abdelmelee, who ordered his head
to be struck off on the spot, lest he should again be spared, through the
wonted clemency of Abderahman.
Notwithstanding these signal triumphs, the reign of Abderahman was
disturbed by further insurrections, and by another descent from Africa, but
he was victorious over them all; striking the roots of his power deeper and
deeper into the land. Under his sway, the government of Spain became more
regular and consolidated, and acquired an independence of the empire of the
East. The caliph continued to be considered as first pontiff and chief of
the religion, but he ceased to have any temporal power over Spain.
Having again an interval of peace, Abderahman devoted himself to the
education of his children. Suleiman, the eldest, he appointed Wali or
governor of Toledo; Abdallah, the second, was intrusted with the command of
Merida; but the third son, Hixem, was the delight of his heart, the son of
Howara, his favorite sultana, whom he loved throughout life with the utmost
tenderness. With this youth, who was full of promise, he relaxed from the
fatigues of government; joining in his youthful sports amid the delightful
gardens of Cordova, and teaching him the gentle art of falconry, of which
the king was so fond that he received the name of the Falcon of Coraixi.
While Abderahman was thus indulging in the gentle propensities of his
nature, mischief was secretly at work. Muhamad, the youngest son of Yusuf,
had been for many years a prisoner in the tower of Cordova. Being passive
and resigned, his keepers relaxed their vigilance, and brought him forth
from his dungeon. He went groping about, however, in broad daylight, as if
still in the darkness of his tower. His guards watched him narrowly, lest
this should be a deception, but were at length convinced that the long
absence of light had rendered him blind. They now permitted him to descend
frequently to the lower chambers of the tower, and to sleep there
occasionally, during the heats of summer. They even allowed him to grope
his way to the cistern, in quest of water for his ablutions.
A year passed in this way without anything to excite suspicion. During all
this time, however, the blindness of Muhamad was entirely a deception; and
he was concerting a plan of escape, through the aid of some friends of his
father, who found means to visit him occasionally. One sultry evening in
midsummer, the guards had gone to bathe in the Guadalquivir, leaving
Muhamad alone, in the lower chambers of the tower. No sooner were they out
of sight and hearing than he hastened to a window of the staircase, leading
down to the cistern, lowered himself as far as his arms would reach, and
dropped without injury to the ground. Plunging into the Guadalquivir, he
swam across to a thick grove on the opposite side, where his friends were
waiting to receive him. Here, mounting a horse which they had provided for
an event of the kind, he fled across the country, by solitary roads, and
made good his escape to the mountains of Jaen.
The guardians of the tower dreaded for some time to make known his flight
to Abderahman. When at length it was told to him, he exclaimed: "All is the
work of eternal wisdom; it is intended to teach us that we cannot benefit
the wicked without injuring the good. The flight of that blind man will
cause much trouble and bloodshed."
His predictions were verified. Muhamad reared the standard of rebellion on
the mountains; the seditious and discontented of all kinds hastened to join
it, together with soldiers of fortune, or rather wandering banditti, and he
had soon six thousand men, well armed, hardy in habits and desperate in
character. His brother Casim also reappeared about the same time in the
mountains of Ronda, at the head of a daring band that laid all the
neighboring valleys under contribution.
Abderahman summoned his alcaydes from their various military posts, to
assist in driving the rebels from their mountain fastnesses into the
plains. It was a dangerous and protracted toil, for the mountains were
frightfully wild and rugged. He entered them with a powerful host, driving
the rebels from height to height and valley to valley, and harassing them
by a galling fire from thousands of crossbows. At length a decisive battle
took place near the river Guadalemar. The rebels were signally defeated;
four thousand fell in action, many were drowned in the river, and Muhamad,
with a few horsemen, escaped to the mountains of the Algarves. Here he was
hunted by the alcaydes from one desolate retreat to another; his few
followers grew tired of sharing the disastrous fortunes of a fated man; one
by one deserted him, and he himself deserted the remainder, fearing they
might give him up, to purchase their own pardon.
Lonely and disguised, he plunged into the depths of the forests, or lurked
in dens and caverns, like a famished wolf, often casting back his thoughts
with regret to the time of his captivity in the gloomy tower of Cordova.
Hunger at length drove him to Alarcon, at the risk of being discovered.
Famine and misery, however, had so wasted and changed him that he was not
recognized. He remained nearly a year in Alarcon, unnoticed and unknown,
yet constantly tormenting himself with the dread of discovery, and with
groundless fears of the vengeance of Abderahman. Death at length put an end
to his wretchedness.
A milder fate attended his brother Casim. Being defeated in the mountains
of Murcia, he was conducted in chains to Cordova. On coming into the
presence of Abderahman, his once fierce and haughty spirit, broken by
distress, gave way; he threw himself on the earth, kissed the dust beneath
the feet of the king, and implored his clemency. The benignant heart of
Abderahman was filled with melancholy, rather than exultation, at beholding
this wreck of the once haughty family of Yusuf a suppliant at his feet, and
suing for mere existence. He thought upon the mutability of fortune, and
felt how insecure are all her favors. He raised the unhappy Casim from the
earth, ordered his irons to be taken off, and, not content with mere
forgiveness, treated him with honor, and gave him possessions in Seville,
where he might live in state conformable to the ancient dignity of his
family. Won by this great and persevering magnanimity, Casim ever after
remained one of the most devoted of his subjects.
All the enemies of Abderahman were at length subdued; he reigned undisputed
sovereign of the Moslems of Spain; and so benign was his government that
every one blessed the revival of the illustrious line of Omeya. He was at
all times accessible to the humblest of his subjects: the poor man ever
found in him a friend, and the oppressed a protector. He improved the
administration of justice; established schools for public instruction;
encouraged poets and men of letters, and cultivated the sciences. He built
mosques in every city that he visited; inculcated religion by example as
well as by precept; and celebrated all the festivals prescribed by the
Koran with the utmost magnificence.
As a monument of gratitude to God for the prosperity with which he had been
favored, he undertook to erect a mosque in his favorite city of Cordova
that should rival in splendor the great mosque of Damascus, and excel the
one recently erected in Bagdad by the Abbassides, the supplanters of his
It is said that he himself furnished the plan for this famous edifice, and
even worked on it, with his own hands, one hour in each day, to testify his
zeal and humility in the service of God, and to animate his workmen. He did
not live to see it completed, but it was finished according to his plans by
his son Hixem. When finished, it surpassed the most splendid mosques of the
east. It was six hundred feet in length, and two hundred and fifty in
breadth. Within were twenty-eight aisles, crossed by nineteen, supported by
a thousand and ninety-three columns of marble. There were nineteen portals,
covered with plates of bronze of rare workmanship. The principal portal was
covered with plates of gold. On the summit of the grand cupola were three
gilt balls surmounted by a golden pomegranate. At night, the mosque was
illuminated with four thousand seven hundred lamps, and great sums were
expended in amber and aloes, which were burned as perfumes. The mosque
remains to this day, shorn of its ancient splendor, yet still one of the
grandest Moslem monuments in Spain.
