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by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-Feb-17 - 1870-Dec-22)
Trans. by Cornelia Frances Bates and Katherine Lee Bates
probably from Leyendas (1860-64),
and collected in Legends, tales, and poems (1907)
On All Souls' Night I was awakened, I knew not at what hour, by the tolling of bells; their monotonous, unceasing sound brought to mind this tradition which I heard a short time ago in Soria.
I tried to sleep again. Impossible! The imagination, once roused, is a horse that runs wild an cannot be reined in. To pass the time, I decided to write the story out, and so in fact I did.
I had heard it in the very place where it originated and, as I wrote, I sometimes glanced behind me with sudden fear, when, smitten by the cold night air, the glass of my balcony crackled.
Make of it what you will, here it goes loose, like the mounted horseman in a Spanish pack of cards.
"Leash the dogs! Blow the horns to call the hunters together, and let us return to the city. Night is at hand, the Night of All Souls, and we are on the Spirits' Mountain."
"Were it any day but this, I would not give up till I had made an end of that pack of wolves which the snows of the Mancayo have driven from their dens; but to-day it is impossible. Very soon the Angelus will sound in the monastery of the Knight Templars, and the souls of the dead will commence to toll their bell in the chapel on the mountain."
"In that ruined chapel! Bah! Would you frighten me?"
"No, fair cousin; but you are not aware of all that happens hereabout, for it is not yet a year since you came hither from a distant part of Spain. Rein in your mare; I will keep mine at the same pace and tell you this story on the way."
The pages gathered together in merry, boisterous groups; the Counts of Bórges and Alcudiel mounted their noble steeds, and the whole company followed after the son and daughter of those great houses, Alonso and Beatriz, who rode at some little distance in advance of the company.
As they went, Alonso related in these words the promised tradition:
"This mountain, which is now called the Spirits' Mountain,
belonged to the Knights
"Between the knights of the new and powerful Order and the nobles of the city there fermented for some years and animosity which finally developed into a deadly hatred. The Templars claimed for their own this mountain, where they reserved an abundance of game to satisfy their needs and contribute to their pleasures; the nobles determined to organize a great hunt within the bounds notwithstanding the rigorous prohibitions of the clergy with spurs, as their enemies called them.
"The news of the projected invasion spread fast, and nothing availed to check the rage for the hunt on the one side, and the determination to break it up on the other. The proposed expedition came off. The wild beasts did not remember it; but it was never to be forgotten by the many mothers mourning for their sons. That was not a hunting-trip, but a frightful battle; the mountain was strewn with corpses, and the wolves, whose extermination was the end in view, had a bloody feast. Finally the authority of the King was brought to bear; The mountain, the accursed cause of so many bereavements, was declared abandoned, and the chapel of the Templars, situated on this same wild steep, friends and enemies buried together in its cloister, began to fall into ruins.
"They say that ever since, on All Souls' Night, the chapel bell is heard tolling all alone, and the spirits of the dead, wrapt in the tatters of their shrouds, run as in a fantastic chase through the bushes and brambles. The deer trumpet in terror, wolves howl, snakes hiss horribly, and on the following morning there have been seen clearly marked in the snow the prints of the fleshless feet of the skeletons. This is why we call it in Soria the Spirits' Mountain, and this is why I wished to leave it before nightfall."
Alonso's story was finished just as the two young people arrived at the end of the bridge which admits to the city from that side. There they waited for the rest of the company to join them, and then the whole cavalcade was lost to sight in the dim and narrow streets of Soria.
The servants had just cleared the tables; the high Gothic fireplace of the palace of the Counts of Alcudiel was shedding a vivid flow over the groups of lords and ladies who were chatting in friendly fashion, gathered about the blaze; and the wind shook the leaded glass of the ogive windows.
Two persons only seemed to hold aloof from the general conversation, Beatriz and Alonso. Beatriz, absorbed in a vague revery, followed with her eyes the capricious dance of the flames. Alonso watched the reflection of the fire sparkling in the blue eyes of Beatriz.
Both maintained for some time an unbroken silence.
The duennas were telling gruesome stories, appropriate to the Night of All Souls, stories in which ghosts and spectres played the principal rôles, and the church bells of Soria were tolling in the distance with a monotonous and mournful sound.
