An Expedition in Quest of a Diploma.
ONE OF the most important occurrences in the domestic life of the Alhambra, was the departure of Manuel, the nephew of Dona Antonia, for Malaga, to stand examination as a physician. I have already informed the reader that, on his success in obtaining a degree depended in a great measure the union and future fortunes of himself and his cousin Dolores; at least so I was privately informed by Mateo Ximenes, and various circumstances concurred to corroborate his information. Their courtship, however, was carried on very quietly and discreetly, and I scarce think I should have discovered it, if I had not been put on the alert by the all-observant Mateo.
In the present instance, Dolores was less on the reserve, and had busied herself for several days in fitting out honest Manuel for his expedition. All his clothes had been arranged and packed in the neatest order, and above all she had worked a smart Andalusian travelling jacket for him with her own hands. On the morning appointed for his departure, a stout mule on which he was to perform the journey was paraded at the portal of the Alhambra, and Tio Polo (Uncle Polo), an old invalid soldier, attended to caparison him. This veteran was one of the curiosities of the place. He had a leathern visage, tanned in the tropics, a long Roman nose, and a black beetle eye. I had frequently observed him reading, apparently with intense interest, an old parchment-bound volume; sometimes he would be surrounded by a group of his brother invalids, some seated on the parapets, some lying on the grass, listening with fixed attention, while he read slowly and deliberately out of his favorite work, sometimes pausing to explain or expound for the benefit of his less enlightened auditors.
I took occasion one day to inform myself of this ancient book, which appeared to be his vade mecum, and found it to be an odd volume of the works of Padre Benito Geronymo Feyjoo, and that one which treats about the Magic of Spain, the mysterious caves of Salamanca and Toledo, the Purgatory of San Patricio (St. Patrick), and other mystic subjects of the kind. From that time I kept my eye upon the veteran.
On the present occasion, I amused myself with watching him fit out the steed of Manuel with all the forecast of an old campaigner. First, he took a considerable time in adjusting to the back of the mule a cumbrous saddle of antique fashion, high in front and behind, with Moorish stirrups like shovels, the whole looking like a relic of the old armory of the Alhambra; then a fleecy sheepskin was accommodated to the deep seat of the saddle; then a maleta, neatly packed by the hand of Dolores, was buckled behind; then a manta was thrown over it to serve either as cloak or couch; then the all-important alforjas, carefully stocked with provant, were hung in front, together with the bota, or leathern bottle for either wine or water, and lastly the trabuco, which the old soldier slung behind, giving it his benediction. It was like the fitting out in old times of a Moorish cavalier for a foray or a joust in the Vivarrambla. A number of the lazzaroni of the fortress had gathered round, with some of the invalids, all looking on, all offering their aid, and all giving advice, to the great annoyance of Tio Polo.
When all was ready Manuel took leave of the household; Tio Polo held his stirrup while he mounted, adjusted the girths and saddle, and cheered him off in military style; then turning to Dolores, who stood admiring her cavalier as he trotted off, "Ah Dolorocita," exclaimed he, with a nod and a wink, "es muy guapo Manuelito in su Xaqueta" ("Ah Dolores, Manuel is mighty fine in his jacket.") The little damsel blushed and laughed, and ran into the house.
Days elapsed without tidings from Manuel, though he had promised to write. The heart of Dolores began to misgive her. Had any thing happened to him on the road? Had he failed in his examination? A circumstance occurred in her little household to add to her uneasiness and fill her mind with foreboding. It was almost equal to the escapado of her pigeon. Her tortoise-shell cat eloped at night and clambered to the tiled roof of the Alhambra. In the dead of the night there was a fearful caterwauling; some grimalkin was uncivil to her; then there was a scramble, then a clapper-clawing; then both parties rolled off the roof and tumbled from a great height among the trees on the hill side. Nothing more was seen or heard of the fugitive, and poor Dolores considered it but the prelude to greater calamities.
At the end of ten days, however, Manuel returned in triumph, duly authorized to kill or cure; and all Dolores’ cares were over. There was a general gathering in the evening, of the humble friends and hangers-on of Dame Antonio to congratulate her, and to pay their respects to el Senor Medico, who, peradventure, at some future day, might have all their lives in his hands. One of the most important of these guests was old Tio Polo; and I gladly seized the occasion to prosecute my acquaintance with him. "Oh senor," cried Dolores, "you who are so eager to learn all the old histories of the Alhambra. Tio Polo knows more about them than any one else about the place. More than Mateo Ximenes and his whole family put together. Vaya â€” vaya â€” Tio Polo, tell the senor all those stories you told us one evening, about enchanted Moors, and the haunted bridge over the Darro, and the old stone pomegranates, that have been there since the days of King Chico."
It was some time before the old invalid could be brought into a narrative vein. He shook his head â€” they were all idle tales; not worthy of being told to a caballero like myself. It was only by telling some stories of the kind myself I at last got him to open his budget. It was a whimsical farrago, partly made up of what he had heard in the Alhambra, partly of what he had read in Padre Feyjoo. I will endeavor to give the reader the substance of it, but I will not promise to give it in the very words of Tio Polo.