Finding himself advancing in years, Abderahman assembled in his capital of
Cordova the principal governors and commanders of his kingdom, and in
presence of them all, with great solemnity, nominated his son Hixem as the
successor to the throne. All present made an oath of fealty to Abderahman
during his life, and to Hixem after his death. The prince was younger than
his brothers, Suleiman and Abdallah; but he was the son of Howara, the
tenderly beloved sultana of Abderahman, and her influence, it is said,
gained him this preference.
Within a few months afterward, Abderahman fell grievously sick at Merida.
Finding his end approaching, he summoned Hixem to his bedside: "My son,"
said he, "the angel of death is hovering over me; treasure up, therefore,
in thy heart this dying counsel, which I give through the great love I bear
thee. Remember that all empire is from God, who gives and takes it away,
according to his pleasure. Since God, through his divine goodness, has
given us regal power and authority, let us do his holy will, which is
nothing else than to do good to all men, and especially to those committed
to our protection. Render equal justice, my son, to the rich and the poor,
and never suffer injustice to be done within thy dominion, for it is the
road to perdition. Be merciful and benignant to those dependent upon thee.
Confide the government of thy cities and provinces to men of worth and
experience; punish without compassion those ministers who oppress thy
people with exorbitant exactions. Pay thy troops punctually; teach them to
feel a certainty in thy promises; command them with gentleness but
firmness, and make them in truth the defenders of the state, not its
destroyers. Cultivate unceasingly the affections of thy people, for in
their good-will consists the security of the state, in their distrust its
peril, in their hatred its certain ruin. Protect the husbandmen who
cultivate the earth, and yield us necessary sustenance; never permit their
fields, and groves, and gardens to be disturbed. In a word, act in such
wise that thy people may bless thee, and may enjoy, under the shadow of thy
wing, a secure and tranquil life. In this consists good government; if thou
dost practice it, thou wilt be happy among thy people, and renowned
throughout the world."
Having given this excellent counsel, the good king Abderahman blessed his
son Hixem, and shortly after died; being but in the sixtieth year of his
age. He was interred with great pomp; but the highest honors that
distinguished his funeral were the tears of real sorrow shed upon his
grave. He left behind him a name for valor, justice, and magnanimity, and
forever famous as being the founder of the glorious line of the Ommiades in
THE WIDOW'S ORDEAL
OR A JUDICIAL TRIAL BY COMBAT
The world is daily growing older and wiser. Its institutions vary with its
years, and mark its growing wisdom; and none more so than its modes of
investigating truth, and ascertaining guilt or innocence. In its nonage,
when man was yet a fallible being, and doubted the accuracy of his own
intellect, appeals were made to heaven in dark and doubtful cases of
The accused was required to plunge his hand in boiling oil, or to walk
across red-hot plowshares, or to maintain his innocence in armed fight and
listed field, in person or by champion. If he passed these ordeals
unscathed, he stood acquitted, and the result was regarded as a verdict
from on high.
It is somewhat remarkable that, in the gallant age of chivalry, the gentler
sex should have been most frequently the subjects of these rude trials and
perilous ordeals; and that, too, when assailed in their most delicate and
vulnerable part--their honor.
In the present very old and enlightened age of the world, when the human
intellect is perfectly competent to the management of its own concerns, and
needs no special interposition of heaven in its affairs, the trial by jury
has superseded these superhuman ordeals; and the unanimity of twelve
discordant minds is necessary to constitute a verdict. Such a unanimity
would, at first sight, appear also to require a miracle from heaven; but it
is produced by a simple device of human ingenuity. The twelve jurors are
locked up in their box, there to fast until abstinence shall have so
clarified their intellects that the whole jarring panel can discern the
truth, and concur in a unanimous decision. One point is certain, that truth
is one and is immutable--until the jurors all agree, they cannot all be
It is not our intention, however, to discuss this great judicial point, or
to question the avowed superiority of the mode of investigating truth
adopted in this antiquated and very sagacious era. It is our object merely
to exhibit to the curious reader one of the most memorable cases of
judicial combat we find in the annals of Spain. It occurred at the bright
commencement of the reign, and in the youthful, and, as yet, glorious days,
of Roderick the Goth; who subsequently tarnished his fame at home by his
misdeeds, and, finally, lost his kingdom and his life on the banks of the
Guadalete, in that disastrous battle which gave up Spain a conquest to the
Moors. The following is the story:
There was once upon a time a certain duke of Lorraine, who was acknowledged
throughout his domains to be one of the wisest princes that ever lived. In
fact, there was no one measure adopted by him that did not astonish his
privy counselors and gentlemen in attendance; and he said such witty
things, and made such sensible speeches, that the jaws of his high
chamberlain were wellnigh dislocated from laughing with delight at one, and
gaping with wonder at the other.
This very witty and exceedingly wise potentate lived for half a century in
single blessedness; at length his courtiers began to think it a great pity
so wise and wealthy a prince should not have a child after his own
likeness, to inherit his talents and domains; so they urged him most
respectfully to marry, for the good of his estate, and the welfare of his
He turned their advice over in his mind some four or five years, and then
sent forth emissaries to summon to his court all the beautiful maidens in
the land who were ambitious of sharing a ducal crown. The court was soon
crowded with beauties of all styles and complexions, from among whom he
chose one in the earliest budding of her charms, and acknowledged by all
the gentlemen to be unparalleled for grace and loveliness. The courtiers
extolled the duke to the skies for making such a choice, and considered it
another proof of his great wisdom. "The duke," said they, "is waxing a
little too old, the damsel, on the other hand, is a little too young; if
one is lacking in years, the other has a superabundance; thus a want on one
side is balanced by the excess on the other, and the result is a
The duke, as is often the case with wise men who marry rather late, and
take damsels rather youthful to their bosoms, became dotingly fond of his
wife, and very properly indulged her in all things. He was, consequently,
cried up by his subjects in general, and by the ladies in particular, as a
pattern for husbands; and, in the end, from the wonderful docility with
which he submitted to be reined and checked, acquired the amiable and
enviable appellation of Duke Philibert the wife-ridden.