"Fair cousin," finally exclaimed Alonso, breaking the long silence between them. "Soon we are to be separated, perhaps forever. I know you do not like the arid plains of Castile, its rough, soldier customs, its simple, patriarchal ways. At various times I have heard you sigh, perhaps for some lover in your far-away demesne."
Beatriz made a gesture of cold indifference; the whole character of the woman was revealed in that disdainful contraction of her delicate lips.
"Or perhaps for the grandeur and gaiety of the French capital, where you have lived hitherto," the young man hastened to add. "In one way or another, I foresee that I shall lose you before long. When we part, I would like to have you carry hence a remembrance of me. Do you recollect the time when we went to church to give thanks to God for having granted you that restoration to health which was your object in coming to this region? The jewel that fastened the plume of my cap attracted your attention. How well it would look clasping a veil over your dark hair! It has already been the adornment of a bride. My father gave it to my mother, and she wore it to the altar. Would you like it?"
"I do not know how it may be in your part of the country," replied the beauty, " but in mine to accept a gift is to incur an obligation. Only on a holy day may one receive a present from a kinsman, though he may go to Rome without returning empty-handed."
The frigid tone in which Beatriz spoke these words troubled the youth for a moment, but, clearing his brow, he replied sadly:
"I know it, cousin, but to-day is the festival of All Saints, and your among the, a holiday on which gift are fitting. Will you accept mine?"
Beatriz slightly bit her lip and put out her hand for the jewel, without a word.
The two again fell silent and again heard the quavering voices of the old women telling of witches and hobgoblins, the whistling wind which shook the ogive windows, and the mournful, monotonous tolling of the bells.
After the lapse of some little time, the interrupted dialogue was thus renewed:
"And before All Saints' Day ends, which is holy to my saint as well as to yours, so that you can, without compromising yourself, give me a keepsake, will you not do so?" pleaded Alonso, fixing his eyes on his cousin's, which flashed like lightning, gleaming with a diabolical thought.
"Why not?" she exclaimed, raising her hand to her right shoulder as though seeking for something amid the fold of her wide velvet sleeve embroidered with gold. Then, with an innocent air of disappointment, she added:
"Do you recollect the blue scarf I wore to-day to the hunt, the scarf which you said, because of something about the meaning of its color, was the emblem of your soul?"
"Well! it is lost! it is lost, and I was thinking of letting you have it for a souvenir."
"Lost! where?" asked Alonso, rising from his seat with an indescribable expression of mingled fear and hope.
"I do not know, perhaps on the mountain."
"On the Spirits' Mountain!" he murmured, paling and sinking back into his seat. "On the Spirits' Mountain!"
Then he went on in a voice choked and broken:
"You know, for you have heard it a thousand times, that I am called in the city, in all Castile, the king of the hunters. Not having yet had a chance to try, like my ancestors, my strength in battle, I have brought to bear on this pastime, the image of war, all the energy of my youth, all the hereditary ardor of my race. The rugs your feet tread on are the spoils of the chase, the hides of the wild beasts I have killed with my own hand. I know their haunts and their habits; I have fought them by day and by night, on foot and on horseback, alone and with hunting-parties, and there is not a man will say that he has ever seen me shrink from danger. On any other night I would fly for that scarf, fly as joyously as to a festival; but to-night, this one night why disguise it? I am afraid. Do you hear? The bells are tolling, the Angelus has sounded in San Juan del Duero, the ghosts of the mountain are now beginning to lift their yellowing skulls from amid the brambles that cover their graves the ghosts! the mere sight of them is enough to curdle with horror the blood of the bravest, turn his hair white, or sweep him away in the stormy whirl of their fantastic chase as a leaf, unwitting whither, is carried by the wind."
While the young man was speaking, an almost imperceptible smile curled the lips of Beatriz, who, when he had ceased, exclaimed in an indifferent tone, while she was stirring the fire on the hearth, where the wood blazed and snapped, throwing off sparks of a thousand colors:
"Oh, by no means! What folly! To go to the mountain at this hour for such a trifle! On so dark a night, too, with ghosts abroad, and the road beset by wolves!"
As she spoke this closing phrase, she emphasized it with so peculiar an intonation that Alonso could not fail to understand all her bitter irony. As moved by a spring, he leapt to his feet, passed his hand over his brow as if to dispel the fear which was in his brain, not in his breast, and with firm voice he said, addressing his beautiful cousin, who was still leaning over the hearth, amusing herself by stirring the fire:
"Farewell, Beatriz, farewell. If I return, it will be soon."