There was only one thing that disturbed the conjugal felicity of this
paragon of husbands--though a considerable tine elapsed after his marriage,
there was still no prospect of an heir. The good duke left no means untried
to propitiate heaven. He made vows and pilgrimages, he fasted and he
prayed, but all to no purpose. The courtiers were all astonished at the
circumstance. They could not account for it. While the meanest peasant in
the country had sturdy brats by dozens, without putting up a prayer, the
duke wore himself to skin and bone with penances and fastings, yet seemed
further off from his object than ever.
At length, the worthy prince fell dangerously ill, and felt his end
approaching. He looked sorrowfully and dubiously upon his young and tender
spouse, who hung over him with tears and sobbings. "Alas!" said he, "tears
are soon dried from youthful eyes, and sorrow lies lightly on a youthful
heart. In a little while thou wilt forget in the arms of another husband
him who has loved thee so tenderly."
"Never! never!" cried the duchess. "Never will I cleave to another! Alas,
that my lord should think me capable of such inconstancy!"
The worthy and wife-ridden duke was soothed by her assurances; for he could
not brook the thought of giving her up even after he should be dead. Still
he wished to have some pledge of her enduring constancy:
"Far be it from me, my dearest wife," said he, "to control thee through a
long life. A year and a day of strict fidelity will appease my troubled
spirit. Promise to remain faithful to my memory for a year and a day, and I
will die in peace."
The duchess made a solemn vow to that effect, but the uxorious feelings of
the duke were not yet satisfied. "Safe bind, safe find," thought he; so he
made a will, bequeathing to her all his domains, on condition of her
remaining true to him for a year and a day after his decease; but, should
it appear that, within that time, she had in anywise lapsed from her
fidelity, the inheritance should go to his nephew, the lord of a
Having made his will, the good duke died and was buried. Scarcely was he in
his tomb, when his nephew came to take possession, thinking, as his uncle
had died without issue, the domains would be devised to him of course. He
was in a furious passion, when the will was produced, and the young widow
declared inheritor of the dukedom. As he was a violent, high-handed man,
and one of the sturdiest knights in the land, fears were entertained that
he might attempt to seize on the territories by force. He had, however, two
bachelor uncles for bosom counselors, swaggering, rakehelly old cavaliers,
who, having led loose and riotous lives, prided themselves upon knowing the
world, and being deeply experienced in human nature. "Prithee, man, be of
good cheer," said they, "the duchess is a young and buxom widow. She has
just buried our brother, who, God rest his soul! was somewhat too much
given to praying and fasting, and kept his pretty wife always tied to his
girdle. She is now like a bird from a cage. Think you she will keep her
vow? Pooh, pooh--impossible! Take our words for it--we know mankind, and,
above all, womankind. She cannot hold out for such a length of time; it is
not in womanhood--it is not in widowhood--we know it, and that's enough.
Keep a sharp lookout upon the widow, therefore, and within the twelvemonth
you will catch her tripping--and then the dukedom is your own."
The nephew was pleased with this counsel, and immediately placed spies
round the duchess, and bribed several of her servants to keep watch upon
her, so that she could not take a single step, even from one apartment of
her palace to another, without being observed. Never was young and
beautiful widow exposed to so terrible an ordeal.
The duchess was aware of the watch thus kept upon her. Though confident of
her own rectitude, she knew that it is not enough for a woman to be
virtuous--she must be above the reach of slander. For the whole term of her
probation, therefore, she proclaimed a strict non-intercourse with the
other sex. She had females for cabinet ministers and chamberlains, through
whom she transacted all her public and private concerns; and it is said
that never were the affairs of the dukedom so adroitly administered.
All males were rigorously excluded from the palace; she never went out of
its precincts, and whenever she moved about its courts and gardens she
surrounded herself with a bodyguard of young maids of honor, commanded by
dames renowned for discretion. She slept in a bed without curtains, placed
in the center of a room illuminated by innumerable wax tapers. Four ancient
spinsters, virtuous as Virginia, perfect dragons of watchfulness, who only
slept during the daytime, kept vigils throughout the night, seated in the
four corners of the room on stools without backs or arms, and with seats
cut in checkers of the hardest wood, to keep them from dozing.
Thus wisely and warily did the young duchess conduct herself for twelve
long months, and slander almost bit her tongue off in despair, at finding
no room even for a surmise. Never was ordeal more burdensome, or more
The year passed away. The last, odd day, arrived, and a long, long day it
was. It was the twenty-first of June, the longest day in the year. It
seemed as if it would never come to an end. A thousand times did the
duchess and her ladies watch the sun from the windows of the palace, as he
slowly climbed the vault of heaven, and seemed still more slowly to roll
down. They could not help expressing their wonder, now and then, why the
duke should have tagged this supernumerary day to the end of the year, as
if three hundred and sixty-five days were not sufficient to try and task
the fidelity of any woman. It is the last grain that turns the scale--the
last drop that overflows the goblet--and the last moment of delay that
exhausts the patience. By the time the sun sank below the horizon, the
duchess was in a fidget that passed all bounds, and, though several hours
were yet to pass before the day regularly expired, she could not have
remained those hours in durance to gain a royal crown, much less a ducal
coronet. So she gave orders, and her palfrey, magnificently caparisoned,
was brought into the courtyard of the castle, with palfreys for all her
ladies in attendance. In this way she sallied forth, just as the sun had
gone down. It was a mission of piety--a pilgrim cavalcade to a convent at
the foot of a neighboring mountain--to return thanks to the blessed Virgin,
for having sustained her through this fearful ordeal.
The orisons performed, the duchess and her ladies returned, ambling gently
along the border of a forest. It was about that mellow hour of twilight
when night and day are mingled and all objects are indistinct. Suddenly,
some monstrous animal sprang from out a thicket, with fearful howlings. The
female bodyguard was thrown into confusion, and fled different ways. It was
some time before they recovered from their panic, and gathered once more
together; but the duchess was not to be found. The greatest anxiety was
felt for her safety. The hazy mist of twilight had prevented their
distinguishing perfectly the animal which had affrighted them. Some thought
it a wolf, others a bear, others a wild man of the woods. For upward of an
hour did they beleaguer the forest, without daring to venture in, and were
on the point of giving up the duchess as torn to pieces and devoured, when,
to their great joy, they beheld her advancing in the gloom, supported by a
He was a stranger knight, whom nobody knew. It was impossible to
distinguish his countenance in the dark; but all the ladies agreed that he
was of noble presence and captivating address. He had rescued the duchess
from the very fangs of the monster, which, he assured the ladies, was
neither a wolf, nor a bear, nor yet a wild man of the woods, but a
veritable fiery dragon, a species of monster peculiarly hostile to
beautiful females in the days of chivalry, and which all the efforts of
knight-errantry had not been able to extirpate.
The ladies crossed themselves when they heard of the danger from which they
had escaped, and could not enough admire the gallantry of the cavalier. The
duchess would fain have prevailed on her deliverer to accompany her to her
court; but he had no time to spare, being a knight-errant, who had many
adventures on hand, and many distressed damsels and afflicted widows to
rescue and relieve in various parts of the country. Taking a respectful
leave, therefore, he pursued his wayfaring, and the duchess and her train
returned to the palace. Throughout the whole way, the ladies were unwearied
in chanting the praises of the stranger knight, nay, many of them would
willingly have incurred the danger of the dragon to have enjoyed the happy
deliverance of the duchess. As to the latter, she rode pensively along, but
No sooner was the adventure of the wood made public than a whirlwind was
raised about the ears of the beautiful duchess. The blustering nephew of
the deceased duke went about, armed to the teeth, with a swaggering uncle
at each shoulder, ready to back him, and swore the duchess had forfeited
her domain. It was in vain that she called all the saints, and angels, and
her ladies in attendance into the bargain, to witness that she had passed a
year and a day of immaculate fidelity. One fatal hour remained to be
accounted for; and into the space of one little hour sins enough may be
conjured up by evil tongues to blast the fame of a whole life of virtue.
The two graceless uncles, who had seen the world, were ever ready to
bolster the matter through, and as they were brawny, broad-shouldered
warriors, and veterans in brawl as well as debauch, they had great sway
with the multitude. If any one pretended to assert the innocence of the
duchess, they interrupted him with a loud ha! ha! of derision. "A pretty
story, truly," would they cry, "about a wolf and a dragon, and a young
widow rescued in the dark by a sturdy varlet who dares not show his face in
the daylight. You may tell that to those who do not know human nature, for
our parts, we know the sex, and that's enough."
If, however, the other repeated his assertion, they would suddenly knit
their brows, swell, look big, and put their hands upon their swords. As few
people like to fight in a cause that does not touch their own interests,
the nephew and the uncles were suffered to have their way, and swagger
The matter was at length referred to a tribunal, composed of all the
dignitaries of the dukedom, and many and repeated consultations were held.
The character of the duchess throughout the year was as bright and spotless
as the moon in a cloudless night; one fatal hour of darkness alone
intervened to eclipse its brightness. Finding human sagacity incapable of
dispelling the mystery, it was determined to leave the question to heaven;
or, in other words, to decide it by the ordeal of the sword--a sage
tribunal in the age of chivalry. The nephew and two bully uncles were to
maintain their accusation in listed combat, and six months were allowed to
the duchess to provide herself with three champions to meet them in the
field. Should she fail in this, or should her champions be vanquished, her
honor would be considered as attainted, her fidelity as forfeit, and her
dukedom would go to the nephew, as a matter of right.
With this determination the duchess was fain to comply. Proclamations were
accordingly made, and heralds sent to various parts; but day after day,
week after week, and month after month elapsed without any champion
appearing to assert her loyalty throughout that darksome hour. The fair
widow was reduced to despair, when tidings reached her of grand tournaments
to be held at Toledo, in celebration of the nuptials of Don Roderick, the
last of the Gothic kings, with the Morisco princess Exilona. As a last
resort, the duchess repaired to the Spanish court, to implore the gallantry
of its assembled chivalry.
The ancient city of Toledo was a scene of gorgeous revelry on the event of
the royal nuptials. The youthful king, brave, ardent, and magnificent, and
his lovely bride, beaming with all the radiant beauty of the East, were
hailed with shouts and acclamations whenever they appeared. Their nobles
vied with each other in the luxury of their attire, their prancing steeds,
and splendid retinues; and the haughty dames of the court appeared in a
blaze of jewels.
In the midst of all this pageantry, the beautiful, but afflicted Duchess of
Lorraine made her approach to the throne. She was dressed in black, and
closely veiled; for duennas of the most staid and severe aspect, and six
beautiful demoiselles, formed her female attendants. She was guarded by
several very ancient, withered, and grayheaded cavaliers; and her train was
borne by one of the most deformed and diminutive dwarfs in existence.
Advancing to the foot of the throne, she knelt down, and, throwing up her
veil, revealed a countenance so beautiful that half the courtiers present
were ready to renounce wives and mistresses, and devote themselves to her
service; but when she made known that she came in quest of champions to
defend her fame, every cavalier pressed forward to offer his arm and sword,
without inquiring into the merits of the case; for it seemed clear that so
beauteous a lady could have done nothing but what was right; and that, at
any rate, she ought to be championed in following the bent of her humors,
whether right or wrong.
Encouraged by such gallant zeal, the duchess suffered herself to be raised
from the ground, and related the whole story of her distress. When she
concluded, the king remained for some time silent, charmed by the music of
her voice. At length: "As I hope for salvation, most beautiful duchess,"
said he, "were I not a sovereign king, and bound in duty to my kingdom, I
myself would put lance in rest to vindicate your cause; as it is, I here
give full permission to my knights, and promise lists and a fair field, and
that the contest shall take place before the walls of Toledo, in presence
of my assembled court."
As soon as the pleasure of the king was known, there was a strife among the
cavaliers present for the honor of the contest. It was decided by lot, and
the successful candidates were objects of great envy, for every one was
ambitious of finding favor in the eyes of the beautiful widow.
Missives were sent, summoning the nephew and his two uncles to Toledo, to
maintain their accusation, and a day was appointed for the combat. When the
day arrived, all Toledo was in commotion at an early hour. The lists had
been prepared in the usual place, just without the walls, at the foot of
the rugged rocks on which the city is built, and on that beautiful meadow
along the Tagus, known by the name of the king's garden. The populace had
already assembled, each one eager to secure a favorable place; the
balconies were filled with the ladies of the court, clad in their richest
attire, and bands of youthful knights, splendidly armed and decorated with
their ladies' devices, were managing their superbly caparisoned steeds
about the field. The king at length came forth in state, accompanied by the
queen Exilona. They took their seats in a raised balcony, under a canopy of
rich damask; and, at sight of them, the people rent the air with
The nephew and his uncles now rode into the field, armed cap-a-pie, and
followed by a train of cavaliers of their own roistering cast, great
swearers and carousers, arrant swashbucklers, with clanking armor and
jingling spurs. When the people of Toledo beheld the vaunting and
discourteous appearance of these knights, they were more anxious than ever
for the success of the gentle duchess; but, at the same time, the sturdy
and stalwart frames of these warriors showed that whoever won the victory
from them must do it at the cost of many a bitter blow.
As the nephew and his riotous crew rode in at one side of the field, the
fair widow appeared at the other, with her suite of grave grayheaded
courtiers, her ancient duennas and dainty demoiselles, and the little dwarf
toiling along under the weight of her train. Every one made way for her as
she passed, and blessed her beautiful face, and prayed for success to her
cause. She took her seat in a lower balcony, not far from the sovereigns;
and her pale face, set off by her mourning weeds, was as the moon shining
forth from among the clouds of night.