"Alonso, Alonso!" she called, turning quickly, but now that she wished or made show of wishing to detain him, the youth had gone.
In a few moments she heard the beat of a horse's hoofs departing at a gallop. The beauty, with a radiant expression of satisfied pride flushing her cheeks, listened attentively to the sound which grew fainter and fainter until it died away.
The old dames, meanwhile, where continuing their tales of ghostly apparitions; the wind was shrilling against the balcony glass, and far away the bells of the city tolled on.
An hour had passed, two, three; midnight would soon be striking, and Beatriz withdrew to her chamber. Alonso had not returned; he had not returned, though less than an hour would have sufficed for his errand.
"He must have been afraid!" exclaimed the girl, closing her prayer-book and turning toward her bed after a vain attempt to murmur some of the prayers that the church offers for the dead on the Day of All Souls.
After putting out her light and drawing the double silken curtains, she fell asleep; but her sleep was restless, light, uneasy.
The Postigo clock struck midnight. Beatriz heard through her dreams the slow, dull, melancholy strokes, and half opened her eyes. She thought she had heard, at the same time, her name spoken, but far, far away, and in a faint suffering voice. The wind groaned outside her window.
"It must have been the wind," she said, and pressing her hand above her heart, she strove to calm herself. But her heart beat ever more wildly. The larchwood doors of the chamber grated on their hinges with a sharp creak, prolonged and strident.
First these doors, then the more distant ones, all the doors which led to her room opened, one after another, some with a heavy, groaning sound, some with a long wail that set the nerves on edge. Then silence, a silence full of strange noises, the silence of midnight, with a monotonous murmur of far-off water, the distant barking of dogs, confused voices, unintelligible words, echoes of footsteps going and coming, the rustle of trailing garments half-suppressed sighs, labored breathing almost felt upon the face, involuntary shudders that announce the presence of something not seen, though its approach is felt in the darkness.
Beatriz, stiffening with fear, yet trembling, thrust her head out from the bed-curtains and listened a moment. She heard a thousand diverse noises; she passed her hand across her brow and listened again; nothing, silence.
She saw, with that dilation of the pupils common in nervous crises, dim shapes moving hither and thither all about the room, but when she fixed her gaze on any one point, there was nothing but darkness and impenetrable shadows.
"Bah!" she exclaimed, again resting her beautiful head upon her blue satin pillow, " am I as timid as these poor kinsfolk of mine, whose hearts thump with terror under their armor when they hear a ghost-story?"
And closing her eyes she tried to sleep, but her effort to compose herself was in vain. Soon she started up again, paler, more uneasy, more terrified. This time it was no illusion; the brocade hangings of the door had rustled as they were pushed to either side, and slow footsteps were heard upon the carpet; the sound of those footsteps was muffled, almost imperceptible, but continuous, and she heard keeping measure with them, a creaking as of dry wood or bones. And the footfalls came nearer, nearer; the prayer-stool by the side of her bed moved. Beatriz uttered a sharp cry, and burying herself under the bedclothes, hid her head and held her breath.
The wind beat against the balcony glass; the water of the far-off fountain was falling, falling, with a monotonous, unceasing sound; the barking of the dogs was borne upon the gusts, and the church bells in the city of Soria, some near, some remote, tolled sadly for the souls of the dead.
So passed an hour, two, the night, a century, for that night
When her attendants rushed in, aghast, to tell her of the death of the heir of Alcudiel, whose body, partly devoured by wolves, had been found that morning among the brambles on the Spirits' Mountain, they discovered her motionless, convulsed, clinging with both hands to one of the ebony bed-posts, her eyes staring, her mouth open, the lips white, her limbs rigid, dead, dead of fright!
They say that, some time after this event, a hunter who, having lost his way, had been obliged to pass the Night of the Dead on the Spirits' Mountain, and who in the morning before he died, was able to relate what he had seen, told a tale of horror. Among the awful sights, he avowed he beheld the skeletons of the ancient Knights Templars and of the nobles of Soria, buried in the cloiser of the chapel, rise at the hour of the Angelus with a horrible rattle and, mounted on their bony steeds, chase, as a wild beast, a beautiful woman, pallid, with streaming hair, who uttering cried of terror and anguish, had been wandering, with bare and bloody feet, about the tomb of Alonso.
Text supplied by Eugene W. Ossa and
prepared by Diana Patterson