The trumpets sounded for the combat. The warriors were just entering the
lists, when a stranger knight, armed in panoply, and followed by two pages
and an esquire, came galloping into the field, and, riding up to the royal
balcony, claimed the combat as a matter of right.
"In me," cried he, "behold the cavalier who had the happiness to rescue the
beautiful duchess from the peril of the forest, and the misfortune to bring
on her this grievous calumny. It was but recently, in the course of my
errantry, that tidings of her wrongs have reached my ears, and I have urged
hither at all speed, to stand forth in her vindication."
No sooner did the duchess hear the accents of the knight than she
recognized his voice, and joined her prayers with his that he might enter
the lists. The difficulty was, to determine which of the three champions
already appointed should yield his place, each insisting on the honor of
the combat. The stranger knight would have settled the point, by taking the
whole contest upon himself; but this the other knights would not permit. It
was at length determined, as before, by lot, and the cavalier who lost the
chance retired murmuring and disconsolate.
The trumpets again sounded--the lists were opened. The arrogant nephew and
his two drawcansir uncles appeared so completely cased in steel that they
and their steeds were like moving masses of iron. When they understood the
stranger knight to be the same that had rescued the duchess from her peril,
they greeted him with the most boisterous derision:
"Oh, ho! sir Knight of the Dragon," said they, "you who pretend to champion
fair widows in the dark, come on, and vindicate your deeds of darkness in
the open day."
The only reply of the cavalier was to put lance in rest, and brace himself
for the encounter. Needless is it to relate the particulars of a battle,
which was like so many hundred combats that have been said and sung in
prose and verse. Who is there but must have foreseen the event of a
contest, where Heaven had to decide on the guilt or innocence of the most
beautiful and immaculate of widows?
The sagacious reader, deeply read in this kind of judicial combats, can
imagine the encounter of the graceless nephew and the stranger knight. He
sees their concussion, man to man, and horse to horse, in mid career, and
Sir Graceless hurled to the ground and slain. He will not wonder that the
assailants of the brawny uncles were less successful in their rude
encounter; but he will picture to himself the stout stranger spurring to
their rescue, in the very critical moment; he will see him transfixing one
with his lance, and cleaving the other to the chine with a back stroke of
his sword, thus leaving the trio of accusers dead upon the field, and
establishing the immaculate fidelity of the duchess, and her title to the
dukedom, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The air rang with acclamations; nothing was heard but praises of the beauty
and virtue of the duchess, and of the prowess of the stranger knight; but
the public joy was still more increased when the champion raised his visor,
and revealed the countenance of one of the bravest cavaliers of Spain,
renowned for his gallantry in the service of the sex, and who had been
round the world in quest of similar adventures.
That worthy knight, however, was severely wounded, and remained for a long
time ill of his wounds. The lovely duchess, grateful for having twice owed
her protection to his arm, attended him daily during his illness; and
finally rewarded his gallantry with her hand.
The king would fain have had the knight establish his title to such high
advancement by further deeds of arms; but his courtiers declared that he
already merited the lady, by thus vindicating her fame and fortune in a
deadly combat _a outrance_; and the lady herself hinted that she was
perfectly satisfied of his prowess in arms, from the proofs she had
received in his achievement in the forest.
Their nuptials were celebrated with great magnificence. The present husband
of the duchess did not pray and fast like his predecessor, Philibert the
wife-ridden; yet he found greater favor in the eyes of heaven, for their
union was blessed with a numerous progeny--the daughters chaste and
beauteous as their mother; the sons stout and valiant as their sire, and
renowned, like him, for relieving disconsolate damsels and desolated
THE CREOLE VILLAGE
A SKETCH FROM A STEAMBOAT
First published in 1887
In traveling about our motley country, I am often reminded of Ariosto's
account of the moon, in which the good paladin Astolpho found everything
garnered up that had been lost on earth. So I am apt to imagine, that many
things lost in the old world are treasured up in the new; having been
handed down from generation to generation, since the early days of the
colonies. A European antiquary, therefore, curious in his researches after
the ancient and almost obliterated customs and usages of his country, would
do well to put himself upon the track of some early band of emigrants,
follow them across the Atlantic, and rummage among their descendants on our
In the phraseology of New England might be found many an old English
provincial phrase, long since obsolete in the parent country; with some
quaint relics of the roundheads; while Virginia cherishes peculiarities
characteristic of the days of Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh.
In the same way the sturdy yeomanry of New Jersey and Pennsylvania keep up
many usages fading away in ancient Germany; while many an honest,
broad-bottomed custom, nearly extinct in venerable Holland, may be found
flourishing in pristine vigor and luxuriance in Dutch villages, on the
banks of the Mohawk and the Hudson.
In no part of our country, however, are the customs and peculiarities,
imported from the old world by the earlier settlers, kept up with more
fidelity than in the little, poverty-stricken villages of Spanish and
French origin, which border the rivers of ancient Louisiana. Their
population is generally made up of the descendants of those nations,
married and interwoven together, and occasionally crossed with a slight
dash of the Indian. The French character, however, floats on top, as, from
its buoyant qualities, it is sure to do, whenever it forms a particle,
however small, of an intermixture.
In these serene and dilapidated villages, art and nature stand still, and
the world forgets to turn round. The revolutions that distract other parts
of this mutable planet reach not here, or pass over without leaving any
trace. The fortunate inhabitants have none of that public spirit which
extends its cares beyond its horizon, and imports trouble and perplexity
from all quarters in newspapers. In fact, newspapers are almost unknown in
these villages, and as French is the current language, the inhabitants have
little community of opinion with their republican neighbors. They retain,
therefore, their old habits of passive obedience to the decrees of
government, as though they still lived under the absolute sway of colonial
commandants, instead of being part and parcel of the sovereign people, and
having a voice in public legislation.
A few aged men, who have grown gray on their hereditary acres, and are of
the good old colonial stock, exert a patriarchal sway in all matters of
public and private import; their opinions are considered oracular, and
their word is law.
The inhabitants, moreover, have none of that eagerness for gain and rage
for improvement which keep our people continually on the move, and our
country towns incessantly in a state of transition. There the magic
phrases, "town lots," "water privileges," "railroads," and other
comprehensive and soul-stirring words from the speculator's vocabulary, are
never heard. The residents dwell in the houses built by their forefathers,
without thinking of enlarging or modernizing them, or pulling them down and
turning them into granite stores. The trees, under which they have been
born and have played in infancy, flourish undisturbed; though, by cutting
them down, they might open new streets, and put money in their pockets. In
a word, the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion
throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar
villages; and unless some of its missionaries penetrate there, and erect
banking houses and other pious shrines, there is no knowing how long the
inhabitants may remain in their present state of contented poverty.
In descending one of our great Western rivers in a steam-boat, I met with
two worthies from one of these villages, who had been on a distant
excursion, the longest they had ever made, as they seldom ventured far from
home. One was the great man, or grand seigneur, of the village; not that he
enjoyed any legal privileges or power there, everything of the kind having
been done away when the province was ceded by France to the United States.
His sway over his neighbors was merely one of custom and convention, out of
deference to his family. Beside, he was worth full fifty thousand dollars,
an amount almost equal, in the imaginations of the villagers, to the
treasures of King Solomon.
This very substantial old gentleman, though of the fourth or fifth
generation in this country, retained the true Gallic feature and
deportment, and reminded me of one of those provincial potentates that are
to be met with in the remote parts of France. He was of a large frame, a
ginger-bread complexion, strong features, eyes that stood out like glass
knobs, and a prominent nose, which he frequently regaled from a gold
snuff-box, and occasionally blew, with a colored handkerchief, until it
sounded like a trumpet.
He was attended by an old negro, as black as ebony, with a huge mouth in a
continual grin; evidently a privileged and favorite servant, who had grown
up and grown old with him. He was dressed in creole style--with white
jacket and trousers, a stiff shirt collar that threatened to cut off his
ears, a bright Madras handkerchief tied round his head, and large gold
earrings. He was the politest negro I met with in a Western tour; and that
is saying a great deal, for, excepting the Indians, the negroes are the
most gentlemanlike personages to be met with in those parts. It is true,
they differ from the Indians in being a little extra polite and
complimentary. He was also one of the merriest; and here, too, the negroes,
however we may deplore their unhappy condition, have the advantage of their
masters. The whites are, in general, too free and prosperous to be merry.
The cares of maintaining their rights and liberties, adding to their
wealth, and making presidents, engross all their thoughts, and dry up all
the moisture of their souls. If you hear a broad, hearty, devil-may-care
laugh, be assured it is a negro's.
Besides this African domestic, the seigneur of the village had another no
less cherished and privileged attendant. This was a huge dog, of the
mastiff breed, with a deep, hanging mouth, and a look of surly gravity. He
walked about the cabin with the air of a dog perfectly at home, and who had
paid for his passage. At dinner time he took his seat beside his master,
giving him a glance now and then out of a corner of his eye, which bespoke
perfect confidence that he would not be forgotten. Nor was he--every now
and then a huge morsel would be thrown to him, peradventure the half-picked
leg of a fowl, which he would receive with a snap like the springing of a
steel-trap--one gulp, and all was down; and a glance of the eye told his
master that he was ready for another consignment.
The other village worthy, traveling in company with the seigneur, was of a
totally different stamp. Small, thin, and weazen faced, as Frenchmen are
apt to be represented in caricature, with a bright, squirrel-like eye, and
a gold ring in his ear. His dress was flimsy, and sat loosely on his frame,
and he had altogether the look of one with but little coin in his pocket.
Yet, though one of the poorest, I was assured he was one of the merriest
and most popular personages in his native village.
Compere Martin, as he was commonly called, was the factotum of the
place-sportsman, schoolmaster, and land surveyor. He could sing, dance,
and, above all, play on the fiddle, an invaluable accomplishment in an old
French Creole village, for the inhabitants have a hereditary love for balls
and fetes; if they work but little, they dance a great deal, and a fiddle
is the joy of their heart.
What had sent Compere Martin traveling with the grand seigneur I could not
learn; he evidently looked up to him with great deference, and was
assiduous in rendering him petty attentions; from which I concluded that he
lived at home upon the crumbs which fell from his table. He was gayest when
out of his sight; and had his song and his joke when forward, among the
deck passengers; but altogether Compere Martin was out of his element on
board of a steamboat. He was quite another being, I am told, when at home
in his own village.
Like his opulent fellow-traveler, he too had his canine follower and
retainer--and one suited to his different fortunes--one of the civilest,
most unoffending little dogs in the world. Unlike the lordly mastiff, he
seemed to think he had no right on board of the steamboat; if you did but
look hard at him, he would throw himself upon his back, and lift up his
legs, as if imploring mercy.
At table he took his seat a little distance from his master; not with the
bluff, confident air of the mastiff, but quietly and diffidently, his head
on one side, with one ear dubiously slouched, the other hopefully cocked
up; his under teeth projecting beyond his black nose, and his eye wistfully
following each morsel that went into his master's mouth.
If Compere Martin now and then should venture to abstract a morsel from his
plate to give to his humble companion, it was edifying to see with what
diffidence the exemplary little animal would take hold of it, with the very
tip of his teeth, as if he would almost rather not, or was fearful of
taking too great a liberty. And then with what decorum would he eat it! How
many efforts would he make in swallowing it, as if it stuck in his throat;
with what daintiness would he lick his lips; and then with what an air of
thankfulness would he resume his seat, with his teeth once more projecting
beyond his nose, and an eye of humble expectation fixed upon his master.
It was late in the afternoon when the steamboat stopped at the village
which was the residence of these worthies. It stood on the high bank of the
river, and bore traces of having been a frontier trading post. There were
the remains of stockades that once protected it from the Indians, and the
houses were in the ancient Spanish and French colonial taste, the place
having been successively under the domination of both those nations prior
to the cession of Louisiana to the United States.
The arrival of the seigneur of fifty thousand dollars, and his humble
companion, Compere Martin, had evidently been looked forward to as an event
in the village. Numbers of men, women, and children, white, yellow, and
black, were collected on the river bank; most of them clad in old-fashioned
French garments, and their heads decorated with colored handkerchiefs, or
white nightcaps. The moment the steamboat came within sight and hearing,
there was a waving of handkerchiefs, and a screaming and bawling of
salutations, and felicitations, that baffle all description.
The old gentleman of fifty thousand dollars was received by a train of
relatives, and friends, and children, and grandchildren, whom he kissed on
each cheek, and who formed a procession in his rear, with a legion of
domestics, of all ages, following him to a large, old-fashioned French
house, that domineered over the village.
His black valet de chambre, in white jacket and trousers, and gold
earrings, was met on the shore by a boon, though rustic companion, a tall
negro fellow, with a long good-humored face, and the profile of a horse,
which stood out from beneath a narrow-rimmed straw hat, stuck on the back
of his head. The explosions of laughter of these two varlets on meeting and
exchanging compliments were enough to electrify the country round.
The most hearty reception, however, was that given to Compere Martin.
Everybody, young and old, hailed him before he got to land. Everybody had a
joke for Compere Martin, and Compere Martin had a joke for everybody. Even
his little dog appeared to partake of his popularity, and to be caressed by
every hand. Indeed, he was quite a different animal the moment he touched
the land. Here he was at home; here he was of consequence. He barked, he
leaped, he frisked about his old friends, and then would skim round the
place in a wide circle, as if mad.
I traced Compere Martin and his little dog to their home. It was an old
ruinous Spanish house, of large dimensions, with verandas overshadowed by
ancient elms. The house had probably been the residence, in old times, of
the Spanish commandant. In one wing of this crazy, but aristocratical
abode, was nestled the family of my fellow-traveler; for poor devils are
apt to be magnificently clad and lodged, in the cast-off clothes and
abandoned palaces of the great and wealthy.
The arrival of Compere Martin was welcomed by a legion of women, children,
and mongrel curs; and, as poverty and gayety generally go hand in hand
among the French and their descendants, the crazy mansion soon resounded
with loud gossip and light-hearted laughter.
As the steamboat paused a short time at the village, I took occasion to
stroll about the place. Most of the houses were in the French taste, with
casements and rickety verandas, but most of them in flimsy and ruinous
condition. All the wagons, plows, and other utensils about the place were
of ancient and inconvenient Gallic construction, such as had been brought
from France in the primitive days of the colony. The very looks of the
people reminded me of the villages of France.
From one of the houses came the hum of a spinning wheel, accompanied by a
scrap of an old French chanson, which I have heard many a time among the
peasantry of Languedoc, doubtless a traditional song, brought over by the
first French emigrants, and handed down from generation to generation.
Half a dozen young lasses emerged from the adjacent dwellings, reminding
me, by their light step and gay costume, of scenes in ancient France, where
taste in dress comes natural to every class of females. The trim bodice and
covered petticoat, and little apron, with its pockets to receive the hands
when in an attitude for conversation; the colored kerchief wound tastefully
round the head, with a coquettish knot perking above one ear; and the neat
slipper and tight drawn stocking with its braid of narrow ribbon embracing
the ankle where it peeps from its mysterious curtain. It is from this
ambush that Cupid sends his most inciting arrows.
While I was musing upon the recollections thus accidentally summoned up, I
heard the sound of a fiddle from the mansion of Compere Martin, the signal,
no doubt, for a joyous gathering. I was disposed to turn my steps thither,
and witness the festivities of one of the very few villages I had met with
in my wide tour that was yet poor enough to be merry; but the bell of the
steamboat summoned me to re-embark.
As we swept away from the shore, I cast back a wistful eye upon the
moss-grown roofs and ancient elms of the village, and prayed that the
inhabitants might long retain their happy ignorance, their absence of all
enterprise and improvement, their respect for the fiddle, and their
contempt for the almighty dollar. [Footnote: This phrase, used for the
first time in this sketch, has since passed into current circulation, and
by some has been questioned as savoring I fear, however, my prayer is of
irreverence. The author, therefore, owes it to his orthodoxy to declare
that no irreverence was intended even to the dollar itself; which he is
aware is daily becoming more and more an object of worship.] I fear,
however, my prayer is doomed to be of no avail. In a little while the
steamboat whirled me to an American town, just springing into bustling
and prosperous existence.
The surrounding forest had been laid out in town lots; frames of wooden
buildings were rising from among stumps and burned trees. The place already
boasted a court-house, a jail, and two banks, all built of pine boards, on
the model of Grecian temples. There were rival hotels, rival churches, and
rival newspapers; together with the usual number of judges, and generals,
and governors; not to speak of doctors by the dozen, and lawyers by the
The place, I was told, was in an astonishing career of improvement, with a
canal and two railroads in embryo. Lots doubled in price every week;
everybody was speculating in land; everybody was rich; and everybody was
growing richer. The community, however, was torn to pieces by new doctrines
in religion and in political economy; there were camp meetings, and
agrarian meetings; and an election was at hand, which, it was expected,
would throw the whole country into a paroxysm.
Alas! with such an enterprising neighbor, what is to become of the poor
little Creole village!
A CONTENTED MAN
In the garden of the Tuileries there is a sunny corner under the wall of a
terrace which fronts the south. Along the wall is a range of benches
commanding a view of the walks and avenues of the garden. This genial nook
is a place of great resort in the latter part of autumn and in fine days in
winter, as it seems to retain the flavor of departed summer. On a calm,
bright morning it is quite alive with nursery-maids and their playful
little charges. Hither also resort a number of ancient ladies and
gentlemen, who, with the laudable thrift in small pleasures and small
expenses for which the French are to be noted, come here to enjoy sunshine
and save firewood. Here may often be seen some cavalier of the old school,
when the sunbeams have warmed his blood into something like a glow,
fluttering about like a frost-bitten moth thawed before the fire, putting
forth a feeble show of gallantry among the antiquated dames, and now and
then eying the buxom nursery-maids with what might almost be mistaken for
an air of libertinism.
Among the habitual frequenters of this place I had often remarked an old
gentleman whose dress was decidedly ante-revolutional. He wore the
three-cornered cocked hat of the _ancien regime_; his hair was frizzed
over each ear into _ailes de pigeon_, a style strongly savoring of
Bourbonism; and a queue stuck out behind, the loyalty of which was not to
be disputed. His dress, though ancient, had an air of decayed gentility,
and I observed that he took his snuff out of an elegant though
old-fashioned gold box. He appeared to be the most popular man on the walk.
He had a compliment for every old lady, he kissed every child, and he
patted every little dog on the head; for children and little dogs are very
important members of society in France. I must observe, however, that he
seldom kissed a child without, at the same time, pinching the
nursery-maid's cheek; a Frenchman of the old school never forgets his
devoirs to the sex.
I had taken a liking to this old gentleman. There was an habitual
expression of benevolence in his face which I have very frequently remarked
in these relics of the politer days of France. The constant interchange of
those thousand little courtesies which imperceptibly sweeten life have a
happy effect upon the features, and spread a mellow evening charm over the
wrinkles of old age.
Where there is a favorable predisposition one soon forms a kind of tacit
intimacy by often meeting on the same walks. Once or twice I accommodated
him with a bench, after which we touched hats on passing each other; at
length we got so far as to take a pinch of snuff together out of his box,
which is equivalent to eating salt together in the East; from that time our
acquaintance was established.
I now became his frequent companion in his morning promenades, and derived
much amusement from his good-humored remarks on men and manners. One
morning, as we were strolling through an alley of the Tuileries, with the
autumnal breeze whirling the yellow leaves about our path, my companion
fell into a peculiarly communicative vein, and gave me several particulars
of his history. He had once been wealthy, and possessed of a fine estate in
the country and a noble hotel in Paris; but the revolution, which effected
so many disastrous changes, stripped him of everything. He was secretly
denounced by his own steward during a sanguinary period of the revolution,
and a number of the bloodhounds of the Convention were sent to arrest him.
He received private intelligence of their approach in time to effect his
escape. He landed in England without money or friends, but considered
himself singularly fortunate in having his head upon his shoulders; several
of his neighbors having been guillotined as a punishment for being rich.
When he reached London he had but a louis in his pocket, and no prospect of
getting another. He ate a solitary dinner of beefsteak, and was almost
poisoned by port wine, which from its color he had mistaken for claret. The
dingy look of the chop-house, and of the little mahogany-colored box in
which he ate his dinner, contrasted sadly with the gay saloons of Paris.
Everything looked gloomy and disheartening. Poverty stared him in the face;
he turned over the few shillings he had of change; did not know what was to
become of him; and--went to the theater!
He took his seat in the pit, listened attentively to a tragedy of which he
did not understand a word, and which seemed made up of fighting, and
stabbing, and scene shifting, and began to feel his spirits sinking within
him; when, casting his eyes into the orchestra, what was his surprise to
recognize an old friend and neighbor in the very act of extorting music
from a huge violoncello.
As soon as the evening's performance was over he tapped his friend on the
shoulder; they kissed each other on each cheek, and the musician took him
home, and shared his lodgings with him. He had learned music as an
accomplishment; by his friend's advice he now turned to it as a means of
support. He procured a violin, offered himself for the orchestra, was
received, and again considered himself one of the most fortunate men upon
Here therefore he lived for many years during the ascendency of the
terrible Napoleon. He found several emigrants living, like himself, by the
exercise of their talents. They associated together, talked of France and
of old times, and endeavored to keep up a semblance of Parisian life in the
center of London.
They dined at a miserable cheap French restaurant in the neighborhood of
Leicester Square, where they were served with a caricature of French
cookery. They took their promenade in St. James's Park, and endeavored to
fancy it the Tuileries; in short, they made shift to accommodate themselves
to everything but an English Sunday. Indeed the old gentleman seemed to
have nothing to say against the English, whom he affirmed to be _braves
gens_; and he mingled so much among them that at the end of twenty years
he could speak their language almost well enough to be understood.
The downfall of Napoleon was another epoch in his life. He had considered
himself a fortunate man to make his escape penniless out of France, and he
considered himself fortunate to be able to return penniless into it. It is
true that he found his Parisian hotel had passed through several hands
during the vicissitudes of the times, so as to be beyond the reach of
recovery; but then he had been noticed benignantly by government, and had a
pension of several hundred francs, upon which, with careful management, he
lived independently, and, as far as I could judge, happily. As his once
splendid hotel was now occupied as a _hotel garni_, he hired a small
chamber in the attic; it was but, as he said, changing his bedroom up two
pair of stairs--he was still in his own house. His room was decorated with
pictures of several beauties of former times, with whom he professed to
have been on favorable terms: among them was a favorite opera-dancer, who
had been the admiration of Paris at the breaking out of the revolution. She
had been a protegee of my friend, and one of the few of his youthful
favorites who had survived the lapse of time and its various vicissitudes.
They had renewed their acquaintance, and she now and then visited him; but
the beautiful Psyche, once the fashion of the day and the idol of the
_parterre_, was now a shriveled, little old woman, warped in the back
and with a hooked nose.
The old gentleman was a devout attendant upon levees; he was most zealous
in his loyalty, and could not speak of the royal family without a burst of
enthusiasm, for he still felt toward them as his companions in exile. As to
his poverty he made light of it, and indeed had a good-humored way of
consoling himself for every cross and privation. If he had lost his chateau
in the country, he had half a dozen royal palaces, as it were, at his
command. He had Versailles and St. Cloud for his country resorts, and the
shady alleys of the Tuileries and the Luxembourg for his town recreation.
Thus all his promenades and relaxations were magnificent, yet cost nothing.
When I walk through these fine gardens, said he, I have only to fancy
myself the owner of them, and they are mine. All these gay crowds are my
visitors, and I defy the grand seignior himself to display a greater
variety of beauty. Nay, what is better, I have not the trouble of
entertaining them. My estate is a perfect Sans Souci, where every one does
as he pleases, and no one troubles the owner. All Paris is my theater, and
presents me with a continual spectacle. I have a table spread for me in
every street, and thousands of waiters ready to fly at my bidding. When my
servants have waited upon me I pay them, discharge them, and there's an
end; I have no fears of their wronging or pilfering me when my back is
turned. Upon the whole, said the old gentleman with a smile of infinite
good humor, when I think upon the various risks I have run, and the manner
in which I have escaped them; when I recollect all that I have suffered,
and consider all that I at present enjoy, I cannot but look upon myself as
a man of singular good fortune.
Such was the brief history of this practical philosopher, and it is a
picture of many a Frenchman ruined by the revolution. The French appear to
have a greater facility than most men in accommodating themselves to the
reverses of life, and of extracting honey out of the bitter things of this
world. The first shock of calamity is apt to overwhelm them, but when it is
once past, their natural buoyancy of feeling soon brings them to the
surface. This may be called the result of levity of character, but it
answers the end of reconciling us to misfortune, and if it be not true
philosophy, it is something almost as efficacious. Ever since I have heard
the story of my little Frenchman, I have treasured it up in my heart; and I
thank my stars I have at length found what I had long considered as not to
be found on earth--a contented man.
P. S.--There is no calculating on human happiness. Since writing the
foregoing, the law of indemnity has been passed, and my friend restored to
a great part of his fortune. I was absent from Paris at the time, but on my
return hastened to congratulate him. I found him magnificently lodged on
the first floor of his hotel. I was ushered, by a servant in livery,
through splendid saloons, to a cabinet richly furnished, where I found my
little Frenchman reclining on a couch. He received me with his usual
cordiality; but I saw the gayety and benevolence of his countenance had
fled; he had an eye full of care and anxiety.
I congratulated him on his good fortune. "Good fortune?" echoed he; "bah! I
have been plundered of a princely fortune, and they give me a pittance as
Alas! I found my late poor and contented friend one of the richest and most
miserable men in Paris. Instead of rejoicing hi the ample competency
restored to him, he is daily repining at the superfluity withheld. He no
longer wanders in happy idleness about Paris, but is a repining attendant
in the ante-chambers of ministers. His loyalty has evaporated with his
gayety; he screws his mouth when the Bourbons are mentioned, and even
shrugs his shoulders when he hears the praises of the king. In a word, he